Getting ready for the Macs in Law Office annual conference (MILOfest), I have been checking out 3 add-on lens for the iPhone:
- Olwe Bubo – “The Heavy Weight” in all criteria: size, weight and price ($169) offering wide angle and macro lenses (no fish-eye). $169 USD
- Olloclip – “The Challenger” A small fish-eye, wide angle & macro combo lens. $59 USD
- 3 in 1 Camera Lens Kit – “The Kid.” The 3-in-1 camera lens kit has the features of the Olloclip (fish-eye, wide angle and macro combo lens) at a bargain price. The 3-in-1 also comes with stick on rings which the 2 lenses magnetically attach to. $30 USD
The Owle Bubo is the first add on lens I purchased.
It’s big and heavy carved from solid aluminum with a sizable wide angle/macro combination lens. The heft and handles make it easier to do steady shots.
The iPhone 4 (and 4S) fits into a rubber cases which (in theory) then fits into the Owle Bubo. Before buying the Owle, I viewed several videos touting the snug fit of an iPhone in the double case Owle. I’ve seen one reviewer shake the Owle confidently at the end of monopod. My experience was less than stellar. While the iPhone certainly fits in the rubber case which buffers the iPhone in the Owle Bubo, I would not trust the Owle Bubo to keep an iPhone from falling out with even moderate movement.
After a carrying an iPhone in an Owle for a day of shooting, I found the rubber case slipping out of the aluminum Owle several times. I ended up putting a rubber band around the Owle to prevent the iPhone from potentially falling out! This meant having to work around the band when using the on-screen controls.
The Olloclip is a nice attachment which fits on a bare (no case) iPhone 4 or 4S. This is clearly part of a new iteration of smaller lenses and attachments.
On one side of the Olloclip is the wide angle / macro combo lens (you unscrew the wide angle lens to reveal a macro lens underneath). On the other side is the fish-eye lens. Just flip the Olloclip to switch between the two sets of lenses.
Since the lens are mounted in a plastic casing, you always have one facing you, which was somewhat disconcerting. However one plus of the this design versus the 3-in-1 lens set is that you don’t have to worry about losing a part. It’s an all in one lens kit.
A couple of things to note:
- The Olloclip only works with the rear facing camera. While you always have a lens facing front, it is in the wrong position to work with the front facing camera.
- Also, while images on the Olloclip’s website show the lens trimmed in red, the Olloclip I received from Amazon is entirely black.
3-in-1 Lens Kit
The 3 in 1 Camera Lens Kit is the least expensive lens add-on in this roundup. At just under $30, it is half of the Olloclip and less than a fifth of the price of the Owle Bubo.
It is also the most flexible. Since it comes with metal rings which attached to outside of a device via adhesive, it is not limited to use with one model of device. You can attach the ring to most camera phones, the iPad 2, or other tablet. In theory, you could even attach a ring to the front of an iPhone to give yourself a wide angle or even fish-eye lens on the front facing camera. I’m not saying this is something you would want, but that modular nature of the 3-in-1 permits this.
Some reviewers on Amazon have noted that ring block the LED light. The unit I received contained 4 rings (two round, and two notched rings with cut outs for the LED flash). this helps un-block the LED light somewhat. However, since you are mounting the ring on the on top of a case, instead of flush with the back of the phone, you should expect some of the light to be blocked by the ring. Personally, I rarely use the LED flash for anything other than a flashlight, so it is a non-issue. Also, keep in mind that once you attach a lens, the LED light is blocked. Of course the same goes for the Owle Bubo and Olloclip as well.
Note: the rings do not attach well to the glass on an iPhone. Unless you plan on using a third party adhesive, I would not expect to have any success here. However, if you plan on attaching a ring to a plastic or rubber case, you should have no problem. I have attached one of the notched rings to my iPhone 4 case and so far it is holding on.
The 3-in-1 comes with two separate lens: a fish-eye and a combo wide angle/macro lens. Both have strong magnets in the bases which connect to the metal ring. The magnets hold tight to the ring and I did not see the lens coming off with normal movement.
Unlike the Olloclip, you can also adjust the centering of lens. This is a mixed blessing since, if you are not careful, you may have uneven vignetting caused by a mis-centered lens (see in the sample images below). However, if you want to have more flexibility and play with different looks, this may be a plus.
The 3-in-1 also comes lens comes with and a pair of cell phone fob lanyards with a small metal plate at the end for attaching the magnetic lens.
You can either attach each lens to its own fob or to just one (in an hourglass configuration).
I would not trust the magnets to hold the lens through any vigorous movement, however, like a lens keeper, it is nice that the manufacturer provided this.
Here is the iPhone 4S (no add-on lenses):
Wide Angle iPhone Add-on Lens Sample Photos
First, the iPhone with Olwe Bubo wide lens:
Second, the iPhone with Olloclip wide lens (considerably more barrel roll):
Third, the iPhone with the 3-in-1 wide lens (again, there’s the barrel roll and some vignetting – possibly due to a the lens being off center):
Fish-Eye iPhone Add-on Lens Sample Photos
Note: the Owle Bubo lacks a fish-eye lens so this is between the Olloclip and the 3-in-1:
First, the Olloclip fish-eye lens:
Next, the 3-in-1 fish-eye lens:
Macro iPhone Add-on Lens Sample Photos
Olwe Bubo macro lens:
Olloclip macro lens:
3-in-1 macro lens:
The clearest macro image with the widest depth of field is the Owle Bubo.I also note that I had to get in very close – about a centimeter away – before either the Olloclip or the 3-in-1 lens images would come into focus. The Owle Bubo had difficulty getting that close since the large lens kept brushing against the pine needles.
As far as lens quality, I don’t see any noticeable difference between the Olloclip and the 3-in-1 lens. So, here are my results:
- Best “I’m not shooting with a camera phone!” lens: Owle Bubo – I did interviews at the 2011 Cherry Creek Arts Festival with the Owle Bubo and no one spotted the rig as a iPhone add on.
- Best “I want a cheap lens that I can use with an iPhone, iPad, other smart phone”: The 3 in 1 Camera Lens Kit gives you the cheapest option for adding a fish-eye, wide-angle and macro lens which can be added onto just about any smart phone or tablet (or its case).
- Best “I never want to take my phone out of its case” lens: Give the 3 in 1 Camera Lens Kit a shot. I have some concerns about whether the stick-on ring will stay in play with wear, plus the lens can be knocked off, however, at $30 bucks, it won’t break the bank!
- Best “I don’t use a case or I want an all-in-one so I don’t worry about losing parts” lens: The Olloclip. Frankly, I’m drawn to this one. While I hate having to remove my iPhone from it’s case to use the Olloclip, I generally really like it. The lens always is in the right position. Unfortunately, it’s twice the price of the 3-in-1 lens and I do not see that the lenses themselves are better. Argh!
- Best Macro Lens: The Owle. You won’t be able to get as close as with either of the other two lens. However, you get a considerable better image.
Super Secret Extra: what good is a fish-eye on the iPhone?
You would be forgiven for considering a fish-eye lens as a simple gimmick. Sure the look is pretty cool, but how often are you really going to use it?
Well, there is very practical use for the fish-eye and that’s video. The iPhone 4S trims the edges of the screen as part of its image stabilization. This makes the already narrow field of view on an iPhone even narrower. However adding a fish-eye lens restores a wider view.
You can still see a a bit of barrel roll on the sides of the screen. However, it is nowhere near the extent you would expect with a fish-eye lens.