The photographic capabilities of the iPhone have come a long way since the 2-megapixel camera found inside the initial iPhone. But, there are times when the onboard camera system might seem restrictive if your creative desires are outside the limitations put in place. As a response, there are plenty of third-party accessories that claim to unlock the iPhone’s photographic potential.
Some of the most capable accessories are external lenses, which are made specifically to provide iPhones with the lens flexibility that is common with DSLR and mirrorless cameras, whether it’s a wide-angle, telephoto, or macro lens. To help you narrow down your search for what lenses might best fit your needs, we rounded up six of the best iPhone camera lenses, with synopses on what they are and how they work.
Launched in August 2013, Moment has quickly made a name for itself as one of the best third-party lens manufacturers for iOS devices. Proof of this lies in the fact that Apple now sells Moment lenses inside its stores , an impressive feat considering how particular Apple is about its retail space.
Moment has a slew of lens offerings going back to the iPhone 4, with lenses ranging from macro to telephoto. The lenses themselves are made of glass optical elements and are housed inside a metal frame. This increases image quality and provides a durable piece of equipment that can probably take more of a beating than the phone you are putting the lenses on.
At $90 for a single lens and $190 for a starter kit (which includes the wide-angle lens, telephoto lens, and mounting plate), Moment is not the most frugal option. But it is a reasonable price for glass optics and sturdy build.
Another high-end lineup of lenses for iPhones is ExoLens. Based around Zeiss glass, the ExoLens system offers multiple professional-level lenses in a pocketable form factor.
Like Moment, the frame that houses the optical elements of each lens is constructed of milled aluminum. Currently, ExoLens offers three distinct lenses: A macro lens, a wide-angle lens, and a telephoto lens. The wide-angle has been one of our go-to lenses because of its ability to capture high-quality photos and videos with minimal artifacts and distortions.
ExoLens offers three means of attaching a lens to an iPhone: A minimal bracket, a more robust bracket, and a dedicated case. We like the larger bracket because it has a tripod screw mount and a cold shoe for adding an accessory, like an LED lamp or microphone, but we find it difficult to remove from the phone when it is no longer needed.
Lenses start at $150 when ordered a la carte, while a kit, which includes a single lens and a bracket, start at $200. Again, it is not the most affordable option, but you won’t find a better-constructed iPhone lens on the market.
All of these iPhone lenses are fun to play with, but they don’t do much to replicate the experience of shooting with a more robust camera. Enter Bitplay 7, an iPhone case and lens system designed to make shooting with an iPhone feel more like working with a point-and-shoot camera.
The pieces to the Bitplay 7 are sold a la carte. The case, which acts as a mounting point for the lenses and features a dedicated shutter button, sells for $50, while the lenses cost between $25 and $100. Like other lenses on the market, a few of the Bitplay 7 lenses feature a 2-in–1 design so you can get two uses out of a single lens.
In addition to lenses, the Bitplay 7 lineup includes a circular polarizer filter. Not usually seen on smaller cameras, this photo filter is designed to cut through reflections and highlights — similar to DSLR photo filters.
To sum up the experience of shooting with the Bitplay 7, we will reference the words of our own Hillary Grigonis, in our Bitplay 7 review: “The Bitplay 7 case takes all the positives of smartphone photography (convenience, simplicity, immediate sharing) and wraps them in a body that’s designed for actual photography.”
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Olloclip is the company that popularized external lenses. The accessory maker has been around since the iPhone 4 and was arguably the most ubiquitous add-on optics available for iPhones, until Moment and ExoLens came along. Even now, it holds its own, thanks to its compact design and more manageable price point.
The latest series of Olloclip products come in three different sets: The Core, Active, and Macro Pro. In addition to having the main camera connection system, which snaps onto your iPhone 7/7 Plus, each set includes a collection of dedicated lenses.
The Core set includes a fisheye, 15x macro, and a super-wide lens; the Active set includes both a telephoto and an ultra-wide lens; and the Macro Pro set includes 7x, 14x, and 21x macro lenses, as well as an InstaFocus hood to ensure you get tack-sharp images every time.
Olloclip sets start at $80, which puts them below the price of the Moment and ExoLens sets. They might not be made of milled aluminum, but Olloclip has made a name for itself, and rightly so. They are quality lenses at a comparatively affordable price.
If you are looking for something a little more budget-friendly than the previous products, look no further. The self-proclaimed “world’s first dual-optics lens solution” for the iPhone 7 Plus is a clever solution to making the most of the latest iPhone’s double-camera system.
The patent-pending lens system relies on a dedicated case that has a slot for slipping the lens modules into. The two set of lenses (one fisheye/telephoto and one macro) simply slide into place when you need to use them and slide right back out when you’re finished.
Normally, the Kamerar Zoom would set you back $45, but ahead of the next iPhone unveiling, the company reduced the price to just $25, making it an affordable option for stepping up your iPhone photography.
Aukey 3-in–1 Lens Set
Much like its expansive lineup of cables and cases, Aukey’s clip-on smartphone lens system is one of the best values out there. For just $12, you can pick up the 3-in-1 set, which includes a wide-angle, macro, and fisheye lens.
In addition to the price, Aukey’s lens system stands out because it is not dependent on a specific case or mounting point. Instead, it uses a simple clip-on solution, akin to a clothespin.
The lenses and clips are constructed of aluminum alloy and the lenses themselves include coatings to help reduce chromatic aberrations, ghosting, reflections, and lens flair. Each set comes with the lenses, the lens clips, a carrying pouch, a cleaning cloth, and a 24-month warranty in the event something breaks.
This set might not be the prettiest solution, but considering it is less than a tenth of the cost of Moment, it’s hard to beat.