The iPhone has one of the best smartphone cameras out there. The only thing holding it back? Its fixed lens.
Committed iPhone photographers have long recommended adding an external lens. Olloclip, so far, makes the most popular models that actually offer decent quality.
The German company Zeiss — revered by photographers for its high-quality interchangeable lenses for traditional cameras — already sells a 165-degree lens for the iPhone.
Now it’s taking another step forward with the ExoLens, available for the iPhone 6, 6S, 6 Plus and 6S Plus. At $199 for the wide-angle bundle, it’s certainly pricey, but good lenses are never cheap.
The quality of a lens (as a phone attachment or for a “real” camera) is determined by the design of its glass elements.
A good lens should not only give you sharp photos, but combat nasty problems like distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration.
The old saying “you get what you pay for” definitely applies to Zeiss’s new ExoLens system. Olloclip can’t hold a candle to it.
I’ve been using the new Zeiss lenses — wide-angle, telephoto and macro — all over New York City for the last few weeks and it astounds me how much I can get out of the 8-megapixel camera on my old iPhone 6.
The iPhone lenses themselves look like miniature versions of Zeiss’s classic camera lenses. They’re impossibly adorable and even come with their own little lens hoods and caps. Be careful, though; the rubber caps that cover the lens mounts are so small that I almost lost them several times. (It’s probably a good idea to use the included drawstring bags.)
The Olloclip lens has the advantage of being smaller and easier to clip to your phone. Other lenses — especially the cheaper ones, but even the the $100 Moment lenses — rely on adhesives, magnets, weird rubber bands and clips to attach to your iPhone.
Zeiss’s new lenses screw onto a sturdy metal frame that easily slip on and off your phone. It includes a 1/4-inch tripod mount socket and a slot on the top for attaching other accessories, such as an external flash, which I didn’t get to try.
The frame is brilliant if you’re into letting your iPhone go nude (aka case-less) like me, but will be a big nuisance if you use a case, because you’ll need to remove it before slipping on the Zeiss.
From a quality standpoint, Zeiss’s new lenses are the best I’ve ever used for an iPhone. They’re well-built and the image quality is leaps and bounds better than any other lens I have tried, especially for the wide-angle and telephoto lenses.
Even though it doesn’t let you get as close as Olloclip’s 21x macro lens, it still provides crisp, clear close-ups.
I’ve included a whole bunch of comparisons below showing what you can get with the iPhone’s standard camera lens versus the Zeiss and Olloclip lenses.
With Zeiss’s wide-angle lens, you can squeeze significantly more into a photo. Take a look at this beautiful view of the Empire State Building I took on our office rooftop. A wide-angle lens exaggerates a perspective to make it more epic. It’s great for landscape photography or for making rooms look larger than they really are (real estate agents know all about using a wide-angle lens to make a tiny room appear bigger in listings).
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