The photographic capabilities of the iPhone have come a long way since the 2-megapixel camera found inside the original model. But, there are times when the onboard camera system might seem restrictive if your creative ambitions 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, 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 five of the best iPhone camera lenses.
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.
More recently, Moment has put an emphasis on mobile cinematography with its brand new Filmmaker Collection. This set includes four accessories designed to push the imaging capabilities of mobile devices. At the core of the kit is a new 1.33x anamorphic lens. It is a true anamorphic optic, widening the high-definition 16:9 aspect ratio to the cinematic standard of 2.40:1 without cropping away any pixels. The remaining components inside the Filmmaker collection are a Gimbal Counterweight, a Lens Filter Adapter, and an iPhone X Battery Photo Case. The Filmmaker Collection is currently available for pre-order via Kickstarter and is set to ship in June 2018.
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 iPhone add-on lenses comes from 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 do find it difficult to remove from the phone when it is no longer needed.
Lenses start at $150 when ordered a la carte. 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. The ExoLens range works with iPhone 6, 6s, and 7 and respective Plus models when used with the appropriate mounting solution. Currently, the company does not have a mounting solution compatible with the iPhone 8 or X.
While all iPhone lenses are fun to play with, they don’t typically do much to replicate the experience of shooting with a more robust camera. Enter Bitplay, a company that makes shooting with an iPhone feel more like working with the real thing. As Digital Trends’ Hillary Grigonis wrote in our Bitplay 7 review, “The case takes all the positives of smartphone photography (convenience, simplicity, immediate sharing) and wraps them in a body that’s designed for actual photography.”
The pieces to the Bitplay systems are sold a la carte for the iPhone 7, iPhone 8, and iPhone X devices. The case, which acts as a mounting point for the lenses and features a dedicated shutter button, sells for $50. The lenses, which are offered in standard and premium versions, cost between $20 and $100. Like other lenses on the market, a few of the Bitplay lenses feature a two-in-one design so you can get two uses out of a single lens.
In addition to lenses, the Bitplay lineup includes a circular polarizer filter. Not usually seen on smaller cameras, this photo filter is designed to cut through reflections and highlights, perfect for when you need to shoot through glass.
Olloclip is the company that popularized external lenses. The accessory maker has been around since the iPhone 4 and had arguably the most ubiquitous add-on optics for the iPhone until Moment and ExoLens came along. Even now, it holds its own, thanks to its compact design and more manageable price point.
Olloclip’s main lenses 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 or 8/8 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. If you’re planning on buying all three lens sets, you can save even more money by buying the Olloclip Filmer’s Kit. For Only $200, you can get $300 worth of gear that includes all three lens sets, as well as Olloclip’s hand grip.
Olloclip is also working on a lens system specifically for the vertical dual-lens setup of the iPhone X, but an exact release and pre-order date is yet to be announced. You can find out more and request to receive updates on Olloclip’s website.
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 are optically coated 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.
This set might not be the prettiest solution, but considering it is less than a tenth of the cost of a Moment lens, it’s hard to beat.