Smartphone cameras are getting better and better, but they still have limitations. Add-on lenses for the iPhone—as well as other smartphones—can expand its capabilities by letting you take fisheye, wide-angle, macro, and telephoto pictures, opening up new possibilities with smartphone photography.
After testing dozens of models, our favorite iPhone camera lenses are Moment's lenses, which can not only be used with Apple's devices, but a wide variety of Android phones (including Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, and OnePlus). They're pricey, but the image quality you get from Moment's lenses is simply the best around.
iPhone owners looking for a more affordable lens kit should check out Olloclip, which has multiple lens kits under $100, such as the Mobile Photography Box Set, the standard three lens Core Set, the Active Set which includes an ultra-wide angle and 2x telephoto lenses, or the Macro Pro Lens Set which features lenses with 7x, 14x and 21x magnification.
Latest News and Updates (March 2019)
- Moment has launched its fourth mobile video film festival. The Moment Invitational '19 is offering up to $100,000 in cash and prizes, and the 15 finalists will be flown to New York for a premiere. While the deadline to submit films has ended, voting on the finalists will start on April 15.
- Pictar is releasing the Pictar Pro, which adds a camera-like grip to your smartphone. Made of brass, the case attaches to a wide range of smartphones, and includes four physical dials and a shutter button, which, when used with the Pictar app, can control such things as shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, and more. It also has a tripod mount and a shoe for attaching an external flash. It's available on Kickstarter for $119.
Not Just for iPhones
You don't have to own one of Apple's smartphones to use add-on lenses: Moment sells cases from $24 to $30 that fit all Pixel smartphones, as well as the Galaxy S8, S8+, S9, S9+, Note 8, and Note 9.
Olloclip has a universal adapter for its new lenses so that they'll work with most smartphones up to 12mm in thickness. The Olloclip Multi-Device Clip works with the company's Connect X lenses, and will be available on its own for $19; you can also purchase it with a lens, ranging in price from $59.99 to $119.99.
While expensive—each lens costs between $90 to $100—the images from Moment's lenses (telephoto, wide angle, macro, and fish-eye) are some of the best we've seen from any smartphone camera lens attachment. They have a solid build quality, work with a range of smartphones and are compatible with a wide variety of cases. You really get what you pay for.
Like Olloclip's older kits, the Mobile Photography Box Set contains three lenses, which can be used interchangeably with all three of the iPhone X's cameras. The lenses were easy to swap, and the clip that connects the lenses to the iPhone was the easiest to use of all the lens kits we've tested. While not as sharp as premium lenses from Moment and others, Olloclip's lenses offer the greatest combination of performance and price.
In a shootout with three other premium telephoto lenses, Shiftcam's came out on top for its value, ease of use, and performance. However, the company only makes cases for iPhones; if you have an Android phone, take a look at Moment's or Sandmarc's lenses instead.
Starting at $100, Olloclip's Core Lens Set offers a great starting point to improve your iPhone photography. The kit comes with fisheye, 15x macro and super-wide lenses and features an easy-to-use reversible clip system so you can use the cameras on both the front and back of the iPhone 7. And if you're looking for even more options, you can purchase additional lenses from Olloclip for between $40 and $60. The only major downsides are that the clip won't fit over most iPhone cases and that not all of Olloclip's lenses can be used with the iPhone 7 Plus' secondary zoom camera.
While you only get two lenses with this kit, Aukey's Ora lens set, which works with a wide range of smartphones, produced the best images among the budget iPhone lens kits we tested. Both its 140-degree wide-angle and 10x macro lens performed well against the competition, and we liked that it even came with a lens cap and carrying case.
While it’s not like the other lenses on this page, in that it replaces your iPhone’s camera, rather than augmenting it, the DxO One takes much better pictures without taking up too much room in your pocket. Its 1-inch sensor is on a par with much larger cameras, and it works even when it’s not connected to your iPhone. Plugged in, it uses your iPhone’s display as a viewfinder, and gives you full manual controls, if you so desire. It’s not cheap, but it’s a great device for those who want to travel light and still get poster-worthy images.
Using two lenses, the Insta360 Nano lets you take 360-degree videos and photos, whether this accessory is attached to your iPhone or not. However, when connected (iPhone 6/6s, 6 Plus and 6s Plus only), you can also stream to Facebook and quickly post your shots online. It has an 800 mAh battery, so it won't drain your phone, and a microSD card slot (up to 64GB) means you won't use you your phone's storage, too. The Insta360 Nano also comes with its own VR headset, so you can easily relive the moments you captured in a virtual setting.
iPhone Lens Tips and Advice: What to Know Before You Buy
For the most part, smartphones lens accessories do an admirable job of allowing you to shoot photos that mimic some of the qualities you'll find in high-end camera that accepts interchangeable lenses. But it's important to remember, the expensive lenses you'd use with an SLR or mirrorless camera are pricey for a reason. In other words, you'll want to dial back your expectations when buying one of these smartphone lenses.
Here are four things to remember about most smartphone lens accessories, and where they come up short in comparison to high-end cameras.:
At best, image quality remains the same: Since these lenses, in almost all cases, are attached by placing them over the rear-facing lens on your phone, the quality, at best, remains the same. In other words, the sensor and lenses combo isn't improved. In some cases, with say a telephoto lens, the sharpness in the center may display modest improvement; however, it's in the corners of the photo where sharpness really needs to be tested. With these lenses, the sharpness almost always falls dramatically in the corners. Most of these lenses will also introduce a host of other problems, such as distortion, chromatic aberration (producing conspicuous purple outlines around subjects), and light falloff (where the center is much brighter than the images at the edges of a photo). Most high-quality interchangeable lenses made for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are designed to significantly limit distortion, aberrations, and other optical defects. The DxO One is the one exception since it attaching differently to your smartphone.
Telephoto lenses produce worse images and video than wide angle: No matter what telephoto lens you attach to your phone, it will produce blurrier photos and more jittery video footage than any wide angle or fisheye. That's because telephoto lenses are highly susceptible to handshake and vibration. It's also because smartphones lack the powerful optical and mechanical image-stabilization systems built into DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and the interchangeable lenses you use with those systems.
Lower quality flash photos: Some smartphone lenses block a smartphone's flash, which further limits your ability to capture decent photos in low light.This is rarely an issue with an interchangeable-lens camera.
Awkward designs and other limitations: Since these lenses need to fit snugly over your smartphone's lens, you'll need to remove the camera's case, or be forced to use a case that's only compatible with the lens. Additionally, once you attach the lens, it prominently sticks out from the phone, ruining its sleek design. Good luck slipping that into your back pocket! Lastly, these lenses lack the sophisticated apertures and other hardware you'll find on interchangeable lenses, which allow you produce truly professional looking images.
Three Accessories for your iPhone Lens Kit
While a lens kit can extend the type of images and video you shoot on your iPhone, you can take that quality even further. How? Check out the following accessories, which can help improve the type of photos and videos you capture.
External flash: It’s difficult to produce a good photo or decent video if you’re shooting in very dim light. So, pick up an external flash unit, like the iBower Smartphone LED Video Light, ($39.95), which you charge up via a USB port. It’s great for improving photos and video.
Tripod: In low light, a tripod can be invaluable if you’re using a standalone digital camera. It’s even more important with a phone, since the lens and sensor aren’t as capable as what you get on a digital camera. Plus, if you’re using a telephoto accessory lens, a tripod lets you steady your iPhone and avoid any movements that might cause your photo to blur or video footage to look jittery. Consider a portable tripod like the JOBY GripTight GorillaPod Stand, ($29.95), which fits small smartphones including the iPhone 6, iPhone 7, and iPhone 8.
Battery packs: You might have the latest and greatest smartphone as well as a great lens kit, lighting unit, and other extra accessories, but if your phone is out of power, you’re finished for the day. A battery pack or power bank lets you charge up your phone, and get back shooting again. Some popular models are battery packs from Mophie, Anker, and Jackery.