Looking to bring simplicity to iPhone photography, Exolens is a straightforward lens kit offering a metal skeleton that slides over your phone, and a threaded mount for attaching your choice of two lenses. But at $130, for just one wide angle and one 3x telephoto lenses, it costs more than similar kits from competitors who offer more lenses or more features. Is the Exolens' quest for simplicity really worth a $30 premium?
Like scaffolding around a building, the Exolens surrounds your iPhone 6 using a rock-solid machined aluminum frame lined with an ultra-soft foam that hugs your device with a reassuringly firm grip. However, its skeletal design leaves large parts of the phone — such as the entire bottom half — unprotected, and its snug fit means you'll need to remove any case you have on your iPhone whenever you want to attach a lens.
A threaded mount lets you screw in and unscrew lenses with ease. Like the frame, the glass lenses are also housed in aluminum, and have a confidence-inspiring heft and feel.
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Across the back, a metal arm reaches across to the other side of the phone, and features a 0.25-inch screw mount so you can attach the Exolens to a tripod. The kit also comes with a hood for the telephoto lens, a cloth drawstring bag and plastic lens caps for both front and back sides of the lenses.
Exolens' 165-degree wide angle lens offers a not-quite fisheye view, along with the tunnel-like barrel distortion that comes with such expansive perspectives. In a shot at Madison Square Park, I was almost able to completely capture the circular pond in front of Farragut Monument, while retaining good focus on the center of the frame.
However, the picture is soft along the edges, especially on the brightly lit area on the right, and slightly blurrier than what I saw from Olloclip's or Ztylus' wide-angle lenses.
The Exolens 3x telephoto lens offers the same magnification as the Manfrotto zoom lens, but with less pincushion distortion. In a side-by-side comparison, a shot of NYC's historic Flatiron Building using the Exolens looks straighter than a photo from Manfrotto's 3x lens.
However, the Manfrotto has no vignetting (darkening around the corners).
The Exolens is strong and sturdy, but its image quality falls a bit short. Plus, its large frame makes the Exolens less pocket-friendly than other, less expensive kits. The Exolens also doesn't have an iPhone 6 Plus model, and only has two lens options. This means at $130, even with its decent image quality, kits from Olloclip and Ztylus are often better options than the Exolens.