The cameras on our phones are fantastic shooters, especially if you have something like the iPhone 7 Plus. Controls on those camera phones are another story, as they often leave you tapping the screen in frustration, or looking for settings that just aren’t there. That’s where the Pictar comes in. It combines a spring-loaded grip with a free app to transform an iPhone into something that feels like a DSLR.
Available today (May 17) in two sizes that work on both standard-sized iPhones for $100 or the bigger Plus models for $110, the Pictar sports three dials for adjusting settings such as zoom, mode, shutter/exposure compensation along with a true two-step shutter button. That means just like on a real camera, you can press halfway down to focus, then down a bit more to snap the pic.
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There’s also a padded grip to make sure your phone won’t slip out of your hands, a cold shoe on top for attaching things like an external flash and a standard tripod mount on bottom. Because the Pictar communicates with your phone using ultrasonic audio cues instead of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, the Pictar's battery should last 4 to 6 months on a charge, according to Miggo, the company that makes the phone add-on.
Having gone hands-on with the Pictar, I found setup to be dead simple, too. Just slip your phone in the cradle, launch the Pictar camera app (available for free in the App Store) and off you go. For me, the best thing about the Pictar is that there’s a full manual mode — something that’s not available with Apple’s default camera app. I also find the virtual dial built into the left side of the screen super handy, as it adds one easy-to-reach location for adjusting settings.
Even though this is a third-party app, you won’t lose the ability to capture Live Photos while you’re out shooting. Available modes include landscape, action, manual, shutter priority, ISO, auto, selfie, video and more.
Weighing less than 3 ounces, the Pictar is light enough to toss in a bag without it weighing you down. An included carrying case helps you easily keep it safe while not in use.
I have one minor complaint with the Pictar: I wish the dials felt a bit more precise, as they don’t have the full tactile feedback that you’d get from a jog wheel on a Canon or Nikon camera. However, considering this is a grip that costs a fraction of the price of even the cheapest DSLRs, it’s definitely not something I’d consider a deal breaker.
Photo credits: Tom's Guide/Sam Rutherford