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Switch Lenses at a Fast Clip

Last month’s iPhone 7 announcement was good news for photography and video buffs. True to advance speculation, the iPhone 7 Plus comes with a dual-lens camera and the ability to switch optically from normal to telephoto even while recording. Factor in its improved low light capability, as well as countless other features, and the new iPhone is a great step forward.

phoneEven without upgrading to one of the new devices, you can still enjoy the benefits of multiple lenses with your current iPhone. And, if you did spring for a new model, why not hang on to your older device, add some accessories and use it as a second camera? Numerous add-on lens kits are available to give any iPhone a new lease on life. Last month I looked at a system from Ztylus Innovation. This time I’ll try out a lens kit/case combination from olloclip.

Olloclip was one of the first companies to offer quality add-on lenses for the iPhone. The original product clipped directly onto the phone (without a case) over the camera opening. Before long, the company expanded their product line with a wider range of lenses, cases and accessories. Today, olloclip offers lenses for every iPhone model from the 4 to the 6s Plus, as well as for the iPad. And designs are under way for a lens kit suitable for the iPhone 7.

The olloclip lens kit itself is a plastic saddle with attached lenses pointing in opposite directions. If you snap it onto your iPhone one way, it’s a telephoto lens. Reposition it by 180 degrees, and it becomes a wide-angle or macro device. The kit works with both front and rear-facing cameras.

The “4-in–1” lens model for the iPhone 6 family offers a fisheye lens on one side and a wide-angle on the other. These lenses unscrew to reveal two different macro lenses underneath. Overall, this setup is great for shooting detailed close-up photos, panoramic landscapes or group selfies.

Another olloclip model offers a different combination of lenses. The wide-angle/macro pairing on one side is complemented by a 2x telephoto lens on the other. In addition, there is a glare-reducing Circular Polarizing Lens (CPL) that snaps onto either of the others. It’s a versatile kit well suited to both stills and video.

In daily use, the lens kits snap onto a coloured plastic pendant that you can carry in your pocket or wear on a lanyard. When needed, just remove a kit and mount it onto your iPhone.

capto_capture-2016-12-02_04-59-11_pmBoth models work seamlessly with olloclip’s Studio case, a veritable toolkit for all occasions. The case itself offers solid iPhone protection, a slip-resistant rubberized surface and comes equipped with an adjustable wrist strap. When needed, just slide a lens kit over the wide cutout on the studio case and line up your preferred lens with the iPhone camera.

The back side of the case is engraved with a narrow rectangular groove that runs like a racetrack over its surface. The fun begins when you slide in the various modular accessories that come with the case. Choose from two tripod mounts for both portrait and landscape orientation; two cold shoe adapters to hold a small microphone or light; or a kickstand to prop up your device for reading or playback.

I especially like the ingenious finger grip, a moveable handhold that provides welcome leverage and better stability while shooting with your iPhone. After a couple of days’ of use, I found the finger grip both comfortable and effective.

While the various accessories add valuable options to your shooting setup, the collection of small pieces can be a challenge to manage in the field.

Likewise, the small lens caps that come with the kit require constant attention. You’ll find yourself forever popping them on and off whenever you mount a lens. And they’re easy to lose. Within the first 10 minutes, I dropped my first one and watched it roll slowly down a sewer grate. Of course, you can leave the caps off in between sessions, but the lenses then become a magnet for fingerprints. So it’s a good idea to keep a microfibre cloth handy.

Also, if you’ve installed a protective screen on your iPhone be aware that the olloclip lens kit won’t play nice with it. I’ve seen more than one screen wrinkle and peel back while clipping on a lens.

These small annoyances aside, the olloclip system is easy to use and offers a quick switch of focal lengths on the go. But, how does it perform where it really counts – in image quality?

With the wide-angle lens, the olloclip did a decent job. Images showed a bit of distortion and blurring towards the edges, but not unacceptably so. However, the telephoto lens didn’t measure up quite as well. The still frames below were pulled from video clips (1080p, 60fps) shot with different lenses.

Compare the results from the telephoto camera in the iPhone 7 Plus (2) to those from an iPhone 6 Plus equipped with the Ztylus Z-Prime lens (3) and the olloclip (4). Notice the softness in the olloclip image towards the sides of the frame. (I shot several sequences in different locations, with similar results.) To be fair, the olloclip was equivalent to several other lens kits I tested. Only the Ztylus Z-Prime stood out from the rest. It rated just a notch below the iPhone 7 Plus telephoto lens. Now, have a look at the actual video clips in the sequence below.

 

 

To sum up, the olloclip system has a lot going for it. The wide-angle and telephoto lenses deliver results comparable to most other kits I’ve tried and they can extend your shooting range for both video and stills. The clip design makes it quick and easy to switch lenses on the go.

The Studio case is a great addition. It not only offers solid protection for your iPhone but it brings several useful accessories into play to enhance your shooting experience. Interestingly enough, the case’s oversized camera cutout (designed for the wide olloclip) allows it to accommodate the dual lens and LED light on the iPhone 7 Plus. So, you could comfortably slip your new phone into the Studio case and benefit from its tripod mounts, cold shoes and finger grip accessories. Note that while it’s a perfect fit, the stereo speaker on one side will be partially covered.

The olloclip Studio case for iPhone 6 Plus/6s Plus (with accessories) retails, by itself, on Amazon for $89.99 or together with a telephoto/wide-angle/CPL lens combo for $199.99. The telephoto/wide-angle/CPL lens combo on its own goes for $119.99. Numerous other lens kits, cases and accessories for different iPhone and iPad models are also listed on the olloclip site.

 

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