Straight Shooter or Accessory Nut

There are tons of mobile accessories out there for photography, primarily lenses that can clip onto or attach to your phone via a case. The question is: should you use them?

When I was a DSLR shooter, I had a variety of lenses and accessories (filters, flash, that sort of thing) for my Canon camera. It was not at all unusual to have a big camera bag full of stuff slung over my back with a tripod in tow when I went shooting. Many of my camera-toting friends also have smaller camera bags for those days when they want to pack with purpose and take only what they need. 

When I got into mobile photography, as my book will tell you (shameless plug), I still had my Canon stuff and held onto it for a few years before finally getting rid of it. When I shot with my iPhone, I enjoyed the simplicity of it and the lightness of just carrying a single capture device. It was so much easier on the old back. Although I had no issue with using a variety of lenses and such on my Canon, I flat out refused to accept the idea of putting an add-on lens on my iPhone. It just wasn’t happening. I felt it tainted the integrity of mobile photography. My thought was that if you wanted to use extra lenses in photography, use a traditional camera.

When add-on lenses first hit the mobile scene, well I really didn’t know when that was because I wasn’t paying attention closely enough. My attention was consumed by the world of apps for editing, processing, or creating works of art on my iPhone. I was also building on my social network of mobile photography buffs (mostly on Instagram), those like-minded people I’ve come to know. I guess I could say I was too busy to worry about accessories. 

I’ve learned over the past few years that using add-on lenses on a phone really is a thing, and it’s a thing that I’m now into. There are plenty of choices out there in the mobile photography space for lenses, and the quality of some of them is very good. My lenses of choice are from Moment. There are others, as I said, and some of them are more expensive, which may qualify them to be of better quality, but Moment lenses are excellent quality for the price. No, this isn’t a review of Moment lenses, nor am I trying to sell you on them, that’s just what I use and I thought I should include why.

My reason for writing this piece is to enlighten you on the use of external lenses for your mobile photography so you can decide if it’s a possible avenue you may want to take in your photography. So, why WOULD you want to use a lens over your phone? Quite simply, to expand on your image composition and photographic style. Lenses change the angle of view from what your phone normally gives you.

A wide angle can take a “normal” wide angle view and turn it into a wider view or even give it a fisheye look, whereby you can get more of the scene in the frame without having to back up. This not only changes the angle of view, but it changes the way you shoot any given scene. It makes you think a little more and opens up your mind to a new level of creativity. Placing a wide-angle lens over the already wide angle camera of your phone is a great way to include some interesting foreground in a landscape photo or give an interesting perspective to some architectural photos. 

Above: This is an outdoor Amphitheatre and the iPhone camera can get most of the seating area (the curved lines covered in snow) in the frame.
Below: With the Moment Wide (18 mm) lens attached to the wide camera on the iPhone Xs Max I was able to get much more of the seating area in the frame.

One of my favourite lenses is the Macro. When I started shooting with one of these lenses, I felt like I was experiencing a whole new world. I could get lost in my backyard for an hour and not even realize how much time had passed by. I see things from a completely different perspective, and putting the Macro lens over the 2x camera of my iPhone enhances this experience even more. The shallow depth of field in macro work makes it challenging to get the shot you want but when you get it right, it’s very rewarding. Some camera apps like Camera+ 2 have a Macro mode and I believe some Android phones have a macro mode built in but they don’t get as close as a lens and they are just digitally zooming so the image quality is not as good. 

This small droplet of water was captured with my iPhone 6s (so no iPhone Tele to take advantage of) and the Moment Macro. I’m always amazed at how much detail comes out in an image like this. Look at the tiny hairlike… things to the right of the droplet, and what appear to be spider eggs on top of it. You just can’t get that with macro software.

Moment has a new (as of the time I write this article) 58 mm Tele Lens that is very clear and sharp, edge to edge. The two-camera iPhones have a wide angle and the 2x telephoto. The wide angle is 28 mm on the 7 Plus, 8 Plus and X but changed to 26 mm on the Xs and Xs Max. Obviously, the telephoto cameras on these phones are simply two times the focal length and produce decent photos, but the aperture isn’t as large as the wide angle and they need more light to allow for a fast enough shutter speed to capture a sharp image. The caveat is that the image quality suffers because the camera needs to use a higher ISO value, which produces more noise. Apple’s Camera app will use a magical combination of both cameras to produce a telephoto image if there isn’t enough light for the smaller aperture to do the job on its own. This is where the Moment Tele comes in handy. I put it on the wide angle of my Xs Max and the focal length is very close to the 2x camera. I don’t know what the actual focal length becomes in this situation but I’m sure the answer is out there. 

My wife took this photo of me with my iPhone Xs Max using Portrait Mode in the Apple Camera app. Just a straight forward shot. Note the bokeh in the background. The Xs and the Xs Max, when in Portrait Mode, have the ability to change the “f/stop” from f/1.4 to f/16, thus changing the blur in the background. It’s a computational way of altering the depth of field, and it can be done before or after the shot. This shot was taken with that feature at its default setting of f/4.5.
This one was with a Moment Tele over the iPhone’s wide angle camera. I asked my wife to move to where I would look the same size in the frame; I wasn’t concerned about how much the Tele brought me closer, just the way it showed compared to the Portrait Mode image. This also illustrates how the Moment over the wide angle will look somewhat similar to the 2x camera of the iPhone.
I got my wife to shoot this photo to compare the background blur to the one in Portrait Mode.

The three images in the gallery above are to illustrate how the Moment Tele can change the dynamics of the scene without moving an inch. This is where the Tele would be an asset at a concert or sporting event. Again, the iPhone’s telephoto has a smaller aperture so it will not get as much light for a bright image compared to the wide angle camera, but on a day with ample light, like the day I shot these – even near dusk – it’s a non-issue.

The Moment Tele, when placed over the iPhone’s 2x, or telephoto camera, naturally produced a little more background blur then when over the wide angle camera. This is because the optics are different from one camera to the other, and the aperture goes from f/1.8 in the wide angle to f/2.4 in the telephoto. This is generally not possible in the Apple Camera app because of the way, at times, it uses both cameras to produce a telephoto image. I use Halide for most of my work, especially when using a lens over the cameras because it allows me to manually select the wide angle or telephoto camera without worrying about the camera software trying to utilize both cameras together.

So I’ve mentioned wide angle, macro and telephoto, and I’ve skipped fisheye, but that’s like wide angle, just really wide and more like a GoPro. Besides, I don’t have a fisheye so I can’t speak on it or show examples. There is one that I do have and that’s an Anamorphic lens that I use to shoot video. It gives that wide, narrow view you see when you watch a movie that has black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. The Anamorphic from Moment also produces lens flares akin to what you see in a J.J. Abrams movie. It’s pretty cool. Prior to owning this lens I would shoot with the Wide lens and create the crop in FiLMiCPro, an app made for shooting video on the iPhone. When it comes to video, if you’re just shooting something for casual viewing, like family activities or an event, using the phone without a lens would be fine; these add-on lenses are more for doing stuff with a purpose, especially in film making. 

The natural panoramic look of the Moment Anamorphic lens.

I think you can tell by now what side of the fence I’m on in the “use” or “don’t use” camp when it comes to add-on lenses. I definitely use them. In fact, I have a case, also from Moment, made specifically for carrying my lenses and other stuff. But to answer the question, “Should you shoot with add-on lenses attached to your Phone?”, well you certainly don’t have to, and I know lots of people who prefer not to, but if you want to explore the possibilities of creating something different from the masses, my answer to that question is a definite “yes!”

My name is Greg and I’m an accessory nut. I love having options when I’m out shooting. I don’t consider myself to be overly creative, but when I have my lens kit with me, my mind is always working a little extra, looking for ways to make a shot more interesting. I’ve always taken a photographic approach to mobile photography and I suppose the desire to use different lenses on my phone stems over from my DSLR days even though I resisted at first. 

If you don’t have any accessory lenses for your phone, think long and hard about how much you’d use them before buying, because the good ones will cost you some hard-earned money. But, if you do take the plunge, I’m sure you’ll love using them. Do your research. Look at as many different lenses as you can find. Read the reviews. Don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer if you have any questions about their products. If you have any questions about the Moment line, drop me a line on Twitter and I’d be glad to help out. You can find me on there as @mcmillan_photo

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