iPhone Photo Gear Review: Photojojo 8x Telephoto Lens for iPhone 4
The iPhone camera does not have a true zoom lens per se. It has a digital zoom. That means that the camera lacks the actual lenses to “zoom” you closer to your subject. Apple’s Camera app achieves a similar effect with a software zoom effect by cropping and resampling on the fly. As you zoom in closer — asking the iPhone do more with essentially fewer pixels — your images become noisier and fuzzier.
An optical lens will nearly always give better results than a digital zoom. If you use the iPhone camera’s digital zoom often, you may want to consider purchasing an external optical zoom lens. The 8X Telephoto Lens for iPhone from Photojojo is a good — not perfect –optical telephoto lens for a value price.
The lens and all the gear arrives in a box that’s cleverly packaged to be very similar to an old iPhone 2G box. (And, from Photojojo, you get the plastic dinosaur as well.)
The kit comes equipped comes nicely equipped with a lot of stuff. In addition to the 8X lens you get two lens caps, a plastic iPhone case with a lens mounting ring, a bag to store the lens in when not in use, a small tabletop tripod, a quick release camera iPhone camera mount, and a microfiber cleaning rag.
The kit comes with everything you need to be up to be up and running with the lens in just a few minutes. Mine came with a with a plastic case specifically for my iPhone 4. The kit is also available for the iPhone 3G and 3GS.
You won’t want to use this plastic case as your everyday case, but it’s sturdy enough to protect your iPhone from everyday bumps and scrapes while you’re on a shoot with the lens. The case snaps quickly and easily on and off your iPhone.
A window in the case exposes both the iPhone 4′s camera lens and external flash. However, the lens mount is raised about 1/8″ and may obstruct some of the light from the flash. This is really not an issue while you’re using this lens, as the lens itself covers up the flash. But it’s nice that you can leave the case on the phone and still get most of the usable light from your flash if needed.
The lens body itself is also made of plastic, and for $35 I strongly suspect the optics are plastic as well. The lens threads quickly and easily into the case. I like that the lens mounts into a case that’s designed specifically for the iPhone. This new case solves the alignment problems found in previous versions of this lens kit. Since both parts are plastic, be careful not to strip either the lens threads or the mount.
The lens is lightweight and fits in your pocket. Once mounted to the iPhone, it affects the balance of the device far less than you would expect. It is not a zoom lens. It’s a fixed 8X telephoto lens. Visually, your subject should appear 6 to 8 times closer than if you had used the normal camera.
The lens body has a rubberized focus ring. The focus ranges from 3M to infinity, and is labeled in metric only. The focus ring doesn’t work correctly. It scrolls way past the 3M minimum and is very inaccurate. It took me an afternoon to figure this out.
I’d read in other reviews of this lens that the reviewer had similar issues and just left the focus near infinity and let the iPhone’s camera focus. This did not work for me. I had to manually focus the lens using the iPhone’s viewfinder. I got the best results and the sharpest images when I did so. There’s a lot of guesswork focusing this lens, but the results are worth it.
The higher the zoom level, the more apparent little shakes become in the image. Fortunately, the kit comes with a small aluminum tabletop tripod and camera mount to help stabilize the camera while shooting. The aluminum tripod is pocket-sized and is fairly sturdy. It has a standard 1/4″ thread mount and will fit any camera. The spring-loaded, fast-release camera mount iPhone mounts quickly and securely holds and releases your iPhone. You can also use the included camera mount with any other standard-mount tripod. This rig is definitely worth the premium that you would pay for this kit over a similar lens kit from eBay.
Previous versions of this lens came with a clunky, cumbersome, all-in-one lens mount that was difficult to align on an iPhone and took a lot of time to set up. This case is pre-aligned for iPhone, and the lens just screws right in, perfectly aligned. The process to set it up literally took me seconds until I was ready to shoot.
How does it work? Remember it is a $35 lens. That said, once I got the hang of the focus, results were visibly superior to the iPhone camera’s built-in digital zoom. In comparison shots, the lens made a noticeable difference. Details were visibly clearer and sharper, especially compared to similar shots taken with a digital zoom. Once I got the focus issues resolved, I got some clear, crisp images with this lens. Text from signs was sharp and readable with none of the resampling artifacts. Detail in leaves and grass were much clearer. If you nail the focus, it’s possible to get some impressive images. If you nail the focus….
Click to enlarge the sample images below:
It is possible to get good results using this lens in a handheld configuration, but I got clearer sharper results when the camera and lens were stabilized on the tripod.
For $35, it’s an inexpensive, good lens. Again, it is a $35 lens — you won’t be throwing away your DSLR anytime soon. The measurements on the focus ring are inaccurate and useless. You really need to visually adjust the focus. You’ll blow a few pictures until you figure it out. The lens has some chromatic aberrations and lens barrel distortions. There’s slight vignetting in the corners of the frame (it’s barely visible and can easily be cropped out). The iPhone 4′s rolling shutter effect is visible when using this lens. The rubber pull of the clamp on the tripod mount often slipped out of its slot. It was no trouble to reinsert, but it was a little frustrating. And I’m not sure if the lens actually gets you 8X closer to your subject as advertised. It looks more like 6X to me. These sound worse than they are. None of these are deal breakers for me. Just be aware of limitations of this lens.
Why would you even need a telephoto lens? Nature photographers will appreciate the ability to get in closer to wildlife without scaring it off. You’ll be able to take closer, clearer photography at concerts and sporting events. Some have touted its ability for paparazzi. I can’t argue with that. It’s a lightweight, fast mounting portable lens on a camera that’s with you nearly all the time.
You could probably find this lens for less on eBay, but it may not have all the really good stuff that makes this kit work. Plus, Photojojo’s customer support is outstanding.
If you are looking for a telephoto lens, this is a good lens, but not great. This lens is marketed under other brands — Eye Scope, iScope, but the included gear with this kit really make this lens the better buy over some of its competitors.
It won’t turn your iPhone into a Sigma 1000, but it will definitely and visibly improve your telephoto images. Nothing beats actually getting the camera close to your subject. When that’s not an option, this lens is worth considering. It’s lightweight and much more portable than a DSLR lens. It has a few quirks, but it’s a definite improvement over the iPhone’s built-in digital zoom.
>> Minimum focus distance: 3m
>> Magnification: 8x
>> Field view: 246m
>>Lens Weight: approx. 1.6 oz.
>>Lens measures approximately 2.76″ (L) x 1.18″ (W)
The 8x Telephoto Lens is available for iPhone 4 and 3G/3GS from Photojojo. It sells for $35.