Rating: ★★★★½

The iPhone 4′s camera may not boast the same punch in terms of megapixels as found in some other smartphones, but thanks to Apple’s engineering team and kick ass operating system it’s one of the best smartphone shooters available. However, it’s still a smartphone and as a result its lens is fixed with no built-in mounting option for adding additional lenses. That is unless of course you’ve got your hands on something like, oh, the olloclip.

I first got word of the handy device thanks to Kickstarter.com. To be honest I couldn’t help but gush poetic about the diminutive sized device, even though at the time I didn’t have an iPhone 4, which is the only handset it’s currently compatible with. A shortcoming many of you Android users will be quick to point out, but a none issue for any of you in possession of Apple’s current device. And who knows, maybe they’ll develop a version that works for a variety of smartphones.

Design

The olloclip is pretty straight forward. It packs three lenses: a wide-angle, a fish eye lens and a hidden macro lens. Unscrew and remove the wide angle lens and you’ll expose a macro lens that eclipses the iPhone’s abilities by almost a 10 fold.

Unlike some other iPhone lenses, this one does not require a case to work with the handset. It simply slips over the corner of the iPhone, covering the lock button and the iPhone’s camera. There is no pass through button, so you’ll need to remove the olloclip if you want to manually lock your phone or use the flash. But truthfully it’s a none issue since the olloclip can be quickly added and removed.

Included is a small pouch to store the olloclip, which can then fit into almost any sized pant pocket. It will prevent the olloclip from collecting lint and dust. Each lens has a removable cover so it serves as a good storage bag for these as well.

The olloclip contains a lens on either side, though the wide angle is the only lens that can be removed. To alternate between the wide angle and fish eye lens you simply need to remove it, physically flip it 180 degrees and reattach it. As I’ve already mentioned the wide angle lens doubles as a macro lens. Just unscrew it and and you’ll expose the macro lens which is hidden beneath.

Performance

olloclip macro lens, which creates a “bokeh” effect

In terms of optical performance the olloclip almost matches the iPhone’s. The wide angle lens provides about twice the view of the iPhone’s standard lens, while the fisheye provides an almost 180 degree view of its surroundings. With any fisheye lens there is of course the inevitable caveat of being able to see the lens casing in the picture, but that’s also the expected and warranted effect. As you can see in the below photo, which compares the iPhone’s lens against the fisheye lens, the colors are tweaked and the quality of the image is slightly degraded. The degradation is probably a result of packing in more information into the pic, so it’s to be expected.

iPhone lens (left) vs olloclip fisheye lens (right) – click to enlarge

The macro lens is ridiculously awesome. If you’re looking for an up close shoot this is how to get it. However, you’ll need a relatively steady hand and good lighting since the iPhone has a hard time focusing in on the object using this lens. I tried to capture a close up of a flower, but the blowing wind kept moving its position making it difficult for the iPhone to hone its focus.

iPhone standard lens (left) vs olloclip wide angle lens (right) – click to enlarge

In bright sunlight the olloclip’s wide-angle and fish eye lenses tended to catch a sun flare in the center of the image, as seen in some of the shots above. In some regards it could be considered an added effect, while in others a bit of a nuisance. However, it seemed to be only an issue in bright sunlight.

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Build Quality

From a build quality perspective I’ve got no qualms with the olloclip. It’s body is crafted from a ABS black plastic, while the lenses are made from aircraft grade aluminum using a CNC machine and then anodized. Some might have a bit of apprehension about a Kickstarter.com funded project, but much like Apple they’ve nailed the production process. The version I received was in all black, but if you’d like they make a version that includes a set of red lenses.
I actually spent some time removing and reattaching the olloclip to ensure it didn’t leave any scuffs on my white iPhone’s facade. After all, the olloclip, at least the mount, is made from a black hard plastic, so the concern is justified.

Conclusion

Since the iPhone 5 is supposedly arriving sometime in October I asked its founders what their plans were for future models. They say they’ll produce iterations for future Apple devices, but they have no immediate plans to make a version of the olloclip that allows you to remove and attach additional lenses, such as a telephoto lens. In other words the version you buy now will only be available for the iPhone 4, unless of course Apple doesn’t change the iPhone’s form factor.

Bottom line is that the olloclip is pretty damn awesome. It adds a whole new dimension to capturing pictures with the handset. It’s extremely well made, light weight and perhaps might even transform the iPhone 4 to a level that is suitable enough for some consumers to overlook the purchase of a more expensive standalone digital camera. However, the legacy compatibility is a caveat that has me a tad frustrated and might leave some waiting for the next iPhone to arrive before making a $70 investment.

You can buy the olloclip directly for $69.99.

Pros:

  • Three lenses in one package: fisheye, wide-angle and macro
  • Light weight and smallest enough to fit in a pocket
  • No special iPhone case required

Cons:

  • Flares in bright sunlight
  • Covers iPhone’s flash rendering it useless
  • Won’t work with future iPhone models of a different form factor



Christen Costa

 
Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."