For a few dollars' worth of hardware and magnets, you can make a case that stands up on its own, has a tripod mount and accepts other lenses.

As good as your smartphone camera is, there are a few things it can’t do very well out of the box.

It doesn’t have a tripod mount. Its lens is lacking in telephoto reach and unless you’ve got the Nokia 808 Pureview, digital zoom isn't going to cut it. Depending on your device, your wide-angle coverage and macro capabilities may also be weak spots. And something as simple as resting it on a flat surface to shoot a photo or video can be tough, if not impossible.

To make your smartphone more like a real camera, you’ll need add-ons. There are accessories that fix many of these problems, such as cases and stands that provide a tripod mount, slide-on lens attachments that fit any smartphone and beefier rigs that offer both tripod mounts and lenses. However, many of these accessories cost a lot of money. For example, the Studio Neat Glif+ will run you $30, the Olloclip is $70 and the iPhone Lens Dial asks you to spend the somewhat absurd $250. (Yes, that's a higher price than the iPhone itself with most service contracts.)

All it takes is a little creativity to solve the same problems, save a lot of money and have fun in the process. Here’s how to build your own smartphone stand/tripod-mount/lens-mount case using an old phone case, some rare-earth magnets, a few washers and bolts and some Krazy Glue. Minus the price of the old case I used, the entire project cost me $7.38 — and $5 of that was the cost of the Krazy Glue.

The majestic DIY case in its self-standing glory. Empire State Building sold separately.

For my DIY tripod/stand/lens rig, I worked with an old Incipio NGP Matte case and an iPhone 4S. However, this project should work for any phone, just as long as its case has a flat edge; you may run into trouble with the bottom magnetic mounts if your case or phone has curved edges or a very slim profile.

What the DIY Case Does and How You Should Use It

This DIY case is not meant to be used as your primary phone case. Instead, it’s a secondary case to use if you want to attach your phone to a tripod, experiment with optics that aren’t built specifically for your phone and securely attach your phone to metallic surfaces and other DIY rigs. Keep in mind that this case has magnets all over it. You’ll want to keep it away from subway cards, key cards, ATM cards and anything else that has a magnetic strip.

This project has three components. First, we’ll glue some very strong magnets to the bottom of your phone case. Putting washers on the magnets gives your phone feet and lets it stand up on its own. The magnets will let you use any metal surface as a secure base for steady shooting. 

Even without its washer feet, the case stands up on its own on a metal base.

Second, we’ll create a metal tripod-mount plate that the magnets can stick to. This will let you use your phone with a standard tripod, so that’s nice.

The case mounts magnetically to a simple rig that screws onto a tripod.

And third, we’ll put a metal ring around the case’s lens hole that you can use as a lens mount. It won’t let you attach a DSLR lens to your phone, but it will let you use lenses made for other devices: Photojojo’s magnetic lenses, lens attachments for the Flip camcorder and even objects like magnifying glasses and door peepholes if you use other high-powered magnets to secure them (more on that later).

The third step in the project (attaching a metal plate around the lens hole in your case) is a useful one for anyone who wants to experiment with DIY optics and third-party accessories, but keep in mind that you’ll need to supply your own lenses. What's more, if you already have clip-on lens attachments such as the Olloclip, you should continue to use those with your primary phone case. Those accessories won’t fit this rig once you attach the lens-mount plate.