The selection of accessory lenses for most iPhone models is pretty overwhelming. However, there is one exception: the iPhone 7 Plus dual-cam with its new 28 and 56mm equivalent lenses makes design and engineering of accessory lens solutions somewhat more complex than on the standard models. As a result, there still aren't a lot of add-on lenses to choose from. Some time ago we tested the Kamerar attachment which adds more tele reach, macro capability and a fish-eye lens to the 7 Plus camera.
Now, you can get behind a new option on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform. The Shiftcam camera lens case offers a similar concept to the Kamerar but aims to take things one step further by adding even more lens options. The current prototype design includes the following three lens pairs that slide over the iPhone's dual-camera lenses:
- 120-degree Wide-angle / 2X Telephoto
- 10X Macro / 20X Macro
- 180 Degree Fisheye Lens / 2X Telephoto
The makers of the Shiftcam are currently collecting funds for finalization of the design and mass production on the Shiftcam Kickstarter page, but got ahold of a prototype unit. Read on to find out how it performed in our testing.
Operation and build quality
The Shiftcam system consists of two parts: a protective case and the lens module that slides into a guide rail on the case. The module can be removed if you aren't planning to use the lenses for a while and want to keep them in a safe place. The build quality is a far cry from the premium look and feel of the iPhone, but the Shiftcam's plastic material feels solid and the design is functional. The lens module moves noticeably smoother than on the Kamerar, but still slots into place with reassurance. A small camera grip allows for comfortable holding and the corrugated surface ensures a safe grip. You can also attach a camera strap.
As with the Kamerar, it is advisable to use a camera app that allows you to force the camera to use the tele-lens in lower light, such as Camera+ or Manual Camera for example. In dimmer conditions, the iPhone 7 Plus stock camera app will digitally zoom the wide-angle rather than using the telephoto lens, which means the Shiftcam lenses don't line up properly with the iPhone's camera modules anymore.
As you can see in the samples below the add-on lenses only have a minimal impact on color response and exposure. Both wide-angle and fisheye are sharp at the center of the frame but fall off towards the edges. As you would expect, this fall-off is more drastic on the fisheye. Some vignetting is noticeable when photographing bright scenes on the wide-angle but the effect is within acceptable limits.
Overall the optical quality of the Shiftcam wide-angle and fisheye is not outstanding, but decent for smartphone add-on lenses in this price range. Both lenses are useful for those situations when you want to squeeze more of a scene into your frame.
|iPhone 7 Plus wide-angle, ISO 20, 1/754 sec|
|Shiftcam wide-angle, ISO 20, 1/2037 sec|
|Shiftcam fisheye, ISO 20, 1/2179 sec|
The Shiftcam comes with two tele lenses, one combined with the wide-angle, the other comes in a pair with the fisheye. The two lenses offer an identical focal length multiplier but having two of them simply means you don't have to change the position of the Shiftcam lens slider so often.
However, on our prototype unit the image results of the two tele lenses were quite different. One lens showed a very noticeable softness across the frame while the other was much sharper. If Shiftcam manages to get the optical quality for both tele lenses on the same high level as our second telephoto sample shot below, it offers a great way of getting closer to your subject when shooting with an iPhone.
|iPhone 7 Plus tele lens, ISO 20, 1/2128 sec|
|Shiftcam telephoto lens 1, ISO 20, 1/643 sec|
|Shiftcam telephoto lens 2, ISO 20, 1/736 sec|
The Shiftcam case also comes with 10x and 20x macro lenses which are located next to each other on the lens slider. The 10x uses the iPhone's wide-angle lens, the 20x is in front of the tele. Both lenses are capable of producing good sharpness in the focal plane and very useful levels of magnification.
That said, depth-of-field is minimal and putting the focus where you want it is a real challenge. As you can see in the sample below, shooting handheld I did not quite manage to do so with the 10x lens, despite several attempts. My hit rate with the 20x was better and with the right subject it's possible to capture very nice macro images. You'll have to get very close to the subject though, so living creatures might be scared away. You also have to be careful to not shade the scene with your phone.
|Shiftcam 10x Macro, ISO 20, 1/1140 sec|
|Shiftcam 20x Macro, ISO 20, 1/479 sec|
The optical quality of the Shiftcam lenses is pretty much in line with typical add-on lenses in the lower price bracket. The wide-angle and fisheye are fine at the center of the frame but get pretty bad towards the edges. One of the tele lenses is pretty sharp, but the other one on our test unit appears to be slightly misaligned. The macro lenses can produce decent quality if focused correctly.
However, the Shiftcam's unique selling proposition is not optical quality but the fact that it combines all those lenses in a very easy-to-use lens case. Switching lenses is really quick and much less fiddly than with individual add-ons or even the Kamerar, which, despite a similar concept to the Shiftcam, uses 2 lens sliders instead just one.
If you own an iPhone 7 Plus, the Shiftcam is a very affordable and convenient way of experimenting with add-on lenses and expanding the focal range of your built-in camera. Given that we were using a prototype unit, there is also a chance that optical quality will be further improved for production lenses. You've still got a few more hours to secure a Shiftcam case by pledging $59 on Kickstarter. The Shiftcam makers have also modified the original August shipping date and are now envisaging the first units to ship by the end of June.
What we like:
- Easy operation
- Useful hand grip and good ergonomics
- Good selection of lenses
What we don't like:
- Strong corner softness on fisheye and wide-angle
- One of the tele lenses is soft
- Macro lenses difficult to focus
There are 17 images in our Shiftcam for iPhone 7 Plus samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.
Sep 23, 2017
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