Non-iPhone smartphone photographers have it rough. It seems like every hot new phone camera accessory is for “iPhoneographers” only. Even a lot of “universal” lenses accessories clip onto the edge of the phone — making things awkward for phones that keep the camera in the center of the device. In my hunt for a non-model-specific lens, I found the Photojojo Phone Lens Series.
This set of four magnetic lenses looked to be the perfect equal-opportunity smartphone accessory. It manages to accommodate almost every phone or tablet with a camera lens and will even work with a lot of cases. The coated glass and aluminum lenses attach to a mobile device with a super thin magnetic ring. The ring sticks to the smartphone camera with a strong (but still removable) adhesive. For devices that keep the flash super close to the camera, Photojojo includes a couple rings that have a tiny bite taken out of the edge.
I tested out every lens in the series — a 2x telephoto zoom, super-wide .28x fisheye, medium-wide .68x, and macro lens — on a HTC One X at a scenic overlook in San Francisco. I was relieved that even in the howling wind, the lenses stayed strongly mounted on the phone, only budging when I reached up to adjust their placement.
The lenses themselves are lightweight and very compact. While the four-lens series may imply that there are four different physical lenses, the macro lens is actually the detachable base of the wide-angle lens so you are only really hauling around three lenses.
In terms of distortion, none of the lenses are perfect. The telephoto gives a vertigo-inducing radial blur toward a clear center while the wide angle and fisheye left visible borders around the edges of the frame. The wide-angle lens also caused some significant horizon bending. That said, many smartphone photographers (myself included) love to play with a bit distortion not caused by software filters.
The macro’s performance was very impressive. Setting up a makeshift studio in my living room, I set the One X on a tripod and used a hand-held LED light to illuminate a gerber daisy. The phone did not even focus on the flower until it was about an inch away. My final photo was taken with the lens about a half-inch from the flower. The results were shockingly good but I am glad that I used a close light source because otherwise it would be hard to light the subject under the shadow of the lens and phone.
For comparison, I used the lens set with my iPhone 4S as well. Almost all of the issues that I had with lens distortion disappeared. Despite Photojojo's insistence that their iPhone Lens Series is universal, it clearly has better results with some phones than others. This has to do with the way that the extra lens interacts with the phone's built-in lens.
While we can definitely recommend this set for iPhone users, folks with Android and Windows Phone 8 devices should make sure that their phone cameras are smaller than the lens’ 9.38mm inner ring. Any larger, and all of your photos will include round frame as well as other distortion.
The Photojojo Phone Lens Series is only available through Photojojo and can be purchased piece-by-piece or as a four-lens set. If you want to buy the lenses individually, the telephoto and wide/macro will set you back $20 while the fisheye costs $25. Purchased together, the series is $49.
What we like: The Photojojo lens series is a collection of lightweight, portable lenses that can securely mount to any smartphone camera, though results vary between devices. The fisheye and wide-angle lenses stood out for optics while the macro lens totally blew me away.
What we don’t like: The telephoto’s distortion leaves only a tiny fraction of the entire photo clear, making it frustrating to use in situations where you want more than the center of the image in focus.
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