Mobile accessory review: Turtleback iPhone SLR Jacket
Turtleback SLR Jacket - compatible with Apple iPhone 4 and 4S, and Canon or Nikon lenses, $249
"Is it homemade or can you buy that?"
That was the very reasonable question posed to me by a passerby while I was shooting with my iPhone 4S plastered onto the camera end of a Canon EF 70-200mm lf/2.8 IS USM lens, via the iPhone SLR Jacket. The SLR Jacket is a veritable time machine that will take you back to a time when cameras were made of sturdy pieces of metal and photographers manually focused upside-down images on glass viewing screens.
The SLR Jacket, made by Turtleback and distributed under the name iPhone SLR Mount in the U.S. by Photojojo, is composed of three elements: a very solid aluminum iPhone 4/4S case with two built-in tripod mounts, a metal depth of field adapter tube and an adapter ring that allows you to mount a Canon or Nikon SLR lens. (An iPhone 5 version is currently available from the manufacturer, but no word yet on whether Photojojo will carry it.)
The DOF adapter is a metal tube with a simple lens on the end near the iPhone lens and a matte focusing screen in the middle. It’s the same kind of focusing screen as in an SLR viewfinder. The DOF adapter allows the iPhone lens to focus on the focusing screen, which is what you’re taking a picture of when you shoot with the SLR Jacket.
To assemble the SLR Jacket, you first slide your iPhone into the two-piece case and secure the two parts together by turning a large flathead screw, which you can do easily with a coin or thumbnail. Then you mount the DOF adapter on the case’s threaded 37mm ring, in front of the iPhone’s lens. After you’ve mounted the DOF adapter, you attach the lens adapter ring to that, then mount your SLR lens.
Putting it all together is pretty quick and straightforward, but there are a few details to attend to: You have to align the rectangular focusing screen with your image frame properly. Otherwise, its edges will show in the corners of your photos. You align it by opening up the DOF adapter and rotating the metal plate in which the screen is mounted. If only a slight adjustment is needed, loosening the adapter a little and jiggling it sometimes works.
Adjusting the screen with the adapter open requires some care. You should never touch the focusing screen itself, since its surface is very delicate. Residue from your fingers can damage it or leave smudges that are hard to remove. The focusing screen plate is not secured by anything when you open the DOF adapter up, so you have to be very careful not to drop it. Any dirt or dust on the focusing screen presents a problem, since its delicate surface is difficult to clean. During my testing I found myself wishing that there were an exterior ring that I could turn to align the focusing screen without opening the adapter.
The lens adapter ring requires the proper technique to loosen as well: Pull the adapter ring out and then turn it. If you try to rotate it before pulling it away from the lens, it won’t budge.
While the SLR Jacket seems at first glance to be a tool that will open up your mobile photography options by letting you use an interchangeable lens system, in fact, it imposes a number of limitations.
Because there is no mirror in the SLR Jacket to flip the image formed on the viewing screen by your lens, you’ll frame your shot upside down. The manufacturer makes a free Turtlehead camera app that will flip the viewfinder image for you, as will the $1.99 Almost DSLR app. If you want to use your favorite camera app, though, you’ll have to hone your upside down compositional skills or hold a hand mirror below your iPhone screen to see the viewfinder image right side up.
The Turtlehead app also has a calibration feature that focuses the iPhone’s lens on the focusing screen, to ensure that you capture the sharpest image possible. After you calibrate the focus, you focus your lens manually. You can also focus easily in other apps by first focusing the iPhone lens with your app and then focusing your lens manually. To control depth of field by adjusting the aperture, you'll need to mount an older, manual lens with a mechanical aperture control. Newer Nikon G lenses, and any Canon EF lenses (among others), won't give you that flexibility. An SLR lens adapter that converts a Canon or Nikon lens mount to another brand's lens mount would allow you to use the system with even more lenses.
Another limitation of this system is image quality. You can mount a $5,000 lens with the SLR Jacket, but you’ll still be taking a picture of a $100 focusing screen. And you'll have paid $249 for the priviledge. In my test images, the ridges on the surface of the focusing screen show faintly, and in some shots they actually create a noticeable moire pattern. It's no surprise that image sharpness isn't as good as you'd expect from the iPhone 4S without an adapter mounted, but dust is also a problem, since the focusing screen is exposed when you mount a lens. Whatever crud gets on the screen will show up clearly in your images.
The bottom line is that if you’re looking for creative options for your iPhone 4/4S and have a compatible lens collection, the SLR Jacket will give you some new tools to play with. And don’t forget that you can mount any filter or accessory lens with a 37mm thread on the case, not just the DOF adapter. However, if you’re hoping to make a leap in image quality or want to utilize the full depth of field control of recently made lenses, those are tricks this contraption won’t pull off.
What we like: Being able to play with a serious lens on a smartphone. This one-of-a-kind device is well made and versatile.
What we don't like: The delicate surface of the focusing screen is difficult to clean and keep that way, you'll frame your shot upside down unless you want to shoot with a specific app that will flip the viewfinder image, control over depth of field is limited when using newer lenses and at $249, this is one of the more expensive iPhone accessories we've seen. Moreover, image quality is nothing to write home about.
Aimee Baldridge is a writer and photographer based in New York. For more than a decade she has specialized in covering imaging technology, digital media, and the world of photography. You can see more of her work at www.aimeebaldridge.com
YouTube channel Filmmaker IQ has put together a very interesting, technically detailed, and scientifically accurate description of exactly how various image sensors (and photographic film) work. One of the best overview videos we've seen.
In Part 1 of his series on photographing Greenland in winter, landscape photographer Erez Marom shares the freezing details of his arrival on the town of Uummannaq where the temperature was -25°C. Still, he went out shooting.
SmugMug has acquired struggling photography site Flickr for an undisclosed sum, with CEO Don MacAskill promising to give the neglected photo sharing service 'the resources that it deserves'.
The APO-Makro-Plasmat 105mm F2.7 is Meyer Optik's latest Kickstarter lens revival, and it promises "natural sharpness, unbelievable color reproduction, and a glowing bokeh united at every step of the aperture" ... whatever that means.
The update also comes with "post-scan cloud processing," which allows you to render 3D models with 4K resolution textures for better detail and realism.
Chinese accessories brand Meike has announced it will introduce an 85mm F1.8 lens for Canon and Nikon full frame DSLRs that will feature autofocus. This will be the company’s first AF lens.
The World Photo Organization has finally revealed the overall winners for the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards, including the coveted Photographer of the Year, Open Photographer of the Year, Youth Photographer of the Year, and Student Photographer of the Year winners.
Venus Optics has unveiled four new lenses that will ship later this year: a wide-angle zoom for Sony FE, a circular fisheye for Micro Four Thirds, a wide-angle lens for the medium format Fujifilm GFX, and a 2x Ultra Macro for multiple full-frame mounts.
The One Backpack is a 5-in-1 modular backpack that can be used as a camera bag, work & gym pack, suit carry backpack, travel pack or tech-backpack.
This highly-specialized lens is perfect for sports, action and wildlife photography. Check out these first sample images for a taste of what it's capable of.
For KFC Hong Kong’s latest ad campaign, New York City-based advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather used Photoshop to magically morph pieces of flaky fried chicken into fire and smoke in various scenes.
The Android and iOS app from Surpuba AR lets you place animated 3D models in real-world environment using augmented reality technology. You can alter poses and location, insert lighting equipment, and more... right from your phone or tablet.
Under the agreement, the two companies will work together to develop Oppo's smartphone camera roadmap, covering optical zoom, depth mapping and other innovative imaging features that dual cameras allow.
Canon is jumping into the portable printing game with the new IVY Mini Photo Printer: a rechargeable battery-powered printer for creating 2x3 prints and stickers of your smartphone snaps on-the-go.
The program first launched last year, but only as a temporary promotion limited to previous-generation GoPro cameras exchanged for discounts on current-generation models. This time around, GoPro is accepting nearly any digital camera in any condition.
One of the most usable 360° cameras on the market is getting even better. With its latest update, Rylo adds a 180° mode, bluetooth remote capture, and a cinematic motion blur effect for your timelapse shots.
Phase One has released the first major update to its Capture One Pro 11 photo editing program. The update adds support for 8 new cameras and 16 new lenses, and includes several new features and functional improvements that speed up workflow.
We recently got our hands on Samsung's latest and greatest smartphone, the dual camera, variable aperture Galaxy S9+, and took it to mostly sunny Southern California for a long weekend.
It's spring, and that means wedding season is upon us! If you're one of the many photographers planning wedding shoots this year, this is a great time to think about including aerial photography in your plans.
The first firmware update for the Sony a7 III addresses an issue in video mode wherein "blinking pixels" would show up along the base of footage recorded with certain settings.
Researchers with Switzerland's EPFL have developed a soft exoskeleton that enables its wearer to control a drone using their upper body. The human-robot interface is said to offer "natural and intuitive control of drones."
Photokina has released an official list of confirmed exhibitors for the 2018 expo, quieting rumors that major brands like Canon and Profoto might follow in Elinchrom's lead and skip this year's show.
For owners of Sony's a7R III, a9 and the new a7 III, there's now an easy fix for the rare but dreaded 'striping' in backlit shots with lots of flare. Click through to learn more.
The team behind the ubiquitous JPEG format has unveiled an all new image format designed to quickly and efficiently stream content across wired and wireless networks alike. Surprisingly, it actually uses less compression than traditional JPEG.
Canon USA has released a promotional video showcasing its latest CMOS sensor technology. Albeit over daraticized, it’s an interesting overlook at the work it’s continually putting into its camera systems.
The large-format digital LargeSense LS911 is the "world's first 8x10 digital single shot camera for sale." The camera features a 12-megapixel 9x11-inch monochrome CMOS sensor, which translates into massive 75 micron pixels.
Pricing and availability have been announced for Tokina's high-end Fírin 20mm F2 FE AF autofocus lens for Sony E-Mount. If you're curious about this lens, you'll be able to pick up your own starting in June for $950 USD.
It's the copyright lawsuit that refuses to die. In September 2017, PETA finally settled its monkey selfie lawsuit with photographer David Slater, but the request to dismiss the case has since been rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
As part of his ongoing ‘Good Light’ YouTube series, London-based photographer Sean Tucker has created a simple tutorial on how to find good natural light for portraits.
The 2018 Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday, with the photography awards going to photojournalist Ryan Kelly for image of a car plowing into protesters in Virginia, and the entire Reuters photo staff for a series on Rohinga refugees fleeing persecution.