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iPhone Telephoto Lens

September 1st, 2011
Get in close with an 8x iPhone telephoto lens.

I’m not usually a fan of foreign made products that a company slaps their name onto, but this one is fun. It’s not perfect, but no other iPhone lens can give you that close shave feel, like this one. There are many photographers of varying degrees of sophistication that love using their iPhones to take pictures. If no other camera is available, it's nice to have that capability on your phone. There are even books devoted to iPhone camera photography, most notably, The Best Camera is the One That’s With You. (See end of review.) I'm not in that group. I didn't save up 5 years for a DSLR, so that I could take 5-megapixel pictures with my phone and depend that it knows where I want to focus. Then, I stumbled across the iPhone Telephoto Lens offered by Photojojo.

This removable lens fits on the iPhone 3G/3GS or any iPhone 4. As it happens, a car accident prevented me from toting my DSLR and Sigma 50- 500mm lens that I'm testing, but around the same time I received this little gem. So, I wasn't SOL as far as shooting close up photos. Those that know me also know I love big zoom lenses. I like to get right up the nose of anything I frame in my camera. While I didn't expect much from the Photojojo 8x Telephoto Lens, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the results.

What’s In the Box

The lens ships in a sturdy black box that contains everything you need. It comes with a mini-tripod, a hard iPhone case, an attachment for the case on which to attach the tripod, the plastic 8x telephoto lens with 2 cap covers, a cleaning cloth, a draw-string bag, and information sheet. (Note: If you intend to give this item as a present to a child, please remove the sheet first, as it contains some nudity.)

Box Contents

The black stiff rubber case doesn't do much to protect your iPhone, but it includes the necessary cutout for the camera and another opening in which you screw the lens. You should take care when installing the lens, because the screw mount is plastic and therefore easy to misalign or strip the threads. When it's misaligned it can fall off, so I hope you have fast hands. Thankfully, I caught mine a couple of times before it hit the ground. I don't recommend you leave the lens on the camera when you put it inside a bag or purse; that seems a good way to damage the case and lens, although I doubt it will hurt your phone. I suspect the screw threads won't last long if you carelessly install and remove the lens often.

Screw Mount

The tripod attachment for the case has a spring and a pull-tab, so it is easy to install on the phone case. The attachment includes a universal screw mount for a tripod. Although the included tripod is serviceable, with 4-inch long legs and a ball head so you can rotate the phone, I found the Original GorillaPod from JOBY ($19.95) more versatile. After one shoot with the included tripod, in which I could not balance the tripod on a rock, I switched to the GorillaPod. This tripod with your iPhone gives you more latitude in how you set up your phone to take shots in a wide variety of settings, while the included tripod limits you to a flat surface. JOBY also makes an iPhone 4 case version of the GorillaPod for $39.95.

iPhone Attached to Tripod

One problem I had with the lens is the focus. Whereas the iPhone focuses itself under normal shooting conditions, the 8xLens has a rubber focus ring, and it can be difficult to see if your shot is in focus. It is a challenge in bright light or low light conditions. I also found that it is easy to move the phone after you find the right focus, and your shot is still blurry. A tripod helps this problem, but I was reluctant to perch my iPhone, even with my GorillaPod, near a body of water.

Rubber Manual Focus Ring

The most serious problem occurred the fourth time I used the lens with the tripod. I found this little black thing on the floor and as I often find unidentifiable pieces on my floor, I put it into my “I have no idea what this is” box. It turned out to be the tripod screw mount from the universal holder. I am not quite sure how it was secured in the recessed spot, but it fell out. I was able to push it back into the opening. I suppose it can be glued in place, but if glue gets on the screw threads, you can’t attach the tripod anymore. This could be due to my error, but now I have to be doubly careful not to lose that little piece when shooting outside. I recommend that you attach that drawstring bag to your belt, so that you can insert and not lose the lens caps when you remove them to shoot. You need to keep them with you, because once you scratch a lens, your only solution is to become a whiz at using the content aware filter in Photoshop CS 5.

The Photos

Photojojo notes that you are “stretching the focal length of your fixed iPhone lens,” and consequently you might find dark edges, called vignetting around the edges of your shots. Your shots may also include a bit of noise, but both those problems can be edited out.

Duck Feeding on Waterfall Edge-Cropped Shot

Full Size (100%) Crop Showing Noise

The iPhone 4 camera lens is about 3.85mm (f/2.8 lens), which corresponds to 35mm film camera equivalent lens of 29.4mm (f/21.4). Below is a shot from the camera without the lens.

Heron Fishing – iPhone 4 Camera

Here are two shots (different day) with the Photojojo 8x Telephone Lens attached, which roughly corresponds to the 35mm equivalent of over 200mm. I did not color correct these photos, and they look a bit blue, but any photo editing program can fix the color. I want to show you the real thing, not an edited version.

Heron Fishing – iPhone 4 Telephoto Lens

For comparison’s sake, here is a similar shot created with my Nikon D90 and a Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO lens, shot at 210mm (315mm 35mm equivalent). By the way, this lens retails for $2450.

Heron Fishing – Camera and Sigma 50-500mm Lens

These shots included moving water and birds, plus were taken late in the day. These few examples highlight the nice shots you can get with the Photojojo Telephoto Lens even in a difficult situation. The iPhone camera lens works best on a cloudy day, when the sun won’t obscure your ability to see the display.

I think this is a great present for anyone who loves to take shots with their iPhone, but I can almost guarantee a young child will break it within days. If you take care and never rush to install the lens, you should probably get more than a few months of enjoyment. Seriously, where else can you get a prime lens that's almost equivalent to 400mm for only $35? (The tripod by itself would cost you at least $5.00 with shipping on the Net.) You can find other lens solutions in the Photojojo store, but none at this focal length for the price. As you can see by my shots I need more practice with this lens, but I find it fun to use and it certainly is easier to carry than the 4.3 pound Sigma zoom lens. Even with its inherent problems, I recommend this lens for any camera phone enthusiast.

Which Lens Do You Want to Carry?
Sigma 50-500mm on Left – iPhone 8x Telephoto Lens on Right

About the Book

The Best Camera is the One That’s With You by Chase Jarvis contains a photographic journal of his iPhone shots taken over a year. It opens your photographic mind to the wide array of topics you can cover with your iPhone camera. You can purchase the little book at many online retailers, but the official Peachpit site gives you the best overview. Chase also runs a free to join online community of iPhone shooters that use his Best Camera app.

Heron and duck photos ©2011 ilene hoffman.
-Easy to install case and lens.

-8x Telephone lens.

-Includes tripod.

-Great price.

-Much easier to carry than equivalent DSLR lens.

-Lens has cheap plastic screw mount.

-Tripod mount came apart after 3 uses.

-Focusing takes practice.