Review: Olloclip 3-in-One Photo Lens for iPhone 5
When we reviewed the original Olloclip 3-in-One Photo Lens for iPhone 4 + 4S a year and a half ago, our biggest issue with the otherwise thoughtfully designed camera accessory was its lack of case compatibility: the small and easily pocketable three-lens collection required iPhone users to remove their cases to take pictures -- a problem given that roughly 80% of iPhone owners use cases. Now Olloclip has finally addressed that issue in a roundabout but reasonable way: rather than radically redesigning the lens, Olloclip first released a nearly identical-looking, same-priced version called the 3-in-One Photo Lens for iPhone 5 ($70) that fits the thinner device's housing, then debuted the Quick-Flip Case + Pro-Photo Adapter ($50) to go along with it. The Quick-Flip Case is specifically designed to work with the Photo Lens, as well as a user's self-supplied tripod and/or flash accessories, increasing the iPhone 5's versatility as a camera. As of the date of this review, Olloclip is offering a lens and case bundle for $100, but it's unclear whether that price will stick, go up, or drop in the future.
Very little has changed between the iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5 versions of the 3-in-One Photo Lens. You still get a set of three metal-housed lenses held together with screws and a central plastic frame, the latter designed to slip onto the iPhone’s edge and precisely center the lenses atop its rear-facing camera. Two plastic lens caps are included—one for the larger, permanently-attached fisheye lens, and one for the medium-sized wide-angle lens, which unscrews from the third lens, a 10x closeup lens that’s hidden unless you need it. Olloclip also includes a soft microfiber drawstring carrying bag for the accessory, which you can use to clean off a lens as necessary. Two color schemes are available: red metal with black plastic, and black metal with white plastic.
As discussed in our prior 3-in-One Photo Lens review, Olloclip’s lenses are optically fine rather than excellent—no shock given the relatively low total price, but somewhat disappointing given Apple’s continual improvements in iPhone camera technology. The wide-angle lens extends the iPhone from a roughly 32mm-equivalent regular width to something around 18mm-equivalent, while the fisheye promises “approximately a 180 Degree field-of-view,” and the macro lens is designed to offer 10x magnification at a very short 12-15mm distance.
Olloclip’s wide-angle and fisheye lenses are sharp in their centers but introduce very obvious softness and distortion at their edges, while the 10x close-up lens offers extremely shallow depth-of-field around a very small focus area—you’ll fill your frame with objects that are 1-2 inches in size, max. Our sample images show that none of the lenses delivers professional-quality results, but for amateur users looking to capture a wider area with compromised sharpness, or a smaller area with greatly compromised width, they work. They’re not up to snuff in sharpness or distortion with the iPhone 5’s integrated lens, an issue that’s even more apparent on this iPhone than with its predecessors.
If you hope to use virtually any existing iPhone 5 case with the 3-in-One Lens, you have only one option: take the whole case off, an inconvenience that very few users would want to deal with just for a lens. So Olloclip built the Quick-Flip Case as an official alternative—a hard plastic frame with a rotating top corner that opens to permit the lenses full access to the rear camera whenever needed. The corner locks firmly into place when closed, unlocking with a little tug and swiveling easily into a fully open and lens-compatible position. While the Quick-Flip Case is otherwise little more than a shell—a basic and not particularly shock-resistant frame that covers the iPhone’s back and parts of its sides without offering top, bottom, button, or face protection—some nicely molded ridges and a unique detachable piece called the Pro-Photo Adapter give it a little aesthetic finesse.
There are two ways to rate Olloclip’s 3-in-One Photo Lens and Quick-Flip Case + Pro-Photo Adapter—separately as $70 and $50 options, and together as a $100 bundle. In both situations, we’d describe the accessories as “good but too expensive;” the lenses collectively deliver fine rather than excellent results, and the case similarly offers generally adequate rather than outstanding protection, both at significantly higher prices than alternatives we’ve tested. However, their performance is offset by the bundle’s convenience, which is increased markedly by their thoughtful integration, making it possible for a user to keep a case on while using the lenses—something that just wasn’t possible before. For $100, we’d call them worthy of a limited recommendation given the optical quality of the lenses and the protection of the shell; at a lower price, they’d be easier to like or love.
However, when they’re sold separately, the $70 3-in-One Lens and the $50 Quick-Flip Case both merit a slightly lower C+ rating. The Lens’s still-soft optics feel like a bigger let-down given the enhanced performance of the iPhone 5’s built-in lens relative to the iPhone 4 and 4S, and the case is not protective enough when compared against good to great $35 alternatives we’ve tested. We wouldn’t recommend either part separately, but if you’re willing to sell out $100 for them together, they make more sense. Ideally, Olloclip will use both of these products as starting points for next-generation versions, building upon the system it has developed but with improved performance and protection.