Review: Action Life Media mCAMLITE for iPhone 5/5s
Action Life Media's mCAMLITE for iPhone 5/5s ($130) combines elements of other camera accessories we've covered before, but stands out on its own as a unique product. It’s made up of several components; in addition to the heavy billet aluminum core with an attached macro lens, there’s a screw-on wide angle lens, two lens caps, a 180° pivoting microphone attachment, a faux leather rubber case, and a carrying satchel. The concept here is to improve photo and video performance, though the execution is more cumbersome and expensive than Olloclip’s Quick-Flip Case and lenses.
The included case provides protection for the iPhone when it’s not being used inside the metal frame. Although it comes across as a cheap, OEM-sourced option, it does offer full body protection along with Sleep/Wake and volume button coverage. As a pack-in, it’s fine enough. By comparison, the aluminum frame is large and heavy, though sculpted to fit in the hand rather comfortably despite its bulk. It takes some force to push the iPhone into place, and once it’s in, a hole on the iPhone’s back allows you to push it back out. We’re generally wary of anything that requires so much force to be applied to a handset, but ours went in and out without any damage.
mCAMLITE’s body blocks the iPhone’s Sleep/Wake button — the quick start guide suggests using the assistive touch accessibility feature to turn the phone on and off — but leaves the side switch and volume buttons exposed, as well as the inputs and outputs on the bottom edge. Along its base, there are three tripod mounts, and a fourth located on top next to a cold shoe mount. The most evident element, however, is the huge camera lens attachment. Permanently built into the frame, the macro lens has a 1.5” diameter, which is huge when compared Olloclip’s lenses. The 37mm wide angle is even bigger, at 2” across.
We’d expect that such huge lenses would lead to better optical quality, but in side-by-side comparisons, Action Life Media’s big lenses were roughly on par with Olloclip’s really small ones, which is to say that you shouldn’t expect superior performance despite the considerable added bulk. Both the macro and wide angle lenses showed noticeable softness and substantial perspective distortion at the edges, enough so that images were very obviously skewed. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s no way to use the iPhone’s camera without a lens while in this accessory, and that the glass completely blocks both the flash and noise-canceling rear microphone.
That rear microphone blockage turns out to be an issue when using mCAMLITE. Unless the included boom mic is plugged in to the headphone port, audio is noticeably muffled and muted. Connecting the mic does improve things a bit, bringing up the fidelity and apparent dynamic range of the audio. However, the best sound we heard came from an unencumbered iPhone, which outside of mCAMLITE does a better job of blocking out background noise and capturing a much wider, more dynamic range of audio.
Given other options in the marketplace, it’s hard to recommend mCAMLITE to any specific audience. OlloClip’s Quick-Flip Case and lens attachments offer roughly the same level of functionality at a markedly lower price, and are more portable and less obtrusive. mCAMLITE is burdensomely large and heavy, and creates as many issues as it solves. It works well enough for what it’s supposed to do, but the tradeoffs just aren’t worth it. Ultimately, it comes in at a C rating. It’s not a bad accessory, but a sequel could really stand to be streamlined and offer a markedly superior experience to smaller and less expensive competitors.