Review: Olloclip 3-in-One Photo Lens for iPhone 4 + 4S
One of the most difficult challenges we face as product reviewers is the reality that there are many different types of iPhone users out there, and accessories that may work wonderfully for some users will make little or no sense to others. Olloclip's 3-in-One Photo Lens for iPhone 4 + 4S ($70) throws this challenge into stark relief: it's a set of three add-on lenses that legitimately improve the photographic capabilities of Apple's most impressive cameras, but require users to use their glass-bodied iPhones completely bare. Because of that design decision, the 3-in-One Photo Lens is far less practical than it could have been for some users, but other users will find its capabilities to be impressive -- your personal take will depend largely on how you use and carry your iPhone 4/4S around.
Though some people will scoff at the very idea of carrying a lens kit around for a point-and-shoot camera, Olloclip has done a really great job of making that easy. There’s only a single thing to toss into your pocket—a tiny black drawstring bag, which when opened reveals a single plastic, metal, and glass accessory that pops onto the top corner of either iPhone with ease. Turn it in one direction and you’ll be adding a large, ultra-wide-angle fisheye lens to your device; here, there’s nothing to do except pull off the black plastic lens cap before shooting. Flip it around and you have your choice of two additional lenses: a regular wide-angle lens by default, unscrewed to reveal a macro lens underneath. There’s a single black plastic cap covering both of these lenses, so if you’re going to do a lot of macro shooting, you’ll need to plan to screw and unscrew the wide-angle lens each time you need to get at what’s underneath it.
Each of Olloclip’s lenses has an idiosyncrasy or two that photographers will need to understand before making a purchase. Start with the macro lens, which the developer notes is designed to be used at 12-15 millimeter distances from its subject. That’s seriously crazy close, with a shallow depth of field that more often than not resulted in blurry images, either due to shaky hands, iPhone autofocusing changes, or too much distance from the item to be photographed. When this lens is properly focused at a very short distance from the subject, and held completely still, it’s capable of creating some seriously cool up-close images, but macro mode on most point-and-shoot cameras is optimized for more comfortable, practical distances and stability considerations. The leaf photo here was the best of several handheld shots of the same tiny subject outside in bright light; the wax “é” is an example of what can be achieved with a steady hand and some luck at a close distance.
Olloclip’s regular wide-angle lens is also a little surprising. On a positive note, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, widening the viewing angle seen by the iPhone’s camera from something in the 32mm equivalent range to something around 18mm—Olloclip describes it as “approximately double that of the normal iPhone.” If you’ve ever struggled to fit more people into your group photographs, or to capture wider vistas outdoors, you’ll appreciate all of the extra detail you’re capturing off to the top, bottom, and sides when this lens is attached.
However, the angle Olloclip chose is seriously wide, leading to very obvious barrel distortion in all of the corners, and going beyond what most point-and-shoot photographers would actually need in width. The corners are also soft, a common issue we’ve seen with wide-angle attachments for prior iPhones and non-iPhone cameras; Olloclip could have achieved superior image quality by choosing a less dramatic width here. Even so, we’d consider this to be the most practical of the lenses in the 3-in-One Photo Lens package; it’s the one we would use the most.
If any of the lenses performed exactly as expected, that would be the fisheye lens, which provides “approximately a 180 Degree field-of-view”—a viewing angle that most photographers understand up front necessitates tremendous distortion, a trade-off for capturing distinctive and unusual images. Olloclip’s version achieves considerable width, complete with the black corners and dramatic edge softness we’re accustomed to seeing in fisheye lenses; you can see both quite easily in our sample images. The fisheye lens represents the biggest change from the iPhone 4/4S’s native capabilities, and offers a field of view that you’ll never find in a typical point-and-shoot camera. But there’s a reason for that: very few photographers want to capture what looks like security or stunt camera width images. Extreme sport and abstract art fans may feel otherwise.
The issue that’s common to all of these lenses is mounting. Olloclip’s hard black plastic “clip” is perfectly shaped and sturdy, tightly aligning each lens atop the iPhone 4/4S camera with nothing more than a simple slide on, and removing it with a slide off. Tiny pads inside the clip prevent it from scratching the iPhone’s glass front and back. But if you hope to use the 3-in-One Photo Lens at the same time as an iPhone 4/4S case, shell, or bumper of any sort, you’re completely out of luck. Even more surprising was the fact that the 3-in-One Photo Lens had issues with screen protectors we tested, pulling them right off of the iPhone’s face unless we were extremely careful during installation and removal. Magnetically attached iPhone add-on lenses such as the Digital King series had their own problems, but at least these weren’t among them.
Though we’re all photographers, our editors split considerably when discussing the 3-in-One Photo Lens’s practical value. One of us generally liked two of the lenses but wouldn’t go through the trouble of removing a case to use them. Another found the iPhone 4/4S’s integrated lens perfectly acceptable for all of his shooting needs. And two others noted that while Olloclip had done a nice job of making the 3-in-One Photo Lens small and easy enough to carry, the inconvenience of having to attach and detach something for point-and-shoot photography—case or no case—made the accessory impractical. In short, despite its capabilities, the 3-in-One Photo Lens wasn’t something any of us would actually use, and mounting was as much to blame as anything else. But if mounting wasn’t an issue, at least one and possibly more of us might have used it more often.
Overall, the 3-in-One Photo Lens is an interesting accessory: it does pretty much what it says it will do, and though each of its lenses is less than ideal, users can radically expand their iPhone 4/4S’s photographic capabilities just using one of them, let alone all three. Olloclip’s price also strikes us as very fair given the optical quality and overall design of the set, which are pretty impressive given the range of problems that other developers have encountered with past add-ons of this sort. However, the appeal of this package is limited by the mounting system, which all but demands that users choose between it and protecting Apple’s most fragile iPhones, an inconvenience that regrettably drops the otherwise worthwhile and well-designed accessory down to a limited recommendation and B- rating. Hopefully Olloclip will continue to work on a second-generation mounting system and even more impressive lenses, as some of our editors would definitely enjoy using accessories like this with our iPhones—assuming that Apple doesn’t add similar capabilities to the next-generation model on its own.