Review: Olloclip Telephoto + Circular Polarizing Lens for iPhone 5
Olloclip has made some of the most noteworthy iPhone lens attachments released over the last few years, but several issues have prevented its accessories from being universally appealing: iffy optical quality, fairly high prices, and an attachment system that's incompatible with almost every iPhone case on the market. Yet the company's basic concept -- offering a set of simple but different lenses in one compact package -- is surely a winner, and some photo-loving iPhone owners who don't use cases have embraced its solutions. This month's release of the new Telephoto + Circular Polarizing Lens for iPhone 5 ($100) is a milestone, as Olloclip has substantially addressed one of its prior issues, and is on the way to remedying another.
As compared with Olloclip’s original accessory, the 3-in-1 Photo Lens, the Telephoto + Circular Polarizing Lens focuses on lens quality rather than quantity. Substantial in the hand and made from a slate iPhone 5-matching anodized aluminum with a central plastic mount, the Lens looks handsome and professional—both tangible steps upward in size and class.
A larger body enables the Lens to hold four glass elements, all used in the 2X (two times magnification) telephoto adapter, which like all lenses benefits from the additional light-gathering capabilities of larger glass pieces. Yet the Telephoto + Circular Polarizing Lens combination remains as pocketable as before, fitting neatly inside a very slightly larger gray drawstring bag with a much smaller second gray bag provided to hold detachable components. A clear plastic lens cap is included for the Telephoto Lens, which looks nice and works well to protect the glass when it’s not in use.
Relative to what the iPhone 5 can do on its own, the optical improvements achieved by the Telephoto Lens are non-trivial. Images viewed at 100% or greater magnification reveal dramatically higher levels of detail in Olloclip-assisted images—obvious blinds in the windows of a home snapped from across the street that otherwise looked like a flat gray sheet, hinges on the windows, and similarly finer gradations in leaves, branches, and other distant objects.
Chromatic aberration and modest blurring at the edges of the frame were noticeable but not terrible, a major improvement over the optically iffy results we saw from the prior 3-in-1 Photo Lens. It should go without saying that the Telephoto Lens delivers markedly better image quality than the iPhone 5’s faux digital zoom feature, but we’ll say it anyway: they’re not even close. Is this enhanced, magnified optical quality worth $100? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.
Thankfully, there’s more than just the 2X lens to justify this package’s asking price. You also get a fully detachable reflection- and glare-reducing circular polarizing filter, plus a black plastic adapter. Without the adapter, the polarizing filter can attach to the Telephoto Lens or the Lens housing’s otherwise empty rear side, which is effectively just a pass-through for the iPhone 5’s own optical hardware. Flipping the housing around therefore lets you swap between optical 2X zoom and regular 1X mode at will, with or without the polarizer on.
If you’ve never used a circular polarizer before, you’ll find this tool to be a particularly magical addition to your photographic arsenal—at least under certain circumstances. The metal housing has a sheet of black glass inside, and is called a “circular” polarizer because you turn it like a dial to adjust the angles at which light will be allowed to pass through the glass into the camera’s sensor. Depending on the angle you choose, you can remove reflections and glare from glossy objects as shown in these photos.
Outdoors, if you shoot photos of bodies of water, you’ll see fish that were obscured by white reflections, and notice richer, bluer blues from the sky. Olloclip’s filter has a smooth, appropriately taut rotating mechanism that allows you to have relatively precise control over the polarizing angle, as well as maintaining the angle you’ve selected once it’s finished. By phone camera standards, it’s a genuinely nice filter.
Additionally, Olloclip’s black plastic adapter can easily go inside the polarizer, enabling it to connect to the previously-released 3-in-1 Photo Lens for fisheye shots. The images here show how it works to reduce reflections when turned on the correct angle. If you don’t have the prior lens, or don’t plan to use it with the polarizer, you can leave the adapter at home with the small second detachable bag. The company also will include an iPod touch 5G resizer for the lens system, but it wasn’t included with our review unit.
In our previous Olloclip reviews, we’ve been somewhat hard-pressed to see the 3-in-1 Photo Lenses—or their rivals from other companies—as truly great photo tools, given their combination of pricing, somewhat inconvenient attachment, and so-so image quality. They’re nice toys, but not tools serious photographers would generally rely upon. The Telephoto + Circular Polarizing Lens is a somewhat different story. It’s not cheap, and it’s no easier to attach than its predecessor, yet the Telephoto’s good optics and legitimately useful Circular Polarizer enable it to really improve the quality of iPhone photography. They’re both good enough that they will independently incentivize some people to consider Olloclip’s Quick-Flip Case as an option. Ideally, the prices for the lenses and case would be a bit lower, and non-Olloclip case compatibility would be an option, but with each good new lens it releases, Olloclip will come closer to justifying the total value of its system. For now, the Telephoto + Circular Polarizing Lens is a genuinely good package, and worthy of our general recommendation.