iPhones were never designed to accommodate add-on camera lenses, but that fact hasn’t stopped developers from coming up with all sorts of alternatives, complete with their own mounting systems. Olloclip has been one of the leaders in such lenses, but up until this summer focused primarily on 3-in-1 wide-angle, fisheye, and macro lenses — a pattern it broke with an impressive 2x telephoto lens in July. Today, we’re looking at the brand-new Olloclip 4-in-One Photo Lens ($70), which builds on the original model, as well as two lenses from an unlikely source: Southern Telecom, operating under the Polaroid brand. One is the Polaroid 10X Zoom Lens for iPhone 5/5s, and the other is the 16X Zoom Telephoto Lens + 220X Microscope Lens for iPhone 5/5s. Although all three lenses have the same MSRP, they’re entirely different from one another, varying as much in functionality as in build quality, optics, and pack-ins.
Two points need to be made up front regarding all three of these lenses. First, they were all built for the iPhone 5 rather than the just-released iPhone 5s, so users of the newer, slightly wider rear-lensed iPhone 5s may notice soft or vignetted corners, particularly if the lens’s alignment is off by a bit. Second, like virtually all of the other lens attachments we’ve tested, none of these lenses will work with standard iPhone 5/5s cases. The Polaroid lenses each come with thin, cheap-feeling plastic shells built primarily to integrate a dodgy plastic screw-based mounting system; Olloclip’s latest lens still attaches to the corner of a bare iPhone, or one with the separately-sold hard shell Quick-Flip Case attached. Understanding these compromises will help you to avoid some disappointment — and realize that your iPhone may be drop vulnerable when you’re taking pictures.
Olloclip’s 4-in-One Photo Lens is a mild rethinking of the 3-in-One Photo Lens we’ve previously reviewed. Previously, Olloclip offered a 180-degree fisheye lens, roughly 18mm wide-angle lens, and 10x macro lens in a red metal and black plastic accessory; you unscrewed the wide-angle lens to access the macro lens, and flipped the accessory around to use the larger fisheye lens. This time, Olloclip adds several millimeters to the thickness and permits the fisheye lens to unscrew as well, adding a 15x second macro lens for the same price. It touts superior optics, using improved lenses that “deliver clearer images with less lens distortion overall.” The new version is offered in black, silver, or red metal versions, each with clear plastic lens caps and a soft drawstring carrying case.
There’s mostly very good news to share regarding Olloclip’s achievements with the 4-in-One Photo Lens, particularly when it comes to the claims of improved optical quality. Each of the new lenses exhibits superior color contrast to their 3-in-One Lens predecessors, and there’s at least a little additional optical sharpness, particularly in the center of the frame.
The new Olloclip fisheye lens is markedly sharper across the entire frame than the original version, a difference that’s obvious even when the images are reduced in size. Fringing and aberrations at the sides of the frame are noticeably reduced, as well. While the issues haven’t been eliminated, the new fisheye is a solid step or two better than its predecessor, for sure.
Macro performance is also better here. While the new 4-in-One’s 10X lens suffers from the same key issue as before — the challenge of stabilization for a roughly postage stamp-sized focus area at a several-inch distance — the results we achieved were superior in contrast and apparently a little sharper, as well. The 15X macro was at least as challenging to stabilize, but yielded even sharper results for the small depth of field it supported.
The only offsets to all of the good news is that the wide lenses’ results are, predictably, still not as sharp from corner to corner as using the iPhone on its own, and that the 10x/15x macro lenses aren’t as practically useful for as many people as a lower-magnification lens would have been. Focus and white balance remain challenges, as well. These were issues before and are unlikely to change in future iterations of this lens system without major lens size and price increases; this is a consumer-grade solution, not a proper replacement for a DSLR.
Even if it’s not perfect, the 4-in-One Photo Lens is certainly a major improvement on the 3-in-One Photo Lens, and now good enough to merit our general-level recommendation. If you’re looking for a camera accessory with the specific types of lenses Olloclip is offering here, and willing to deal with the mounting system, you’ll find that this version now delivers enough optical quality to satisfy under most circumstances—average consumers won’t feel like they’re playing with a toy. Given the price, quality, and the number of lenses here, the 4-in-One Photo Lens is a good package, and a great companion for the Telephoto and Circular Polarizing Lens combination released earlier this year.
Company and Price
Model: 4-in-One Photo Lens
Compatible: iPhone 5/5s