Anyone with an iPhone 4S knows that its eight-megapixel iSight camera is pretty amazing. Vibrant, accurate colours breathe life into outdoor shots, and shockingly good low-light performance means pictures by candlelight – once the stuff of dreams for phone photographers – are now a real possibility. It won't replace a DSLR, but it's getting a lot closer to allowing us to leave our dedicated point-and-shoots at home.
Add Olloclip's three-in-one lens attachment ($69.99) and you'll take its potential to pop great pictures even further.
An independently-developed product unveiled last summer via a Kickstarter campaign, the Olloclip was quickly funded, developed and released. It even found a coveted spot on walls within Apple's North American stores. And it's easy to see why.
It's a perfect fit with Apple's clean design philosophy. Just push it onto the corner of your phone and you're ready to rock. There's no software to download, no screws to twist, and no clamps to adjust. It holds fast, yet its smooth plastic body leaves no marks on your phone's glossy finish. It's simple, elegant and easy.
Of course, like many aftermarket accessories, it's not perfect. For starters, it covers the phone's power button. I didn't see this as much of an issue, since there's no need to switch your phone on or off while taking pictures. However, it also covers the LED flash. I'm not much of a fan of LED-lit photographs, but a little extra light can be necessary in a pinch. To be fair, though, there's not much Olloclip's designers could have done to avoid covering the power button or the flash, given their proximity to the phone's camera lens.
A fisheye lens sits on one side of the clip, macro and wide-angle elements on the other. Just flip it to change effects. The fisheye is the largest lens, measuring around two centimetres in diameter. It juts out from the phone's surface like a monocle on a gaunt-faced man. The wide-angle is considerably smaller in diameter and depth. Unscrew it, and you're left with the macro, which lies almost level with the iPhone's rear panel.
The macro is perhaps the least practical of the three lenses but also the most fun to play with. You'll need to get within a couple of centimetres of your subject to focus properly; the effect is lovely. Tiny subjects in sharp focus contrast nicely with dramatically blurred backgrounds. It's great for snapping shots of bugs, water droplets and small flora. You can lose hours just experimenting.
The wide-angle, meanwhile, should prove more useful in everyday situations. From a distance of two metres it nearly doubles the field of vision. That's a significant gain that might let you frame a large group of friends sitting across the table or fit everyone at a family gathering into an indoor group shot. You'll need to allow for some slightly skewed geometry – straight lines begin to bend near the edge of the frame – but the distortion isn't unpleasant.
Line curvature becomes more obvious when using the Olloclip's fisheye lens. This ultra wide-angle element allows shooters to capture entire rooms and complete cityscapes from relatively short distances, though with obvious warp. Most casual photographers will use it for humourous effect – look at the dog with the oversized snout! – but if you have a decent photo editing suite with de-warping and stitching algorithms you can capture some striking panoramas.
It's worth adding that Olloclip's glass seems to be of good quality. It lets in plenty of light and creates no unexpected distortions. Details become blurry near the edges of wide-angle and fisheye shots, much more so than in higher quality professional lenses, but remember we're dealing with a phone camera and a three-in-one lens accessory that costs less than a hundred dollars. A smidgeon of smudging is acceptable.
A bigger concern is disposability. The Olloclip is custom-made to fit an iPhone 4 or 4S. Since Apple is bound to change dimensions and lens positioning on future devices, chances are this attachment will become useless the next time you upgrade your phone. This is a common problem for many popular phone accessories, including cases and batteries, but that doesn't make it any more appealing. It's probably worth the expense if you intend to keep your phone for two or three years, but you may want to think twice if you're the sort who replaces your iPhone each time Apple releases a new model.
Still, there's no denying this is one cool and surprisingly functional little accessory. It's an attention grabber sure to start conversations with your technorati pals. Keep one handy in your purse or pocket and you'll be one step closer to permanently shedding your dedicated compact.