I’m no pro photographer, but like every other smart phone user, I’ve taken thousands of snaps on my iPhone. And like every doting dad or wannabe Ansel Adams, I’ve often wished I could zoom in closer or capture a proper panorama without having to do that ridiculous pan-and-stitch twirl that iOS forces you do.
Add-on lenses are a great option for folks like me who want to improve their photography, but who have no interest in buying and lugging around a mammoth DSLR. That’s because the iPhone camera sensor is pretty good. It’s the feeble lens that is holding you back.
The Zeiss ExoLens system fits the iPhone 6 and 6s. The company has announced that a new system for iPhone 7 will be released in December, but if you have a 6-series phone that you plan to keep for a while, this set can be bought currently.
The system is actually three different products, all sold separately; all together the collection includes enough parts and pieces to keep you busy all afternoon. First are the frames, one for each model phone, which slide snugly onto your handset (once the case is removed). A tiny screw-on socket accepts each of the three lenses, including a 0.6x wide angle lens ($200, which includes the frame), a 2.0x telephoto lens ($200, frame sold separately), and a macro-zoom lens ($150, frame sold separately) for extreme close-ups. Various lens caps and hoods designed to work with their specific lens are included as well.
Across the board, the lenses work well. The wide angle lens really opens up the narrow frame of the iPhone’s standard lens to a sizably more impressive field of view, and I didn’t experience any edge blurring or fisheye distortion in my shots. The telephoto lens, with a mere 2x magnification, is less useful than I’d like, though it does make casual shots of novelty bumper stickers more appealing. The final macro-zoom lens is my favorite: It lets you get right up on your subject (practically touching) while keeping it in sharp focus, something that just isn’t possible with the standard iPhone camera.
Finally, don’t overlook the funky-looking frame. It has a purpose of its own, allowing for both a tripod and a flash to be attached, something you won’t get with phone cases designed to accept add-on lenses.
Rest assured that the ExoLens collection will not turn you into a pro overnight. All the lenses provide a noticeable improvement to the rack iPhone 6 or 6s camera, but unless you’re pic-obsessed, the impact is modest. If you want serious zoom power or breathtaking landscape shots, this collection won’t quite get you there. $550 is a huge amount to pay for grown-up toys, so buying these piecemeal might be more apropos.
Among my other grievances: The frame blocks the flash and the included documentation is worthless. But my biggest pet peeve is that the various lens caps and hoods are bound to get lost, despite all the little cloth bags Zeiss provides for storage purposes. The only thing worse than spending $550 on iPhone lenses? Spending $550 on scratched iPhone lenses.
7/10 – Very good, but not quite great.
UPDATE: This article was changed to mention the ExoLens’s forthcoming iPhone 7 lens.