Through The Glass, Sharply
For many of us infected with the shutter bug, a substantial part of the joy of taking pictures lies in diddling with the hardware. And the chiefest hardware joy when diddling with cameras is in the lenses, or, as they are affectionately known by picture-takers everywhere, The Glass.
Changing lenses lets you, as a taker of pictures, change your focus (literally), embrace a wider field, or zero in on details that are too distant or too minute for your regular lens. And now we are lucky enough to live in a time when, not only is there iPhone, but swapping out lenses is a pleasure that need no longer be denied to iPhonographers. Even the most cursory google search reveals that the question is not how to get glass for my iPhone; the question is, which glass?
I wanted a better way to compose for things in the distance (and you already know what I think about the iPhone’s built-in zoom). I wanted to get a closer look at stuff; my iPhone 4 can focus only about as close as 4 inches. To explore surfaces and details closer than that, I needed a macro lens. And I wanted to take pictures of things that are bigger than my iPhone can squeeze in, for which I needed a wide-angle lens.
What I needed was The Glass. I found all kinds of the glass: Lenses that clip on, lenses that slip on, lenses that shlepp on with magnets, lenses that come with their own tripods, and lenses that require your iPhone to wear a special case. With very few exceptions, they all shared an unexpectedly obvious (in hindsight) fatal flaw having to do with the old maxim The best camera to use is the one you have with you. The iPhone is so carryable, it turns the front pocket of your jeans into a camera bag. Until you start adding lenses. If you’re not careful, your love of The Glass can take The Fun (and The Convenience) out of carrying an iPhone.
At least, that’s what happened to Yours Truly. The bulkier lenses quickly became enough of a burden that I stopped carrying them with me. The convenience of having the right camera and the right lens at the right time vanished. And the special cases were cases that I didn’t want my iPhone to wear.
The lens that was held on with a magnet was an interesting case. It came with a tiny self-adhesive metal ring to give the magnet, built into the lens casing, something to grip. The magnet was tiny, but powerful. It was more powerful, in fact, than the adhesive. My very first outing with it ended with the metal ring stuck securely to the lens, and neither ring nor lens stuck to the iPhone. The lens, itself, was not bulky. It came very close to working the way I wanted a removable lens to work. Yet, I despaired.
And then I found the Olloclip.
The Olloclip gives me a fish-eye, a wide-angle, a telephoto (which I opted to do without), and, most importantly to me, a macro. All except for the telephoto are contained in a single small attachment. And the attachment attaches with no no-stickum stickum, magnets, spring-loaded clip-ons, magical incantations, or ugly cases with slide-in brackets (that always managed to snag the inside of my pocket).
My Olloclip 3-in-1 lens travels inside a microfiber drawstring pouch, and is probably the least bulky of the things I normally carry in my pocket, about the size of a small stack of quarters. It slips onto the corner of my iPhone 4. It does require me to slip my iPhone temporarily out of the slim plastic case it normally wears, which is quick and easy to do. Turn the Olloclip one way, it’s a fish-eye; point it the other way, and it’s a wide-angle; twist the wide-angle lens off, and underneath it is a 10x macro that lets me get down to about 12 millimeters from my subject. (Olloclip also comes in a 4-in-1 model that has both a 10x and a 15x macro; its additional bulk is negligible.) It’s such an inexpensive and elegant solution, it makes me wonder why I messed with the others at all. I’m now reconsidering getting the telephoto.
One thing about taking pictures with a macro or a telephoto: In spite of the inconvenience, you might want to consider carrying a small tripod with you. A telephoto lens greatly magnifies the slightest motion; adjusting focus and exposure on your touchscreen becomes a comedy of errors before you develop the necessary skills that turn your fingers into temporary tripods.
Next time: What about tripods?
The bottom line: don’t listen to camera snobs. Cameras don’t take pictures; people take pictures.