Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wide Angle Clip on Lenses for iPhone and iPad

All it took was ONE shot on my iPod 5G and that was it. The InstaClip Lens for the iPhone and iPad showed its true worth. At about US$20 a pop. Quality was bad. This was a wide angle clip on lens that would work universally on tablets and smartphones.

The Instaclip has two offerings, a wide angle and a fish eye. I didn't test the fish eye as I think warped minds think alike.

So the next best thing was that I had my iPod 5G handy and that's all you needed to test. With the lens firmly in place, I took one shot, just one shot to determine what I suspected all along.

Cheap lenses don't make for good wide angle, in fact, any lens that is not dedicated is not a good add on lens. I don't care what you say or what you have done to the lens, the moment you have a clip on, you are in fact dealing with a multitude of optical problems.

Why it is so?

Light might travel in a straight line but the colored wavelength doesn't always do the same. Here is what I mean.

What you are dealing with is CA, or Chromatic Aberration, a term unfamiliar to the iPhone totting crowd but deeply important for lens manufacturers. You can see that in a lens, you have the blue and red light falling in different parts of the optical axis. Lens manufacturers use special coating like elements elements as well as a Achromatic or Aspheric glass to correct the fault. So no two lens solutions are alike. This will drive up the cost of the lens and in turn make you swagger out of the shop thinking that someone tried to rip you off.

Examples of the InstaClip Lens

This is the shot made indoors with the lens. Not bad really if you are looking at it this far away but if you happen to look closer at it, large up front, you'd start to see the softness around the peripheral corners as well as color fringing.

So if you don't believe me, you can of course take a closer look by downloading this photo and seeing it yourself.

To make this clearer for you to see the problem, I have made a cut out that is enclosed. This is the right side of the image and you can see how the lens sort of affects the wider angle by making the corners much softer and with the odd blue fringe on the door. It might not be apparent from the picture above but you can see the problem cropping up once you blow it up.
right side crop

This is probably one of the most common problems encountered with clip on or add on lenses especially wide angle ones. In the past, I had a clip on lens for my Android phone and the wide angle result is pretty much the same. So far, I have not come across anyone raving about the spiffy new wide angle add on lens that performs up to expectations.

The same can't be said for telephoto add one lenses for smartphones and tablets. These are less prone to CA and softening of the corner details. So if you are looking for an optical tele lens, I think it's quite safe to get one.

Similarly, a Macro lens clip on for your device is also a great addition, these act like magnifiers and do not suffer from the same problems seen on wide angle lenses.

The Macro does pretty much the opposite, and has a much shallower depth of field. So instead of making everything in the frame sharp, it only captures what is in the center of the frame and blurs the rest of the area.

To be fair, all wide angle lenses will suffer from some softness but color fringing is optional. Some have that in check while others bomb out on both counts. The cheap Insta Clip lens bombs out on two counts.

Optical Zoom Versus Digital Zoom

Another misconception with beginners is the use of Zooming. Yes, I know you can zoom up close on your iPhone and iPad but seriously, it is not the same as Optical zoom. Digital zooms work by cropping the image you see into a smaller frame, making it appear that you have indeed zoomed into the picture. This is a type of mind trick but it doesn't at all improve the picture. A two time digital zooming effect reduces the megapixel count by half.

Optical zoom is like attaching a binoculars onto your iPhone, which is what Dan Chung did for the UK's Guardian newspaper. You can read about it iphone for the Olympics.

Dan used a Schneider lens for some of the wide angle shots, I can't be sure of the quality as there are no high resolution files which I could check. Now the iPro wide angle lens from Schneider is premium and cost US$94 bucks a pop. The proof is in the pudding so until I see it, I'd believe it.

Telephoto lenses for the iPhone are less prone to the problems seen on their wide angle counterparts but I haven't tested any to date. The Kickstarter project, Magnifi, could save you a buck or two should you already have a pair of binoculars handy.

Macro Lenses

If you are in the market for Macro or a Telephoto clip on lens, you're in luck. These work far better than the wide angles. I also believe they give real value for money too. So if you're into shooting Gadflies in your backyard, the Macro add-on will just do the trick.


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