Wednesday, January 4, 2017

So I Tried One Of Those Cheap Lens Kits For Your Phone...

Ever since I realized my iPhone 6 can rival my Canon 7D in picture quality, I've been leaving the Canon home more and more. And since I lurrrve fish-eye photos, I decided to try one of those snap-on lens kits for your phone:

This is the set I bought about 6 months ago, though my clips look different - I guess they've already updated them? Anyway, it's less than $15 over on Amazon. Like I said: CHEAP. It has 3 lenses: fisheye, wide-angle, and a macro, but for me the fisheye is the fun one.

Embarrassingly enough, I actually have a nice fisheye lens for my real camera, but I can't for the life of me figure it out. The settings are hard, all my compositions feel wrong, and overall I just felt like an idiot with it, so I gave up.

But a phone is easy. No settings to worry about, easy to experiment with, and for less than $15, why not, right?

So I've been putting this dinky little fisheye through its paces out at Disney and Universal over the past few months, and having a blast. Here's a sampling of some of my favorite shots, all taken with the lens on my iPhone:

It doesn't have the extreme fisheye distortion you can get with a "real" lens, but this is still enough to give the same feel. For best results, get your phone right on top of something in the foreground, to really warp and stretch the composition.

If you stand back, you'll get something more like this:

Which is really more of a wide-angle, very little distortion.

That can be awesome sometimes, though, like with the dragon:

Thanks to the fisheye I can get the buildings leaning into frame, which looks awesome!

You can also get so much more of these incredible ceilings in the shot:

The drawbacks to a cheap snap-on lens are probably obvious: it sticks out, so it's cumbersome, you have to take it off and on every time you want to use it, which takes times, and you have to carry the lenses separately. Also, mine is so cheap it literally fell to pieces yesterday when I went to snap it on. ACK. John managed to put it all back together, but now it's chipped from hitting the ground. (Have I mentioned these aren't great quality? :D)

Now let's talk photo-editing, since that's what takes your photos from "meh" to "'MAZING."  I love the free app SnapSeed, which is incredibly user-friendly and rather addicting. I'm forever editing photos on my phone, just for fun.

Here's an example of SnapSeed's HDR function:

And here's one I started editing on my phone, then finished in Adobe Lightroom:

 For comparison, here's how the train looked straight off my phone, no edits:

Gah, I love befores-and-afters, don't you?

Here's another from Disney, starting with the "before"

For this shot I was shooting straight into the sun, so it took ALL the editing to save it:

It's still a mess, but it's a prettier mess.

My favorite shot from that day:

Again, shooting right into the sun, so this is another mess of sun spot action. Kinda artsy, though, right?

Here's one without all the sun spots, to give you a better idea of the picture quality:

With a cheap lens you're not going to get fantastic quality - so these wouldn't be good for, say, printing out at large sizes. But for FB or Instagram snaps? Not bad!

Fish-eye is awesome for Big Things That Are Too Close, so keep that in mind when shooting. Again, if you shoot too far back:

... it really doesn't do much for you, artistically speaking.

Though it still helps fit a LOT in there:

Ideally you'll get something right on top of your lens in the foreground, since that's where the magic happens:

I'll end with another favorite, which of course is the Diagon Alley dragon again:

I had no idea the fireworks were about to start as I lined up this shot, so it was the happiest of accidents when they went off in the perfect spot!

And here's a Prisma variation of that same shot:

Prisma is another of my favorite free apps - sooo much fun to play with!

I hope I've inspired some of you to take more photos! Phone photography is one of the best and easiest ways to flex your creative muscles, not to mention a perfect distraction for anxiety-sufferers when we're out in public. Taking pictures with my phone lets me interact with my environment while still feeling somewhat shielded from it. It gives me something to focus on (heyoo!) anytime I'm feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable, like long car trips, so the fact that I also get to take away something pretty at the same time is pure cherries.

Have any of you played with snap-on phone lenses? If so, any recommendations? I'd love to get a better quality set now that I know I'll actually use them!


  1. I literally just got my set in the mail yesterday! I started playing with it this morning. My problem is that I can't hold my phone steady enough so when I press the button to snap the picture, I get a little blur. I'm trying to figure out how I can explain that away as an "effect". hahaha

    1. I get around that by using voice commands. All I have to do is say, "Cheese!" It's an option available on Samsung phones, but I'm not sure about iPhones.

    2. I've been told to exhale as you take a picture, and it will automatically steady your hand. Seems to have worked for me.

  2. That shot with the dragon and fireworks? Disney should be using that in their brochures- that is MAGICAL! And don't get me started on Prisma- I can waste- I mean fruitfully spend HOURS playing with it. I haven't tried any snap-on lenses on my phone, but my little point-and-shoot Canon has some of those fun lenses built in, and I've been pretty happy with how they turn out (when I can actually get the camera to turn on properly...grrrr...). I love seeing your pics, thank you so much for sharing them with us.

  3. If you want quality, Olloclip has some nice sets for a price though. I have the 4-in-1 lens set for iPhone 6/6s with wide angle, fisheye, and 2 macro lenses. I used it a lot when I was working for a real estate office and on my trip to Disney world in September. I also got the telephoto lens that has a cpl filter with it, but I haven't really used it. You can probably find some lenses for the iPhone 6 on eBay for a decent price since the 7's out now. That was where I got my first set for the 5s after the 6 came out.

  4. I haven't played with a fish eye one yet but I love playing with the macro lens from Photojojo. They're magnetic, not clip-on, so you have to be willing to stick a metal ring around the camera on your phone, but the magnet is pretty strong. I haven't had one fall off yet and they even come with a little metal disc on a string loop for storage. I attach the disc, via loop, to my purse and then I can pop the different lenses (I have the macro/wide-angle combo one and the polarizer ones) on and off the discs and my phone (Samsung Galaxy S7) as I please. The company also has the Iris lens series for iPhones that you might want to check out. I look forward to seeing more awesome pics!

  5. I got my husband a cheap set of lenses like that for his Android for his birthday a year ago [literally, his next birthday is in less than two weeks], and he's only used them once. BUT, that's because he's infamous for forgetting he has things, not because he doesn't like them, or they're crap lenses or anything. I thought I could use them as well to take photos of my crafts, since my Canon is down for the count right now, but I honestly forgot about them too! I think I'll tell him right now to go get them right now…

  6. I picked up a wide-angle/macro lens from Photojojo but haven't had much of a chance to play around with it yet. It came highly recommended by a friend who posts loads of pretty pictures, so it might be worth a shot (accidental pun!).

  7. Thank you so much for reminding me about my snap on lenses! We are heading to Disney & Universal next week (YEAH!) and this is such a good idea. I love using the macro lens outdoors with bugs; you can see such color in wings and such with it.

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  9. (I think my comment got eaten :( )

    I wish this post had been up before Christmas - I asked for a lower-quality set of lenses and they're NOTHING as nice as the ones you have. The fisheye has that annoying ball-shape with black corners and doesn't focus properly, and the macro is so strong that you basically have to put your phone directly on top of whatever you're photographing so that the lens actually TOUCHES it...
    Maybe I'll just buy this new set for myself and give the old one to my kid niece..

  10. I've been trying to learn to use my DSLR but maybe I should just use my phone instead.

  11. Okay HOW did you know I was JUST looking at these clips last night before this was posted?? My mom asked for one for Christmas and didnt get one, sooo...this is awesome! Thanks!

  12. I am also a big fan of the Photojojo magnetic lenses, the picture quality is awesome. Plus, if you order the lenses from them, they include a teeny tiny dinosaur in the package. I got a little red T-Rex who gets into all kinds of adventures.

    1. Kelly, the magnet doesn't mess with your camera memory? I've been working in IT for decades, and maybe it's no longer true that magnets and computers are to be kept far apart...


    2. Hi Lynn, I've had photojojo lenses with two different iPhones now. The magnets were on for a long time and never seemed to interfere with the phone/camera's memory. :)

  13. Those are so pretty! You've reminded me I've been meaning to try to get the dogs with a fish eye lens!

  14. These are so cool, and I love the before and afters - you've got so much talent for this!! Forgive me if you've shared this before, but how did you teach yourself photo editing? Did you use Youtube tutorials? Just messing around? More formal resources? A mix of all of these?

  15. I also recommend Photojojo. Everything I've ever bought from them has been great.

  16. I use my macro lens all the time for work! One of my jobs is to track bugs stuck on traps around a museum, but several are far too tiny to identify without magnification. As there are too many traps to take back to the lab, I take my phone with the macro lens to get amazing close-ups of those dead lil critters.

  17. I have had so much fun with Olliclip lens! I have some awesome snowflakes that I "caught" on black posterboard using my macro lens. It takes time to get the right distance from the subject in focus. I have learned how to breath out before snapping the picture!

  18. I've had an olloclip lens for every one of my phones for years - I love what I can do with it! (also, I was at Disney World last week and thought of you while I was there!)

  19. I don't know ANYTHING about photography, so I don't really understand the function of a fisheye lens. Similar to the before and afters, would you maybe be able to post some comparison pictures? Like, same shot and angle, one regular and one with the lens on? I think that would be facinating.



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