UPDATE: 7th August 2013. A new version of the iPro Lens system has been launched, which is compatible with the iPhone 5. Our review below applies to both kits, which share lenses but have cases which are specific to the iPhone 5 or iPhone 4 / 4S.
The iPhone is all the camera most people need. Even legendary celeb snapper Annie Leibovitz recommended Apple’s iPhone 4S as "the snapshot camera of today".
But Leibovitch still uses pro digital SLR cameras for her day job. She needs the interchangeable lenses, and you don’t even get a proper optical zoom on the iPhone – making it less functional than a bog standard compact.
Except that there’s a raft of excellent photo apps – such as Camera+ – that make the iPhone in some ways much more versatile than even a top-of-the-range SLR. It’s just the lens and zoom options that snub out those onboard editing software goodies.
Thanks to clip-on lens systems such as the Olloclip 3-in-1, though, that's no longer the case.
Renowned optical expert Schneider has also produced iPhone lenses, and the iPro Lens system is now available for the Apple iPhone 5 as well as the 4 and 4S. Both kits allow you to screw on lenses to your mobile.
You get wide angle and fish-eye lenses that simply bayonet twist mount onto a special iPhone case. With the iPhone 5 Series 2 Trio Kit, you get a 2x telephoto lens which brings the action closer: handy if you can't simply walk closer. Also, instead of the fish-eye, you get a macro lens.
The kits also include a handle that can attach to either side of the case, giving you added stability when taking your photographs. What’s especially neat is that this handle offers safe storage for the lenses. The whole thing screws together like real, cool professional photo kit.
You can also attach the case to a tripod if you want further stability.
The fish-eye lens captures pictures with a 165° field of view. The wide angle lens gives you a 35 percent wider field of view.
The manufacturer claims that the lenses are painted on the edge and have a multilayer anti-reflection coat to “avoid any chance of flare”.
While the fisheye lens is the most obviously fun new lens I wonder just how useful it will be. But let’s just keep it as a fun lens that creates a distorted, panoramic, hemispherical image.
You can buy cameras that only do fisheye effects, so a fisheye lens add-on for the iPhone is cute. (That said, you can download apps that make your standard photos into fisheye images.)
One thing an app certainly can’t do to your images is get more stuff in the photo. While the fisheye lens is a fun thing, the wide-angle lens is super useful.
This lens allows more of the scene to be included in the photo. This is especially handy in landscape, interior and street-view photography where the photographer can’t move farther from the scene to photograph it.
The iPro Lens wide-angle gives an 86-degree field, compared to the iPhone’s standard 62 degrees. This gives you a 35 percent wider field of view.
So what do the iPro lenses offer the iPhone photographer? Let’s take a look at some Before & After snaps.
Above: Here's the iPhone on its own.
Above: Now see how much more picture you get using the iPro Wide Angle lens.
Above: The Fisheye lens needs no introduction.
Above: Here's a shot of St. Pancras taken on the iPhone 5 with no extra lens attached.
Above: The same scene taken with the iPro 2x telephoto lens
As you'd expect, the telephoto lens is more bulky than the other lenses. However, the quality of photos wasn't as impressive as we'd have liked, especially at this price. Even in the small image above, you can clearly see that focus is very soft in the corners (look at the bottom left and right). And when you look up close in Photoshop, there's noticeable purple fringing.
The macro lens delivered better results, but like the Olloclip version, you have to be very close to your subject, and it's fairly unnerving having bees and other stinging insects just millimetres from your fingers. Below is a shot of a Passion flower, which is about 60mm in diameter. This has not been altered in any way, except resized to fit on this page.
One annoying thing about iPro Lens is the requirement for the specific case that comes with the lenses. If you love your current iPhone case you have to ditch it for when you want to go out with the iPro. Or, rather, you need to carry the iPro Lens case with you, as otherwise the lenses won’t fit the phone. Plus, since the cases fit so tightly, they're likely to tear off any screen protectors you might have stuck on.
Another worry is that future iPhones will likely not fit the case, meaning you need to keep updating that part of the kit when you upgrade phones. As long as Schneider continues to release new cases, this shouldn’t be too much hassle.
On the upside fixing the handle and twisting out the lenses is akin to disassembling and assembling a sniper rifle. There’s something of the cloak-and-dagger assassin mission about the whole thing.
The modular system of the iPro Lens means Schneider Optics can add more lenses later, and the new addition of a telephoto lens gives the iPhone the optical zoom you've always wanted, and made most compact cameras redundant in the process (although nearly all are much cheaper than the iPhone, of course).