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.
So everyone got excited when they saw the iPro Lens system (by Schneider Optics) on display at January’s Macworld iWorld Expo.
iPro Lens is a hardware add-on set for the Apple iPhone (4 and 4S only) that allows you to screw on lenses to the mobile.
You get Wide Angle and Fisheye lenses that simply bayonet twist mount onto a special iPhone case.
There’s also 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 Fisheye 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.
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.
Another worry is that the iPhone 5 will likely not fit the case, meaning you need to keep updating that part of the kit when you upgrade phones. As long as you can update the iPro case 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 a decent telephoto lens must be the top of its priority list. Getting a decent optical zoom out of the iPhone will make most compact cameras redundant (although nearly all are much cheaper than the iPhone, of course).