Mobile Photography 101 {Part 1}: Mobile Lenses

Disclaimer: This post contains a few affiliate links.

These days everyone is living life through the lens of the phone.  Nobody takes the time to actually enjoy the moment because they're too busy trying to record it!  I'm not here to argue whether that's a good idea or not (I'd lean towards the 'not’ side of that discussion, but hey, let's table that for another day!), but one thing's for sure...taking photos with your phone is here to stay!  

Over the course of this month, I’m going to do a 4 part series talking all about mobile photography.  From lenses, to accessories, to mobile apps, and even some tips & tricks!  Today, we kick things off with an introduction to mobile lenses.

In January, I did a post on what I carry in my carry on bag when I travel.  One of the things I always bring with me is my little case of iPhone lenses for taking photos.  I didn’t really mention much about these other than identifying them as one of the items in my bag.  But, I received a fair amount of comments from folks that had never seen or heard of mobile phone lenses.  So...I figured I should start off with these to introduce you to how awesome and cool these are!! 

Why use lenses for your mobile phone?

The short answer to that question is because they’re fun!!  No seriously...they are fun, but if you really love taking photos with your phone, then throwing a few of these into the mix can make  your photos more interesting and if done right, better than what they’d be without the lenses.  

In some cases, you can’t even get the images without one of these little lenses, so if you want to try to set yourself apart from all of the other Instagrammers, then these little guys may be just what you need to give you that extra edge!

Do you *need* mobile lenses?

Well, if we are looking at 'needs' on the scale of food and water, then no, of course not!  If you don't take too many pics with your phone, then nah, you probably don't need them either.

But...if you tend to take a lot of mobile photos, you might consider a few to give yourself a few more options.

If you are a blogger that relies on your cell phone for taking most of the pics for your blog, or you're very active on Instagram promoting your blog/brand/content, I'd also advise looking into them.  You may find that you still don't have a need for them, depending on your type of photography, but you might just enjoy having these extra tools in your toolbox!  

Types of Lenses

There are a numerous options when it comes to mobile phone lenses, and I’m not implying that these are the only options.  If you really get into mobile photography there are many more lenses to choose from.  But, for the average mobile photographer, these should be good ones to start off with.  

Before we dive in, let me say that I have an iPhone and I've only ever had an iPhone, so while I think most of these should work with non-iPhone phones, you might want to doublecheck if you are planning to order one of these.

Individual Lenses

First up…individual lenses.  There are multiple types of these lenses out there, but I'm just going to share a few with you to give you the idea (that and I don't actually own all of the different types!).

These little guys attach to your phone magnetically. To use these lenses, you need to attach a small metal ring to your phone in order for the magnet on the back of the lens to adhere to your phone.  The lenses come with a pack of different sizes to accommodate different phone manufacturers (and a few spares in case you lose your ring or you get a new phone, so don’t misplace these!).

For today’s purposes, I’m going to show you my three most versatile and favorite individual lenses.

While you may think you only see two lenses here, there are actually three!  One of these lenses packs a punch by being a 2-in-1 lens (gotta love that!).  

#1 |  Individual Telephoto Lens (aka 'zoom in')

The larger lens in the photo above is a telephoto lens.  In layman’s terms...this is your zoom lens.  This little lens will allow you to get twice as close to your subject without having to zoom in on your camera phone!  

I know what you're thinking right now...why can't I just zoom in on my phone?  Well, let me tell you why.  When you use your phone to zoom in, you lose image quality.  The image will be more pixalated.  If you try to print it or use it on your blog, it likely won't look crisp and clear.  By using this lens, you retain your image quality, but you get a closer shot!

The Telephoto lens is perfect for... Any occasion where you physically can’t move closer to your subject but you need a tighter shot.

#2 |  Individual Wide Angle Lens (aka 'zoom out')

The smaller lens is the nifty 2-in-1 lens - there are 2 pieces screwed together that can be used together or separately.  It includes a both a wide angle lens and a macro lens. 

With both pieces screwed together, you have your wide angle lens (as seen in the photo).  Think of this lens as your zoom out lens.  In other words, this lens allows you to get more in your frame.  It's the exact opposite of the telephoto lens.  

The Wide Angle lens is perfect for Any situation where you are in cramped space and you really want more of the scene in your photo, but you just can't back up anymore…pop this guy on your phone and you can get your shot! Another good situation for a wide angle lens is landscape photos…this will allow you to get more of the beautiful scenery in your image. 

#3 | Individual Macro Lens (aka extreme detail)

When you unscrew the 2-in-1 lens, the bottom part becomes your macro lens.  A macro lens allows you to get very close detail on your subject.  

This lens is a fun little lens and will allow you to get really close, really detailed shots.  Without this lens, your phone won’t focus on the subject when it’s that close to it, so it’s impossible to get this level of detail without the lens.

And when I say very close detail, I mean very close.  Your camera lens on your phone is less than 1 inch from the subject!  But, this can make for some really fun and cool images!

The Macro lens is perfect for... Anything that has a really interesting texture and you want to capture the details.  It’s also fun for taking pictures and trying to have people guess what it is since the detail you can get with a macro lens is usually not something you notice on a regular basis.

All in One Lenses

An all in one lens is similar to the 2-in-1 lens I just talked about, but it goes beyond just two lens.  The Olloclip pretty much owns the market for this type of lens (I couldn’t find another lens that is similar to this particular one, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.).  This little guy has 4 lenses in 1 making it super easy to carry around and to have multiple options at your fingertips! 

The lens attaches to your phone simply by sliding it over the top corner.  So, no metal rings are needed for this one!

It comes in several color options to coordinate with your phone (so thoughtful!)...I opted to go with the gold one because I have the gold iPhone.  I believe they do make other designs for non-iPhones, so if that's you, just check out their website for the specific options.

The four attached lenses include:

  • Wide Angle:  Just like the individual lens I shared above, this allows you to get more of the scene in your frame.
  • Fisheye:  Think of this lens as your carnival mirror lens!  It creates a bit of distortion, which can be fun to play with and can be used to create unique images!
  • Macro 10x:  Like with the individual macro lens I shared above, this lets you get really close detail on your subject.  To be more specific, you can get 10 times closer than the naked eye!  Just remember, you have to have your subject an inch or less away from the camera phone lens in order for it to focus.  
  • Macro 15x:  This one is the same concept, but you get even closer...15 times the naked eye!

Like with the 2-in-1 individual lens in the previous section, the wide angle and fisheye lenses unscrew to reveal the two macro lenses.  

Fun Lens

One final lens in my mobile lens lineup is the Lensbaby mobile lens.  If you're into photography, then you know Lensbaby lenses.  If you aren't into photography, then allow me to introduce you to this really fun lens!  

The Lensbaby lenses (both mobile and dSLR) are considered 'tilt-shift' lenses.  They basically put the focus on a point that is off center (again, to put it in layman's terms).  Radiating out from that focal point, the image is slightly blurred/distorted.  This allows you to really focus in on a particular place or to do something really creative. 

I have a Lensbaby lens for my dSLR and LOVE it!  I am still learning how to use the mobile version, though, since it's a little trickier than the regular lens, but its still a lot of fun.

One caveat to this lens…when using it, you need to use their app to take the photo instead of your camera app or VSCO Cam.  The official Lensbaby App helps you set where you want your focus to fall.  

Like the individual lenses, this lens attaches to your phone via a magnet to a metal ring that you must stick to your phone (however, they have recently released a new accessory that will allow you to not need the metal ring, but more on that the second part of the series next week!).

Another cool feature of this lens is that if you do have any of the individual lenses, you can layer them up!  Both ends of the Lensbaby are magnetic, so you can easily attach one of the individual lenses to the Lensbaby to really get creative (for example, if you need to zoom to get your shot, layer on the telephoto lens to save the quality of your image!).

Example Photos

Now that I’ve shown you a few options, let’s look at some examples! 

I took a photo of the same subject using all of the different lens to show you how they each vary in what they capture.  For all except the macro photos, my phone was in roughly the same spot in relation to my subject (the strawberries) - approximately 6-7 inches away.  For the macro photos, my phone was less than an inch from the strawberries.

Here are the strawberries using just my iPhone...no extra lens, no zooming, nothing...just me and the phone!  

Individual Lenses

Individual Telephoto Lens
(i.e. 'zoom in')

Individual Wide Angle Lens
(i.e. 'zoom out')

Individual Macro Lens (i.e. extreme detail)

All-in-One Lens - Olloclip

Olloclip - Wide Angle Lens (i.e. 'zoom out')

Olloclip - Fish Eye Lens (i.e. 'carnival lens')

Olloclip - Macro 10x Lens
(i.e. extreme detail)

Olloclip - Macro 15x Lens
(i.e. even more extreme detail)

Fun Lens

Lensbaby
I really didn't like the strawberries with this lens, so to give you a better example, here's a photo I took with this lens when I was in New Orleans in September...

Fun, right?!

Where to buy these lenses?

My favorite place for buying mobile photography products is Photojojo.  As a nice little bonus, when you click on the Photojojo link you get $5 off your order if you're a new customer (for anything you order, this isn't specific to the mobile lenses)!! 

All three of these types of lenses can be purchased from them.  You can also find each of these lenses on Amazon (individual lenses, Olloclip, and Lensbaby) and I believe the big photography websites also carry them (i.e. Adorama and B+H Photo).

Check out the Rest of the Series

If you'd like to learn even more about how to up your mobile photography game, then be sure to read the rest of the series before you go!

Part 1: You're looking at it right now!
Part 2: Accessories
Part 3: Mobile Apps
Part 4: Tips & Tricks

And now, it’s your turn!  Tell me about your Mobile Photography habits…are you a 'snap & go diva' or ‘mobile camera whiz’?  Leave me a comment and tell me all about it? 

I'm linking this post up at: Miranda Writes