Welcome to Creative Bloq's guide to the best smartphone lenses around. A phone has now become the only camera in many people’s pockets, but that’s not to say it’s all the camera you could want. Until fairly recently, most phones only had a single rear-facing camera, usually with a wide-angle lens. If you wanted to shoot more distant subjects, your only option (short of relying on image-degrading digital zoom) was to get your skates on and physically move until the subject was distant no more.
But there is an easier solution: the add-on smartphone lens. There’s no shortage of these cute little lenses that can attach to your phone, converting the typical wide-angle view to a variety of focal lengths. Choose from lenses that’ll let you see even wider – to the degree of a bulging, wraparound fisheye perspective – through to mini telescopes that offer in excess of 20x zoom.
Unlike lenses for conventional cameras, these miniature marvels tend to be surprisingly cheap, and most simply clip to your phone. Some more advanced smartphone lenses may instead attach via a custom phone case, giving a more secure fit and ensuring the lens consistently lines up with your phone’s camera. Pair it with one of the best smartphone tripods, and you've got yourself a great bit of photography kit.
Of course with most flagship phones now sporting at least two rear-facing cameras, it may seem like the days of the add-on lens are numbered (take a look at our guide to the best camera phones for a taste of what you can pack into a handset these days). But more niche optics like fisheye, telephoto zoom and video-orientated lenses can still produce effects that can’t yet be matched by built-in camera phone hardware.
One word of caution, however. Adding an extra lens in front of your phone’s camera will inevitably have a detrimental impact on image quality. A premium lens will minimise any unwanted softness or distortion, but an el-cheapo kit containing a dozen lenses all for the price of a KFC Mega Bucket will almost certainly give questionable quality. These lenses can still be fun to use though, especially if you dig the low-fi grungy look.
Read on for our pick of the best smartphone lenses around at the moment, or check out out guide to the best photo apps to take your snaps one step further.
The big advantage with the AllClip system is its universal adjustable design. This enables it to be used on any smartphone with a width between 58 and 80mm, including all iPhones from the 4 through to the XS Max. The trick is a spring-loaded sliding clamp that fits the clip to differing phone sizes, and the lens mount can also move to position the lens perfectly in front of your phone’s camera, whether it be the front or rear-facing snapper. While you can get the clip separately and fit one of BitPlay’s many compatible lenses, this particular kit pairs the AllClip with Bitplay’s Premium HD Wide Angle lens. With it’s quality aluminium lens barrel and glass that includes an aspheric element, it feels solid and image quality lives up to the HD claim. The lens also noticeably increases the field of view of a typical rear-facing phone camera, giving a much wider perspective.
This triple-lens set from long-established smartphone lens manufacturer Olloclip contains a fisheye lens that gives a huge, spherical 180-degree field of view, albeit with typical bulging distortion. You can minimize the latter by switching to the Super-Wide lens. It’ll increase your camera’s field of view to an expansive 120-degrees – significantly wider than the iPhone XS’s bare wide-angle camera. You still get some distortion, but it’s only noticeable when shooting geometric subjects. The last lens in the trio is a macro lens that magnifies a close-up scene by 15x, revealing microscopic details almost invisible to the naked eye. The trick works best at the centre of the image frame, with the periphery being slightly blurred, though this can help distinguish your main point of interest.
The interchangeable lenses attach to Olloclip’s Connect X clip which simply slides over the top of your phone and enables the lenses to work with both the rear and front-facing cameras. When the time comes to expand your photographic horizons, other Connect X-compatible lenses including telephoto optics are available and clip straight into the holder in this kit. The lenses can also be used with many Android phones if you attach them via Olloclip’s Multi-Device Clip (sold separately).
Moment lenses have a strong reputation for quality, and it’s easy to see why. This macro lens is made from aircraft-grade aluminium surrounding hand-polished glass. There’s even a diffuser hood attachment included that helps soften the light surrounding your subject, and its 1-inch length serves as a guide for how close you can get while maintaining focus. It all adds up to stunning close-ups that you simply can’t get with a standard phone camera, though as with any macro lens, depth of field is tight, so you’ll need a steady hand and accurate focussing to get a sharp shot.
The only possible drawback is, unlike many add-on lenses that attach to your phone using a clip system, this lens can only be attached via one of Moment’s M-Series phone cases. These are also top quality though, and they enable fitment of Moment’s other top-notch M-Series lenses. Different cases are available to fit most iPhones, as well as recent high-end Galaxy and OnePlus models.
Confusingly, this smartphone lens and accessory bundle is called a 4-in-1 kit in the UK and a 9-in-1 kit Stateside. It’s the same deal though, with four separate lenses, along with extras including an eye cup, carry case, cleaning cloth, micro tripod and a basic phone holder, plus the all-important clamp to attach the lenses to your phone. These include a macro, wide-angle, fisheye, and the most interesting of the quartet: a telephoto lens, giving an advertised 20x magnification. That’s enough to zoom in far closer than with the 2x telephoto camera on an iPhone XS, though inevitably for such a cheap lens with plastic internals, corner sharpness is poor. You’ll also need a super-steady hand, as even if your phone’s camera has optical image stabilization, it won’t have been designed to work with a lens this long. But, if you’re after fun and versatility over outright image quality, this kit is well worth the money.
So you’d like to create cinematic video footage on your phone? One of the easiest ways to get more immersive content is to shoot in an ultra-widescreen 21:9 aspect ratio (also referred to as 2.35:1, or CinemaScope), rather than your phone’s native 16:9 format. This add-on lens does exactly that, but it doesn’t just cut off the top and bottom of your footage and call it quits. No, this is an anamorphic lens, so it optically compresses the camera’s perspective along the horizontal axis. Once the footage is re-stretched out to 21:9 using editing software (Filmic Pro, Premiere Pro), you get distortion-free video that Spielberg would be proud of (luck, and talent, may also be required). An added bonus of the anamorphic process is horizontal lens flare, adding to the Hollywood look.
The lens itself is built to a high standard, with an aluminium barrel and German Shott glass that maintains good image sharpness. The included metal clip maintains compatibility with all recent iPhones, Galaxy S-series models, and many other phones.