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Computerized Investing > October 13, 2012
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$69.99

A three-in-one lens system for your iPhone 4/4S.

I do a fair amount of traveling, whether going back and forth between Chicago and my hometown in mid-Michigan or traveling to various AAII local chapters throughout the country. If I am on a true vacation, I usually take a digital camera. I invested in a digital SLR camera several years ago and a plethora of lenses to go with it, but it is a hassle to carry with me when I travel. Even with a more convenient point-and-shoot digital camera, it isn’t always possible to carry it and my cellphone. Luckily, as smartphones have gotten smarter over the years, the quality of on-board cameras has also improved. There are now lens kits you can purchase to enhance the picture-taking capability of your phone. One of these is the olloclip for the iPhone 4/4S. This three-in-one lens system allows you to attach a fisheye, wide-angle and macro lens to your iPhone without the need of special software. I was given one and have been testing it out. From what I’ve seen so far, I may think twice about taking my digital camera with me the next time I travel.

Out of the Box & Setup

Out of the box, the olloclip consists of a plastic clip with lenses attached to both sides. This soft plastic clip slips onto the corner of the iPhone and over the native camera lens. The clip is made of soft plastic, which means it won’t scratch the screen or the glass back of the phone. Note that the olloclip is designed to work with a “naked,” or caseless, iPhone. This means that if you are someone like me who uses a case, you have to remove it before using the olloclip. Although it is a minor inconvenience, it is impossible to design such an accessory that would fit over all the different types of iPhones cases that are out there.

You can buy an olloclip with different colored lens barrels—white, black and red. The barrels are made out of aircraft-grade aluminum. Also, plastic lens covers are provided, as well as a cloth carrying pouch.

The olloclip measures 1.37 inches by 1.22 inches by 0.78 inches and weighs less than an ounce, making it a relatively unobtrusive attachment.

Although at first blush you may mistake the olloclip for only being a two-in-one lens system, unscrewing the wide-angle lens reveals a hidden macro lens.

After you have attached the olloclip to your iPhone 4/4S, you are ready to go. It works with any app that makes use of the rear-facing camera.

Lenses

As mentioned, the olloclip is three lenses in one: macro, fisheye and wide-angle. Using the macro lens for still captures magnifies the object roughly 10 times and allows focus within 12 to 15 millimeters of the object. As a result, you can capture close-up objects in extreme detail. You access this lens by unscrewing the wide-angle lens.

With the fisheye lens, you can capture a wide, panoramic view (approximately a 180-degree field of view). This ultra wide lens is useful when photographing extremely wide panoramas of landscapes and the sky, and for a close-up of subjects in crowds, interiors and architectural settings. It creates a strong visual distortion that makes it ideal for abstract and artistic photography.

Lastly, the wide-angle lens is designed to provide an extra field of view, approximately double that of the normal iPhone. It’s useful when taking pictures of architecture, interiors and landscapes.

Performance

One thing I love about the olloclip is its ease of use. In less than a minute, I had it attached to my iPhone 4S (sans case) and was taking pictures using the Camera+ app (my preferred photo app). This is a premium app you have to install, but the olloclip will also work just fine with the iPhone’s native Camera app.

The olloclip does add to the profile of the phone, but it is not nearly as bulky or obtrusive as some of the other lens attachments I have seen. The plastic clip provides a snug enough fit that you don’t run the risk of the olloclip falling off as you rotate the camera.

Since the olloclip simply slides over the native lens, its picture quality is driven by the sensor in the phone. The iPhone 4 has 5 megapixels (MP) and the 4S has 8MP, so you already have a pretty sophisticated camera at your disposal for the typical digital photographer.

I found all of the images I took to be very sharp and clear. I have no doubt that there are probably more pro-level lenses that provide even better picture quality, but expect to pay many times the $70 you pay for the olloclip. Perhaps what is most important is that the images I took with the olloclip are clearly distinctive from those I would have taken with the native lens. Otherwise, there would be no real benefit to using the olloclip. To switch between the wide-angle/macro lens and fisheye, simply flip the clip around. The macro lens provides crisp close-ups, while the wide-angle lens offers sweeping landscape views. My only real complaint with any of the pictures is the subtle, yet noticeable barrel distortion you get with the wide-angle lens. Personally, I am not a fan of the visual distortion you get with the fisheye, but it delivers as it should.

Overall

I was a little unsure when I first read about the olloclip and saw its $70 price tag. It is definitely one of the more expensive accessories you can buy for an iPhone, but it doesn’t offer the utility you get from a case, which may cost even more.

After using the olloclip on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, however, I was sold on its usefulness. While this is definitely an accessory for a somewhat narrow band of users, its ease of use and image quality definitely make it a worthwhile purchase for those looking to get something more from their iPhone’s native camera lens. For me, it has all but made a standalone point-and-shoot digital camera obsolete.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the olloclip is only compatible, currently, with the iPhone 4/4S. So, I am stuck in limbo now that I have upgraded my 4S to the iPhone 5. If you have an iPhone 4 or 4S and are looking to upgrade in the near future, hold off on buying the olloclip. According to the company website, an iPhone 5-compatible model is on its way, though they don’t provide a timetable.

Pros

  • Easy to use without the need for special software
  • Compact & lightweight design
  • Incredibly detailed macro images
  • Vibrant colors across all lenses

Cons

  • Currently only 4/4S model available
  • Pricey accessory with specialized utility
  • Slight distortion with wide-angle images

olloclip for iPhone 4/4S

$69.99 (currently $69.95 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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