With the release of the iPhone 4S, the camera phone has become a legitimate alternative to traditional digital point-and-shoot cameras. The optics in the iPhone 4S are superior to those in some low-end cameras, and the iPhone’s sensor is only a few megapixels shy of its camera cousins (the importance of more megapixels tends to be vastly overrated—8 MP is plenty in a well-designed camera like the iPhone). More importantly, our smartphones are with us practically all the time, and the only camera that really matters is the one you have with you at the moment something photo-worthy happens. For amateur and even professional photographers, the iPhone 4S is a good camera, but more flexibility would be a great benefit. Enter the ōlloclip, which garnered a nod as one of Appletell’s favorite things at Macworld 2012. ōlloclip is a snap-on accessory that offers fisheye, wide angle, and macro lenses in a convenient, lightweight, and very affordable package to broaden your iPhone’s photography abilities.
Appletell had the opportunity to chat with Patrick O’Neill, CEO of ōlloclip, at Macworld | iWorld 2012, where he described the rapid ascent of the company from a Kickstarter project in the summer of 2011 to stocking ōlloclips in Apple Stores and Best Buy locations just in time for the holiday season. The iPhone 4S’s rapid ascent to the second-most popular camera on Flickr shortly after its release is a testament to both its popularity and the ease of sharing it provides. Plenty of amateur and professional photographers are finding the iPhone useful when the weight and hassle of a DSLR is undesirable, and casual photographers find the iPhone useful because of its always-at-hand quality as part of their smartphone of choice. Available in either all black or a red and black design, the ōlloclip provides an entire bag full of lens choices in a single, lightweight accessory.
The ōlloclip concept is simple; a slide-on bracket perfectly aligns a reversible lens over the iPhone’s rear camera sensor. The plastic grip is lightweight yet snug, ensuring a secure fit (no worries about dropped lenses!). One side of the clip features the fisheye lens, which offers a 180º field-of-view. Pop the clip off, turn it around, and you have a combination wide angle/macro lens, offering a field of view approximately double the iPhone’s normal (wide angle) and a 10x multiplier at 12-15 mm (macro). To switch from wide angle to macro, simply unscrew the outer element of the wide angle to expose the macro lens underneath. Two lens caps are included, for the wide angle and fisheye, as well as a microfiber carrying case that doubles as a lens cleaning cloth—especially useful for cleaning fingerprints off the back glass of the iPhone before you snap ōlloclip in place.
Optical quality of the ōlloclip’s lenses are superb, especially given the price. No significant chromatic aberration is present with any of the lenses, while the wide angle does produce a noticeable barrel distortion on the outer edge of images (given the field-of-view gain, this is not surprising). The fisheye does produce a vignette on all four corners in still photographs. This vignetting is absent in movie mode, where the iPhone crops the sensor, while the wide angle lens restores nearly the full frame to movies, allowing you to capture a greater field of view in iPhone movies. The macro lens provides spectacularly detailed images, but has a focusing distance of approximately 0.5 inches. The iPhone’s autofocus slows down a bit when using macro, so fast moving subjects like insects or plants blowing in a breeze will likely prove impossible to capture. The iPhone’s very shallow depth-of-field does not help matters, as it provides for only a very narrow band of sharpness within photos.
ōlloclip does not come with any dedicated sharing resources, but the team behind it encourage you to add the hashtag/tag #olloclip to anything you share that was shot with an ōlloclip on your camera. The company has both a YouTube video and Flickr group dedicated to ōlloclip-captured photos, as well Twitter feeds and a Facebook page. There is a weekly challenge on the Facebook page to show off pictures captured with the various lenses the ōlloclip provides: #MacroMon (tags #olloclip #MacroMon), #WideAngleWeds (tags #olloclip # WideAngleWeds), and #FishEyeFri (tags #olloclip #FishEyeFri). Another great resource is the ōlloclip team blog, which has recently turned into a Tumblr of great photos captured using the different lenses.
From the second-rate afterthought features they once were to the stunning photographic devices they are the today, camera phones certainly have progressed. With more users carrying an iPhone 4 or 4S with the express purpose of using it as an always-on camera, it only makes sense that great accessories like the ōlloclip will come along to cover those situations where Apple’s minimalist design leaves us wanting a little bit more. For only $70, the ōlloclip makes a great first step into the wider world of photography, especially since a high quality DSLR lens offering only one of the ōlloclip’s three functions could easily go for 10 times the price.
The ōllolclip’s only drawback is in the fact that it requires a naked iPhone in order to work; cases and bumpers are not compatible with the accessory, though most screen protectors will be just fine.