You can take some truly amazing photos with a humble smartphone, right out of the box - no apps or accessories required.
That hasn’t stopped a torrent of iPhone camera upgrades, though, promising everything from macro modes, to true zoom and wide angle shooting. They’re all a bit naff, though, right?
Not the ExoLens Pro.
This is as close to a professional-grade lens for your phone as it’s possible to get. Just take a look at the coveted blue Zeiss logo on the side.
But is it really a serious bit of kit, meant for serious photographers, or just another novelty add-on with a monumental price?
EYE SEE YOU
The ExoLens is more than just a lens - it’s also the Edge adapter that melds lens to iPhone.
This latest edition has added a slot-in fitting for the iPhone 7, which means three different generations of phones are covered: the iPhone 6/6 Plus, 6S/6S Plus, and 7. There’s no dual-lens fanciness for anyone with an iPhone 7 Plus, though.
Whichever phone you have, you’ll need to peel off your protective case before fitting the ExoLens Edge adapter - it won’t fit over the top. A full ExoLens case is in the works, but this is a bit of a downer for anyone with a case they don’t want to say goodbye to.
The pop-out moulds meant for each phone are easy enough to get in and out of the grip, but actually getting the thing onto your phone takes quite a bit of force. Once you’ve dragged it over your phone’s camera lens, though, it’s on pretty snug - there’s no chance of it popping off accidentally.
It’s got a cold-shoe mount on the top, so there’s room for adding an external flash or light box to illuminate your snaps. There’s no tripod thread on the tiny adapter though, so long exposure snaps aren’t possible without seriously shaky results.
The Zeiss lens screws over the top of your phone’s lens with a fine screw thread, which can be tricky to line up - especially when you’re out in the cold. Once it’s in though, you’re set - there’s no app to download, and your go-to camera app works normally. Only everything’s wider now.
Just make sure you get used to the top-heavy feel of the phone before you take it out and about - it can unbalance if you don’t have a strong grip. You really don’t want to end up with a shattered phone and lens combo.
GET A GRIP
Out of the box, an iPhone 7 has a 28mm wide-angle equivalent lens, so this 0.6x add-on stretches your view out to a 17mm equivalent. Or very, very wide, in non-camera geek speak.
You can fit a lot more into every photo, even close up - think entire buildings, rather than the first few floors, whole rooms instead of just one corner, and groups of friends instead of just the few closest to you.
I was expecting to see a fair bit of distortion with the lens attached, but it didn’t really have any at all. That’s mainly because the lens sits so close to the phone camera - something a cheaper add-on wouldn’t be able to manage.
The optics are the other reason. It takes great glass to deliver sharp detail across the entire frame, and that’s exactly what you get here. Aspheric lens elements aren’t cheap, but you can tell from the weight of it that Zeiss has kept up its high standards for this smartphone-centric snapper.
The photo samples really speak for themselves - each one shows how much more you can squeeze into each shot, without having to step back, attempt a software-stitched panorama, or take lots of shots and stitch them together yourself.
ExoLens Pro Verdict
Cheapo clip-on lenses are a dime a dozen, but none of them come close to matching the Exolens for picture quality.
There’s almost no distortion, and the wider angle really opens up what kinds of snaps you can take with a phone. And that’s before you invest in other Zeiss lenses, which add zoom and macro modes to your phone with similar high quality results.
It’s expensive, sure, but then what serious camera lens isn’t? This isn’t a toy, this is an accessory that’s on par with other camera gear you’d pay big money to own.
The ExoLens isn’t something casual camera fans are going to pick up, but major Instagram addicts and photo pros alike will love it.