If you own an iPhone, you're probably the designated photographer in the family. The flagship handset, known for shooting short films on a budget, always captures social media-ready pictures (and it's no secret that app developers have an easier time working with the more standardised iOS software). What if we told you, you can take your iPhone photography to the next level?
Enter external lenses. Just as how pro photographers screw on and off different lenses for their DSLRs, you can maximise your iPhone camera's potential with external lenses. Snap a wide-angle shot, zoom all the way across the street or film a cinematic vlog - our experts tell you how.
Are smartphone camera lenses worth buying?
Having a lens kit around is a worthwhile investment for the serious and casual photographer. Lenses use the phone's native sensor to produce fun results. The quality of the image boils down to the quality of the glass used by the lens manufacturer. This is why the more affordable kind is usually made of plastic.
"External lenses are made with better and bigger glasses, so even if you use one with the same focal length as the native camera, the image quality will be better," said Anas Thacharpadikkal, Senior Visual Journalist at Gulf News.
Most iPhone models are already equipped with a telephoto lens and an ultra-wide angle lens. Still, an optical lens can add to your existing zoom capacity. "A lens with 3x optical zoom over your native 3x camera lens will give you a zoom that goes very far," explained Raz Hansrod, the general manager at Gulf Photo Plus (GPP), Dubai’s hub for photography workshops, exhibitions and art prints.
Besides the zoom, both experts highlight the trendy anamorphic lens for iPhones. Think of it as a very wide-angle or a panoramic shot. The lens squeezes more of your peripheral vision into a cinematic view, complete with soft flare, just like in the movies. Hansrod recommends anamorphic for group photos with family and friends.
Which external lens is the best for me?
A solid piece of kit should last you years. Our photography experts agree on the irrefutable quality of the glass. Photographers are always willing to shell out more on lenses than the camera itself. Thacharpadikkal says his trusty 50mm prime lens has stayed with him for 10 years, so paying a premium is a long-term investment.
But, do you need the latest iPhone 14 Pro Max for the best results? Not necessarily. "You can buy an iPhone Mini, which only has two rear cameras and no optical zoom-in, and screw on these small, portable lenses. I don't have to spend double the amount to get a new phone - these can widen the field view, increase zoom and shoot in anamorphic," said Hansrod.
The number-one choice for both is the highly regarded Moment lens for iPhone, coming in wide, macro, anamorphic and more. Thacharpadikkal also stresses the mounting options, where some lenses will require you to add a special phone case for the lens to stick.
Find our experts' recommendations for the best clicks below. You can pick these up from Amazon and save on delivery costs with a Prime membership.
1. Best Overall: Moment Anamorphic Lens
- True anamorphic flare
- Cinematic wide view with black borders
- Features hand-polished glass
- Compatible with other flagship phones
- Import costs make it pricier than the original value
- Mounting phone case is sold separately
Get ready to shoot your best vlogs, yet. Moment's popular anamorphic lens is compatible with all your Apple device cameras, from iPhones to iPads. This square-shaped lens gathers more details into a film-like wide aspect ratio of 2.40:1. In other words, your videos will boast the classic cinematic black bars on top and bottom of the clip, without the need for extra editing. This is a true anamorphic lens with a horizontal lens flare and blue vintage coating. Unlike plastic counterparts, this phone accessory has noticeable weight to it, constructed from aerospace-grade metal and hand-polished glass. To get started, you will need two more things in your arsenal: the Moment mount phone case and the Moment app. Besides the iPhone, the lens is also designed for Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel and One Plus phone cameras.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh84.62 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a two-year warranty.
2. Best Wide-Angle Lens: Sandmarc Wide Lens Edition For iPhone XR
- 2x greater field of view
- Multi-coated 16mm glass lens
- Works with both front and rear cameras
- Includes two mounting options
- Model-specific lenses only
Sandmarc is another glass-manufacturing brand to look out for, per Thacharpadikkal. Its lenses are sorted by iPhone models, so you'll have to shop for a kit compatible with your phone. Our pick is a 16mm wide lens made for iPhone XR, which carries a 12MP rear wide-angle lens. With this on, you get a 2x wider capture, ideal for scenic shots in Nature. Sandmarc uses premium multi-coated glass to deliver sharp results. The best part is that you can get started right out of the box - Sandmarc includes a phone case mount and a clip-on mount, for case-free shooting.
3. Best Budget: Apexel HD Mobile Phone Camera Lens Set
- Value bundle with five different lenses in one
- Telephoto, macro, wide-angle and fisheye effects
- Hard case makes travelling easier
- Quick clip-on mount
- Slight spherical distortion, note some reviews
- Incompatible with iPhone 14 models
An experimental kit for a beginner, Apexel's five-in-one lens set can be your first foray into iPhone photography. Do note that the mounting clip isn't compatible with the iPhone 14 series. All five lenses come in a waterproof hard case for easy portability. In this value bundle, you can try the 2x telephoto lens, 10x macro lens, 195 degrees fisheye, and two wide-angle lenses. Reviewers love how it comes in handy for special occasions and saves them from lugging around a heavier DSLR. They notice the improvement in the quality of their iPhone cameras, especially when they use the telephoto lens to get a closer shot in crowded events. Since the glass isn't comparable to that of Moment and Sandmarc, you should expect some distortion in wide-angle lenses.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a one-year warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh12 and two years for Dh19.
4. Best Value for Anamorphic: Sirui Vd-01 Anamorphic Lens 1.33X
- Made with German Schott glass
- Shoots in 2.4:1 aspect ratio
- Adds horizontal flare
- Comes with a smartphone clip and a hard case
- Uses a universal clip that can be tricky to align
The Sirui VD-01 is an entry-level 1.33x anamorphic lens and a decent alternative to our Moment pick. It clips onto your iPhone camera and captures cinematic widescreen 2.4:1 ratio shots. Sirui brings German Schott glass to the table, with multiple retro-style coatings for Hollywood bokeh effects. Reviewers have shot with their iPhone XS, iPhone 11 Pro and even iPads, thanks to the universal smartphone clip that comes with the lens. It will be tricky to get the lens aligned perfectly with your phone sensor, as some buyers experience. Any misalignment will result in distortion or dark edges. Still, many find it a budget-friendly option over the Moment anamorphic lens.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh29 and two years for Dh47.
5. Best for Older iPhones: Xenvo Pro Lens Kit
- 15x macro and 0.45x wide-angle lenses
- Includes a glow light for selfies
- Comes in an easy-to-carry travel kit
- Not compatible with latest iPhone models and triple camera systems
Another option you can consider for casual photography is the Xenvo Pro lens kit. There are only two kinds in this set: a 0.45x wide-angle lens that captures 45 per cent more from your peripheral view, and a 15x macro lens to get detailed snaps. Clip either lens on the front or rear cameras - if you're taking a selfie in a dim room, grab the GlowClip LED light from the kit and clip it on. Photography instructors, botanists and even lash technicians vouch for the macro lens, which has helped them shoot their subjects in great detail. Newer iPhone models will find less use for this kit, however, note reviews. A triple rear camera system will also render the wide-angle lens futile, so it's overall better suited for older phones, like the iPhone 8.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh18 and two years for Dh29.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.