Beyond the phone cam: add-ons for extra magic

The camera is a perfect example. digital photography has utterly wiped out the old world of film photography. And now the very nature of digital photography is changing as phone cameras begin to rise up the technology curve to meet the serious photographer’s single-lens reflex (SLR) devices.

But there are still many things the typical phone camera cannot do. One of the most common sources of digital disappointment is that phone cameras use digital zoom instead of optical zoom. Digital zoom merely magnifies an existing image. Optical zoom uses a telephoto lens to zoom into the scene and usually gives vastly superior results.

The solution is either to get a phone designed to be a camera, or buy an add-on that gives the phone capabilities beyond its hardware limitations. Here are two of the best add-ons available:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 (Android and iOS)

At first sight, this is a bizarre gadget: a stand-alone zoom lens that connects to a smartphone via Wi-Fi. However, it clips onto the phone to turn the phone into something close to an SLR unit, with both still and video functionality

Once an app called PlayMemories is installed on the phone, and the Cyber-shot is connected via Wi-Fi, the phone screen becomes the viewfinder for the lens. That means the lens does not have to be clipped on – it can be placed within connectivity distance of the phone. And that means you can position it to look round corners. It’s not very versatile in that configuration, but could be a useful security or journalistic accessory in the right situation. Don’t think spycam: this is a very obtrusive device and it’s also very slow in processing images, so is not great for capturing action.

However, the 18.2MP lens doesn’t have to mean massive file-sizes: PlayMemories resizes images to make them feasible for sharing. The lens is compatible with any Android or iOS smartphone.

It provides real 10x zoom rather than magnification, meaning a long-distance image that does not instantly pixelate when enlarged.

Olloclip 3-in-1 Photo Lens (iPhone only)

At the other end of the zoom scale, smartphone cameras also don’t do too well with coming in close. Enter the Olloclip 3-in-1 Photo Lens, which clips over an iPhone’s camera lens. It adds Macro, Wide Angle and Fisheye functions that approximate the quality of dedicated SLR camera lenses.

The Macro allows 10x magnification 12-15mm away from a tiny subject – a distance and zoom at which conventional smartphones give up and go blurry. The Fisheye function gives a 180-degree field of view and the wide-angle doubles the iPhone’s normal field of view. A 4-in-1 version adds 15x Macro, while a telephoto edition provides 2x optical magnification.

The Olloclip is almost magical in the way it gives new meaning to close-up.

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