Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 27, 2013

Cooler iPhone photos, in a snap

By Anne Farrar and Nathaniel Grann
The Washington Post

— Love your iPhone camera but wish it had a few more bells and whistles? Well, now it can, thanks to an array of new attachments that do everything from letting you shoot underwater to adding quirky effects to your photos.

We tested a few and offer our reports below.

Photojojo lens set

Three lenses $49. Fisheye $25. Telephoto $20. Wide/macro $20.

Of the three lenses, all of which I tried, my favorite was the macro.

There's nothing more frustrating than not getting close enough to photograph the busy bees or the flower petals in your back yard. The macro lens allows for a closer focal point and a shallow depth of field so that the subject stands out from the background. The lens is sharp in the middle, but the image does soften a bit around the edges. But considering that it's $20, well, nothing's perfect!

Just as with a 35mm camera, a fisheye lens is a "trick" lens that you don't bring out very often. It bows the edges and provides a small focal spot in the middle of the frame. It's a fun effect but not something that most photographers would use every day. If you're not into this look, save the 25 bucks.

The telephoto lens doubles the length of the iPhone lens, which is pretty cool since I'm usually running forward to get better framing. It alleviates having to crop and resize images, maintaining the larger file size that an iPhone 5 offers. This is a nice addition to the iPhone gizmos in your pocket.

Ease of use: The lenses attach to the phone via a magnet in the lens itself. Several self-adhesive washers come with each lens for multiple applications. Applying one of the washers to the back of your camera is a breeze; be sure to leave it on for at least 30 minutes before use (as recommended). I put one on and immediately started shooting: Plop — the lens fell off. After the allotted waiting time, the lens attaches to the washer magnetically. Easy breezy.

The lenses slide on and off, which is cool — and not so cool. If you throw the phone into a purse or a back pocket, the lens slides off. So, if you're careful, it's a handy tool; if not, your lens will be dropping off and getting lost at the bottom of your satchel.

— Anne Farrar

Bamboo Solar Charger for phone or tablet $35.

I was super-excited to find a solar charger that's within budget. Being made out of sustainable bamboo made it all the better. After the initial wall charge, I looped it onto my satchel so that it hung out as I walked around the city. Using my own iPhone cord, I hooked the charger to my phone so that I could shoot for a prolonged amount of time.

Issues: First of all, I'm not much of a cord person, so having my phone hooked up to the charger as I walked and used the phone was a bit irritating. Putting that aside, I had a hard time keeping the charger pointing upward, toward the sun. It kept swinging and flipping, then not charging. I'm sure that there's a formula for making it stay in place, but I didn't land on it.

Nevertheless, it's a great backup if you're out and about for the day and can't plug in somewhere. When the sun was shining and the solar panel was upright, the battery more than kept up with my power use.

— Anne Farrar

Optrix iPhone Adventure Suit for iPhone 5 $130.

I looked at several waterproof phone cases and ended up choosing the Optrix because it comes with an attached wide-angle lens. I didn't have time to take the case swimming but opted to dip it into the fountain at Washington's Dupont Circle instead. As I held my breath (I live on my phone!), under it went for a few seconds. It stayed dry!

Okay, time to commit. Down it goes again — 10 seconds. No problem, still dry. Now it's time to shoot some images. The case is totally plastic, with the front (which goes over the screen of the iPhone) a bit pliable so that you can use the touchscreen. Framing was a bit difficult, and actually shooting an image required quite a bit of pushing. But I'd rather have a secure phone than flimsy seams.

The resulting fountain images from underwater were so-so, but with a bit of practice and patience, I think you could take some cool underwater photos. You're not just shooting through plastic, as with other waterproof cases, and the lens does lend the final image a higher quality. The case is definitely easy to use and solidly waterproof through and through. It'd be great to have at the pool or the beach for safety near the water, to keep sand out of your phone and for taking some interesting photos to boot.

— Anne Farrar

Holga Special Lens & Filter Turret $30

A nostalgic add-on to an iPhone, this case provides nine color and special-effect lenses, from a 60mm macro lens to a rosy-red filter with a clear, heart-shaped center. The idea is to mimic the famous Holga camera — a well-loved toy camera with a cult following among those who enjoy its lack of precision.

Unfortunately, if you're looking to shoot in a digital aesthetic similar to that of the Holga, with its distortions, blurring, etc., you'll probably be disappointed. Despite the filters' skewing and adding of colors, the iPhone lens is far too powerful to be tricked into working like the plastic Holga's. The results aren't undesirable, but they're different from what you may expect. A quadruple-image lens will split your subject into four sections, creating often confusing but visually interesting results. The strongest option by far, though, is the 60mm macro lens, which will have you shoving your iPhone as close as possible to any number of objects.

— Nathaniel Grann