Smartphone lenses – Don’t you hate taking a photograph or video on a smartphone, and it never looks as good as you want it to be?
Are you jealous of the influencers on Instagram and youtube producing incredible pictures and film footage using the same equipment as you do, but not achieving the same results? The problem isn’t you; it’s the smartphone lenses built into your cellphone that are causing lackluster results.
Smartphones have come a long way since the old Nokia 2200 with an LCD screen that the only game on the phone was “snake.” Sure you most likely can find the game “snake” on your smartphones today, but the game is extremely old school compared to the games we have now.
Not only has games and applications evolved, but the cameras in the smartphones are producing 4K quality videos that almost rival the mirrorless filmmaking cameras out there. The unique problem with Smartphone photography and smartphone filmmaking is the basic lenses available for creating a depth of field, can’t compete with 4K DSLRs with the option of adding anamorphic lenses to them.
But what if I told you that there are options available to you that can help produce a photographic and cinematic masterpiece that almost rivals a DSLR camera just by adding some conversion lenses. Would you be interested? I know I was, and if you are like me trying to get the most out of a smartphone camera, you should read on to find out what are the best smartphone lenses to add to your smartphone kit.
Right now is the time for the photographer and filmmaker to push his/her photographic and cinematographic skills even further with some of the best smartphone conversion lenses out there.
Conversion Lenses – Introduction
I know many DOP’s out there will still argue with me that shooting a film on an iPhone is child’s play. I understand that many of the filmmaking cameras on film sets today are heads and shoulders above the smartphones out there in terms of quality, but things are changing, and I like the change that is coming.
The first question I had before filming with my iPhone was “Does iPhone X have wide-angle lenses?” And the answer was no. So I started looking into alternatives in conversion lenses to help me.
With some of the great filmmakers in the industry today shooting feature films with smartphones, there is no excuse anymore for an amateur to grab a smartphone and start filming.
The list below is the best smartphone camera lenses for shooting a film that can be found on the internet right now. Therefore without further ado, let’s begin.
By the way, the trailer below was directed by Steven Soderbergh which was filmed with an iPhone 7 and some great iPhone lenses.
Built-in iPhone Lens vs. external iPhone lens
Are you an amateur photographer or filmmaker that doesn’t think a lens makes a difference in your smartphone pictures or videos?
If you are creating memories for yourself and looking at them once and downloading them onto your computer to be forgotten for years to come, then this post isn’t for you.
But, what is the main goal of capturing memories on a camera? To be enjoyed for years to come right?
Then why would anyone want to keep sub-par pictures and videos that will not bring back the great memories of when you took those pictures or videos?
Want to be convinced? Have a look at the examples below to understand why that adding a conversion lens to a smartphone can elevate any picture or video to a whole new level that you may not have thought was possible.
Conversion lenses are basically secondary lenses created to assist with other camera lenses to improve the photo and video quality.
For me, being an independent filmmaker, I am always looking for the cheapest way to film my features, and with conversion lenses, they help me achieve the results I want. There are many great conversion lens makers out there that every filmmaker or photographer should already be aware of, and if not… should.
How to work with a conversion lens? Conversion lenses are mounted on a smartphone generally via a conversion kit and sit over the top of the smartphone lens. The great thing about Conversion lenses is that they are small, lightweight compared to the massive lenses that you would use for a mirrorless and DSLR camera.
These secondary lenses from the likes of Moondog Labs, Moment, and Ulanzi have not only been designed for smartphones but other portable cameras as well.
The objective of conversion lenses is to transform the existing lens on the camera to capture a whole new look.
The only issue with conversion lenses for your smartphone is the cheaper the lens is, leads to the possibility of edges of the frame being overshadowed, and the loss of light to the sensor which can affect low light shooting.
Types Of Conversion Lenses
If you are looking into improving your photography and cinematography skills by using conversion lenses with your smartphone, you will need understanding what each lens type does for your footage.
Each smartphone lens will create a different look to the pictures and videos you shoot. Here is a break down of the most popular conversion lens types that you may want to use to improve your smartphone camera capabilities.
What does a Telephoto Lens do for a camera? A telephoto lens narrows the field of view and allows you to focus closer on the subject you are filming without moving the camera. It’s like when you stare at the moon through a telescope.
Many photographers use many types of telephoto lenses for portrait photography to help create a shallow depth of field in which everything but the subject in the frame is out of focus.
This type of lens is perfect for filmmakers using a smartphone that wants to create a sense of disconnection between the key subject and the world around them. Below is a clip of what a telephone lens does for filming.
Depth of Field Adapter
Beastgrip DOF Adapter MK2
Ulanzi DOF Adapter for Smartphones
When you look through your very own eyes, you see images entirely different that was is captured on a normal lens of a camera.
In order for a smartphone filmmaker or photographer to achieve this natural look through the lens of a smartphone, you need to find a 50-60mm conversion lens.
Below is an example of a normal lens look to a smartphone video.
A wide-angle lens allows you to squeeze more into the frame, making them ideal for filming scenes such as widespread landscapes or confined interiors. A wide-angle lens is one that has a wider angle of view than a normal lens.
A wide-angle lens has more peripheral vision and can ‘see’ more as it pulls more of the landscape into the picture. Wide-angle lenses have a focal point less than 35mm.
Ultra Wide Angle Lens
Ultra wide-angle lenses distort the image so that straight lines become more noticeably curved.
These types of smartphone lenses are called fisheye lenses, as they give the illusion you are seeing the world through the eye of a fish.
This is my favorite lens for shooting short films with on my iPhone X.
The reason it’s my favorite lens regardless of the camera I am using is because of its ability to capture a CinemaScope-style 2.39:1 ratio, without having to lose any resolution that comes from simply cropping the final image.
The anamorphic lens is a type of wide-angle lens, this lens provides a wider horizontal field of view while keeping the vertical dimension unchanged.
This is why I use an anamorphic lens as it gives such a unique aspect: ultra-wide rectangular aspect ratios and long horizontal lens flares.
Curious about what anamorphic looks like on an iPhone? This example is just a small taste of what this type of lens can do for your video footage.
Also, below this video is two of the most popular anamorphic lenses on the market today for smartphone filmmaking.
Moment - Anamorphic Lens
Does the iPhone have a wide-angle lens? Well, the new iPhone 11 does have a great wide-angle lens on the phone, but nothing matches a great anamorphic lens.
The anamorphic lens is the holy grail of iPhone filmmaking.
The Moment iPhone lens offers sweet horizontal flares and films in widescreen to give that letterbox look. The Moment Anamorphic iPhone Lens 1.33x design brings the organic look and character of 2:40:1.
It’s like shooting a wider focal length in the horizontal direction and a longer focal length in the vertical. Works with the Moment Pro Camera App to de-squeeze the image when shooting video and photos.
The Moment Anamorphic Lens has been called the best mobile Anamorphic lens on the market by filmmakers like Peter McKinnon.
The great thing about the Moment Anamorphic Lens is that it works with the latest Apple, Google, Samsung, and OnePlus devices.
All you have to do is mount the Moment Anamorphic Lens over either lens on dual-lens phones enabling nearly limitless creativity.
I have moment iPhone lenses in my camera bag at all times when I am shooting a short film on my Apple iPhone.
Moondog Labs 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter Lens
What is the best iPhone lens kit?
Until recently, anamorphic capture was available only to professionals with tens of thousands of dollars to spend on lenses.
In 2014, Moondog Labs recognized the opportunity created by improvements in mobile device cameras, and created the first affordable anamorphic lens.
The Moondog Labs 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter Lens lets you shoot 2.4:1 aspect ratio video and panoramic 16:9 still images on most iPhones.
By using a lens, you can keep your device’s full resolution while changing the aspect ratio, with only simple de-squeezing required in post-production.
It’s made from anodized aluminum and glass and comes with a microfiber storage bag, an orange plastic front lens cap, and a threaded aluminum rear cap.
Note: Please note that while this is compatible with all iPhone models, it is not recommended for the XR, XS, and XS Max, as it has a slightly more narrow aperture that may cause some softness when used with iphone lenses that have a wider field of view.
James Cameron once said about filmmaking is “Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”
So why worry about what type of equipment you use to shoot a movie or picture because James Cameron knows a thing or two about movies.
If you are going to use your smartphone to capture your vision, using these iPhone lenses for shooting a great picture or film is a great start.
Side Note: This film was shot for a holiday-themed 48-hr film festival.
I shot this on my iPhone 7 with no iPhone lenses. I am kicking myself for not purchasing a lens beforehand.
Also, all the cast was the crew because all my actors didn’t show up that day for the shoot. We still won the audience favorite for the festival for a bunch of untrained actors.
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About the author: Trent (IMDB | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.