New olloclip 2X Telephoto for iPhone: Glass Beats Software

| In-Depth Review

The 8 megapixel camera in the iPhone 5 is pretty good, and iOS provides a digital zoom, but serious photographers know that digital zoom is sketchy and having a real glass telephoto is preferable. The olloclip 2x telephoto (for iPhone 5 and 4S) provides that optical advantage and includes an adjustable polarizing filter. When combined with olloclip's special iPhone 5 (or 4S) case, the combination makes for easy accessibility and excellent telephoto images.

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The iSight camera of the iPhone 5 is an 8 megapixel (MP), five element, f/2.4 lens with an equivalent focal length of 33 mm compared to a DSLR full frame. That's a mild wide-angle lens. It makes for pretty good shots for the average photographer shooting people close up as well as scenery.

However, there are times when one would like to reach out, so to speak, with a longer focal length, without having to use the undesirable digital zoom. It's well known that digital zoom simply enlarges the image with software interpolation and loses resolution. It gives only the appearance of a true telephoto effect. What one really wants is a genuine glass telephoto, especially if the plan is to view or print the final image at a large size.

The olloclip Telephoto and Circular Polarizing Lens

This new olloclip product starts shipping today. It's kit that includes a 2x telephoto plus a circular polarizing lens (CPL), one for the iPhone 5 and a version for the 4S. The company is already famous for its 3-in-1 lens kit that includes a wide-angle, fisheye and macro lens set, and we've previously reviewed that here with high marks.

What's Included:

  • 2x telephoto lens
  • Lens cap
  • 25 mm dia. CPL
  • Step-down adapter
  • Separate microfiber bags for each lens
  • Instructions

L: Telephoto, r: Circular Polarizing Lens

The first thing I noticed is that the CPL can fit over the telephoto or, turning the assembly around, used at 1X passthrough. The CPL also fits nicely over the olloclip's original fisheye lens. Finally, with the step-down adapter, it fits over the original olloclip's wide-angle. Not only is it nice to see olloclip developing a family of products, but it's nice to see intelligent design and interoperability between them.

I also liked that the lens cap for the new telephoto system and the microfiber pouches are a different color. That's helps differentiate quickly from the 3-in-1 product when you're grabbing things on the way out the door.

Optical Discussion

The 2x telephoto uses ground glass lenses with 4 elements in 4 groups. Each of the eight air-glass surfaces is coated with an anti-reflection coating. (olloclip says it's proprietary, not magnesium fluoride, MgF2.) The lens barrels are anodized aluminum, not plastic. The large aperture of the objective lens is required, by optical design, to maintain the effective focal ratio of the iPhone's camera lens. Because the brightness of extended objects is a function of the f/ratio, not lens size, there is no gain in low light situations.

I compared the 2x telephoto on my iPhone 5 to an equivalent 2x digital zoom. With that magnification, the difference isn't as severe as it would be at, say, 10x, but it it was nevertheless visible when the images were blown up fully on my 27-inch display (see below). No doubt, if you want the best possible image, then this lens is the way to go. However, for casual photography, one may not care.

L: 2x tele, R: 2x digi zoom. On close inspection, one can see better detail
on roof tiles, chimney, branches with 2x tele. But it's not a slam dunk for small images.

Of course that brings up the issue of camera type. If you're really serious, why not lug around a DLSR with, say, a 28-200 mm zoom lens? And some people do. Certainly a professional photographer will have many kilos of gear. The key notion here is that you always have your iPhone with you, and the best camera is one you have with you, right now. Being able to throw a 2x telephoto in your pocket that weighs just over 28 grams (with lens cap) is an excellent idea for vacationing and sight-seeing when you want to travel light but get the best shots.

The Circular Polarizing Lens (CPL) is used to reduce glare from surfaces that reflect light in a certain way such as glass or water. Or the sky, depending on the sun angle. The polarizer can be rotated until you get just the effect you want. As I mentioned above, it can be used at 1X or with the 2x telephoto or with with the wide-angle and fisheye lens of the original olloclip. It does not have any anti-reflection coatings.

Another thing you can do with the 2x telephoto is have better control of the depth of field. With a digital zoom, most everything beyond an arm's length is at infinity. With the 2X telephoto, you can focus better on something close, say, an outdoor portrait, and have the distant view be slightly out of focus. That places more emphasis on the person you're photographing. The effect with this lens is rather subtle, but I saw it in my testing shown below.

Top: 2x tele, Bottom: 2x digital. WIth tele, better depth of field control.
Branches in focus, van is not. (See text.)

Finally, while digital zooming is considered a no-no amongst even casual photographers, the one thing you can do, in a pinch, is crank the digital zoom all the way up and then add the 2x telephoto to take you where the iPhone alone can't go. In the testing I did, the image wasn't all that bad.

L: roughly what you'd see on iPhone display, no zoom. R: Max digi zoom
plus 2x tele.

Construction

Both these lenses have the same high quality feel as any filter or lens made of aluminum and glass that I've ever used with my DSLR cameras and astronomical telescope. The outer edge of the CPL has a pleasant knurl that affords a better grip. The inside of the telephoto, where it slides over the iPhone's camera lens, is a kind of plastic that feels as if it has no chance of scratching the anodized finish of the iPhone 5. There is good thought and planning here.

The step-down ring on the CPL has a great feel. It fits on and off easily with good friction, and yet there's little chance it could come loose and fall off.

Packaging and Instructions

This is a first-class optical product for a first-class smartphone, and the packaging reflects that. When you open the front flap, an array of color photos and text describes the features and function of the product. Inside is single sheet explains the use of the lens and there are diagrams on the back that are straightforward.

Packaging wasn't available until 30 July.  olloclip photo.

The microfiber pouches, with drawstrings, are conveniently clipped together, and can also be used as lens cloths. The packaging appears to meet the standard set by the previous 3-in-1 product.

Accessories

One of the issues with a lens kit like this is that if you have a fairly robust case on your iPhone, one that requires a long time to remove, you're discouraged from using this product. To that end, olloclip has also developed, previously, a nice polycarbonate "Quick-Flip" case case that has a flip cover plate. (Available for the iPhone 4S or 5.) With that case, your olloclip lens of choice can be on the iPhone in seconds. TMO reviewed this case in June, 2013 with a 4.5/5 rating. One of the nice things about it? It lets the design of the iPhone 5 (or 4S) shine through.

olloclip also offers a free app, olloclip, designed to be used with either lens system or just by itself. The primary features are:

  • Adjust reticles to separate focus and exposure regions.
  • A mesh editor to adjust for pincushion/barrel distortion
  • Assist with focus in macro mode
  • Easily switch to video mode.
  • View your photo library

It's a nice app, and it's free.

Free olloclip iOS app.

Zooming In

It's great to see olloclip thoughtfully creating a family of interoperable, high quality products. However, in the case of the original olloclip 3-in-1 product, the lenses provided optical effects that the iPhone by itself cannot duplicate. In the case of the 2x telephoto one will have to weigh carefully the advantage of a glass telephoto over a convenient, technically unsatisfying, but for some, more or less acceptable 2x digital zoom.

For those on a tight budget, the proposition is just a little tougher than before. However, the purist and enthusiastic olloclip customer will just want this new product for its quality, extra telephoto reach, interoperability and polarizing filter -- valuable additions to their already very portable lens portfolio from olloclip.

A final note. Olloclip has a special bundle price for the telephoto kit and the Quick-Flip Case for US$129.99. (See for example, the iPhone 5 product order page.)

Product: olloclip iPhone Telephoto

Company: olloclip

List Price: US$99.99

Pros:

Ground glass lenses, anti-reflection coated on every air-glass surface, aluminum barrel, plastic fitting won't scratch iPhone, circular polarized lens with rotating adjustment and knurled knob. Microfiber pouches and lens cap. Step-down adapter for 1x mode and 3-in-1 system.

Cons:

Serious pricing for optical excellence. Casual photographers may not see advantages over digital zoom at first.

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6 Comments Leave Your Own

iJack

1. iPhone lens (# of pieces?) + 16 in telephoto + polarizing filter = a lotta glass!

2. I scrolled back through your piece a couple of times, but I can’t find who actually makes the glass, and that’s crucial for any photographer to know. If it’s say Schneider, Tiffen or Schott glass, that’s one thing but Brand-X is something altogether different, even in the polarizer.

barryotoole

OlloClip is a good lens; I backed their original on Kickstarter. The only issue I had was taking off my case to slip the lens on; they’ve solved this with their own iPhone case.

However, I discovered the iPro lens system for my 4S. It’s made by Schneider Optics -  a German company with a record of excellence. I’m not saying that OlloClip optics are inferior to Schneider’s - IDK, but I ‘feel’ better having lenses from a company that has a track record, although as far as I know, they may be grinding the lenses in the same factory in China on a different bench.

One other big difference is that while OlloClip lens slides on the phone, the iPro lenses lock into the hole in the offered case - which to me is a more secure system of holding the lens in place, and not worring about the lens alignment with every shot.

On reading your article, I looked up the olloclip bundle: the tele is still on preorder. So I ordered the iPro bundle, although its $230 - $30 more expensive than the comparable OlloClip bundle. However, I must say that the OlloClip case is ‘sexier’; I didn’t care much about their iPhone 4S case - it was thicker and ugly.

barryotoole

One other thing I should mention about the iPro lenses: the system comes with a barrel to house lenses - which doubles as a adaptor to mount your iPhone on a tripod.

The OlloClip lenses come with small bags separately, and their case mounts directly on the tripod.

To me, iPro has two advantages here: first, all three lenses - iPro has different lenses for macro and wide, instead of a add-on attachment for wide (easier to lose); second, with smaller tripods I carry on travel, it affords a few inches of extra height.

However, the fisheye lens for iPro is a separate lens, unlike the OlloClip, and is not included in their bundle, and costs $75!

barryotoole

PLEASE ADD ABILITY TO EDIT: I have to write a separate post each time!

The iPro wide lens in the bundle is ‘super-wide’ - something between a wide and fisheye. The wide is available separately.

Also, there’s no filter, yet, for the iPro lenses.

All in all, one would be spending almost double for the entire iPro lens set, and have to carry five lenses instead of OlloClip’s two, but it’s like having prime lenses for different focal lengths for your iPhone, just like with a pro camera.

Nevertheless, unless one is very serious about photography, the superwide lens is a good compromise between fisheye and wide. In that case, all three lenses fit in one case, which is much easier to carry than two objects.

So, I’d give the iPro lenses four stars: half-star deducted for not having a filter and the other half for their ugly iPhone case.

For the OlloClip system, I’ll give three stars, because I believe that iPro has better optics, different lenses for different focal lengths, barrel for storing lenses and that adds height to the tripod as well, having a secure way to house lenses on the iPhone, and is build by a company that has been doing this for a while and has a track record of excellence.

However, if one doesn’t want to spend that much, and aware of OlloClip’s limitations, it would be good enough to have.

barryotoole

One last thing: The barrel to store lenses also serves as a handle when not using a tripod. Holding it in one hand while pushing the shutter from the other makes for a more stable shot.

On reflection, it seems to me that the case was made thicker on purpose. This could help with a more secure attachment to the iPhone and the lenses, thus ensuring a correct lens alignment without slipping/sliding, and a great shot.

Sorry for being so long winded; I am not competing with John to write my own review!

barryotoole

So, when I think about the reason the case is thick, I’d give the iPro 4.5 stars.

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