olloclip Lens Kit for iPhone 5: Improve Your Image [UPDATED]

| In-Depth Review

The olloclip lens kit for the iPhone 5 carries on the tradition of its predecessor: an incredibly compact, capable and high-quality lens system that launched for the iPhone 4/4S. Combined with the iOS 6 panorama mode, the lens can provide more than a 360 degree wide image. At 20 grams, it's small and light enough to carry anywhere.

This is a follow-on to the review I published back in March, 2012: "olloclip Lens Kit for iPhone: Great at Any Angle." For reference, I wrote:

It’s almost a cultural certainty that the point-and-shoot pocket camera is dead. With our smartphones having 5 to 8 megapixels and support systems, like email, to get those photos moved around, posted, and albumized, there’s no point in carrying a small camera around anymore....

 

The olloclip is a small, two piece system that slips onto the edge of the iPhone 4/4S. It’s made of plastic, so it won’t scratch the Gorilla Glass, but it’s also a fairly firm fit so it won’t fall off. Getting that balance right is half the battle, and olloclip handles that beautifully.

The first thing to know is that this unit won’t work with just about any iPhone case; you’ll have to remove your case to use the olloclip. Depending on the case you’ve chosen, this may or may not be a problem. With my OtterBox Commuter, it slips off easily in less than 10 seconds. But for some cases, like the OtterBox Defender, that’s a real chore."

The inner packaging

As a quick recap, this product uses real glass, multi-element lenses and the total weight of the system is about 20 grams (0.7 oz.) The lens design is exactly the same as the previous version for iPhone 4/4S. There is an anti-reflection coating on the outer lenses, but the developer wouldn't say if it's magnesium fluoride (MgF2) and prefers not to go into technical details. Lens caps are included, and the microfiber carrying pouch doubles as a lens cloth. The macro lens provides about 10x magnification, as shown below.

Closeup of the LYNKtec TruGlide stylus microfiber tip

I wish olloclip had changed the color of the carry pouch for this new version to differentiate product generations, perhaps to white.

Other than the change in thickness and the optical center point, this kit is pretty much identical to the original product, but now there are three color combos to chose from. Here is olloclip's great FAQ that answers technical questions customers may have.

The more than 360 degree image is explained by olloclip: "The olloclip Panorama 360 Plus™ creates more than a 360 degree image -- meaning the image goes beyond 360 degrees where the image repeats itself. For example, see this link and attached image where the moon is shown on the left and right side of the photo -- creating more than 360 degree view."

Using the olloclip

The way the lens system works is that when the small lens is screwed on and facing the target, it's a wide-angle system. When you unscrew and remove that lens, you have the macro lens. With the large lens facing the target and the small lens attached, you have the fisheye.

The developer notes that the system is very usable with dry apply screen protectors that are thin. Wet apply screen protectors, like the ones from Zagg, are not compatible because they're too thick. Some customers are cutting off a section of the edge of the protector so it won't be impacted by frequent usage of the olloclip.

The olloclip for the iPhone 5 is slightly redesigned to reflect that the new iPhone is thinner and the optic axis is slightly moved with respect to the edges. So the older kit isn't compatible with the new iPhone 5 because it's too loose. However, I did try an experiment that involved physically holding the old lens system on the iPhone 5 with my fingers, and I got some usable photos. The developer says that because the optic axes don't align perfectly in this usage, there will be optical aberrations, edge distortion, even though the image may look okay to the untrained eye.

Back to the iPhone 5 version. I took some photos of my back yard to showcase the standard iPhone 5 lens (left) versus the fisheye lens (right). If you look closely, you can see a deer staring back at me.

Finally, I tried using the iOS 6 panorama mode combined with the fisheye lens on part of our street. It is just an awesome image and shows what you can achieve with the iPhone 5 combined with the olloclip.  (I cropped the photo slightly for publication.)

This image covers about 180 degrees.

Delivery

The olloclip 3-IN-ONE lens system for iPhone 5 ships at the end of November. It will be available in white with black lenses, black with red lenses, or black with black lenses. The price remains at US$69.99.

I asked the developer if previous owners of the system for iPhone 4 and 4S customers could buy the new version of iPhone 5 at a discount. The answer is "no," but the company may consider a holiday promotion. If there is one, I'll update this review and tweet. Here's one suggestion from the developer: if the iPhone 4/4S is being sold, offer the previous version of olloclip along with it as a sales incentive.

Summary

This kit is a tremendous enhancement to the already fine optical system in the iPhone 5. The design makes it incredibly easy to use; placement is foolproof. The clever design provides three modes: macro, wide-angle and fisheye with just one lens to remove. I use this system for product photos, but I'd always want to take the kit with me on vacation.

While professionals will have first-class equipment, this kit adds, in a major way, to the arsenal of amateur photographers and affords some amazing looking images that will impress friends and family.

The only negative here is that if you have an iPhone 5 case that's hard to remove, it will be somewhat of a hassle to do that and also keep track of many small parts and lenses. But if you're careful, patient and well organized, the payoff is tremendous. This is a great product that has stood the test of time. As a result, I've bumped the rating up from the last review.

[UPDATE: As of November 27, 2012, the olloclip for iPhone 5 is shipping.]

Product: olloclip for iPhone 5

Company: olloclip

List Price: US$69.99

Pros:

Three-in-one system, multi-element glass lenses with anti-reflection coating on outer lenses, small and light weight, nicely packaged, carry case and lens caps, great technical documentation online.

Cons:

Most any iPhone 5 case will have to be removed before use. Not compatible with the thicker screen protectors.
 

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