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Mobile accessory review: Olloclip lens adapters for iPhone 4/4S

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Olloclip - compatible with Apple iPhone 4, 4S and iPod Touch 4th Gen
$69.99 / £62.99 

The Olloclip combines three lenses on a compact mount that simply slips over the corner of your iPhone to position an accessory lens in front of the native lens. It’s small and lightweight enough to carry in a shirt pocket, putting it on your phone and switching from lens to lens takes only a second or two and it fits securely so that you can turn the phone to any angle without worrying about the Olloclip falling off. 

The three lenses provided in the Olloclip are a fisheye, a wide-angle lens and a macro lens that gives you approximately 1:3.7 magnification. You simply flip the Olloclip around to switch between the wide-angle and fisheye lenses, which are positioned on opposite sides. To use the macro lens, you unscrew the wide-angle lens that’s over it -- the most complicated procedure the Olloclip ever requires.

The Olloclip is solid and well-constructed, with no flimsy bits to break off with repeated use. It’s available in all-black and black-and-red versions, as well as white (not pictured). 

The Olloclip design isn’t flawless. Because it’s designed to fit snugly on the iPhone 4/4S, you can’t put it on the phone when it’s in a case. (A version for the iPhone 5 is due later this year.) And one minor inconvenience in daily use is the difficulty of cleaning the rear elements of the lenses. They’re exposed and prone to collecting dust and lint when the Olloclip isn’t on your phone, but unless you have the fingers of an elf, you can’t easily reach them inside the permanently attached mount to clean them.

The front elements are covered with little plastic caps, and the Olloclip comes in a bag that helpfully doubles as a lens cloth, but you’ll need a small brush or cleaning swab to rid debris from the rear elements regularly. The Olloclip also covers the iPhone’s built-in flash, but given the quality of a typical iPhone flash photo, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The wideangle lens doubles then angle of view of the iPhone, letting you get much more into your picture.
 Fisheye is fun, if you enjoy wildly distorted images ...
And the macro adapter lets you get really close up - up to a maximum magnification of 1:3.7 - not quite true macro, but pretty close. [Photo: Olloclip.com]

When it comes to lens performance, the Olloclip is stronger on versatility than optical quality. The wide-angle lens is arguably the best of the three optics. It softens the image slightly — more so around the edges — and causes some mild chromatic aberration along high-contrast edges. Neither effect degrades the image quality terribly, however. The image quality is competitive with that of other wide-angle iPhone accessory lenses. Of course, like other wide-angle lenses, it also produces some minor barrel distortion.

The fisheye lens is noticeably soft overall and very soft around the edges (soft edges seem to be typical in iPhone fisheye accessories across the board). Olloclip notes that optical flaws can be caused by a imperfect perfect alignment between the fisheye lens and the iPhone’s native lens, and the fisheye design allows you to make a very slight adjustment to its alignment by pushing one side forward in its mount. In my tests, this had very little effect. Another thing I noticed about the fisheye is that although Olloclip describes it as giving a 180-degree view, the actual angle of view appears narrower. Schneider’s iPro fisheye lens, which the company describes as having a 160-degree view, showed more of the scene.

The macro lens also has a noticeable problem with image softness, this time around the edges of images, which also show slight distortion. Olloclip recommends shooting a little over a centimeter away from the subject with the macro lens, and that was about right in my tests, but still, the results aren't exactly stellar. If you like selective focus, you might like the Olloclip’s macro look, but your area of sharp focus will always be in the middle. You can get better edge-to-edge sharpness from the $15 Easy-Macro rubber band lens or even the $6 Close Up Jelly Lens

Summary:

The bottom line? If you’re looking for a versatile iPhone 4/4S lens system that’s convenient to carry and use, you won’t find a better-designed device than the Olloclip. But design is one thing - while It excells when it comes to design, versatility and convenience, The Olloclip falls down when it comes to critical image optical quality.

What we like: Versatile, easy to use, well-made. Decent optical quality from the wide-angle lens.

What we don't like:Macro and fisheye lenses offer so-so image quality, limited area of sharpness from macro lens at close focussing distances, pretty pricey at $70.




Aimee Baldridge is a writer and photographer based in New York. For more than a decade she has specialized in covering imaging technology, digital media, and the world of photography. You can see more of her work at www.aimeebaldridge.com.

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