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Mobile accessory review: Jelly Lenses

4

Jelly Lenses - compatible with most cell phones
$6.20 / £4.29 each or $68 / £48.14 for set of 12

Jelly Lenses are self-adhesive lenses for your smartphone that look like they've come straight out of a gumball machine. Composed of a bright-colored plastic ring around a plastic lens, each Jelly Lens is backed with a ring of stretchy, jelly-like removable adhesive that allows you to stick it over your camera phone’s lens. Each lens is attached to an elastic band and metal clip so that you can attach your Jelly lens to whatever’s handy—your phone, your wrist, or your bag.

 Jelly Lenses come in 14 varieties, each with a different purpose. A few of them are truly useful, others not so much. The most useful for serious photographers is undoubtedly the Polorizer [sic] lens, since it’s very effective and I’ve not yet seen another polarizer option for camera phones that compares to it. The Close Up and Wide Angle lenses also fall into the useful, rather than gimicky category. 

The Polorizer [sic] Jelly Lens features a tiny rotating ring that adjusts the polarizing effect, just like a regular screw-in polarizing filter. Notice the reflection in the example above using the Polorizer ...
... and notice how adjusting the lens nearly eliminated the alarm clock's reflection, above.

The advantages of Jelly Lenses are that they’re cheap (a little over $6 each or about $70 for a dozen), you can stick them on just about any camera phone, whether it’s in a case or not, and they’re very convenient to carry. 

Wide Angle: Gives a distorted wide-angle view. The green lens ring shows around the edges of images.
Close Up: A macro lens that does a good job of giving you about 1:4.2 magnification at a little over a centimeter from your subject. The orange lens ring gives a color cast to images and makes a reflection on shiny surfaces.

However, that removable adhesive doesn’t work perfectly. After several minutes, Jelly Lenses tend to fall off. The adhesive also attracts lint, which reduces its stickiness. Each Jelly Lens has a little cap to cover the adhesive when you’re not using it, but dust and lint have a way of getting everywhere, and at some point you’ll need to wash your Jelly Lens with a little detergent to make the lens stick again. Just be careful when giving your Jelly Lens a wash: The plastic mounts aren’t waterproof and some lenses have more than one element, which means you can get soapy water trapped inside the lens.

Here’s at what a handful Jelly Lenses can do, from the interesting to the gimmicky (all images taken using an Apple iPhone 4S on a tripod):

Spark: Works just like a regular cross or star filter to turn highlights into a cross shape. You can vary the effect by turning the lens ring. The ring is a light gray, so it doesn’t create a color cast the way other brightly colored Jelly Lenses do.
Starburst: Creates a starburst effect emanating from your subject. You can turn the ring on the front to change the angle of the burst. The lavender lens ring may show in the corners of your image.
Soft Lens: Like smearing petroleum jelly on your UV filter, with a clear area in the middle. You can turn a ring on the front of the lens to move the point of clear focus around.
Vignette: Creates a selective focus area surrounded by a blurred area. You can turn the little ring on the front to adjust the area of sharp focus and the angle of blurring. Compare the two sample images to see the effect of turning the ring. 
Heart Frame (sold with the Blue Filter): Creates a pink tint around a clear center area. The heart shape isn’t really discernable. 
Blue Filter (sold with the Heart Frame): Creates a blue tint around a clear center area. 

The plastic mounting ring of each Jelly Lens covers the flash on most camera phones, but that’s not usually a big loss. What’s more of a problem is that some of the brightly colored lens rings show around the edges of photos or create a color cast in them. Putting a Jelly Lens on a phone seems like it should be just a matter of sticking it on, but it actually takes a little care  -- more than you might think -- to position them correctly.

Summary:

The image quality produced by Jelly Lenses is about what you’d expect from an inexpensive plastic lens—usually rather soft. In most cases, though, that isn’t a major problem. The softness blends in with the special effects produced by the more 'creative' lenses, and it isn’t so severe as to ruin the usefulness of the more practical ones.

Most of the lenses in the Jelly Lenses range fall into the fun, rather than functional category, and the novelty of many of them is likely to wear off pretty quickly. But $6.20 is a decent price for the ones that work well, and serious photographers should certainly consider the Polorizer [sic] which is genuinely useful. 

We settled on a star rating of 2 for Jelly Lenses, because though some of the useful ones might rate a 3, others result in effects that can just as easily be applied with apps and are actually more trouble than they're worth.

What we like: Jelly Lenses are an inexpensive tool for experimenting on your smartphone, and the adjustable Polorizer lens is actual a useful tool for photographers.

What we don't like: Jelly Lenses often fall off after several minutes and the majority won't prove useful for anything more than gimmick.




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 

Comments

Total comments: 4
Spunjji
By Spunjji (Nov 12, 2012)

Thanks for the nice article, I appreciate your taking the time to look at these things. They might well be doomed to be crappy, but it's hard to tell without buying them unless someone else publishes results like this!

Shame there are so many trolls about.

1 upvote
Lan
By Lan (Nov 9, 2012)

I'd give them a 1-star (can I give it a zero?) review myself; I bought the Jelly Lens polarizing filter and mine wasn't great - plastic, cheap, slightly bent, polarizer already scratched when new in the packet. Then, as you say, they simply fall off.

Mine was a perfect fail in that it wasn't quite bad enough to give an interesting effect, but wasn't good enough to be useful either.

Good idea; bad product IMO.

1 upvote
Erin Lodi
By Erin Lodi (Nov 9, 2012)

Thanks for sharing your experience! Anything you've found that does work well?

2 upvotes
Lan
By Lan (Nov 12, 2012)

Erin: To be honest I haven't really tried much else, as I have my 5D2 with me when I'm doing "serious" photography. I have used my B&W Kaesemann by holding it over the front of the cameraphone, but it's even more prone to camera shake then.

The 808 only really comes into play when I'm not carrying my camera kit around, and that means I'm not likely to be carrying much other than the phone and the lenscap/case it's in.

I'm not entirely convinced that a polarizer is that useful on a cameraphone anyway; the contrast boost can be problematic with the limited dynamic range available...

0 upvotes
Total comments: 4
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