Why iPhoneography accessories are sort of a waste of time

Quick-connect iPhone lenses are certainly less bulky than typical camera gear, but there's a price to be paid for convenience. Photos: Charlie Sorrell/Cult of Mac

Quick-connect iPhone lenses are certainly less bulky than typical camera gear, but there’s a price to be paid for convenience. Photos: Charlie Sorrell/Cult of Mac

One December years ago, in London’s Piccadilly Circus, a Santa Claus sat in a pavement cafe eating lunch with an elf. Santa had a pint of beer in from of him. I raised my old film SLR, which was prefocused and had the exposure already dialed in, and took a couple of shots.

I hoped they’d turn out well.

“Who are those pictures for?” said a guy, shouting as he jogged toward me. He’d come from somewhere nearby because it was too cold for just a shirt on a December afternoon in London, and he wasn’t wearing a jacket. I ignored him — there are a lot of nutters in Piccadilly any time of the year.

“Are you taking pictures of me?” he said.

I pointed at Santa. “No,” I said.

The shirt-sleeve guy didn’t seem happy, but what could he do? This was before digital, before you could ask someone to delete a picture. And we were in one of the most touristic spots in London. I told him the photos were just for me. He told me not to take any more photos of him.

If this had happened today, I would have taken those photos with my iPhone, and I would never have even been noticed by shirt-sleeve guy. But that’s not my point. My point is that the iPhone is always there, and always ready to shoot, but it’s not necessarily any more convenient than a regular camera. And if you use it with accessories, it’s actually less convenient.

The iPhone is a great camera, especially as it’s also a tool you can use to edit, collect and share your pictures. But it’s also terrible as a camera replacement if you’re taking a lot of pictures. Don’t get me wrong — if I had to choose just one camera to use all the time, it’d be my iPhone. But I don’t, and I won’t, and here’s why.

Accessories

The problem with any iPhone photo accessory is that it’s just as inconvenient to use as the equivalent camera accessory. You waste the same amount of time digging in your bag or pocket to find an [Olloclip](http://www.olloclip.com/ “olloclip macro, telephoto, wide angle, fish-eye, and polarizing …”), or any other quick-connect iPhone lens, as you do searching for a lens for your Micro Four Thirds camera.

Why iPhoneography accessories are sort of a waste of time

This LED bank sits on an adapter that’ll even open a beer for you.

Worse, because the Olloclip is so small, you’re almost guaranteed to leave a greasy fingerprint on the elements.

I love my Olloclips. I have the full set. I love taking pictures with them — telephoto shots I couldn’t get without using the iPhone’s crappy digital zoom — and I love touching the precision-cut hardware that looks more like military equipment than camera gear.

But what I don’t like is that I have to fit a relatively bulky accessory onto my iPhone to use them. This might seem like a small quibble, but one of the best things about iPhoneography is that every walk can be a photo walk. When you see something worth snapping, your hand is already in your pocket pulling out the iPhone and your thumb is already sliding up the little icon to launch the camera.

If you interrupt this to slip on an Olloclip (and I don’t mean to ding Olloclips here, especially as they’re the quickest of all accessory lenses to attach), then you may as well have pulled out a “proper” camera.

You can’t just put the whole lot in your pocket, either. Not in a pants pocket anyway. Or not in a pair of skinny hipster jeans.

Why iPhoneography accessories are sort of a waste of time

This lens case is bigger than the iPhone.

It’s made for snaps

What about keeping the iPhone slung around your neck, ready to go? This sounds good, until you remember you need to wake it from sleep for every photo. Or that if you set the iPhone not to sleep the battery will be dead in an hour or two. Or that even if you could leave the iPhone on maximum brightness all day long, you couldn’t see the screen in sunlight anyway.

The iPhone camera is clearly made to be used quickly, then put back in your pocket until the next time. It’s just not meant to be used for extended photo shoots.

Why iPhoneography accessories are sort of a waste of time

iPhone lenses sure look a lot more convenient.

Conclusion

An $80 accessory lens seems like a good deal. And you can buy rigs that let you hang all kinds of video gear off your iPhone, including special ground-glass screens that let you enjoy the short depth of field of regular camera lenses. You can add lights, mics and all kinds of other hardware.

The problem is, almost none of these extras is as good, photographically speaking, as the equivalent version for an SLR or mirrorless system. Worse, they’re often harder to use. A camera has a hotshoe for mounting accessories. If you want to do that on the iPhone, you need to first add an accessory case with a hotshoe on top.

So my point is this: Enjoy the iPhone for what it is — the best point-and-shoot camera around. But if you want more, think about other options. A “real” camera might seem more expensive to begin with, but when you upgrade to an iPhone 6 and all your iPhone 5/s accessories are rendered useless, you might think different.

Best of all, most new cameras now come with Wi-Fi so you can beam your pictures straight to your iPhone or iPad, getting the best of both worlds.

And whatever you do, don’t buy one of those goofy [magnetic stick-on lenses](http://www.cultofmac.com/158988/hands-on-with-zoom-fisheye-wide-and-macro-lenses-for-iphone-and-ipad-reviews/ “Hands-On With Zoom, Fisheye, Wide And Macro Lenses For iPhone …”).

And that dodgy shirt-sleeve guy?

Later, in the darkroom, I saw the Santa shots were pretty disappointing. I’d shot at ƒ8 to get a decent depth of field so I wouldn’t have to focus. Santa and his elf got lost in the sharp background. But I took my loupe and ran it over the rest of the photo. There at the back, in an open storefront selling cut-price theater tickets for the day’s shows, I saw the shirt-sleeve guy. Or rather, I saw his body and his hand, thrown up and out to hide his face from the camera.

Who knows what he was selling under the counter? My guess is either drugs or stolen tickets. Or maybe both.

  • Dale

    Good article Charlie. Personally, I think that these lenses / accessories are largely created/sold to sell “product” (make money) and don’t provide any value-added features to phone cameras. Particularly, I feel that it is a waste to fit these lenses on sensors that are so small that they really don’t benefit from this stuff. Totally agree with the fact that we can whip out a DSLR in the same time (or probably less) than it takes to mess with these add ons. It reminds me of food processors: usually by the time I dig out a food processor, put it together and then later wash it…. it adds time to what I could have done with my knife in a minute or 2 and then cleaned said knife in 10 seconds.

    • Gary Deezy

      I’ve seen one brand so far that I find the image quality acceptable. All the rest seem to be junk. I understand the convenience, but if my end result is a crappy image, no thanks….

  • popeyoni

    Interestingly, the zoom lens pictured in the photos is a very small Micro 4/3 lens.

  • Kevin Peck

    Thanks for speaking out on this issue. Seems like a new iPhone camera accessory comes out every few weeks at the very least. I know my DLSR has allowed to me to take much better pictures than even a mid range point and shoot. I was beginning to wonder if I was missing out by not buying accessories for my phone.

    Yes, the phone works great and a picture taken is always better than a picture missed but when I want a picture to keep I am so happy I moved up to a decent DLSR. I am about as ameratur a photographer as you can get but having the right lens and the hardware to back it up can even allow me to look good.

  • Randy The Molester

    I love using the macro olloclip but that’s it.

  • imajoebob

    That you seem to think there needs to be some sort of choice between quality equipment and convenience says you either shouldn’t be writing these posts or you have an agenda and deliberately ignored it.

    You seem oblivious to the Eye-Fii memory card. Take the (all but guarantied better) picture with your DSLR, and have it automatically move to your iPhone (or any smartphone) where you can crop, edit, enhance and send it, just as you would with the mediocre phone pictures. Plus, the real camera will shoot the pictures faster and with spectacular optics.

    If the DSLR is too inconvenient, a high end compact with a great lens will still put the iPhone – and even those ridiculous Windows phones with the (utterly useless) 40MP sensors to shame.

    If you want an angle to cover, why not look into why Apple (and Samsung and HTC) charge the equivalent of $700 for a phone with a camera that’s inferior to the one in my $60 Virgin Mobile?

About the author

Charlie Sorrel Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie  on Twitter at @mistercharlie.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in Featured stories, photography, Top stories | Tagged: , , , , |