Why third-party lenses beat iPhone 11’s Ultra Wide camera

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Moment lens on iPhone
Don't retire that wide-angle lens attachment just yet.
Photo: Moment

Now that the iPhone 11 line brings an ultra-wide camera to the bump, there is some question on what to do with an extra-wide lens attachment you may have purchased from brands like Moment, Sandmarc or olloclip.

The short answer: Use it. For now, it’s the better option.

The ultra-wide lens Apple embedded in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro is a fun tool, giving photographers a 120-degree view ideal for landscapes, cityscapes and even fun group portraits.

iPhone 11 ultra-wide camera has room for improvement

But if you are a pixel-peeping stickler for quality, the ultra-wide camera may disappoint. The ultra-wide camera does not support RAW shooting or Apple’s new Night Mode. It also has a slow aperture at f2.4, meaning the lenses will not allow in as much light as the iPhone’s standard camera. Zoom in to see how the details are soft and surrounded by digital noise.

Moment side-by-side shoot
Zoom in to see the difference between Moment’s 18 mm lens on the iPhone 11’s standard camera vs. the native ultra-wide camera.
Screenshot: Moment/YouTube

The higher quality shot will come by placing one of these third-party ultra-wide lens attachments to the standard camera, which has a focal length of 28 mm. With it, you can shoot RAW, an uncompressed file that records more detail and greater dynamic range. You can also take advantage of Night Mode for low-light shooting.

Both Moment and Sandmarc produced videos (see below) that show the difference in quality and how their wide-angle lens attachments preserve more detail than the iPhone’s ultra-wide camera. Sandmarc even threw last year’s iPhone XR into the mix. Moment also published a blog post that features additional photos.

testing iPhone 11 ultra-wide camera
Sandmarc’s test with its wide lens versus the iPhone 11 ultra-wide camera.
Screenshot: Sandmarc/YouTube

In both videos, shots with the ultra-wide camera were not as sharp when compared to the same scenes captured with the iPhone’s standard camera and lens attachment.

Apple is likely to make improvements to the ultra-wide camera, some of which could come with an iOS update and with the next generation of iPhones. The native ultra-wide camera is still remarkable for the way internal software corrects distortion. It’s perfect in well-lit situations or if your photography is mostly for social media postings.