Review of Clip-on Lens for Mobile Phone. Fish-eye, Wide-angle and Macro.

3-in-1 Clip-on Lens for Mobile PhonesIs it sane behaviour for a person who owns DSLRs, Super-zooms and Pocket-cams to buy cheap lenses for mobile-phone photography? Absolutely yes when the lenses cost $1 and 90% of the time it’s the phone that is capturing the precious moments of life. In any case, what could I lose by spending $1 on a possibly interesting experiment?

Sold on most Chinese sites for about $1 (about $2 on Indian e-commerce sites), these lenses promise a dramatic improvement in the current capabilities of your mobile phone camera. But does a $1 lens compare to a $500 macro-lens for close-up photography? Will a $1 lens compare to $200 for wide-angle photography?

Test Set-up:

  • I ordered this 3-in-1 clip-on lens pack from AliExpress. It actually cost me less than one Dollar and the item was delivered to me in twenty days; which is pretty fast. Similar items are available for sale on Amazon for about Rs.150/- and probably slightly cheaper in mobile phone shops near you.
  • For the tests, I used three mobile phones.
    • Xolo Q700, announced in May-2013, featuring a 5 MP camera.
    • Micromax A310, announced in September-2014, featuring a 13 MP camera.
    • Lenovo K3 Note, announced in June-2015, featuring a 13 MP camera.
    • For reference, I used a Nikon D5500 DSLR camera featuring a APS-C 24 MP Sensor with a Nikon 18-140mm Lens and a Tamron 90mm 1:1 Macro Lens.
  • All photos were taken hand-held from the same location in similar conditions. Due to changing weather and time-of-day, some changes to scenery, lighting and colour etc. have occurred.
  • Close-focus testing was done by placing a Fifty rupees currency note on a table and moving the camera vertically till a sharp image could be obtained at maximum magnification.
  • The images were imported into my computer and resized using Picasa. No other photo processing was done. In case of macro shots (close-up shots), software was use to extract 600 x 600 pixel sections out of the images for evaluation of sharpness, clarity etc.

Table of Images:

Scene Xolo Q700 Micromax A310 Lenovo K3 Note
Phone Default Normal Mode Xolo Q700 1-Normal Micromax A310 1-Normal Lenovo K3Note 1-Normal
with Wide-Angle Lens Xolo Q700 2-Wide Micromax A310 2-Wide Lenovo K3Note 2-Wide
with Fish-Eye Lens Xolo Q700 3-Fisheye Micromax A310 3-Fisheye Lenovo K3Note 3-Fisheye
Phone Default Close-Focus Xolo Q700 4-CloseFocus Micromax A310 4-Closeup Lenovo K3Note 4-CloseFocus
with Macro Lens Xolo Q700 5-Macro Micromax A310 5-Macro Lenovo K3Note 5-Macro
1:1 Crop of Macro Xolo-Q700-6-1to1 Micromax-A310-6-1to1 Lenovo-K3Note-6-1to1o

Inferences

  • Normal Camera Performance:
    • The Lenovo outperforms the others with it’s considerably wider angle of view, dynamic range and resolution.
    • The Micromax has better resolution (details) than the Xolo because of the higher MP sensor but a considerably under-exposed image.
    • The Xolo challenges the Micromax with image of higher contrast but lower resolution.
    • Recommendation: Newer technologies and good brands certainly go a long way towards quality of images. The Lenovo beats the others hands down.
  • Wide-Angle Lens Attachment:
    • The addition of the Wide-angle lens completely ruined the Lenovo. The Lenovo is already so wide that the barrel of the lens became visible. Extensive blurring appeared all over the edges with only a small sweet-spot in the center retaining any sharpness. Though the angle-of-view did increase, it was all blurred out and unusable.
    • The Micromax suffered a similar fate but slightly less so. The angle-of-view increased and the image wasn’t as blurred as it was in the Lenovo. There was an overall blurring in the image but the image itself remained barely usable.
    • The Xolo benefited the most. As it is, it’s angle-of-view is the least among others, the addition of the wide-angle lens produced blurrier but wider photos.
    • Recommendation: Usable on older phones, low-cost phones. Not suitable for new phones with already wide lenses.
  • Fish-Eye Lens Attachment:
    • Don’t use the fish-eye lens on the Lenovo, end of story. The resulting image was crazy with the lens barrel entirely visible and the photo being sharp only in the center.
    • The entire barrel was visible on the Micromax too but the circle of sharp image was slightly better. As a fish-eye lens, it certainly cannot compare to the $400 Rokinons for DSLRs. As single element lens with no other aspherical correction elements, this lens’s edge blurring is extreme.
    • The lens-barrel is intrusive enough to show up even on the Xolo Q700. But this lens allowed the Xolo to capture a truly wide image of the scenery; albeit very blurred on the edges.
    • Recommendation: Not usable. Under rare circumstances, when you must have a nearly 180 degree perspective and are willing to put up with the blurring, this lens is usable.
  • Normal Close-focus Camera Performance:
    • The Lenovo was the worst performer in the close-up test with it’s inability to focus very closely. This is partly due to the good wide-angle performance of the lens.
    • The Micromax was crazy. In the default mode, I had to place the camera nearly one foot higher than the shooting target to achieve focus. This resulted in an image that does not even remotely qualify as close-focus. However, the camera allowed me to zoom-in by 4x (by pinch action) and this resulted in a close-focus image that was clearly digitally interpolated but the image itself was sharp and had a lot of detail.
    • The Xolo Q700 was the best performer in this group with nice close-focus image that was sharp from edge-to-edge and featured tons of detail.
  • Close-Up View of Solder Joints

    Macro Lens to check for perfection of solder joints.

    Macro Lens Attachment:

    • Quite surprisingly, adding the lens dramatically reduced the close-focussing distance of all the phones to almost identical levels. This resulted in images that had nearly identical field of views too.
    • The Lenovo won the round with an image that was superbly sharp in the center, had terrific contrast and terrible blurring on the sides as expected.
    • The Micromax came close to the Lenovo but lost due to slightly soft image overall. Perhaps it was because of my focussing error, or hand-movement etc. I tried to rectify it a few times but gave-up because I was able to shoot a sharp image with the Lenovo in the first attempt itself.
    • The Xolo actually performed much better than the Micromax with an image that was sharp almost from edge to edge. Surprisingly the center of the image was out of focus but the sides were pin-sharp. Perhaps this has something to do with the internal lens-arrangement on the Xolo. Consequently, the purpose of macro photography is defeated on the Xolo unless you position the phone/subject creatively.
    • Recommendation: The macro lens turned out to be the most useful lens of the lot. It not only cut down on the close-focussing distance, on most phones it also allowed good quality close-up images to be taken.
  • Macro Lens Attachment – 1:1 Image Review:
    • By cropping a fixed 900 pixels square image, I was able to evaluate the macro performance more objectively. I chose to extract the image from the center portion which features the Ashok Chakra at the foot of the Lions.
    • As expected, the Lenovo outperformed all with a superbly sharp image. It was sharp to the point where you could make out imperfections in the printing.
    • The Micromax was close but image was softer and just did not have enough details.
    • The Xolo image appeared to be completely out of focus and not suitable for further evaluation. However, a 1:1 crop from off-center parts of the image, showed performance that were akin to the Lenovo!

Conclusion

  • Wide Angle View of Small Kitchen

    Fish-Eye Lens for view of small spaces

    No sane person is going to use a mobile phone camera for professional photography, even less so, by clipping on a simple lens on it. But, in this age, we share images not for their technical merit in photography but as snapshot of a moment in time. When we wilfully deface images using software photographic filters, surely ruining them using hardware lenses is pardonable. From that point-of-view, some of these lenses surely ave utility. I see myself using the Macro lens at workplace to check for surface imperfections, printing imperfections etc.. I can see an Insurance officer friend of mine use the wide-angle lens and a Real-estate manager friend of mine use the fish-eye lens.

  • All the mobile phones applied extreme JPEG compression to the images and this itself would have resulted in loss of sharpness. Though you can use software like “Open Camera” where you can possibly control the JPEG compression levels, for these tests I chose to only use the default camera app that came bundled with the phones.
  • Is it a len system that’s worth buying for your camera? Not if you are a general purpose user. But recommended if you have specific requirements such as wide-angle images of small spaces, quick checking of minute imperfections etc. At $ – $3 price points, it’s a no-brainer to purchase but I suspect it will soon get added to the brown-box in which you store the junk bought off the Internet.

 

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
3-in-1 Macro, Wide-angle and Fish-eye Lenses for Mobile Phones
Author Rating
21star1stargraygraygray

Rajib Ghosh

Based in Hyderabad, India.

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