The best lenses for iPhone and Android phones can radically transform your smartphone photography. While smartphone camera arrays are getting better and better, there are still certain things beyond their physical limitations, and a clip-on lens, or even better, a full clip-on lens kit, can open up new shooting possibilities like macro, fisheye and telephoto.
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While the best camera phones (opens in new tab) now have multi-camera arrays that include ultra-wide, standard and telephoto lenses, it's the main camera that has the best sensor, and using an add-on lens with this may give better results than your phone's secondary cameras.
Add-on lenses are even more useful if you've picked up one of the best budget camera phones (opens in new tab), as the camera array may be a fairly basic type, without the multiple lens options that tend to come on fancier, newer phones. You can pick up multiple clip-on lenses as a kit, or just shop for ones that conform to your particular interests: macro for close-up work, telephoto for action, anamorphic for filmmaking, etc.
The world of smartphone lenses is frequently changing, and manufacturers come and go. If you're just looking for a bit of snapping fun, there are plenty of cheap kits on the market that can delivery adequate results, but if quality is your aim, stick to a serious brand like ShiftCam or Moment.
Videography can be an expensive game to get into it after you've added up the cost of the best camera for video, the best cine lenses and all the accessories you might need. However, smartphone lenses are getting so good these days you no longer have to spend an insane amount of money to invest in kit that will help you shoot professional-looking films. The ShiftCam Videography ProLens Kit includes a 1.33x anamorphic lens and a 60mm telephoto lens so that you can shoot ultra-wide and extra zoomed-in without degrading the image quality. Both lenses are really easy to use and can either be attached to the front of your phone using the phone-specific case mount or the universal adapter. I actually preferred the universal adapter as I found the case mount moved around a bit and the universal one stayed firmly in place. I was pleasantly surprised with the horizontal lens flares you achieved with the anamorphic lens. It was easy to de-squeeze the footage in Final Cut Pro (there is a handy video on YouTube that shows you exactly how to convert it) and it really does make everything you shoot with it look that little more pro.
The ShiftCam 10x macro lens isn't the most versatile lens but what it does, it does really well. The up-close detail it's able to capture is insane, even your eyes can't make out some of the tiny fibres and details this lens can pick up. You do have to get really close to whatever you're shooting, if you're further away than 1-1.5cm your image will be blurred but for shooting plant veins, water droplets or interesting textures it's perfect. If you want to shoot insects you'd be better off with the 75mm long range macro as you don't have to get quite as close and risk scaring off the creepy crawlies you're trying to capture. You can buy it either on its own or as a kit with the 75mm macro lens.
Optical zoom is always going to be better than digital zoom so if you find yourself regularly using the zoom feature on your phone, invest in a zoom lens instead. The Moment 58mm lens is equivalent to a 2x zoom which may not seem like much but on a smartphone is makes all the difference. Images are much sharper and colors are more accurate. The one annoying things about the lens is you have to attach it to your phone using the Moment phone case which is bought separately but at least it has a nice finish with a smart wooden panel. It's great for both photos and videos and when you're not using it you can store it safely as it comes with a secure rubber lens cap and a material carry case. If you're off on holiday and don't want to take lots of camera kit with you, phone lenses and this one especially is a great alternative.
If you're filmmaking with your phone, an anamorphic lens (opens in new tab) is the perfect inexpensive addition to give your footage that classy cinematic look. We really rate the Moment Anamorphic lens, which works with most recent iPhones or Android phones, as long as you have the right adapter. Locking securely in place, the anamorphic 1.33x lens produces images of impressive quality and is an ideal companion for any smartphone filmmaker.
Moment makes cases to fit a wide range of smartphones, and you will needed a dedicated Moment case or adapter before you can mount any Moment filters.
This two-in-one kit from Xenvo will work with the vast majority of smartphones, fitting snugly over cases to provide a quick and easy bolster to your image-making. The lenses included are a macro and a wide-angle; the macro is excellent, making smartphone close-up photography an impressive reality. The wide-angle is decent enough, though some users have noticed slightly smudging in the corners. Still, it’s a useful kit, and with an LED light included to add further versatility to your close-up work, this is a great way for a user on a budget to kick their smartphone photography up a notch.(opens in new tab)
If you like telephoto shooting, this is the last word in terms of reach. The Apexel 36x telephoto transforms your phone into a powerful long-distance shooter, and comes with a useful mini-tripod to ensure you can keep your shots stable.
It also has a remote shutter for capturing images at a distance; less useful when working with such a long lens, but it hardly hurts to have it, and the overall price of the kit is still pleasingly low.
It's not the highest-quality lens, with some users complaining of a little vignetting in images, but for the price and the uniqueness, it can't be beat.(opens in new tab)
Where most universal lens kits fit to phones with large clips, this solution from Nelomo (opens in new tab) employs a rubber-ended screw.
This means the lens mount can clamp to phones measuring between 7mm and 10mm thick, which caters for most recent handsets including the iPhone 8 and X, the Samsung Galaxy S9, and the Google Pixel 3.
The kit comes with three lenses, including a wide 230-degree fisheye, a ‘super wide angle’ lens, and a macro lens which offers the equivalent of a 15X zoom. There’s also a microfibre cleaning cloth and bag, plus a protective carry case and hook for clipping it to your backpack.
The only drawback here is how the lens mount might not clamp around your phone if it’s already wearing a thick case, given the 10mm thickness limit.(opens in new tab)
This three-lens kit represents excellent value for money, as under £10. For that you get a fisheye lens, macro lens and wide-angle lens.
Conveniently, the lenses screw over the top of each other, making it quick and easy to switch between one and the other.
You’ll want to make sure you keep these lenses clean and scratch-free though, as when using the wind lens you’ll actually be shooting through both that and the macro lens underneath.
The kit comes with a carry pouch and the clip mechanism means the lens mount should fit most smartphones and tablets.
You could even fit it to the webcam above the screen of your laptop if you’re ever feeling creative during a Skype chat.(opens in new tab)
ShiftCam recently debuted its photography kit of six lenses for smartphones, and we have to say we’ve been really impressed. The kit can be bought with dedicated mounts for iPhone 11 or iPhone 13, or there’s a universal lens mount accessory that’ll slide over most normal-sized smartphones (check the ShiftCam website for a full compatibility breakdown).
Keep in mind with these ShiftCam lenses that you will need a dedicated case or phone mount adaptor to attach them to your phone.
The lenses themselves are hugely impressive. The kit puts at your disposal an 18mm wide-angle, a 230° fisheye, a 1.33x anamorphic, a 60mm telephoto, a 75mm long-range macro and a 25mm traditional macro – all of which can be radically transformative for a phone camera. Some will be more useful than others; you’ll find yourself reaching for a telephoto or macro a lot more than an extreme fisheye. However, it’s still an immensely impressive kit, and well-priced too, for what you get. If you’re keen to seriously upgrade your smartphone’s camera rig, this is a fantastic all-in-one package for doing so. The only reason it's last on our list is that we've included some of the lenses individually above but if you want complete versatility, the kit is worth it.
How we test lenses
We test lenses using both real world sample images and lab tests. Our lab tests are carried out scientifically in controlled conditions using the Imatest testing suite, which consists of custom charts and analysis software that measures resolution in line widths/picture height, a measurement widely used in lens and camera testing. We find the combination of lab and real-world testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics. Phone lenses are not able to be lab-tested in the same lens but we do put them through some rigorous test shoots.
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