Lenses: Upgrade your mobile phone gear
When it comes to teaching photography in The Studio, we focus heavily on the mobile side of the photography spectrum, mostly because phones these days are so portable, accessible, and their camera specs have improved in leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, in one particular area, your mobile phone’s camera still cannot compete with a higher-grade DSLR or mirrorless camera: its option to change lenses to suit your purpose. Whether you’re trying to capture something far off, something very small without losing the fine details, or a very large landscape or group of people, there is a lens that can be swapped out on a DSLR-type camera. On the other hand, the phone in your hand has that one lens that relies primarily on digital zoom in order to bring a faraway image closer into focus. Sadly, this also has the effect of pixilating the image when digital zoom is applied too liberally. How do we address this issue of mobile phone zoom and pixilation? We adapt, of course!
If you’re a mobile photography guru who always has their hands on the latest accessory before other people even know it exists, then the mobile lenses I’m about to talk about are likely already familiar friends. If you didn't know it was possible to adapt your phone to better suit your photography needs, prepare for some life-altering information. No matter your price range, there are mobile phone lenses that can be clipped on, snapped in, or laid over your phone’s rear-facing camera to improve an image before you even head to post-production editing. Below is a basic breakdown of the different types of lenses you can purchase, and what sort of improvements or effects each lens will create.
A telephoto lens is a zoom lens, good for capturing portraits and faraway objects, with anywhere between 50mm and 60mm in focal length. You’re not going to be capturing photos of rare Himalayan snow leopards for National Geographic with this focal length, but you’re going to notice a big difference between your new photos taken with a lens and your old distance shots that relied on your phone’s digital zoom. These lenses generally crop the image and blur the edges, bringing the eye’s focus to the central subject, and they're good for travel photography, sports or action shots, landscapes, and portraits.
A wide-angle lens captures twice as much photo, with a larger capture frame, so that you can get the whole scene. This is a good lens for group photos, architecture and real estate (think skyscrapers, cathedrals, palaces), and outdoor landscapes. This lens is also great for creating videos with scene context, because there’s less of the cropping that usually occurs with videos shot on mobile phones. The negative offset of a wide-angle lens is that there is a slight beveling, or curvature, at the edge of the lens, which is what makes it possible to squeeze the whole image into the frame. All this means is: you’re going to notice a slight warp at the edges of any image caught using the wide-angle.
Got a small object you’d like to blow up to a life-sized image without losing the tiny details and textures? Get yourself a macro lens. Lenses like these work great up to an inch away from your subject, so they’re perfect for shooting things like flowers, insects, some wildlife, textures, arts and crafts, and jewelry. Think perspective photography or abstract artsy photography when you’re using this lens.
Sometimes also known as a superfish, a fisheye lens has a 170 degree field of view, which is the widest angle lens available. This won’t cut off your margins but, like the wide-angle lens mentioned above, the glass on this lens does warp images at the edges to achieve fit. The big difference between a fisheye and a wide-angle is there’s going to be a more severe warp to images taken with this lens. This lens is good for road tripping and creating new perspectives, architecture and real estate, action sports, videos and vlogging (phones generally crop an image to create image stability, but fisheye lenses help you get those cropped margins back).
This last lens is a whopper, and there aren’t many companies that offer them, which makes the general price point higher on this item. However, if mobile photography and videography is your lifeblood and source of income, then this lens is worth the extra green. What an anamorphic lens does is create cinema-grade footage by squeezing the frame into widescreen mode, with black bars at the top and bottom of your screen. This effect is normally achieved in post-production by superimposing black bars over footage and covering up part of your image, costing you a good portion of the context of your scene. An anamorphic lens will also create horizontal flares from the lights in your shot, which will give your videos that extra professional-looking touch. This is a lens good for shooting wider focal length when you’re shooting in the horizontal angle and longer focal length when in vertical, as well as road tripping and cinematic style filming. One caveat I would add to this lens’ description is that you must use a photography app that will de-squeeze your footage, otherwise you’re going to wind up needing to do it in post-production.
That's the basic breakdown of the kinds of lenses available to you as mobile photography accessories. Some brands producing mobile lenses on the more costly end of the market include Moment and Moondog Labs, but if you’re just starting out, I would recommend browsing the web for more cost-effective, low-grade options to experiment with before upgrading and investing.
If you’re looking for more info on mobile photography, then The Studio at Wright Farms is the perfect place to learn how to up the ante in your latest project. We hope to see you here soon.
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