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Mobile Phone Auxiliary Lenses, Necessity or Gimmick?
Mobile phone, and especially smartphone photography, has come a long way since its inception. With the likes of Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy, and Apple iPhone, it takes a little effort to capture share-worthy photos. One may even dare to say that it is hard to take bad photos these days. The quality of photos taken by mobile phone can often be undishtinguishable from those taken with 'real' camera.
So, is it an exaggeration to say that mobile phones these days can replace your DSLR camera? Whoops, don't take it that far.

The Means to Take Photographs

No matter how good a phone camera is, those mirrorless and DSLR cameras still have some edges. One of them is the versatility of having interchangeable lenses.
Many phones these days come with multiple cameras, but you will still be limited to those built into them. And we should also mention that Google's Pixel phones, which are highly praised for the camera quality, up to this year's Pixel 3a, only offer single back camera.

Enter: Mobile Phone Auxiliary Lenses

It is where mobile phone auxiliary lenses come in. Placed just in front of your phone camera lens, an auxiliary lens adds more dynamic to what your phone camera can capture.
There are several types of lenses available, including:
  • wide angle
    Wide angle lens enable your phone camera to capture more area.
  • portrait
    Portrait lens gets you closer to your subject without actually moving, with natural bokeh effect that simply can't be produced by current phones software-based bokeh.
  • fisheye
    This type of lens captures an extremely eide angle view with strong visual distortion.
  • macro
    Macro lens lets you to focus on your subject from an extremely close distance, and magnifying it to capture its details.
  • tele/zoom lens
    Zoom lenses gives you what the thin form factor of mobile phone can't, optical zoom. They come as fixed zoom (e.g. 2x, 8x, 24x, or so) and adjustable zoom (e.g. 8x-24x). I haven't yet to find a viable lens that seems to be at least comparable to point and shoot camera's adjustable optical zoom, though. An adjustable zoom lens with good optic quality would be awesome.
  • anamorphic lens
    Anamorphic lens giviles wider field of view and effets that are geared toward filmmaking.


The various lenses

One thing to bear in mind is that these lenses aren't meant to make your phone take better pictures. It is meant to add versatility to your phone camera, making your phone able to capture what can't be done with its built-in camera's lens. If anything, auxiliary lenses with bad optics will make your photos/videos worse with chromatic aberrations, unintended distortions and blurry edges. However, even with high quality lenses, the quality of the pictures taken will still highly dependant on the phone itself.

Mechanism

These lenses come with various ways to attach to your phone.

Moment made specific phone cases that allows their lenses to attach to the phone. The other company that uses this method is Rhinoshield. They made Solidsuit cases along with the lens adapter to attach their lenses. This mechanism allows you to attach the lens precisely every time. The drawback is, you may not like the design. I personally prefer clear phone cases, since it can preserve the natural look of my phone while still protecting it. I chose my phone for reasons, one of them is design. So, while a viable alternative is available, using a case that I don't like just so that I can attach the lens is a big no for me.

The other way to attach lenses to your phone is by using a clip-on mechanism. Lenses from Sirui, Aukey, Apexel, and other brands use this mechanism. This simple mechanism allows the versatility that the lens can fit most phones. You don't need to rely on manufacturer to produce a specific case for your phone model.
The downside is, you need to adjust the lens position manually each time you want to use it. A phone case that is too thick might also be a problem with this mechanism, since it will make the auxiliary lens placed too far from your camera lens, and results in vignetting. So, you'll need to use a thin case on your phone or or not using any case if you want to use this type of lenses at their full potential.

There are other specific brands' ways to attach the lens to your phone, such as Ztylus' revolver or Sirui's mount adapter. But those 2 (with case and clip-on) seems to be the most prominent ways.

My Motivation

When it comes to the utility of a product, versatility is one of key things I consider. So, when I needed to pick a camera quite a while ago, I picked a waterproof compact, with flip screen, and to top it off, good macro capability. My choice lands on Olympus Tough TG-870. A rugged compact camera that is waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof. Olympus is known for their good waterproof compact, with their best at that time being Olympus Tough TG-5 (now they've updated the lines with Olympus Tough TG-6). Even with the lack of RAW capability, the TG-870 won me over TG-5 with its flip screen, since it adds so much flexibility to how we shoot. Not only that it makes taking group selfies a lot easier, it is also useful to take photos from difficult angles, especially for macro shots.

However, with its small sensors, low light conditions can make TG-870 struggle to capture good photos. It is an outdoor camera that is supposed to capture active scene that is mostly done on bright daylight, so it is kinda understandable.

My phone camera, Google Pixel 3a, on the other hand, performs well both on bright and low light conditions. It took crisp photos, can focus dynamically simply by tapping on the screen, and comes with all the software prowess Google Camera app offers, including the Night Sight feature.
But still, there are stuffs that can't be done with single lens. Especially, macro photography.

TG-870 introduced me to the awesome world of macro photography. It is amazing what the tiny stuffs we may just usually ignore offers. And then, it seems like I just found myself to be macro photography enthusiast lately. The TG-870 also captures more area with its Ultra Wide lens.

So, if I want my phone camera to be more versatile, I'll need those auxiliary lenses. And if it turns out satisfying and more convenient, I'll have more option for light travel, without adding the extra weight of a dedicated camera, its charger and extra batteries (except if it is planned to do some stuffs in water or other demanding activities, of course, since my TG-870 still have the advantage of its 'tough' capabilities).

Next: Aukey Ora WD-06

Aukey Ora WD-06

Among those lenses mentioned earlier, Aukey emerges as a brand known for their high quality lenses with affordable prices. One of their product is Aukey Ora WD-06, 120° Wide Angle + 15x Macro 2-in-1 lens kit. With its price to performance ratio, it is touted as one of the best budget phone lens.
Sounds like a good way to find out how these mobile phone lenses perform, eh? That is what we're going to cover in the next entry. Stay tuned :)
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