The Best Lenses for iPhone Photography
The Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 handled everything we threw at it well, performing above average in every test, all while being moderately priced compared to some of its competitors. This iPhone lens is quite sharp in the middle of its glass and holds its own in the corners of the image as well. There is a little bit of distortion and loss of image quality in the corners, but that's to be expected. Like most of its competitors, it comes with a microfiber cloth carrying bag and with a protective metal lens cap. That metal lens cap keeps the lens safe while not in use but can be a little challenging to take off while wearing gloves.
This lens suffered from flare in some difficult backlighting situations, but for the most part, it handled backlight acceptably. The biggest drawback was the setup, specifically alignment. The cutout on the mount is just slightly smaller than the lens on an iPhone XR (the model we did all our resting on), which makes setup somewhat longer, and we suspect it adds to what corner distortion it has. While it's possible to use this lens with a case on, it functions much better without one.
While the Black Eye won for wide-angle iPhone lenses, the Moment Tele 58mm lens is the best telephoto lens we tested. It makes it look like you are 2x closer than with a bare iPhone lens. The magnification of this lens lends itself amazingly well to shooting portraits, but it also does great in a landscape situation with the right composition. This lens had the highest overall test scores of any lens we tested with top marks in both center sharpness and color rendition. The telephoto effect is a dramatic change from the stock lens and also works on the telephoto lens that some iPhones have. All Moment iPhone lenses require cases. While this limits the case options you can use, we found their options to be very handsome. The significant benefit gained by using a case makes installing the lens incredibly comfortable and in the perfect alignment every time. Its metal construction builds confidence that it can hold up to some abuse.
We did have a few gripes with this lens. The biggest one was how it handled flare. We rarely found ourselves using this lens shooting into the sun, but when we did, the flare was eye-catching and not in an appealing way. The second thing that our team found annoying is corner sharpness or a lack thereof; this is something that can be used creatively and look fantastic but also can hinder its versatility. Speaking of versatility, that is the major drawback to a telephoto lens. We didn't find ourselves using it as much as some of the wide-angle lenses, but that is a personal preference.
Let's take a moment to try explaining anamorphic lenses. The point of an anamorphic lens is to create a wider aspect ratio without cropping in on the image. It does that by squeezing the image with a different shape of the glass; "anamorphic" refers to that shape. Other than the aspect ratio, the most notable visual trait of these lenses is a very distinct, long, and thin flare. All this is very appealing to high-end filmmakers and where they are typically employed. So, when most people see a photo or video shot with one, they will say, "It looks so cinematic." The images below compare the unedited image (left) and the "de-squeezed" (right).
Still with us? Good. Let's talk about the Moment Anamorphic 1.33 in particular now. The 1.33 refers to the amount you need to de-squeeze the image to make it look normal. This lens is sharp, with compelling colors if a little warm — and it has minimal distortion. The lens has a very distinct flare by design, so our team took no points away for that trait. It shares the same "M Mount" as the other moment lenses we tested, meaning you need to use one of their cases. But once you do, the glass is straightforward to install.
There are a lot of considerations before justifying its hefty price tag. The first consideration is just how difficult it is to use. The squeezed image needs to be "desqueezed," which requires either Moment's app or another third-party application. If you want to change from horizontal to a vertical orientation, you need a tool to loosen the set screw and counter turn the lens. But when talking about the image, this lens produces great images and leaves very little to criticize. If you are looking for a lens like this, we recommend it highly.
Let's address the pachyderm in the room, the Xenvo Pro Lens Kit is big… No, it's BIG. But more on that later. First, let's start with installation, it is effortless to put on your iPhone, fitting right over the lens without a case on very well. It's color rendition and sharpness are excellent, and it eats up backlit situations commendably compared to some of the other lenses we tested. The Xenvo Pro is an integrated two-lens system, meaning the wide-angle lens screws onto the macro lens. This integration makes it easy to transition from macro to wide-angle. Its macro lens is not as powerful as others that we tested, which is not necessarily a critique. We found it magnified most things we wanted to photograph, but it is good to know.
Remember when we said it was big? Yeah, we're back to that. It is tough to overstate how big it is. The case for these iPhone lenses requires a jacket pocket being 3.4" x 4.7" x 2.5". For you photo nerds out there, it has a 52mm filter thread, meaning you can go to any photography shop and buy filters or lens cap for it. We would have liked to see image quality on the corners of the frame be better for as much glass as this lens has. Even with these drawbacks we were impressed with these two lenses performance overall.
The Anazalea was the widest lens we tested that was not a fisheye, not substantially, but the little bit of extra wiggle room is appreciated. Like some of the other two-lens combos, the wide-angle lens screws onto the macro lens, making the package small, convenient, and versatile. Where this lens shines is in how it handles backlit situations, second only to the Moment 18mm Wide-Angle lens. Another very appreciated feature of this lens is the multiple carrying options; it comes with a hard-shelled case as well as a soft, microfiber bag, as well as a lens cleaning cloth.
The macro lens is a shallow profile, which at first seems like a great feature, and at times it is. But the drawback to that is there is not much service area to grip the macro lens. Where that comes into play is if the lens is overtightened; It can be hard to remove the wide-angle lens from the macro lens. The Macro lens does not have the highest magnification, which, again, isn't a negative feature but needs to be considered when deciding what lens to choose.
The overall image quality of the Moment Wide 18mm Lens is excellent. Center sharpness, color rendition, and vignetting are all handled well. Where this lens shines is in backlit situations. We found that it's a step ahead of any other glass we tested in how it deals with flare, coming remarkably close to how the native iPhone lens behaves in most situations. There was one situation we found that produced a flair that was slightly undesirable, but that situation proved hard to reproduce. It performed admirably in every other situation with flare. Like the different Moment lenses that we tested, we found installing this lens to the required case incredibly easy and quick.Getting critical of this lens — it suffers in edge sharpness. That beautiful image quality falls off quickly towards the edges of the frame, softening and distorting t noticeably when compared to the bare iPhone lens or even the other high performing auxiliary lenses. This lens is expensive and also requires a proprietary Moment case that tacks on an additional cost. We did find the phone cases were a little bulky but it looks and feels good.
The Bitplay Premium HD Telephoto is one of the two mid-length telephoto lenses we tested. We found this perspective to make eye-catching and very different images from the standard phone lens. It made good images in every situation we put it in, having good image quality and producing pleasing colors, all with minimal distortion. This lens is a solid performer on all fronts.Like the Moment lenses we tested, this lens requires a compatible case. The lens threads into the case, which is the most secure mounting system we tested but can be a little fiddly to get mounted at times. This case features a small grip on the bottom right corner of the case to help grip the phone when shooting horizontally. It also features a little lanyard connection point for the more clumsy among us. We noticed that the image quality degraded as you look towards the edge of the frame.
The CoPedvic Phone Camera Lens Kit comes with four lenses, lens hood, mini tripod, and phone holder, all in a large protective carrying case. Those four lenses are a 22x telephoto lens, a macro lens, a wide-angle lens, and fisheye. This DSLR-like arrangement of lenses will be useful for those who like to be prepared. The standout lens for image quality is the macro lens, which was by far the best of the kit. The most visually exciting lens is the super-telephoto lens, which gives a perspective you cannot achieve without getting into more significant camera systems. That lens has its flaws for sure; the distortion and sharpness are reduced but used creatively; it can produce very compelling images. The CoPedvic mounting system is among the most adjustable of any we tested but requires a little time commitment to install to the phone. Once installed, it's easy to switch from lens to lens.The wide-angle lens had an average performance in the center of the frame but fell off dramatically as you move to the edges. We would not use this lens much because of it. By far, the worst performing lens of the group is the fisheye, rating among the worst in every category regarding the quality of its images. It's there if you need it, but the images it produces are cringe-worthy. There were a few times we were installing the super-telephoto lens and found that there was some sort of obstruction in the image of the lens, coming out with a black blur in the corner of the frame. It didn't appear every time, but more times than not. When it did, it could not be gotten rid of by cleaning the lens or readjusting the lens on the phone.
The Ailun 3 in 1 Clip-On is an excellent option for those who are unsure if auxiliary lenses are something they need. For a surprisingly low price tag, it's not a significant investment to see if it's something that piques your interest, and at that price point, the lenses did respectably well. The standout here is the macro lens, which overtook some of its more expensive competitors with average to above-average performance in every metric.The macro lens tends to get stuck on the mount, at times requiring pliers to get it off, making switching to the fisheye very frustrating. But the lens does fit over the XR's native lens perfectly, making it very easy to install quickly. The price tag is reflected in the quality of the optics — we noticed a considerable change to the image as the lens rotated.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our photography team has a combined 25 years of experience behind the lens of a camera. Our lead tester, Jason Peters, is very familiar with this process and has spent years testing cameras and lenses both for himself and other professional photographers. We tested these lenses in four distinct scenarios, as well as keeping them in our pocket to shoot them more casually for over 50 hours of use.*We did not edit any photos taken by a lens in this review, except for the Moment Anamorphic lens. We did "de-squeeze" photos taken with that lens, but no other editing was done.*
Analysis and Test Results
It's important to note that most of these lenses list multiple compatible phone manufacturers and models. We tested every one on an iPhone XR, your mileage may vary. Also, Apple has put a lot of time, effort, and money into making the camera on their phones as good as it can be. And they have done a remarkable job doing so, especially on the iPhone XR we tested these lenses on. It's important to know that adding a lens on your phone will always reduce the image quality. We noticed a reduction of image quality in every lens we tested. But it does allow for more creative freedom, and the lenses being made these days are incredibly useful. In order to score perfectly, the lens had to be as good as the iPhones' lens was in the test.
Below is a summary of our test findings and how each iPhone lens performed in side-by-side tests.
Our landscape testing was mainly looking at four aspects of image quality: sharpness, detail, image distortions, and color rendition. We did this testing in a real-world environment, sitting on top of a rocky outcrop during winter in the beautifully rugged terrain of Lake Tahoe. We tested 26 lenses head-to-head as well as against the bare iPhone lens. We shot this test at sunset, so between every lens, we shot a "bare" iPhone photo to more accurately judge color. Here are our favorite lenses for landscapes.
At the top of the pile is the Black Eye Pro Cinema. This lens was wide enough to handle what we need while being sharp across the whole frame and having minimal distortion. The drawback of this lens is that colors are not necessarily true to the bare iPhone lens but just being slightly warm. That being an easy fix in any editing app, it is something we are willing to overlook when a lens performs this well in other aspects.
Second is the Moment Anamorphic Lens. This lens has surprised us through the whole testing process with how versatile it is for different shooting scenarios, and once again, it makes the top four here. The sharpness and colors look great. There is some barrel distortion to this lens that shows up when you are photographing straight lines, but in real-world applications that distortion becomes harder to identify.
The third is another Moment lens, this time; it's the Moment Wide 18mm. You start to see some distortion and ghosting in the edges of the frame (look towards the bush), and the sharpness takes a slight hit across the whole frame and slightly more in the corners. That said, the 18mm lens does a great job and is also one of the widest lenses in this top four.
Finally, we come to the Xenvo Pro Lens Kit - Wide Angle, which is right on the heels of the Moment Wide 18mm. This lens may be big, but it performs well in the center of the frame. Where it shows its weakness is in the corners of the frame; the sharpness reduces considerably, and distortion is very apparent.
Here are all the images side by side.
We took all seven macro lenses from our testing into our studio, photographing Lolinda, the 3D printed piggy bank, to see which would come out on top. To determine their scores, we looked at some standard image quality metrics, sharpness, color, vignetting, and distortion. None of those things take into account the macro effect, so we added one more metric, reproduction rate, or more commonly known as the magnification of the image.
We found that the CoPedvic had the best lens in our testing. Its magnification rate stands out among the competition, and its image quality is among the best of the Macro lenses.
Coming in a few points behind was the Ailun's macro lens. The magnification on this lens is close to that of the CoPedvic, but its image quality just cannot quite keep up.
Third place is the macro lens of the Xenvo Pro Lens Kit. This one is interesting because its magnification is noticeably worse than the two we just listed, but its image quality was a step ahead of the rest. The question you need to ask yourself is, how small are your subjects? If they aren't that small, say the size of Lolinda(2.5"), then this may be the macro lens for you.
Below are all the photos side-by-side, shot as close as each lens would allow.
This test had a far more narrow scope than the other tests; we tested the three lenses with a traditional "portrait" focal length. Those iPhone lenses were the Bitplay First Edition HD Tele, Moment Tele 58mm Lens, and Moment Anamorphic Lens. That is not to say you cannot make amazing portraits with other lenses that were tested. Here we were looking for how the lens compression portrayed the face and how it rendered skin tones. Like other metrics, which one you buy should depend on what you're looking for, but here is how the lenses ranked technically.
We found the Moment - Tele 58mm Lens to be the best lens of the three tested. It is slightly sharper than the runner up as well as having better color and micro-contrast, giving this lens the edge over the competition.
In second is the Bitplay First Edition HD Tele, this is the tightest lens that we tested, which we prefer for photographing portraits. Its overall image quality is just slightly less than that of the Moment but is still acceptable and extremely usable. This is one of those cases of preference.
Lastly was the Moment Anamorphic. The reason this lens is included in this test is although it gives a wide frame, its longer focal length makes it more appropriate than other lenses for portraits. Unfortunately, as you can see in the test below, this lens does have a noticeable distortion in the corners. That makes this lens tricky to use for portraits without upsetting your subject and causing them to look, well, different. If you place the subject in the middle of the frame, there is minimal distortion, and the result looks good.
Here is the side-by-side comparison
For flare testing, we took out everything but the macro lenses and shot a forest scene directly into the sunlight to see how well each lens would cope with the tricky lighting. Let's take a moment to talk about lens flare. Flare happens when a bright light source directly hits a lens. Most commonly, this is the sun shining directly into your camera. Flare is created by reflections between the different pieces of glass in the lens.
For the benefit of full transparency, this test is inherently imperfect. As we move around the sun, the angle of light changes, trees block or allow more light to pass through. We did everything we could to mitigate this, and we felt the benefits of testing flare outside the studio outweighed the drawbacks. Employing multiple testing sessions, we are confident in our results.
The lens that presented the least flare in our testing was the Moment Wide 18mm. Its performance was close to matching that of the bare iPhone XR in nearly every test. In our testing, this lens was clearly a cut above any other lens in our bag. If you love shooting into the sun and can afford it, this lens does not disappoint.
One step down, we have another Moment lens, this time, it's the Moment Anamorphic. Yes, it has a massive horizontal flare, but that is very characteristic of all anamorphic lenses, so we are not counting that against it. What we are looking at is how it rendered that "cinematic" look and any stray flare in the lens. And when we take that perspective, it's hard not to be impressed! The wide flair is neat and tight, and the additional flare balls are minimal and rendered almost as well as the 18mm from the same company.
Nipping at the Anamorphics heels is the Anazalea Wide-Angle. This underdog of the group won our Best Buy award, and a large part of that is due to how it handled flare. This inexpensive option comes with some drawbacks in image quality towards the edges of the frame.
The fourth slot goes to the most massive lens in our testing, Xenvo Pro Lens. This lens produces flare that is notably more sloppy than the options we've talked about above. But, if you look at the 26 lenses we tested, the Xenvo does a great job!
Here's the side-by-side comparison
Ease of Use
This metric was evaluated with every test we did over dozens of hours of testing iPhone Lenses. The most significant factor for us was how easy it was to install and align the lenses and how long that process took. Secondly, is there anything special you had to do when using that particular lens? It should be noted that these tests were done with an iPhone XR; your results may vary.
We found the lenses that connected to a required case were the quickest, assuming that case stays on your phone. For us, that was the Moment and Bitplay systems. Of those two, we found with one notable exception*, the Moment lens "M Mount" fastest to install and still plenty secure.
Bitplay uses a threaded lens mount that was also very easy to use and had the added benefit of being bomber.
Moving to clip-on lenses, we liked the options that fit over the native lens perfectly, so there was no questioning whether or not it was aligned properly. Some options were slightly too small while others were too large — both lead to the same issue: "Is that right?". Which leads to an extra step of visually confirming you've got it right. The Xenvo Pro Lens Kit and the Anazalea for iPhone Lens, Wide Angle & Macro both did incredibly well at this. The feeling of the lens aligning is simply satisfying and inspires confidence that you got it right.
*We mentioned earlier there was an exception to the Moment lenses being the easiest to use. That exception is in the Moment Anamorphic, while this lens is just as easy to install as the other Moment mount lenses; that's about the only similarity when it comes to ease of use. to change from horizontal to vertical, you need to use the provided tool to back out a set screw and manually turn the lens when you change shooting orientations. This lens also requires you to use a specific lens to de-squeeze the image.
Overall we went into testing dubious of these iPhone lenses, asking ourselves questions such as "Do they even work? Will the image quality be decent?" In some cases, those concerns came to fruition. Some lenses were so bad we deemed them unusable. But others blew us away with stellar performances. We hope this review's side-by-side comparison will help you choose the perfect iPhone lenses for your shooting goals and budget.
— Jason Peters