- Great image quality
- No app required
- Secure mount
- Premium optics
- Fun to use
- Top-heavy in use
- Awkward to screw on lenses
Clip-on accessories for smartphones are available in abundance but the problem is, most are inexpensive and as a result, the build quality and images they produce aren’t usually anything to write home about. This is a shame as there are some pretty decent sensors and lenses in smartphones nowadays that with a little help, could produce images that even the most critical photographer could approve.
This is where the ExoLens system steps in as it’s a premium product that’s designed to transform your camera phone into a powerful photography tool. To bring the product to market, ExoLens teamed up with ZEISS to create a smartphone mount and lens combo where ExoLens provide the mounts and ZEISS bring their reputable, high-end lenses to the table.
It sounds like, and promises to be, a system that really can help iPhoneographers capture images that are vastly improved but does the system really capture images that are so good, the premium price tag that comes with the lens / mount combo is worth stretching to? These are the questions we’ll be asking as we put the ExoEdge and ZEISS lenses to the test.
The ZEISS ExoLens system is available in two parts: lenses and mounts. You can also purchase kits which feature an accessory mount and wide-angle lens.
There are two mount types available: ExoLens Edge and ExoLens Bracket, plus there’s an ExoLens Case available. The Edge is compatible with the iPhone 7/7+/6s/6/6s+/6+ and the Bracket is compatible with the iPhone 7/6s/6/6+/6S+. For those with Android phones, the Bracket is only available for the Samsung GS6/GS6 Edge.
The main difference between the two mounts is that the Edge just attaches one of the ZEISS lenses to the iPhone while the Bracket has room for an external flash, as well as a lens, and can be attached to a tripod. The Bracket also comes with inserts to stop the metal frame scratching your phone and to create a better fit.
Currently, three lenses are available for the system and these are:
- ExoLens PRO with Optics by ZEISS Mutar 0.6x Apsh T* Wide-Angle lens
- ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Vario-Proxar 40-80 T* Macro-Zoom
- ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Mutar 2.0x Asph T* Telephoto lens
For those who know the ZEISS brand, their reputation for creating premium optics proceeds them and these three lenses certainly continue this trend. They are designed and built to an impeccable standard but the downside to this is that the price tag they have is rather high.
The telephoto and wide-angle lenses are constructed from aspherical lens elements, something they share with premium lenses of ‘normal’ size. They also feature the ZEISS T* proprietary anti-reflective coating and both come with a lens hood that’s machined from aluminium. The macro lens features the same ZEISS T* proprietary anti-reflective coating but instead of a lens hood, a semi-transparent diffuser, which screws on to the front of the lens, is provided so light is evenly spread when working at close focusing distances.
All three lenses are presented in lovely packaging which also features a microfiber lens pouch and lens cap for each lens.
Anyone who owns an iPhone will know how rubbish the digital zoom is so the 56mm offered by the ZEISS telephoto may not sound like a lot but it makes a huge difference when you need a little more reach. If you need a little more zoom, you can use the built-in digital zoom but quality does go down quickly. The wide-angle lens offers a focal length of 18mm which when compared the Apple iPhone 6 Plus with its 29mm lens, gives you a much wider view on the world. No longer do you need to take a few steps back to get all of the landscape or building in which is a positive. Finally, the macro lens features a ring which you can use to change the focal length from 40-80mm the diffuser also means you can virtually be touching your subject when capturing your macro shot and still have enough light.
- Three premium ZEISS lenses available
- Two mount types to choose from
- Fit various iPhones
- ZEISS T* proprietary anti-reflective coating on lenses
- Telephoto and wide-angle lenses are constructed from aspherical lens elements
- Lens hoods machined from aluminium
- Semi-transparent diffuser on the macro lens
- Ring on the macro lens for controlling focal length
- Premium lens construction
- Inserts for the Bracket for a better fit and protection
We put the Edge to the test and we’re happy to report that it secured to the iPhone 6 Plus incredibly well. The soft insert made sure the phone wasn’t going to slip out of the mount and it was, actually, pretty tough to remove when the mount wasn’t needed anymore which isn’t a bad thing. To attach a lens, you screw the lens onto the mount and if you’re not very patient, you could find this part a little frustrating. However, unless you’re taking all of the lenses out with you at once, you probably won’t be changing them that often so it’s not something you’ll be doing on lots of occasions. When you are changing lenses, just take your time and you won’t have such a fight.
Once attached, all you have to do is hit the shutter button to take a photo. You don’t need to change any settings, install an app or use the camera any differently which is refreshing and makes the whole set-up a breeze to use. One negative is how top-heavy the iPhone becomes when the lenses, particularly the wide-angle, are attached. If using the Edge, it can feel a little unsteady at the start but you soon get used to weight/balance and find ways to securely hold the phone. This is where the Bracket improves on the Edge as it gives you a bigger grip and it can also be secured to a tripod, removing the ‘drop factor’ from the equation. Having said that, I went for a walk around the park with the Edge and lens attached and carried it in my hand all the way around without a problem.
The lenses themselves feel incredibly well built, sturdy and have a little weight behind them which only further confirms in your head how well they’re constructed. When I say a little weight, I don’t mean they’re so heavy that taking all three out will be a burden as their compact size means they easily fit into a camera, or indeed handbag, when heading out for the day.
For the price, I was expecting the lenses to be really good and overall, they didn’t disappoint. The macro lens is actually my favourite but the telephoto and wide-angle also performed well, too.
Before looking at the macro, let’s begin with the wide-angle lens as images were sharp right across the frame and distortion was handled really well. CA wasn’t really an issue either and flare only became a problem when I pointed the lens directly at the sun (the deep lens hood that’s provided shields the front of the lens really well).
You can see just how much more you can capture in the frame with the wide angle lens below (bottom image) where it’s compared with an image captured with just the iPhone 6 Plus lens (top image).
ZEISS Mutar 0.6x Apsh T* Wide-Angle lens sample photos
Flare is only a problem with direct sunlight and then it’s at minimal levels.
The telephoto is useful for bringing objects closer to you and as it has a focal length of 56mm, it’s also handy for portraits but you really need a tripod if you plan on using it regularly as shake can really spoil your shots. Serious photographers won’t have an issue with this but a casual shooter probably won’t want to carry a support around everywhere. As previously mentioned, using the telephoto means you don’t have to use the iPhone’s digital zoom which quite frankly, can only be described as awful so this is another positive. If you do need to extend the focal length even further, you can use the digital zoom but your images will start to rapidly lose quality and appear soft. Overall, contrast was good, colours appeared natural and distortion / CA wasn’t an issue.
ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Mutar 2.0x Asph T* Telephoto lens sample photos
Left: iPhone 6 Plus lens, Right: ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Mutar 2.0x Asph T* Telephoto lens
ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Mutar 2.0x Asph T* Telephoto lens
ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Mutar 2.0x Asph T* Telephoto lens, plus full digital zoom of the iPhone 6 Plus
Finally, the macro lens is not only really useful, it’s also a lot of fun. Yes, adjusting the zoom can be fiddly but you soon get used to it and your reward is amazing close-ups that have lovely out of focus areas, good colours and contrast. How close you can get to your subject is what gives this lens its ‘wow’ factor, particularly when you compare it to the close-up distance of the iPhone camera.
The ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Vario-Proxar 40-80 T* Macro-Zoom lens makes it really easy to capture good photos so much so, you can spend ages just enjoying using it (which I certainly did with the model people).
ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS Vario-Proxar 40-80 T* Macro-Zoom lens sample photos
Eiffel Tower Model
Top: iPhone 6 Plus, Bottom: ZEISS Vario-Proxar 40-80 T* Macro-Zoom lens
Value For Money
The ExoLens / ZEISS system is kind of in a league of its own due to its price and quality of images it produces. The telephoto is priced at £199.99/$300 while the macro and wide-angle can be purchased for £160/$240. You’ll also need the Edge or Bracket and these retail for £55/$82 and £59/$88, respectively (the Bracket for the iPhone 6+/6S+ is slightly cheaper).
Other well-known brands creating lenses for smartphones include Olloclip with products that range from £29.99 to £99.99/$150 and Mpow is a best-seller over on Amazon with lenses that start at £12.79/$19. There are plenty of inexpensive accessories available, too which start from as little as £7.99/$12. Lensbaby makes a creative kit for smartphones and there’s also the Beastgrip Pro available which you can read more about in our review.
You may also want to equip your smartphone with other photography essentials so do take a look at our Best iPhone Accessories for Photographers guide.
The verdict has to begin with the elephant in the room and that’s the price of this kit. For all three lenses and the Edge, you’re looking at £574.99/$862 which, quite frankly, is a lot of money. Having said that, these aren’t novelty toys a teenager who loves selfies will be using, they’re designed to be used by those who take iPhoneography seriously to improve the work they produce and we can happily confirm that these lenses will do this.
The lenses not only produce better images but they look better than anything else that’s currently available on the market and words such as ‘professional’, ‘smart’ and ‘high-quality’ are terms that can definitely be applied to them.
Handling can be a bit weird at the start but you soon get used to using the mount and lens combo on the iPhone and with the macro lens in particularly, it soon becomes an enjoyable experience. You have to remove cases when using this kit which not everyone will like but there is an ExoLens Case for the iPhone 6/6s should you be wanting something that gives you a little more peace of mind and happen to be an iPhone 6/6s user.
Overall, this kit combo won’t be for everyone and there certainly will be plenty of people who ask ‘why is it needed?’ but for those who regularly take photos with their iPhones seriously, the ExoLens / ZEISS set-up is definitely well-worth considering.