Technology

Add-ons changing the face of camera phones

Arthur Goldstuck

Phone cameras cannot, by themselves, replace conventional SLR but add-on lenses are reinventing phone photography, writes Arthur Goldstuck.

The very nature of digital photography is changing as phone cameras begin to rise up the technology curve to meet the serious photographer's SLR devices. (AFP)

We live in an age of re-invention. Numerous tools, technologies, and even media formats, are constantly reinvented as the power of competition-driven innovation and distributed knowledge produces solutions to problems we’d thought solved generations ago.

The camera is a perfect example. Digital photography has wiped out the old world of film photography. And now the very nature of digital photography is changing as phone cameras begin to rise up the technology curve to meet the serious photographer's single-lens reflex (SLR) devices.

But there are still many things the typical phone camera simply cannot do. One of the most common sources of digital disappointment is the phone camera's use of a digital zoom instead of an optical zoom. Digital zoom merely magnifies an existing image. Optical zoom uses a telephoto lens to zoom into the scene, and usually gives vastly superior results. 

The solution is either to get a phone designed to be a camera, or buy an add-on that gives the phone capabilities beyond its hardware limitations. Here are two of the best add-ons available:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 (Android and iOS)
At first sight, this is a bizarre gadget: a stand-alone zoom lens that connects to a smartphone via wi-fi. However, it clips onto the phone to turn the phone into something close to an SLR unit, with both still and video functionality.

Once an app called PlayMemories is installed on the phone, and the Cyber-shot is connected via wi-fi, the phone screen becomes the viewfinder for the lens. That means the lens does not have to be clipped on – it can be placed within connectivity distance of the phone. And that means you can position it to look round corners. It’s not very versatile in that configuration, but could be a useful security or journalistic accessory in the right situation. Don’t think spycam: this is a very obtrusive device that looks like nothing but a camera lens. It is also very slow in processing images, so is not great for capturing action.

However, the 18.2 megapixel lens doesn't have to mean massive file-sizes: PlayMemories resizes images to make them feasible for sharing. The lens is compatible with any Android or iOS smartphone.

And the zoom? It lives up to its advertising, providing real 10x zoom rather than magnification, meaning a long-distance image that does not instantly pixelate when enlarged. A stand-alone camera will always be a better option if photos are the thing, but this is a great way of turning a high-end phone into a high-end camera.

Olloclip 3-in-1 Photo Lens (iPhone only)
Enter the Olloclip 3-in-1 Photo Lens, which clips over an iPhone's camera lens. It adds macro, wide angle and fisheye functions that approximate the quality of dedicated SLR camera lenses. 

The macro function allows 10 times magnification 12-15mm away from a tiny subject – a distance and zoom at which conventional smartphones give up and go blurry. The fisheye function gives a 180-degree field of view, and the wide-angle doubles the iPhone's normal field of view. A 4-in-1 version adds 15 times macro, while a telephoto edition provides two times more optical magnification.

The Olloclip is almost magical in the way it gives new meaning to close-up. Between this and the DSC-QX10, even photo-fiends could find themselves living comfortably without SLR. – Gadget.co.za

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