18 Mar 2012

Provides: Bayonet-mount Wide Angle and Fisheye lenses for iPhone, with Telephoto lens coming soon

Developer: Schneider Optics
: iPhone 4/4S
Price: $200
Available: Now

The iPhone is now the camera of choice for millions of amateur photographers, and due to its habit of being constantly by your side, it is becoming a solid piece of gear for professional photographers, too. Realizing this trend, Schneider Optics—  the US subsidiary of German optic manufacturer Schneider-Kreuzbach—is on a mission to bring more functionality to the camera you carry with you all the time. Given the price point, Schneider is clearly targeting serious amateurs and professionals, and the iPro Lens system generally lives up to those users’ expectations…with one exception.

The Kit

The iPro ships in a box that looks for all the world like a new iPhone—nearly the same dimensions, with a single image and text in Myriad Pro on the front. Inside you will find the universal iPhone 4/4S case, and a combination handle/lens storage/tripod adaptor unit. This brilliant three-in-one serves to hold both the fisheye and wide angle lenses securely, and it also screws into either side of the iPhone case to serve as a comfortable handle or universal tripod adaptor. The handle features two compartments, into which each lens fits snugly using the bayonet mount. The entire package is about three inches long and one inch wide, meaning it is easily carried in a pocket; the artistic freedom allowed by the iPro does not destroy the ease or portability of the iPhone’s camera.

To attach a lens, you simply thread the metal fins on the lens bayonet mount into the opening on the iPhone case (which is aligned with the iPhone’s camera). The flash is covered when using a lens, but is available when no lens is attached. Quality of the handle and lenses is superb, with metal threads on the handle/tripod mount and excellent optic quality on the lenses (more on that below). Unfortunately, Schneider cut some corners on the case, which is pretty cheap plastic and offers nothing but scratch protection for the iPhone. The application/removal process involves bending the case in such a way that it is guaranteed to break eventually, and the threads for attaching the handle to the iPhone are plastic. Photographers generally care about the quality of the glass above all, and in this respect Schneider delivers. But for $200, your expectations for the case are bound to be a bit higher than what Schneider delivers.

The Glass

Gripes about cheap plastic aside, the iPro Lens system delivers superb images. Appletell reviewed another iPhone lens add-on called the ōlloclip, which comes in at only $70 and delivers good images for for the casual snapshot taker. The iPro Lens system, on the other hand, would not be out of place in the gear bag of a professional landscape photographer or student film maker, which is a testament both to the work Apple put into the iPhone’s camera design and Schneider’s superlative lens design (they have almost 90 years of optics manufacturing experience).

The wide angle lens increases the iPhone still camera’s field of view by 35% (the iPhone crops the sensor down to 1920 x 1080 for video, so the wide angle lens restores nearly the full frame to iPhone videos). Unlike the ōlloclip, which exhibited significant barrel distortion, the iPro stays razor-sharp and demonstrates only the slightest distortion at the very edge of the frame.

The increased field of view is especially useful for architecture photography; shots of the newly rising One World Trade Center tower were nearly impossible to capture with the iPhone’s camera, but adding the wide angle lens easily accommodated the whole building. The iPhone’s autoexposure took advantage of the additional light and re-exposed; serious photographers may want to use the iPhone’s AE/AF lock to avoid this.

The iPro’s fisheye lens provides a remarkable 165° field of view that allows for truly unique perspectives and some stunning images. In still photographs, the fisheye produces a vignette, leaving sections of all four corners blank. For videos, this vignetting and part of the more intensely warped edges are cropped.  The effect of the fisheye in video mode is more subtle, but nonetheless spectacular.

The field of view provided by the fisheye is in fact so extreme, it can be difficult to keep your hands out of the picture!  If you want to avoid this,  it is better to hold the iPhone directly rather than using the handle.

Overall, the iPro Lens system is a stellar upgrade for the iPhone’s already admirable camera. For the serious amateur or professional photographer, it provides the perfect mix of high quality optics with portability that allow you to carry around enhancement lenses. The Achilles heel of the whole setup really is the plastic case, which is downright flimsy in comparison to the rest of the kit. That either needs to be upgraded or needs to be available for purchase separately.

Apart from that issue, the iPro Lens really is an amazing camera enhancement for the iPhone 4/4S.

Schneider Optics iPro Lens Review

(Via Appletell.)