Olloclip's Three-In-One Lens System for the iPhone was a game-changer - an adapter that clipped on to the corner of the iPhone or iPod touch to provide you with separate wide-angle, macro and fish-eye lenses. There was one thing missing, though - a telephoto lens. Olloclip recently announced its Telephoto Lens for iPhone and iPod touch. It's currently available for pre-order, but I've been using it for the last few days and I think it's fantastic.
Clip-on iPhone lenses and cases that include some sort of lens magnifier have been around for a while, but most of them are junky. Olloclip separated itself from the rest by offering precision ground glass multi-element optics. The lens barrels are made from anodized aluminum - quite similar to lenses you might buy for a DSLR camera. The new Telephoto Lens shares the same build quality as the Three-In-One Lens System, so you can count on it to dramatically improve the optics of your iOS device. If you already have the Three-In-One Lens System, it's important to know that the Telephoto Lens is an entirely separate attachment - you can use it entirely independently of that kit.
Olloclip ships the lens in a microfiber sack that doubles as a lens cloth, to help polish away the inevitable fingerprints you'll get on it as you slide it into place.
The Telephoto Lens effectively magnifies your device's optics by 2X, which means that you can take more detailed shots from a greater distance than you could before, without resorting to using the Camera app's magnification slider, which works digitally, introducing noise and artifacts into your image. That telephoto effect also changes the camera's depth of field, which enables you to more selectively focus on your subjects to help them stand out from the background.
In my testing, I found that, as you might expect with a telephoto lens, I had to be very careful not to shake or jostle the iPhone too much while I was trying to get pics. For shooting video or trying to take images that might require a bit of exposure, a tripod like Joby's popular GorillaPod stand or a tripod mount might come in very handy. That obviously introduces quite a bit of bulk and extra stuff to carry, so your mileage may vary.
One side of the Telephoto Lens clip is open, with a cutout for the iPhone's lens. That way you can keep the mount clipped to your phone (backwards) even if you're not using it, and use the camera the regular way if needed.
Just remember that this is a telephoto lens, not a zoom lens. The magnification is fixed at 2X, so you can't twist the lens barrel to achieve higher magnification, though the iPhone's "pinch to zoom" feature certainly works.
The iPhone's camera lens doesn't do much to cut down on glare and reflected light - I've had some spectacular shots ruined because of the sun or because of exposed nearby light bulbs, for example. Olloclip has answered the requests of some reviewers and customers by developing a snap-on Circular Polarizing Lens (CPL) that they include with the Telephoto Lens - it simply slides securely onto the outside of the Telephoto Lens. It's mounted on a ring that enables the CPL to be rotated, so you can filter out just the amount of light you need to get the shot you want.
The CPL also fits on the open end of the Telephoto Lens clip, so you can store it when it's not in use, or use the CPL even with the iPhone's built-in camera lens. The CPL also includes a 25-20mm step down adapter that enables you to clip it onto the lenses included in the Three-In-One Lens System.
The iPhone's built-in flash exists perilously close to the lens. Because of the shape of the mount, the Telephoto Lens blocks the flash (the same limitation exists in the Three-In-One system). That means the lens isn't suitable for use in low-light conditions or in places where you might need flash or fill to get the image you want. (Olloclip produces a special case designed to work with its products that includes a flash mount, but like a tripod mount, that introduces a lot of added bulk and equipment to take with you.) The lens mount also blocks the power button on the top of the iPhone.
Earlier this year, Olloclip introduced its own camera software application available for free download from the App Store. Designed for users of the Three-In-One Lens System, the software enables you to adjust images to compensate for distortion introduced by some of the lenses, but it's a useful utility besides - you can separately adjust auto-exposure and auto-focus points, for example, something you can't do with Apple's built-in Camera app. Olloclip hasn't updated the software yet with any Telephoto Lens-specific features, but it still works, of course.
Olloclip makes the Telephoto Lens in sizes to fit the iPhone 4 and 4S, the iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5th generation.
There's an oft-repeated adage in photography that the best camera is the one that's with you. The 8 megapixel sensor on the iPhone 5 and iPod touch can, in the right hands, result in some spectacular photos. Those device's camera lenses are good enough for many users. But some have needs that the camera and built-in software can't address without diminishing the quality of the photographs.
To that end, the Telephoto Lens and the CPL are fine additions to Olloclip's product offerings. You get the benefit of 2X optical magnification sans any sort of digital artifacts or manipulation that degrades the image. It's also small enough that you can easily slip it into a pocket and produce it when you need to, so it's not adding unnecessary bulk to your iPhone when it isn't needed.