Olloclip Telephoto Lens for iPhone review: Bring distant objects into focus without using zoom

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 (opens in new tab), 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.

Making a good camera great

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.

Olloclip before and after

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.

Olloclip inside shots, with and without

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.

Olloclip without CPL attached

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.

Glare-proofing your shots

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.

Circular polarizing lens, with and without

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.

Olloclip with CPL attached

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.

The Good

  • 2x optical magnification brings distant objects into sharp focus
  • CPL reduces glare and is removable when not needed
  • CPL works with Three-In-One Lens System

The Bad

  • Blocks flash
  • Blocks power button
  • Prevents iPhone case use

Bottom Line

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.

Peter Cohen
  • Very, very cool. Want. I've read that the focal length of the iPhone 5 camera lens produces a field of view roughly equivalent to that of a 33mm lens on a full-frame 35mm camera. In other words, it's a medium wide-angle lens. So doubling the focal length with the Olloclip Telephoto produces a field of view roughly equivalent to a 66mm lens on a full-frame 35mm camera. And that's barely more magnification than the "normal" 50mm lens. So it's not really much of a "telephoto," but it should still provide immensely better image quality than the iPhone Camera app's digital zoom.
  • "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." Isn't the obvious answer that they should just go and buy a Lumia 1020 instead of trying to patch an iPhone that was never meant to be a serious camera anyway? I mean, the optics and sensor are what they are and can yield only so much no matter what accessories are attached. Most accessories belie the whole point of iPhone. Instead of armoring it with watertight, fat, heavy cases, why not get a phone that is built from the ground up to stand some abuse? In place of a gigantic battery cover, why not get a phone with sufficient power reserve? Instead of attaching big and expensive lenses, why not get a phone with better camera to boot? That is, I do not get it how people buy a USD 700-1000 phone designed to be very elegant and still good-enough on most accounts for the most number of people, and then turn it into a very unelegant thing that still does not do the enhanced attribute all that much better. What is the idea of paying the exorbitant amounts of an iPhone if it will only be turned into a non-iPhone? Just my opinion.
  • The point isn't to make the iPhone a "non-iPhone," it's to make it even better. As to why to stick with the iPhone instead of a Lumia 1020, I think the answer is obvious.
  • Don't mind him Pete, he has to make his daily negative Apple comment....been going on for a while now. Even though he's full of b.s. & I really don't understand why he gets his rocks off trying to be some Anti-Apple evangelist on an IOS-centric site, his comments are well-written & cohesive, which is a nice change from the usual anti-apple crowd that we get here.