There was a time when third-party smartphone lenses were the go-to for smartphone filmmakers who wanted to take their footage to the next level. And when it comes to third-party smartphone lenses, the biggest name amongst them is undoubtedly Moment, which offers a range of lenses to use with smartphones offering more capabilities than your standard built-in camera modules. Or do they?
That’s the question Brandon Lee attempts to answer in this video from Linus Tech Tips and the short answer is… “It’s complicated”. For the longer answer, you’ll have to watch the video, but it seems they aren’t always as beneficial as they once were – unless, perhaps, you’re shooting video.
The purpose of separate bolt-on lenses is to overcome some of the shortcomings of the tiny sensors used in smartphones. These lenses, in theory, allow you to shoot a wider or narrower field of view than you’d ordinarily be able to get with your phone alone, possibly even with a shallower depth of field. But with the array of smartphones out there today containing 2, 3 or even more camera modules, are they still worth it?
For stills, it seems that no, it’s probably not. At least, not all the time and it depends on the device you’re using. Developments in the computational photography algorithms implemented into many smartphones these days rely on an unhindered view out of the camera, so when you add a lens, those algorithms (that you don’t seem to be able to bypass) get confused and result in a worse image. At least, that’s the hypothesis Brandon puts forward above.
When it comes to video, though, where the computational photography benefits largely disappear, they can make a big difference in what you can achieve. But depending on the phone you’re using and what you want to shoot, it still might not be enough of a difference to justify the cost.
Overall, such lenses might breathe new life into smartphones that are three or more generations old, but in the newest smartphones, they just don’t really seem to be worth the hassle. Well, not unless you really want to go anamorphic.
Do you use third-party lenses with your smartphones? Have you ever?