Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Olloclip Adds A Lens To Your iPhone

A couple of years ago, Patrick O'Neill had an idea. He believed that hardware, not software, was at the heart of great iPhone photography. He wasn't the only one. Designer Chong Pak agreed with him.

They wanted to create a double-sided lens converter that could slip inside your pocket. It sounded like a handy little device at the time. The fact that it was invented in nearby Huntington Beach was a bonus.

The Olloclip is a fisheye, wide-angeled, and macro lens in a compact camera accessory.   

Once the lens started to ship, it quickly attracted a cult following of people who love it. Some are friends of mine. And Apple even liked it enough that Olloclip was invited to enjoy some international retail store space. Almost all third-party products want the invite, but most of them never get it.

What makes Olloclip different is that much like Apple, O'Neill and Pak aimed for simplicity of design and quality components. It only weighs about one-third the size of an electronic car key. It weighs less too. (The small size is also why I recommend the red lens over the black.)

Olloclip made an overview video that runs down the basics, but be warned before you watch it. The product is cooler than the commercial, which resembles an early 80s throwback spot.

Of the three lenses, the two I use the most are the macro and wide angle. While the fisheye works, it's not a look I love. The few times I've taken pictures with it, I mostly edit off the black circular border left behind. Still, some people like it.

Fisheye. With its  hemispherical shape, the lens captures a panoramic-like view (about 180 degrees). While some people use it for landscapes, brightly colored artistic shots seem to suit it. It's especially cool when capturing something that doesn't lose its luster with distortion.

Macro. This is an exceptionally useful lens when you want a close-up without relying on an app. The macro lens magnifies your image roughly 10 times and allows you to get within with 12-15 millimeters of the subject material. The detail is crisp and brilliant, ideal for any small object or even something that would otherwise be too small for the eye.

Wide-Angled. Of the three lenses, the wide-angled is most likely to see some everyday usage. It doubles the field of view, giving the photographer a much bigger canvas. What impressed me the most is the little lens worked exactly like a wide-angled lens is supposed to, giving the photograph more depth of field by exaggerating the subject in the foreground.

An overview of additional products from Olloclip.

Since Olloclip has come out, O'Neill and Pac have been adding to the brand. Most of the additions were to address a few shortcomings. Specifically, the lens fit best on naked iPhones.

The solution was to invent a case specifically for the iPhone 4/4s and iPhone 5 owners. Called the Quick-Flip, the case features a corner that rotates to accommodate the lens. The case also has an accessory that slides onto the case for tripod mounts, video lights, and microphones.

It's a good idea, but still doesn't address a primary design challenge that prohibits using the product with a case. A better idea might be to spring load the clip mechanism, allowing the lens to accommodate a few variable millimeters. While it might not provide a solution for every case, it would ensure a snug fit.

Giving the case a break on special occasions or swapping cases is another solution too. It doesn't seem like too much of a hardship even if most people seem reluctant to take off a case after they put it on.

The Olloclip Lens Snaps On 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Overall, Olloclip is a tremendous design achievement in adding hardware to one of the most-used cameras on the market today (our phones). With the exception of a few design limitations, Olloclip is right on target. In fact, rather than focus on additional accessories to be all things to all people, everyone around here is looking forward to more lenses, filters, and other goodies that manipulate the image without relying on digital manipulation all the time.

You can find the Olloclip Quick-Connect Lens on Amazon. Olloclip also maintains its own storefront. New product launches are listed there first. Visit them on Facebook where they sometimes share fan photos too.
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