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Review: ExoLens iPhone Lens System with ZEISS Optics

by Paul Strauss

These days, smartphones can take some pretty great photos all on their own, but the biggest limitations of their cameras is the size of the lens and the size of their image sensors. Built-in lenses are usually set to a middle-of-the road field of view, so they’re usually best for general purpose usage, and not optimized for super wide angle shots, super close-ups or long shots.

Optical expert ZEISS recently partnered up with Fellowes to release an add-on lens system for the latest series of iPhones, which aims to solve some of these limitations. The first ZEISS-backed ExoLens to hit the market is a 0.6x wide-angle aspherical model, which provides professional quality results from your smartphone.

zeiss_exolens_wide_angle_iphone_lens_1zoom in

The ExoLens consists of two main components – a mounting bracket, and a screw-mount lens. The bracket is made of durable machined aluminum, and includes both a standard tripod mounting hole, as well as a standard accessory mount that can hold an external light.

zeiss_exolens_wide_angle_iphone_lens_2zoom in

The kit includes rubber gaskets for both the 6 and 6S iPhone variants to ensure a snug fit, as well as a lens hood, and lens caps for both the front and rear of the lens.

zeiss_exolens_wide_angle_iphone_lens_3zoom in

Unlike cheap add-on lenses, the ZEISS lens provides a crystal clear image with virtually no edge distortion. It’s really like adding a pro wide-angle lens to your iPhone. For comparison’s sake, I included shots from my Sony a6000, which rocks an $800 ZEISS Touit 12mm lens. While the iPhone’s sharpness and color rendition will never live up to a dedicated mirrorless or DSLR, the 0.6x ZEISS ExoLens wide angle definitely offers a comparable field of view, and retains the iPhone’s native imaging characteristics.

Stock iPhone 6 Plus lens:
(click to see original, full resolution images)

iphone_6_plus_lens_collectibleszoom in

ExoLens ZEISS 0.6x lens on iPhone 6 Plus:

zeiss_exolens_wide_angle_collectibleszoom in

Sony a6000 w/ZEISS Touit f2.8 12mm lens:

zeiss_touit_12mm_collectibleszoom in

You can see from the shots above that the ExoLens wide-angle does a great job expanding the field of view, without adding distortion or artifacts as many cheap add-on lenses do. Looking at an un-zoomed crop of the actual pixels captured by my iPhone 6 Plus reveals that the wider lens retains detail and fidelity, even though items appear smaller:

zeiss_exolens_detail_comparisonzoom in

Overall, the ExoLens lives up to its claims about image quality, and delivers excellent wide-angle images from your iPhone. If you’re looking to increase the capabilities of your iPhone, and don’t mind carrying around an external lens, it’s a great purchase. It’s not exactly cheap, but like any camera lens, you get what you pay for; and when you buy ZEISS, you get the best.

zeiss_exolens_wide_angle_iphone_lens_4zoom in

In addition to the wide angle lens, ZEISS will soon be releasing 2x telephoto and macro lenses for the ExoLens mount. ExoLens also offers a less expensive series which doesn’t use ZEISS glass. However, I haven’t had an opportunity to test those models, so I can’t speak to their image quality.

zeiss_exolens_lenseszoom in

The ExoLens set including both the 0.6x wide-angle ZEISS lens, mounting bracket, lens covers, and carrying pouches is available now for $199.95(USD) for both the iPhone 6/6S and 6 Plus/6S Plus. Pricing for the macro and telephoto lenses hasn’t been announced yet.



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