Most people use their smartphone as their only camera because it's always with them and they don't have to carry a second device.
Camera accessories for smartphones may seem a little backward for that reason, since you're actually carrying around more things. At some point you might as well just get an actual camera, right?
But if you love shooting pictures or movies, and are in favor of anything that allows you to do more with the tech you have or push it beyond what it was intended for, this roundup is for you.
Several of them are specifically for the iPhone such as the Optrix case pictured above. But, as an Android user myself, there are ones here that will work with other smartphones as well.
Also, I know the idea of these accessories seems very silly to some people (I certainly feel that way about some of the accessories out there). So, if that's you, I have included a few accessories in here that will turn your smartphone into a tool to use with your digital SLR.
Oh, and if you're looking for tips on how to get more from your smartphone's camera, check out this episode of CNET's The Fix.
Want to take better selfies or be in group shots? Get a HISY. The $25 lightweight little puck (it's pronounced hi-see, by the way) connects to your iOS 7 device via Bluetooth. It takes just a couple seconds to setup and after that you just launch the native camera app and press the button on top. It works for both photos and video.
Of course, you don't need to only use it for selfies. Anytime you think your hand shake might get between you and a blur-free photo, you can set your phone down and use it to trigger your shot. I found it particularly helpful when shooting macro shots.
The HISY is powered by a replaceable battery, which lasts up to 2 years based on taking 100 shots per day, and comes with a small tether that plugs into your device's headphone jack.
What's great about the Motrr Galileo is that it's one product that can be used for many things. The device itself is a motorized rotating base that grips your iPhone and can continuously pan, tilt, and rotate it 360 degrees. There's a standard 1/4-inch tripod mount in the bottom, but it can just as easily be placed on any flat surface.
There are two models of the Galileo: one with Bluetooth for use with iPhone 5/5S/5C, iPhone 4S, and fifth-gen iPod Touch and one with a 30-pin connector supporting iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 3GS, and fourth-gen iPod Touch. Through the Motrr iOS app, you can access several other apps that have been developed to put the Galileo and your iPhone's camera to use in different ways. You can use it to shoot time-lapses or panoramas, create interactive spherical images, or turn it into a real-time audio-and-video surveillance system, among other things. There are currently 11 apps available, with more coming soon.
You might not want to turn your current iPhone into a video surveillance system, but because you can use the apps to control the Galileo and other iOS devices, it's not a bad way to repurpose an older iPhone or iPod Touch.
You can get the Galileo straight from Motrr for $150 ($100 for the 30-pin model).
Polarizing filters are used on cameras to cut glare and reduce reflections, and they'll also add some vibrancy to colors. They can be especially handy for shooting bright blue skies. The Trygger is a polarizing filter for your iPhone. Just slide it on, adjust the filter with the built-in dial to get the look you're after, and shoot.
There are plenty of add-on lenses for the iPhone's camera. But for Olloclip, its lenses are all about high-quality optics and ease of use.
The company started from a Kickstarter project a couple years ago with its three-in-one lens that combines wide-angle, macro, and fish-eye lenses into one, tiny slide-on accessory.
This year, it expanded the product lineup with a quick-connect lens system that has a 2x telephoto lens on one side and a circular polarizer lens on the other, and a case with two tripod mounts, a cold shoe for attaching a mic or panel light, and a corner that flips around so you can mount a lens and use it as a shutter release.
Joining those is a new four-in-one lens that adds a second macro option to the original three-in-one lens, allowing you to focus at 0.7 inch (18mm) and 0.5 inch (12mm) from a subject; a three-in-one macro lens for iPhone the 5/5S; and an iPhone 5C version of the original three-in-one lens.
About the only thing not to like is the pricing: the telephoto/polarizer is $99.99, the three-in-one for iPhone 5C is $59.99, and the four-in-one and macro lenses are $69.99, and the case is $49.99. There are bundles, though, if you want to save some money.
Want to create 360-degree panoramic videos with your iPhone? Snap this lens over its camera, download an app, and press record. Playback the video and you'll be able to swipe left and right, which rotates the video around and around.
The SlingShot by Woxom is a simple product that does a lot. Made from acetal resin, its cradle stretches to hold smartphones of any size and even phablets like the Samsung Note II, yet pops right back into place when empty. The cradle sits on a handle with a ball joint, so it can be positioned for steadier handheld video shoots.
Tucked into the handle, though, are two legs that pop out and turn the whole thing into a mini-tripod. Want to use your smartphone on a larger tripod or monopod? The cradle has standard 1/4-inch tripod threads in the base; just unscrew it from the handle and pop it on your tripod. Plus, since the handle has a tripod mount on it, you can use it with a point-and-shoot or an action cam for steadier shooting with those. Not bad for $20.
The iStabilizer Flex combines the iStabilizer Mount, a universal clamp that holds a wide variety of smartphones (up to 2.75 inches wide; and XL version is available for larger devices) and a lightweight tripod with foam-covered bendable legs. What's nice is that the mount has standard 1/4-inch tripod threads, so if you have a bigger tripod or monopod, you can use it with that, too.
The pair cost $29.99 direct from iStabilizer, but can be found elsewhere for less. (By the way, this works well for the Kogeto Dot thanks to the ball head on the tripod.)
When three legs just won't do, there's the Keizus Quadrapod. Made from tough engineering plastic, the Keizus has an adjustable clamp on top that grips your phone while you shoot (and, yes, it also makes it look eerily like a small animal). The clamp is attached by a standard tripod mount, so if you want to use the Quadrapod with a point-and-shoot or action cam, you can. Or you can use the clamp to attach your smartphone or tablet to a full-size tripod. And, depending on how you position it, you can bend its joints to prop up your phone or tablet for viewing at different angles.
If you're looking for a very small tripod and mount for your smartphone, you want the Joby GripTight (center). The $20 mount can hold smartphones between 2.1 and 2.8 inches and can be used on any standard 1/4-inch tripod mount. For $30, you can get it with a Micro Stand tripod, which is really nice for tabletop macro shots, and fold down to an ultracompact size.
Joby's $15 GPod (left) is a great companion for the GripTight, too, giving you more placement flexibility thanks to magnetic feet and the bendable leg joints Joby's GorillaPod tripods are known for. Also $15 is the MPod Mini that's the same as the GPod minus the magnetic feet, but with an elastic cord for holding your smartphone tightly in its rubberized jaw.
If you need steady video from your iPhone and you're willing to pay for it, there's the Tiffen Steadicam Smoothee. Just like the larger professional Steadicams, it uses counterbalance weights to stabilize your camera while it's in motion. It works extremely well, but at $150 you really have to want steadier video from your iPhone (or GoPro since there's one available for that as well).
A skate dolly allows you to get smooth tracking or panning shots with your smartphone camera. They can be expensive, though, which is where Monoprice comes in. Its dolly costs only about $20 but is solidly built and rolls smoothly. The base plate has markings so you can precisely angle the axles to turn a full circle in as small as a 7-inch radius.
Monoprice also sells 7- and 11-inch arms as well as the Clip Clamp phone mount, which, at less than $3, is a very inexpensive way to attach your phone to a 1/4-20 tripod mount.
Luxi turns your iPhone 4/4S or 5/5S into an incident light meter. Basically, it's a little plastic diffusion dome that slides over your front-facing camera lens. Paired with the Pocket Light Meter app, Luxi measures the amount of light falling on your subject instead of reflected light. You can then use its readings to get the proper settings for your subject.
It'll cost you $30, which isn't bad, especially since it means you don't have to carry around another device.
Though it can be used as a simple shutter release, its true strength is painless setup of time-lapse and HDR photography. It also will allow you to trigger the shutter release with sound, which comes in particularly handy when paired with its Flash Adapter for high-speed photography.
The dongle is compatible with more than 280 cameras and the apps, which recently got a complete redesign and new features, are available for iOS and Android.
It doesn't have the best name, but the iUSBportCamera is a nice little device. For about $200, this adapter allows you to wirelessly tether a Nikon or Canon dSLR to your iOS or Android phone or tablet.
Connect it to the USB port on your camera (a Mini-USB cable is included, so Nikon users might need to supply their own cable), turn it on, and you can create an ad-hoc network between it and your mobile device by selecting the iUSBport in your Wi-Fi settings. Once connected, you can use the free iOS or Android app to control your camera's settings, get a live view from the camera (if your camera has live view), tap to focus, and trigger the shutter release.
You can set the app to automatically transfer shots to your device, or you can just view what you've captured. The app also has an intervalometer, bulb mode, HDR bracketing, macro photography, and self-timer controls.
When I first saw the Hitcase Pro my first, second, and third thoughts were, "No, just no." (You're better off buying an actual action cam and not using your iPhone as one.) However, for those who really want to do everything with their iPhone, this is worth checking out. The shell is made from a tough ABS/polycarbonate blend, the inside is padded with plenty of shock-absorbing Poron, and it closes airtight at three different points making it waterproof to 33 feet (10 meters). All that protection and you still have full use of your iPhone.
The Pro is fitted with a wide-angle lens covering up to 170 degree angle of view with the iPhone 5/5s and Hitcase's Vidometer app. (The app, by the way, records speed, altitude, horizon orientation, acceleration, and GPS data, which can be used in an overlay on your video) Its RailSlide mounting system quickly and securely snaps your iPhone into place and it's compatible with GoPro mounts.
For its $129.99 price, it comes with an adhesive helmet mount as well as a tripod mount. However, depending on how self-conscious you are or if you just want to be more aerodynamic and get more stable video, there is a $50 chest mount.
Though I prefer the Hitcase design overall, this rugged case from Optrix has the edge when it comes to optics (and durability, too). The polycarbonate unibody case can handle drops from up to 30 feet and dives down to 33 feet. And that's with one of the four included glass lenses attached: fisheye, macro, 2x telephoto, and flat for underwater use.
The lenses simply twist on, and easily replaceable gaskets maintain the water- and dustproof seal. A rail on the case allows you to slide on mounts including the tripod mount used in the picture above.
It's a little crazy-looking, but the XarLight TX1's superbright 250-lumen LED light with a specialized optical lens lights subjects well beyond the reach of the iPhone's built-in LED flash. (It's definitely something you don't want to use at close range unless you're trying to blind someone.)
The current version has a 30-pin connector, so it'll work with any iPhone with one of those (or a fourth-gen iPod Touch). The device just slides onto the connector and its two spring-loaded clamps expand so it'll attach even if you have a case on.
It has its own 2,200mAh power supply, though, so it doesn't need to be attached to your iPhone to work. That means if you want to light a subject from the side instead of head-on, you can. And if your iPhone's battery starts to really drain from all the videos and photos you'll be shooting, you can use the TX1 to charge it up.
The 30-pin version is available now for $49 and Techxar says a Lightning-connector version is in the works for this year with expanded functionality. Techxar will also have light diffuser, cosmetic, and center dimmer lens filters that twist onto the TX1's light.
The Margolin Magnifying Video Visor is a simple plastic box that acts as a viewfinder for your smartphone (or camcorder or point-and-shoot), assuming your screen is 3.5 inches or smaller. It keeps glare off your screen in bright sun and can help steady your hold on the camera.
Two elastic straps secure your device to one end and you look through the other. A cutout in the bottom lets you poke your fingers in to focus and shoot and change settings. There's even a 4x magnifying lens on front that can fold down and give you a better view of what you're shooting.
It folds flat for travel and weighs just 1.6 ounces. It's not the most polished product and its $30 price is a bit high, but it works and there's something to be said for that.