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Mobile Accessories

Lensbaby's latest lens brings a new facet to iPhone photography

The new over-the-lens clamp-and-magnet design for its special-effects lenses works a lot better than the company's earlier mount, but it's also bigger and an eye-popping peridot color.

Just slide the lens into the mount and it's held there by a magnet. Sarah Tew / CNET

Lensbaby's initial foray into mobile lenses, the LM-10 Sweet Spot Lens for Mobile , was a fun first effort but slightly awkward to use. The company follows it up with the Creative Mobile Kit, a new $90 mount system with two trademark special-effects lenses and a kickstand. (I don't have overseas pricing yet, but it converts to roughly £58 and AU$120.)

As ever, Lensbaby delivers the goods for fun photo effects. The new system has a more practical design and the larger lenses are easier to use and control -- similar to the clamp mount for the smaller LM-10 -- but the tradeoff is a bulkier mount. The new mount is currently only available for the iPhone 5, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus, although an adhesive, stainless steel mount is available for Android phones and the iPhone 5c.

The system is pretty straightforward to use. A pressure clamp holds the plastic mount unit over the camera lens and the lenses slide into it; the magnetic circle on the lens attaches to the metal plate on the mount, and the plastic sides keep the lens centered in the right place over the camera lens. It's simple and easy, and the mount is sort of small enough to leave on your phone. When not in use for a lens, the plastic kickstand attaches via a magnetic ring.

The kit includes the new LM-20 and LM-30 lenses. The LM-20 is just a bigger (and in my opinion better) version of the LM-10, with a bigger area of focus. Otherwise, it delivers the same zoomed effect around the sides of the photo or video.

The LM-30 is a little quirkier, using facets around the outside of the lens to produce a kaleidoscopic effect. Although not one of my favorite effects in general, it can be (pardon the pun) effective when you have a strong central subject. It also looks interesting for videos where you have a lot of movement through the frame.

The lenses still exacerbate the native artifacts of the images, especially when you bump the sharpness way up, but that's part of its charm. Also, you won't see much of an effect with the LM-20 when shooting square photos for Instagram (in the Camera app), but the LM-30 actually works nicely for those.

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The lenses work fine with the standard iOS camera app, but Lensbaby also offers its own app. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

The updated app is much different than the earlier version, with a more pared-down feature set and interface. Six icons line the right side of the screen: flip (for a reversed image), gridlines, white balance lock, sharpness, exposure lock and spot meter. You toggle between video and still modes via an icon in the upper right and there's a big shutter/record button in the middle right. You tap on the screen to autofocus, then pinch zoom to pan the image around to move the sweet spot (the area of focus).

There are no longer any color effect options like monochrome or vivid, which I miss, but you can still get those via the standard Camera app. It doesn't seem to require the flipped image anymore, which was one of the drawbacks to using it. Version 2 is a lot faster as well, no longer pausing for the "processing" message.

The mount and the larger lenses make a huge difference in the usability of the system. It's still fun to use, but now it's less frustrating and fumbly. I look forward to seeing more lenses for it.