Best camera accessories for mobile photographers
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 Manfrotto Klyp+ 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.
Editors' note, November 26, 2014: This story was originally published September 28, 2014, and has been updated with additional product information.
Moment lenses for iPhone, Nexus 5 and Galaxy
Though there are plenty of cheap smartphone camera lenses out there, they perform like cheap lenses. The Moment lenses are made to perform like high-end dSLR lenses, built from metal and quality glass.
There are currently two lenses: a 60mm equivalent (tele) and an approximately 18mm equivalent (wide). That gives you something more appropriate for portraits and landscapes than what the typical smartphone lens can deliver.
The lenses use a bayonet mount similar to an interchangeable lens camera, so attaching is nice and secure. Though you will need to attach a thin plate to your phone.
Mounting plates are available for about $10 each for the iPhone 4/4S and newer, Nexus 5 and Galaxy S4, S5 and Note 3, and yes, even the iPad Air and Mini.
Lensbaby Creative Mobile Kit
Lensbaby took its signature effect lens for dSLRs and compact system cameras and cooked it down into the LM-10, a $70 mobile lens that gives you a "sweet spot" of focus surrounded by a highly exaggerated blur.
With the lens, you get an effect that's very similar to the one you get when zooming a lens while shooting, a combination of motion blur and depth-of-field blur.
Lensbaby subsequently branched out with a bigger version, the LM-20, a similar lens which gives you a larger area of focus, and the LM-30, which provides a more kaleidoscopic effect around the edges of the photo or video.
The LM-20 and LM-30 use a clamp-type mount that goes over the camera, and the lenses attach magnetically to a plate in the mount. That's a big step up from the LM-10's, which magnetically attaches to a small metal ring you adhere around the camera's lens.
The LM-20, LM-30, mount and a kickstand to prop your phone up when you're not using a lens come in the $90 Creative Mobile Kit. It's more expensive than the LM-10, but the better mount and bigger lenses are worth it.
Incipio Focal camera case for iPhone 5/5S
Having a good grip on your phone can make it easier to steady your shots. The Focal case for the iPhone 5/5S by Incipio gives you that and more.
The two-piece case slides over your iPhone and locks together. On front is a vegan leather hand grip with a shutter release, power/function button, and digital zoom rocker on top. A removable wrist strap is included for extra security.
Incipio Focal camera case for iPhone 5/5S available at Amazon.
Incipio Focal in action
The Focal case connects to your iPhone via Bluetooth LE and requires you to use Incipio's free inCamera app. Once downloaded, installed, and opened, the app triggers the phone to connect to the case. Press the power button on top and you're done.
The app is pretty basic, though you can pick different flash modes (auto, on, off, and always on); shutter settings (single, burst, and 3- and 10-second timers); turning on a rule-of-thirds grid and/or a level; and switching between photo and video capture. Also, once the case is connected, the power button turns into a programmable function button for quick access to flash, shutter, viewfinder, or camera mode options.
You can also set the case to stay connected to your iPhone for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or one hour.
Once you've got the shot you want, you can open it up and edit it using the inCamera app's included editor powered by Aviary.
The Focal case doesn't have the shooting modes that the Snappgrip has, a built-in tripod mount, or a set of lenses to attach, but it is more compact, connects faster, and doesn't require charging: it's powered by a replaceable coin-type battery that's good for up to 300 hours of use.
The black version can be found for around $50 (£50), though other colors are closer to the $70 MSRP. So, yeah, it's not cheap, but for those nonstop iPhone shutterbugs out there, the Incipio Focal Camera Case could be priceless for taking better pictures.
You use your smartphone camera because it's always with you. With the Selfy case, you'll always have a remote shutter release with you, too.
The dual-layer, shock-absorbent case for the iPhone 5/5S and 6/6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S5, has a slide-out Bluetooth remote shutter release so you get your arm out of the shot. The case is just thick enough to stand on its side as well, so you don't have to hold your phone, either.
The $40 price is a bit steep, but the storage slot also works with several mounts, so you can attach your phone to your car or bike or tripod.
If you don't want to change out your case to take better selfies, check out the HISY. The $25 lightweight little puck (it's pronounced "hi-see," by the way) connects to your iOS 7 or higher device via Bluetooth. It takes just a couple seconds to set up 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.
For Android users (as well as iOS), the company's $25 Halo combined with its Shutter Panorama app not only lets you wirelessly trigger your smartphone's camera, but can be connected to multiple smartphones to fire them simultaneously.
The Snappgrip is probably closest you'll get to actually turning an iPhone 5/5S into a point-and-shoot camera. Available through bitemyapple.co and direct from Snappgrip for $70 (£50), you get a case and a hand grip with a shutter release, shooting mode dial, and digital zoom control, and there's a metal tripod mount on the bottom with a power switch. A built-in rechargeable battery has a standby life of 60 days and is charged via Micro-USB.
The grip slides onto the case and locks in place. Using Snappgrip's app or supported third-party apps, you pair the grip to your iPhone and you're ready to shoot. A half press on the shutter release triggers the autofocus like a regular camera would and you can use the dial to change modes for what you're shooting.
There's a threaded mount around the lens cutout so you can even attach lenses. Plus, since the shutter release uses Bluetooth, you can slide the grip off the case and use it as a remote shutter release.
Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1
Though it doesn't have anything directly to do with your smartphone's camera, the Instax Share instant photo printer is designed exclusively for printing pictures from your mobile devices.
The ultracompact printer connects wirelessly to your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet and prints out 2x3-inch instant photos using the same film for Fujifilm's line of Instax Mini cameras.
At around 70 cents a print, it's not cheap to run, but unlike shooting with an instant camera, there's no risk of wasted shots.
Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1 available at Amazon.
Trygger camera clip
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.
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 0.25-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).
Olloclip 4-in-1 lens for iPhone 6/6 Plus, Galaxy S4/S5
Olloclip 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.
The lineup continues to grow and now includes a 2x telephoto lens paired with a circular polarizer lens; 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; and an update to the original lens that's now a four-in-one lens, adding a second macro option so you can now 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.
But if you've moved on to an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus or dumped Apple altogether (or never went there in the first place) for a Samsung Galaxy S4 or S5, Olloclip is ready for you.
The 4-in-1 Photo Lens for Galaxy S4/S5 uses the same wide-angle, fish-eye and two macro lenses found on the iPhone version (you simply unscrew one of the wide lenses to use the macro beneath it), but puts the lenses on one side. All you need to do is slide it on one corner to shoot with one set, then flip it to the other corner to shoot with the other set.
The new 4-in-1 Photo Lens for iPhone 6/6 Plus fits over the top of the phone and centers a lens over the back camera and the other over the front camera. Now if you want to take a wide-angle or fish-eye shot with the front camera, it's no problem. The new lens comes with a lanyard and three clips to snap the lens onto so you can have it handy when you're out shooting.
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 results are pretty cool, but this kind of fun doesn't come cheap: It's $49 (AU$60, converted about £30) for the iPhone 5/5S. Also, if you're not opposed to a little DIY work, you can buy the naked optic to experiment with on any smartphone camera.
The iStabilizer Flex combines the iStabilizer Mount, a universal clamp that holds a wide variety of smartphones (up to 2.75 inches wide; an 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 0.25-inch tripod threads, so if you have a bigger tripod or monopod, you can use it with that, too.
The pair cost $30 (converted to about £18, AU$33) 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.
Joby GripTight and MPod
If you're looking for a very small tripod and mount for your smartphone, you want the Joby GripTight (center). The mount can hold smartphones between 2.1 and 2.8 inches and can be used on any standard 0.25-inch tripod mount. 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 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, there's 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.
Pictured here is its bumper case that is subtly notched for attaching a powerful LED light and tripod adapter ($95, £72, AU$100) or a small kickstand. The case also has a threaded mount for use with portrait, landscape, and fish-eye lenses.
The S1 is a simple, well-designed solution for steadier -- and more comfortable -- smartphone video and photos. At its core, it's a sturdy clamp that can hold a device from 48 to 93mm (1.9 to 3.6 inches) wide. Rubber pads grip your phone to keep it from sliding out.
Once your phone is in, it can stand on its own, or you can stick it on a tripod. For hand-held use, a weighted extender is included that screws into the tripod mount on the S1. Also included is a wrist strap that slips between the S1 and the extender.
Shoulderpod S1 in use
The S1 really gives you a great grip when shooting. And when you're not shooting, you can use it as a stand for video chats.
You can pick it up direct from Shoulderpod.
This is not for everyone, but if you need to get more professional-looking (and sounding) video from your iPhone, the iOgrapher is a great place to start. The lightweight polycarbonate case snugly holds your iPhone 5/5S and gives you two comfortable handles for making more controlled movements.
Two accessory shoes give you someplace to mount a shotgun mic and LED light panel. It has a standard metal tripod mount in the base and there's a threaded 37mm lens mount for using adapter lenses.
I've also been using with GoPro and other action cameras. Just mount the camera in one of the accessory shoes, wirelessly connect the camera to your iPhone, and you can use its screen to frame your shots and start and stop recordings.
Steadicam Smoothee for iPhone
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 (£170, converted about AU$160) you really have to want steadier video from your iPhone (or GoPro since there's one available for that as well).
Monoprice Camera Skate Dolly
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 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 is a very inexpensive way to attach your phone to a 0.25-20 tripod mount.
The Triggertrap Mobile Dongle lets you use your smartphone as a remote shutter release for digital SLR or advanced compact cameras.
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.
Hyper Drive iUSBportCamera
It doesn't have the best name, but the iUSBportCamera is a nice little device. For about $200 (converted to about £115, AU$215) 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 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 an additional chest mount.
Optrix PhotoProX case
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.