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iPhone Hard Case & Zoom Lens review: iPhone Hard Case & Zoom Lens

The iPhone Hard Case & Zoom Lens opens up further avenues for creative photography with the 3G/3GS, but doesn't turn it into a fully fledged replacement for an actual camera.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
4 min read

The iPhone Hard Case and Zoom Lens provides, as the name suggests, a hard case for the iPhone along with a compatible zoom lens. When the press release (from local gadget store LatestBuy.com.au) for it landed in our inbox, we figured this could either be a revolutionary way to change iPhone photography, or a terrible gimmick.

7.9

iPhone Hard Case & Zoom Lens

The Good

8x Zoom Multi-use tripod Allows for creative use of iPhone photography.

The Bad

Not iPhone 4 compatible Focus can be hard to achieve Sexist imagery used in instruction leaflet.

The Bottom Line

The iPhone Hard Case & Zoom Lens opens up further avenues for creative photography with the 3G/3GS, but doesn't turn it into a fully fledged replacement for an actual camera.

Design

The box for the iPhone Hard Case & Zoom Lens couldn't look much more like the iPhone 3G/3GS box if it tried. Try it does, and there can be no doubting what it's for, with bold lettering pointing out it's "For iPhone Lens" on the side and a brief description of the contents on the bottom. Perform your own unboxing (we'll spare you the tedium of yet another unboxing video or photo shoot) and you'll find the zoom lens itself, a slimline hard case for the iPhone, a cleaning cloth, a small tripod and an instruction leaflet.

We wouldn't normally note much about the design of instruction leaflets but we do feel it's rather tasteless to use a product shot of naked ladies on the beach to point out the difference between using the zoom lens and not. It's sexist and unnecessary rubbish, in fact, but worth pointing out in case you were thinking of giving the lens kit to Grandma for Christmas. In any case, operation of the lens is mostly self explanatory. If you're still feeling confused, this video (from a different company to the one we sourced the lens from) we found on YouTube shows the lens in action.

Features

The zoom lens itself offers a single 8x optical zoom range with a claimed focal ratio of 1.1 and an adjustable focus ring near the end of the lens. Attaching it to the iPhone 3G/3GS involves slipping on the hard case, which contains a wide holding thread for the lens itself. That then screws in to the back, and you can either hold it freely or place it in the small provided tripod.

The use of a small ball socket on the tripod allows for all sorts of angular variance, but we were surprised to discover that the tripod legs aren't extendible at all. You're only ever going to be able to prop up your iPhone around 15cm from the ground with this particular tripod. On the plus side, unlike the hard case, it's not built to only work with the iPhone. We were able to get other smartphones to sit comfortably within it, including the rather large Samsung Galaxy S.

The 8x Optical Zoom does allow you to shoot far objects with greater detail, but won't compensate for the shortcomings of the iPhone camera itself. (Image without zoom on the left and with zoom on the right.)(Credit: Alex Kidman/CNET Australia)

Performance

The hard case part of the pack is rather unremarkable. It's lightweight, but that also means it's not terribly solid. It should protect an iPhone from a simple drop, but it's unlikely to last if you're particularly accident prone. Screwing the lens in is a simple enough procedure, but there's no way you'd be able to carry the phone with lens attached in any kind of pocket comfortably.

Actually shooting photographs with the lens is an interesting affair. The fixed 8x zoom aspect does work rather well, but the focus constantly battles the in-built iPhone camera's automatic focusing, especially if you're working without the tripod. It's not impossible to get the two to play nicely together, but it's the enemy of quick spontaneous shots. As we discovered in our testing, it's also all too easy to accidentally unscrew the lens while adjusting the focus ring.

Just because you've zoomed in much closer to objects that are far away won't transform the iPhone's 3.2-megapixel camera into a dSLR any time soon, and predictably many of the shots we took were rather blurry. What the zoom lens was very good for was some creative endeavours. Because the iPhone doesn't presume to have an optical zoom and glass protruding out that far from the lens itself, the amount of light that comes in is radically different to that taken in with the regular lens only. Vignetting happens in almost every image, and some will like the creative possibilities that allows for. If you've purchased any of the many iPhone camera apps available through iTunes to extend the camera's capabilities, the zoom lens can — under the right circumstances — extend them even further. The one application we quickly switched to was Gorillacam, as its ability to perform a three-shot burst gave us the best odds of avoiding camera shake and blur.

Because the lens captures different levels of light than the regular iPhone, you can end up with some starkly different images, as we did here. (Credit: Alex Kidman/CNET Australia)

Conclusion

So is it a revolutionary product or a gimmick? We'll tip somewhat towards the latter. Short of pulling out the very ordinary sensor in the iPhone itself and replacing it with something more robust — a step Apple's apparently taken with the iPhone 4 — you're never going to get truly stunning images out of it. It's still possible to take perfectly serviceable images with it, however, and the zoom lens adds another layer of creativity to the process. The zoom glass itself isn't absolutely top-notch stuff, but then for this kind of asking price it was never going to be.