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Zeiss Exolens review: Zeiss delivers on its iPhone-lens promises

Zeiss delivers on its iPhone-lens promises

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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2 min read

Zeiss and Apple always seemed like a natural pairing, and now you can pop a Zeiss lens on your iPhone for a little variety in your angle of view. Like a lot of third-party lenses, they're fun to shoot with, and they certainly deliver the build quality and clear, sharp photos and video you expect from Zeiss. But I'm less enamored with the little details.

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Zeiss Exolens

The Good

The Zeiss ExoLens series delivers excellent photo quality (for the iPhone), with no artifacts and great sharpness.

The Bad

The screw mount can be awkward for quick swaps, the bracket mount blocks the camera's flash and you're bound to lose the tiny back caps. And they're pretty expensive.

The Bottom Line

The three Zeiss ExoLens' for iPhone are fun to use and will improve your photographs, but not everyone will think they're worth the money.

Zeiss Exolens photo samples

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The product of a partnership between Zeiss and Fellowes -- you know, the office supply company -- Zeiss' solution consists of the Fellowe's mounting bracket and three of its own lenses: a 0.6x wide-angle, a variable angle-of-view macro, and a 2x telephoto.

The kit with the wide-angle lens is available now, though only through Apple's online and brick-and-mortar stores. And it's Zeiss, so expect to pay a princely sum: in the case of the wide-angle kit with mounting bracket, $200 (€250, AU$300). The other two lenses are slated to ship later this summer, with as-yet unknown prices.

As with a lot of add-on lenses, these are fun. Phone cameras have to compromise and pick a single focal length that will work in most settings; add-on lenses let you break out of the "normal" wide-angle view. The Zeiss' are all sharp, with no light loss or color artifacts.

The Zeiss wide angle gives you scene coverage equivalent to roughly 17mm (I think) for a nice effect, though it had me wishing the company had gone all the way to fisheye. There's the normal distortion you get around the edges of wide-angle lenses, but surprisingly little flare or fringing.

The telephoto lens is very nice for portraits, something that the normal lens isn't great for. And the macro lens works at various focus distances -- unlike most phone macros -- allowing for image coverage of 1 to 4 inches.

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The bracket mount slides onto the phone pretty seamlessly, but it blocks the flash, so you may not want to leave it on.

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As you'd expect, the lenses are well constructed of aluminum and glass. In fact, with their bundled lens hoods attached, they look like Zeiss' high-end Otus line shrunk to Lilliputian levels.

However, going with the shrunken lens approach means tiny, untethered back caps that come off too easily and lens caps that are easy to lose. The Exolens screw-on mount is a pain for quick changes: I prefer competitor Moment's bayonet mount or Olloclip's and others' snap or slide-in approach. The bracket blocks the iPhone's flash, so you have to remove it if you just want to use the base iPhone camera.

Conclusion

These lenses definitely allow you to get more flexibility out of your camera, but that's pretty common. The image quality they deliver is less so, but not unheard of. And they're well designed and built. But for the money, I expect a little more; for instance, Moment's lenses are less expensive, but they have similar quality and its mount case has a small grip and a bayonet mount, and it doesn't block the flash.

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