iPhone users now upload more pictures to the image-sharing site Flickr than users of any other cameramore than Canon, Nikon, anything. The iPhone camera, like those in other smartphone brands, has improved exponentially in recent models, and in many instances even beats the performance of dedicated point-and-shoots. Self-contained adventurers find the five-ounce phone-camera a no-brainer alternative to lugging around yet another piece of equipment.
The key to the iPhone's popularity on Flickr is, of course, convenience. Wherever the phone goes, so goes a decent camera. It's why more and more people rely on the saying that the best camera is the one that's with you. But savvy shooters know that simplicity and efficiency don't always get the best image. Smartphone cameras remain limitedat least without some help.
Consider the lack of lens options. While nearly every modern dedicated camera comes equipped with a zoom, lenses in iPhones and Android cameras are "fixed focal length." That means they can't stretch wide for landscapes, nor can they reach into the distance like a telephoto.
This is finally changing as aftermarket lenses become available for smartphone shooters. These clip-ons come in varying qualities and price ranges, but we prefer the versatile Olloclip. Weighing less than a car key and costing $70, this unit is no telephoto, but it does expand your versatility. We found it to produce reasonably sharp images with its wide, fisheye and macro configurations.
The current crop of clip-on telephoto options, however, leave a lot to be desired, primarily because attaching fat tele glass onto a razor-thin smartphone has proven nearly impossible. This may change soon; a June 14 Apple patent application implies the company is developing a next-generation lens system with supplementary lenses and filters, optical zoom, and image stabilization. For now, though, none of the clip-on telephoto lenses on the market are worth a damn.
Regardless of brand, most aftermarket smartphone lenses are inexpensive, simple to use and, to the typical viewer looking at a screen, capable of producing well-exposed and sharp-enough results. Eagle-eyed shooters may remain frustrated, but perhaps it'd be helpful to point out they just took pictures with a cheap accessory lens clipped to a phone.
The technology is far from perfect, but it is getting better. So as long as the best camera is the one that's with you, you should maximize its capabilities.