Otterbox Defender Modified for Photojojo Iris

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Photojojo Iris Mounted on Otterbox

The professional grade optical quality Photojojo Iris lenses are available for iPhone 6/6+, 6s/6s+, and Samsung S5 and S6. I loved the pictures I could take on my iPhone 6+ with the Photojojo Iris lens set, but the lenses would not mount on my over-the-top-protection Otterbox Defender series case. I used a second, less protective case with the Photojojo, and it worked great, but this left me worried throughout the entire photo shoot that I was going to drop and break my phone. If you’re not the type to put battle armor on your phone on a daily basis, then you’ll have no qualms about using the Photojojo Iris with your case, or with no case if that’s how you roll. For me, however, I planned to keep my iPhone safely locked away in the Otterbox, but also wanted to be able to quickly mount any of the Photojojo lenses.

This meant I was going to have to modify the Otterbox. For experimenting, I found what appeared to be a genuine Otterbox Defender on eBay for around $20. Once that was in hand, I set it aside and started modifications on my old, beat up, Otterbox.

The way the lenses mount is by putting a lens plate inside the case. This provides a peg that the lens is inserted on, with the Photojojo elastic strap wrapped around the phone to help secure it. This works great if done with a case that is not too thick such as the one in the images below.

This is the lens mount that is inserted in your phone case. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
This is the lens plate that is inserted in your phone case. This is not my Otterbox case. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Lens mount
This peg is what sticks up off the phone case to lock the lens in position. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

The problem with the Otterbox Defender is that the peg does not clear the case so the lenses cannot be mounted. The case is simply too thick.

Lens plate on an unaltered Otterbox Defender.
The lens plate peg is below the edge of the case’s hard plastic ridge of the Otterbox Defender. The Photojojo lens cannot attach in this situation. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Another issue is that the lens plate makes it pretty difficult to close the case completely due to the added thickness. This was not a problem with the non-Otterbox case. To alleviate that problem as well as lessen some of the thickness, I removed the soft inner cushion where the lens plate fits in the case.

Marking the Cushion
First I put the lens plate in and marked where its edges were so I could cut out that part of the padding. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Cutting out the foam.
After the foam was marked I used an X-acto knife to cut and remove the foam. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Space within case for plate
This leaves a space for the lens plate. I figure I gained about a millimeter of depth here. The primary gain was making space in the case for the phone and the plate together. The little bit of extra sticky-glue left behind actually helps hold the lens plate in place when assembling the phone case. Photo by Ryan Hiller
Sand the small lip
There is a slight lip above the camera opening. I believe this is around the same height as the foam was. I sanded that out so that the whole area would be the same height now. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

I gained a millimeter, but the peg was still not far enough out to affix the lens. This left the task of getting enough peg sticking out of the back of the Otterbox to hold the lens. There are two parts of the case that have to be reduced to do this. First, the black hard plastic ridge around the camera opening needs to be lower. Second, the rubber case needs to be lowered to match the now lower hard plastic ridge. This has to be done everywhere the lens makes contact with the case.

A Dremel or belt sander would help make quick work of this, but I just sanded by hand with 80 grit sandpaper, using finer sandpaper to smooth out my work later.

Marking the Otterbox exterior
I again used the lens mount as a template to mark where the rubber case had to be removed and scored the line with my X-acto knife. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Taping the case
After removing the outer rubber shell, I taped the case to protect it from my sanding. I got lazy later and sanded without the tape. When in use it’s covered by the rubber case, so, oh well. Don’t sand the little window where the Apple logo shows through, and don’t sand with the phone in the case. You’ll damage your camera. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Sanding the case
I sanded by hand. The key here is probably to try to stay as level as possible. Again, do not sand with the phone in the case. You will damage your camera. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

My original intent was to remove just enough of the ridge and rubber case to hold the lens secure. It appeared as if I would have to go extremely thin on the rubber to do this. Maybe with a Dremel or other method I could have. The picture below shows my attempt at just thinning the case. You may have better luck, but I was not happy with that result.

Do not do this if you end up removing all of the ridge and the rubber section like I finally did. Just cutting the rubber off will have a better end result than the remnants of my sanding attempts.

Scraping off case.
This is just to show you one possible way to go. With the right tools you may be able to remove just some of the ridge and the rubber case. Don’t do this if you end up cutting off all the rubber like I do. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

What I finally did was sand the hard plastic ridge down flush with the phone. This still leaves a pretty big lip of protection around the camera while allowing quite a bit of the Photojojo mounting peg to stick up. This means I then had to cut the rubber case all the way off where the lens hits so that it could sit flush with the phone.

Sanded case
I sanded the plastic ridge to be flush with the case. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Finished Otterbox mod
I cut the rubber case off where the lens hits. On the upper edge, I had to shave down the rubber until flush. This would look better if I just cut as the first step instead of trying to thin it first like I did. You can see the Photojojo mounting peg is far enough out now. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Now that it’s been adjusted to work with the Otterbox Defender, be sure to remeasure and set the Photojojo mount to the correct setting per the Photojojo Iris instructions.

Measure and set the mounting bracket.
Use the method described in the Photojojo Iris instructions to measure and set the mount correctly. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

One issue I discussed in my original review was that the flash was useless with the lens plate in as the light refracted through the clear plate and washed out the image. I rarely use my flash anyways when taking a regular photo as the pictures are almost always better without a flash. So I only use a flash when I absolutely need to. I do, however, often use the flash when I am taking a picture of a serial number I need to enlarge to be able to read, or if I am trying to get the model number I can’t read off of a piece of equipment by reaching behind it to take a picture for instance. So, I want the flash somewhat operational.

Washed out photo
This is a pretty good photo with the Photojojo lens plate attached. The light reflecting through the plate washes out the image. Many other shots are completely washed out. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Another mod I tried was painting portions of the lens plate black to allow the light to come through while not washing out the picture.

Blacking out part of the lens plate.
I painted the portion of the lens plate that faces the camera. This blocked the light that was washing out the image. Photo by Ryan Hiller.
Sample altered lens plate picture.
With the altered lens plate, the flash works well enough for my uses. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

While it’s not pretty, this case-mod keeps my iPhone safe and secure in the super-tough Otterbox Defender while allowing me to quickly attach the high-quality Photojojo Iris. Now that I can use them, I will be carrying the Photojojo lenses everywhere. They pack up nicely to go in a pocket or, more likely, my computer bag.

Photojojo Iris lenses all packed up
The lenses each have their own protective container. With the mounting strap they all connect for a compact and secure unit for easy storage and transportation. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Now that I’ve done this once and know how I would go about it, I may use the new rubber case cover and make a cleaner version.

I would love to hear from anyone with other ideas for making this modification.

Disclosure: Photojojo provided an Iris lens set for my initial review.

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