Upgrade Your Phone’s Camera with MPOW Clip-On Lenses

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A camera is only useful if you have it with you. I have a great camera with all sorts of features for taking amazing photos: aperture and shutter settings, raw format, the whole bit. But the fact is, it’s big. It’s an extra thing to bring with me. And these days, I always have a phone in my pocket. So the days of me lugging around a camera bag are pretty much over.

Having a camera with you at all hours of the day is pretty amazing, and I’ve taken a lot of photos that otherwise would have been missed. But sometimes I’m not able to get the shot quite as I would like it; I can’t capture a wide enough view, or get close enough to the subject. Filters on your phone might meet some of your artistic needs, but sometimes you just need a different lens.

Recently, I’ve been testing out MPOW’s 3-in-1 Clip-On Lens Kit, a reasonably-priced set of three lenses that can change how you take photos with your phone. Included in the box, you’ll find a 0.36x wide-angle lens, a 180o fisheye lens, and a 20x macro zoom lens, as well as a lens cleaning cloth.

An iPhone with the three clip-on lenses attached, also showing the lens caps and cleaning cloth.
The lens kit comes in a plastic case (not shown) and includes the three clip-on lenses, their caps, and a cleaning cloth. Image: Michael LeSauvage

Let me preface the rest of this article by making it clear that I’m no photography buff. I have read enough to get some interesting shots out of my “good” camera, but I’m not an expert when it comes to focal lengths, 35mm equivalents, or other technical details. This review will focus (ha ha) on the kinds of pictures I was able to get with these lenses attached, and illustrated with a number of examples that I think will benefit casual users like myself. All shots were taken with my iPhone 6+.

All three lenses come with covers to protect the outer side when not in use. The inner side is protected from scratches and fingers by the clip but can still collect dust, which is where the lens cleaning cloth comes in handy. The lenses attach by spreading the clip and placing the lens over your phone’s lens, looking through the MPOW lens to ensure it’s properly centered. However, you’ll likely have to remove your phone’s case to properly attach the lenses. My phone cover proved sufficiently thin that I could use the macro and fisheye lenses with it in place, but the wide angle lens required me to have a bare phone; otherwise some of the corners got rounded off in photos. None of the lenses worked particularly well with the flash, though this could vary if your flash is further from your phone’s lens than mine.

Clip-on lens attached to the corner of a iPhone 6+.
No particular orientation is required; you can rotate the clip so that it isn’t in the way as long as it rests flat over your phone’s lens. Image: Michael LeSauvage

Wide Angle Lens

MPOW lists the specification of this lens as “0.36x magnification.” I struggled to determine what the “0.36x magnification” meant in terms of its practical effect on photos (the manufacturer doesn’t provide details), so I did some measurements to determine the effect on the field of view. For standard photos on my iPhone 6+, the horizontal field of view went from roughly 61o to 113o. The following picture allows you to compare the same shot with and without the wide angle lens, just move your mouse over it or drag the slider below.

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113o is a pretty hefty field of view, and it allows for much better interior photographs, especially if you don’t have a panorama feature, or when there’s a lot of motion in the shot. However, this does come with a price. You’ll notice blurriness at the edges of the wide shot, as well as some barreling. This is far more pronounced if you place straight lines near the edges of the shot. For a clip-on lens, this is not much of a drawback in my book, but you should be aware that you’re not going to achieve the crystal-clear shots you’re used to without the lens attached.

Image displays barreling from the horizon being near the top of the shot.
In this photo, I moved the horizon higher in the frame, causing it to curve. While unappealing in some cases, you can use this to artistic effect, creating a rounded horizon if it suits the shot. Image: Michael LeSauvage

I decided to see if the wide angle lens would also work when using my phone’s panorama mode to add to the vertical field of view. Here, I was very pleasantly surprised as it worked exactly as you would expect, adding more ground and sky in the panorama, though with increased distortion to the parts of the scenery closest to the camera. The following are two panoramas, taken in the same place, with and without the lens attached.

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The wide-angle lens also works very well when taking video. I’ve always found my phone’s video to have a narrow field of view, which is a problem when you have a gathering indoors. The wide angle captures enough of the room that you likely won’t have to pan to capture all the action. Check out a short comparison here if the embedded video below doesn’t work on your device.

Verdict: The wide angle lens is a winner. Whether it’s wide interior shots at a party, more impressive landscapes, or shots where there’s too much motion for a panorama, this lens adds a lot of capability to your phone’s camera.

Fisheye Lens

The fisheye lens gives 180o field of view to your photos. This lens is a circular fisheye, meaning that the full image is placed in the image frame, leaving black around the edges. This creates an extreme field of view; you have to be very careful about where you’re standing and where your hands are or you’ll find parts of your body in the photo!

With its extreme field of view and central focus, the fisheye lens is going to find a home with artistic phonetographers. This is not my strong suit, but I made an effort to look for some interesting shots. Here’s a sample:

A fisheye view of the brickwork at Leonardtown MD Wharf.
The brickwork at the Leonardtown, MD wharf. Image: Michael LeSauvage

This is a neat shot because there the structure itself is circular. The other lenses couldn’t capture it this way, even if I took a rectangular shot and cropped it. Note the cutoff on the top and bottom, though; this is not an edit I made. The lens’ projection onto the camera’s lens results in this cropping. It may vary on other cameras. This is a shame; I think if the circle was complete around the image it would be far more appealing.

A dog closeup with the fisheye lens, resulting in exaggerated perspective on its face.
Neighborhood dog Penny. Image was edited to add the black on the sides so that it fits nicely into this article, but the vertical cuts are part of how the lens interacts with the iPhone’s camera. Image: Michael LeSauvage

This shot demonstrates how a fisheye lens can give exaggerated perspective to the subject. I love how the nose juts out. I accidentally took this photo in portrait; clearly this is a waste of pixels if you plan on showing your photos in landscape.

A fisheye closeup of a small flow of water next to a sidewalk, with snow looming in the background.
A glacier towers over a stream (not really). Image: Michael LeSauvage

Placing the horizon at the edges of fisheye photos can result in some unique looking landscapes. Here, the wall of snow is actually only about 2″ high; this is a trickle of water next to a sidewalk.

Fisheye closeup of a painted flesh golem from "Castle Ravenloft".
One of the figures I painted from Castle Ravenloft with the help of this paint guide. Image: Michael LeSauvage

Here, the fisheye focuses only on the center of the image, keeping its surrounding for reference, but ensuring the subject is the only important part of the photo. As with the photo of the dog Penny above, there is also an exaggerated perspective that helps project the flesh golem out of the scene.

Verdict: I have to confess, despite the fun I had getting those shots, this is the lens I found to be the least useful. I can imagine there are some specialty situations where I would break it out, but, generally, I’m looking to capture more realistic-looking scenes. Those with an artistic bent may find the fisheye lens gives them an opportunity to let their creativity shine.

Macro Lens

The 20x macro lens generates extreme close-ups, allowing the camera to capture images that genuinely surprised me. While not a microscope, it definitely showed details that I could not spot with my eyes alone.

Close up of the head of a brass phillips screw. The 7mm screw head fills the image verticaly.
Image was cropped with black bars added to fit the article layout. Image: Michael LeSauvage

A good starting shot for reference, the screw head in this photo is 1/4″ in diameter. Check out what might be corrosion at the top of the screw.

Photo collage showing a bike tire, then a zoomed in section of the tire, and moss on a tree, with a zoomed in shot of the same moss.
Bicycle tire and tree lichen close-ups. Image: Michael LeSauvage

I was especially impressed with the cracks on the bike tire; even after seeing them in the macro photo I was unable to spot them with my eye.

Collage showing concrete with rock salt on it, then zoomed photos of the concrete and a piece of rock salt.
Concrete and salt close-ups. Image: Michael LeSauvage

A close-up of the concrete looked a lot different than I expected. You can see two smaller chunks of salt in the photo on the bottom left. The bottom right centered on a much larger piece of salt.

A collage showing a woman's face, then three zoomed in photos of her eye on Plasma, LCD, and a monitor, showing the individual pixels lighting up.
Macro photos of various screens. Clockwise, from top left: a) Source image; b) 50″ 1080p plasma; c) 24″ 1920×1200 IPS monitor; d) 32″ 720p LCD. Image: Michael LeSauvage

Taking pictures of various screens in our house had my kids highly engaged. We had talked before about how screens produce colors, but this made it much more obvious for them. This picture does show that the macro lens exhibits distortion at the edges of its shots, but in practice this wasn’t usually an issue: due to depth-of-field, typically only the center of the photo is in focus.

Macro photo of a caterpillar, showing its hair to be spines.
Zoomed in, caterpillar hairs turn out to be quite pointy. Image: Michael LeSauvage

The macro lens exhibits extreme depth-of-field discrimination; there is a very narrow range at which it will focus. This works fine for anything flat, but more dynamic subjects, like this caterpillar, can be harder to capture. Nevertheless, with a bit of patience, some incredible details can be revealed.

Verdict: The 20x macro lens is perfect for a science outing with the kids or capturing the beauty of nature. The whole family got excited every time we took it out to capture another subject. A word of warning: don’t use it to look at your fingernails. What is seen cannot be un-seen.

Summary

Overall, the MPOW 3-in-1 Clip-On Lens Kit proved to be a very pleasant surprise, adding some significant enhancements to my phone’s camera. I highly enjoyed the discoveries made possible with the 20x macro lens, and will be making good use of the wide angle lens for indoor gatherings. At just $22 on Amazon, this set should be appreciated by anyone who likes taking photographs on the move, without having to lug around a large camera.

Disclosure: MPOW provided a lens kit for review.

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