Lens makers turn focus to smartphone cameras

By Charlotte Raab

The Olloclip adds fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses to iPhones. Photo / Supplied
The Olloclip adds fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses to iPhones. Photo / Supplied

Smartphone cameras have been getting better all the time and accessory makers are now offering a variety of lens options for the devices, intensifying their rivalry with the compact point-and-shoots.

Some of the lens attachment makers were displaying their products at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last weeks.

Apple, in launching the latest model of the iPhone, the 4S, in October, sang the praises of its new camera, calling it the "you-can't-believe-it's-on-a-phone camera."

"This just might be the best camera ever on a phone," the California gadget-maker said of the 8-megapixel resolution. "And with all-new optics, it just might be the only camera you need."

Elodie Macquet, head of marketing for Xshot, a California company that makes tripods for the iPhone, said the improved smartphone cameras have been "kind of been a death sentence for the lesser quality compact cameras."

"Now that I have a 4S, I hardly ever use my little camera anymore," Macquet said, adding that with programs like Instagram and Hipstamatic" she can also do "'arty' photos."

At the same time, the iPhone camera does have its limitations and a number of companies have stepped up to fill the gap.

A New York firm, Kogeto, has developed an iPhone lens attachment called the "Dot" that turns video shot by the smartphone into panoramic footage.

The Dot resembles a shot glass or a magnifying loupe such as those used by jewellers or photographers, only slightly smaller.

It clips on to an iPhone, aligning with the lens of the camera, and transforms the footage into a 360-degree panoramic image.

Kogeto began shipping the Dot, which costs US$79, for the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S in October. A version for the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone will be available in the first half of this year.

A California company at CES, Olloclip, is offering a $70 three-in-one lens solution for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.

The Olloclip provides fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses.

The wide-angle provides a field of view double that of the normal iPhone, according to the company, while the macro lens provides 10X magnification.

Olloclip inventor Patrick O'Neill is somewhat sceptical of a telephoto lens for the iPhone, which is being offered by other companies.

"The problem is it needs a tripod," O'Neill said. "Otherwise it's impossible to take a decent picture. The camera shakes. It will be blurry."

O'Neill hopes to bring the Olloclip to Apple stores in Europe in the spring and is considering ramping up production in China.

Funding for the Olloclip was raised on Kickstarter, a website that collects donations for creative projects. O'Neill sought $15,000 but ended up raising $68,000.

Matt Schmidt, a spokesman for Fujifilm, which won the best camera award at CES for its mirrorless Fujifilm X-Pro 1, said cellphone cameras may have improved but there remains a market for inexpensive compact cameras.

"Entry level cameras are still very important for new photographers," Schmidt said.

"In some ways the market might be shrinking," he said. "On the other hand the smartphone is introducing new people to photography."

Fujifilm for the moment has no plans to build accessories for the iPhone or any other smartphone and neither does its rivals Canon or Nikon.


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