The iPhone has long been regarded as the best mobile camera you can own. Other smartphones might have better specs and higher megapixels, but the iPhone offers the right mix of ease of use, great image quality, and superb photo app ecosystem to stay ahead of the pack.
But from a photographer's standpoint, the iPhone is actually quite limited. Its one lens doesn't zoom, can't be changed, and offers a slightly-wide angle view that can feel restrictive to photographers used to changing lenses on their larger cameras. Some photogs might appreciate the limitations of the iPhone, but for those wanting more, an entire industry of accessory lenses has cropped up to fill this void.
Moment, a new company from one of the founders of Contour Camera, launched a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year to develop and produce two new accessory lenses for smartphones: the Moment Wide and Moment Tele. The Moment lenses seperate themselves from the rest of the field with their machined metal and glass construction and unique, bayonet style mounting system. The Moment lenses aren't cheap — they are shipping now for $99.99 each from Moment's online store — but they promise to offer better quality than anything else on the market. I've been using them on my iPhone 5S for the past few weeks to test just that claim.
Moment's big differentiator from OlloClip and the many other cheap attachment lenses is the level of care and quality put into the construction of the lenses themselves. These lenses not only look like a miniaturized lens you'd put on a real camera, they feel like it too, with a surprising heft in your hand. (The Wide lens weighs about 1.6oz, while the Tele version is just over 1.7oz.) Both lenses are coated in a soft black anodized finish that just feels great in my fingers.
With lenses as substantial as these, Moment had to come up with a unique way to actually attach them to your iPhone. Its solution is unique and effective: a mounting plate attaches to the back of the phone and offers a bayonet-style attachment point for the lenses. The plates adhesive is strong, but not permanent, so it's possible to remove it without damaging the phone. And you can actually use most cases, including Apple's own, on top of it. Mounting the lenses is merely a matter of lining up the attachment points and giving the lens a quarter turn, just like on a SLR camera.
The Moment Wide lens offers an equivalent field of view of an 18mm lens on a full-frame camera. It's significantly wider than the standard 30mm equivalent lens on the iPhone 5S, letting you capture much more of the surrounding environment in your images. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Moment Tele has a 60mm equivalent field of view, giving a much tighter perspective than normally obtained with an iPhone. Given their characteristics, the Moment Wide lends itself to wide, landscape shots, while the Tele is more useful for portraits. But either can produce interesting results when you break the rules and use them for shots outside of their obvious purpose.
Despite the Wide's aggressively wide angle of view, it still produced surprisingly sharp and evenly lit images, with minimal vignetting in the corners. It also didn't stretch or distort images as nearly as I expected it to. The Tele isn't as dramatically different from the iPhone's normal lens, but it does get you closer to your subjects for a tighter, head-and-shoulders style portrait view. Its longer focal length presented some issues with the iPhone's autofocus, causing it to hunt more and take longer to focus than it normally would.
Moment's lenses aren't cheap but they are fun to shoot with
Moment's lenses aren't cheap and they aren't without compromise — when either of the lenses was mounted, my iPhone was no longer pocketable, and I had to consciously mount the lenses when I wanted to use them. It makes the iPhone less of a snapshot type of camera and more of a considered, "I'm going to take pictures" type of tool. That's fine, but at the same time, I could have just used a real camera, which offers better image quality and more control than even Moment's lenses can give me.
But the Moment Wide and Tele are fun to shoot with and make for some cool photos, provided you're willing to make the investment in time and money to use them. Moment has mounting plates for other phones too, such as the Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5. (Plates for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are already in development, as well.) It's also working on an accompanying app that offers a complimentary shooting experience for the lenses. CEO Marc Barros tells me that the company has other, photography-focused accessories for smartphones in the pipeline that it will be revealing in the near future.
Until then, check out images taken with the Moment Wide and Moment Tele below. All images were shot with an iPhone 5S, edited with VSCO Cam on the phone, and resized.
Product photography by Sean O'Kane.
Update, 12:25PM ET, September 16th, 2014: This article has been updated to note that the mounting plates for other smartphones are available now.