Review: 5 Phone Photography Assessories

Whether you’re a professional photographer with some of the best gear available or a keen amateur who’s always looking to learn more, there’s a decent chance you've opportunistically taken a photo using your phone.

There’s a huge range of opinions out there on whether iPhoneography (as it’s often called) is a good or bad thing for photography in general. Whether you're an advocate of it or not, it’s difficult to deny that it’s now a significant part of the photographic landscape. It’s certainly arguable that it’s one of the most accessible forms of photography available to many people.

I know I'm not alone in saying that it’s one camera that I’m guaranteed to have with me 99% of the time. As keen photographers, I think most of us understand and enjoy the benefits of a range of accessories that help us make the photos we want with our DSLRs, so I wanted to explore a few accessories that would help me approach photography with my iPhone in a similar way.

Whilst there are thousands of Apps out there to add filters, create effects and edit your images once you've taken a photo, what about accessories that will help expand your phone photography creativity while you’re actually taking the photo?

I tried out 5 different iPhone photography accessories to see what they have to offer. In no particular order...

A note on compatibility: All of the accessories I've reviewed for this post are designed to work with the iPhone 4/4S, because (unsurprisingly) that’s the phone I was testing them with! Don’t be discouraged if you’re not an iPhone 4 user, as some of these accessories will be available to fit other phone models, so I've made sure to comment on their compatibility in each instance.

Gomite Tiltpod

What is it?

This little gadget may be small but it has a lot going for it! What started out as a Kickstarter project is now a fantastic little micro 'tripod' tool to use with your iPhone 4 or 4S. It’s small enough to fit on your key ring (an attachment is included so you can do just that), which means you can carry it with you just as frequently as you carry your phone.

How it works:

There’s very little involved in setting this one up and you probably won't need instructions to figure it out. Basically, the Tiltpod base has a magnetic hollow in its centre, which you just connect to the separate magnet piece that attaches to your iPhone.

As you can see in the photos, the magnet attachment has a grip that comfortably fits the iPhone 4/4s (you’ll need to remove any case you have on it first though). I was a bit sceptical at first as to how stable the Tiltpod would be, it’s such a small device that it looks like it wouldn’t hold a phone that well, but it actually works perfectly. The magnets themselves are very strong and my phone definitely felt secure and stable when it was all set up. The underside of the base has a ‘grippy’ finish that also keeps it stable by preventing it from slipping on smooth surfaces.

Because the magnet is rounded and fits into a hollow base, you also have the benefit of being able to rotate, pivot and manouever it around quite a lot, which gives you a lot of flexibility.

Compatibility:

At the moment the Tiltpod only comes in a mobile version to fit the iPhone 4 and 4S, but apparently there’s an iPhone 5 version in the making too. I also read reports that the current 4/4S version can fit the thinner iPhone 5 with certain cases on it, but I didn’t test it and I’m not sure which specific cases will allow you to do this.

What I liked:

The small size and simplicity of this product are its best features. It does a great job of providing a stable platform for phone photography and it’s portable enough to carry it with you as often as you carry your phone.

Although this review is focused primarily on how these accessories help with phone photography, it’s probably worth noting that the Tiltpod can also be used to support your iPhone while you’re chatting on Facetime or Skype and when you’re watching videos too. So, you may well find it useful in other ways.

It’s also the cheapest of all the accessories in this group review, at only £12.99*.

Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand

What is it?

The GripTight GorillaPod Stand from Joby is made up of two parts: the GripTight mount, which holds and secures your smartphone; and the GorillaPod, which is essentially a very bend-able tripod.

Many of you may have already used the extremely popular Joby GorillaPod with your compact camera or DSLR before. It’s a fantastic piece of kit and the innovative multi-segmented legs are flexible enough to stand upright like a traditional tripod or wrap around to grip almost any protrusion.

How it works:

This is another phone photography accessory that is incredibly simple to use and very little (if any) instruction is needed to get it set up. The GripTight mount has internal steel springs, so it’s as easy as pulling the two end pieces in opposite directions to expand it out and then gripping it around your phone.

You connect the GripTight mount to the GorillaPod via a universal ¼” screw, which helpfully makes it compatible with many other tripods and accessories. The GorillaPod also comes with a quick release clip attached, so once the GripTight mount is screwed in place it’s a breeze to connect it back up to the GorillaPod quickly any time you need to.

Compatibility:

This is one of the best things about the GripTight – it’s compatible with all iPhones and most Android and Windows phones, due to the extendable grips. With many phones you won’t have to remove the case you’re using either, which is an added bonus.

If you want to double check whether your phone will be compatible with the GripTight, it will fit any device that is between 2.1-2.8 inches / 54-72mm wide (this includes popular models such as the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC EVO 4)

What I liked:

The flexibility of this gadget is probably its best feature – both in the literal sense, since the GorillaPod part of the device is quite obviously very flexible but also because of its wide compatibility with a range of phones. The potential for it to be used with a case attached (depending on the combination of phone and case) opens up a whole host of other shooting options, since many phone photography accessories are either attached to or need to be used with a specific case (for example, the Holga Filter Kit that I mention below).

I really liked that the GripTight part of this kit folds down flat into a size that is easily pocketable. The GorillaPod is not quite as small but could fit into the pocket of a coat or jacket. Together, the GripTight and GorillaPod are an incredibly light duo (a mere 67g in fact!), so you won’t regret popping them in your daypack, handbag or carry-on luggage.

At £25*, the Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand is great value too, especially considering that if you upgrade your phone and change to a different model in the future there’s a good chance you’ll still be able to use this handy little accessory.

Manfrotto KLYP Case with LED Light & Pocket Tripod

What is it?

The Manfrotto KLYP is a newly designed case that is at the core of a system that enables the use of photographic accessories with the iPhone 4 and 4S.

How it works:

The case allows you to attach a tripod via the 1/4? threaded accessory attachment (called a snap-on adaptor) as well as an external lighting unit with a flash-shoe style snap-on adaptor.

There are 4 different adaptor slots at various places around the KLYP case, so you can use different combinations of a tripod and/or lighting unit in both horizontal and vertical shooting orientations.

The KLYP is available as a standalone case or alternatively, you can get the case bundled with a Manfrotto LED Light (available in 2 different output options: 12 or 24 LEDs) or bundled with both the lighting unit and a Manfrotto Pocket Tripod. I tested the Manfrotto KLYP with Pocket Tripod and ML240 LED Light (you can find a longer review of it here).

Compatibility:

The Manfrotto KLYP case will only fit the iPhone 4 and 4S and you’ll need to remove any case you have on it first.

What I liked:

By providing 4 different adaptor slots around the KLYP case, you can use the light or pocket tripod in a variety of combinations for both horizontal and vertical shooting. The fact that the tripod adaptor tool utilises the standard ¼” thread means it will be compatible with a range of other accessories too, which is a great bonus.

An external light can be a handy tool to have in your kit bag when the light on your phone doesn’t provide enough control or power. Having the flexibility to be able to use it off-camera (or off-phone I should say) is useful too.

Phocus 3 Lens Bundle

What is it?

The bundle consists of the Phocus Accent, a sturdy slide-on case and a bundle of 3 compatible: a macro lens, wide-angle lens and telephoto lens.

There is also a 2 lens bundle available which only includes the wide-angle and macro lens options.

How it works:

To get started, you just slide your iPhone into the Accent case. It’s a snug, comfortable fit and it definitely feels secure and not at all like it’s at risk of sliding out again. There’s a sizeable grip on the front of the case, which makes it feel a bit like a large compact or bridge camera in your hand and definitely helps with stabilisation. It’s something I often struggle with when taking photos on my phone - when I’m holding it in one hand and tapping the shutter with the other, it’s a far cry from the stable grip I usually have on my DSLR.

The fun starts once you start experimenting with the lenses though! There’s a bit of a knack to screwing them in – I wish there were dots to line them up to like on a SLR as I often found myself spinning them around a few times to find the sweet spot where it would catch. Don’t be alarmed when you open up the box for the 3 lens bundle and see only 2 lenses -  The Macro and Wide-angle optics are actually screwed together to form a two-part lens. At the base is the Macro Lens, so just unscrew the Wide-angle part to shoot close-up. Then screw the Wide-angle back on to the Macro to turn it back into a wide-shooting landscape accessory.

The Telephoto Lens provides a 2x zoom, which boosts the iPhone 4 camera to around the 58mm focal length mark (35mm equivalent), so it’s not going to be particularly useful for photographing anything too far away. However, as a significant booster without resorting to digital zoom it works fine. I did see some vignetting when using this lens at times though.

A comparison: with & without the telephoto lens attached

 

The .45x Wide Angle Lens converts the approximately 29mm iPhone 4 camera to around about 13mm (again, in 35mm equivalent terms). You’ll definitely notice some distortion and it borders on looking a bit fish-eye in some examples. I think I’d use this one more than the telephoto and I think I’d really enjoy experimenting with this for landscape photography as well as on my travels, capturing some interesting street scenes and cityscapes.

Comparison with & without the Wide-Angle lens attached to the iPhone

 

The +10 Macro Lens was the highlight of the bunch for me and really, really fun to play with. Stopping to see things in a lot more detail is fascinating. This one focuses very close, I’d say within 1-2cm, which is a big difference to how close I’ve ever focused on something when shooting with just the iPhone. You get some really nice background blurring when using this lens too – the bokeh isn’t exactly as beautifully smooth as what you’ll find on your 50mm f/1.4, but compared to what the iPhone camera alone is capable of capturing it’s fun to have more creative options.

The Macro Lens gets you much closer to the action than what you usually can using just an iPhone

 

A day at the park is a lot more fun with a Macro Lens!

 

You can mount a hotshoe accessory to the top as well as a tripod to any one of the three available threaded mounts on the Accent case (there’s two on the bottom, one on the top). I attached the GorillaPod that came with the GripTight stand (mentioned above) and they worked really well together, especially handy for experimenting with macro photography.

Compatibility:

The Phocus is available in two fits but they’re both for iPhone models: one for the iPhone 4/4S and one for the iPhone 5.

What I liked:

The whole bundle feels really solid and good quality. The case is particularly sturdy yet lightweight and all three lenses are of metal construction.

The case is very natural and easy to hold and shoot with. As mentioned, it adds some serious sturdiness to phone photography which can be pretty shaky at times.

This bundle is a great phone photography tool that isn’t a one-trick pony. For the keen photographer who wants to expand the capabilities of their phone for all kinds of creative shooting scenarios, it certainly gives you a lot of options. Thoughtful extra details like the inclusion of three tripod/monopod mounts to choose from and the 49mm filter thread on each lens are also appreciated.

It seems to me that it’s a tool for people who are serious about photography, but still want to be just as considerate and creative when taking photos with their not-so-serious phone cameras :)

Holga Lens Filter Kit

What is it?

Is a fun little accessory that provides 9 different filters and special effects without using any software or apps. The downside to this is that you won’t get an un-filtered alternative like you do when shooting using certain camera apps on your phone. If you want a quick, fun effect without the need to fiddle around editing in an app then you might just enjoy this one.

Four times the Rock 'n Roll at the Rolling Stones concert using the Quadruple Image Lens

 

How it works:

This accessory consists of a special Holga case for your phone that has a circular magnet on the back. The plastic wheel that has the 9 filters in one place just attaches to the magnet after clicking into place. It can be pulled off quickly and comes with a plastic cover to protect the filters when not in use. The case is low-profile enough to be kept on your phone as an everyday protective solution – it’s almost identical to the case I using before, with the only difference being the slim magnet on the back (which makes an almighty racket when it rings if it’s set to vibrate and happens to be resting on a solid surface like a table).

The Heart Shape Filter is a bit silly but fun nonetheless

 

The 9 filter effects are: Dual Image Lens, Triple Image Lens, Quadruple Image Lens, 60mm Macro Lens, Red Filter with Clear Heart Shape Centre, Red Filter, Green Filter, Yellow Filter with Clear Centre and Blue Filter with Clear Centre. There’s also a tenth circle on the wheel that is just an empty hole, so if you want to snap an un-filtered image quickly all you need to do is click the wheel into place. It’s probably just as quick to slip the filter wheel off though.

To change from one filter to the other, you simply rotate the wheel until you get to the one you want. It rotates continuously in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.

The Double Lens filter was one of my favourites of the 9 available, I guess the vignetting is all part of the look

 

This one was taken with the Macro Lens on the Holga Filter Kit

 

Compatibility:

The Holga Filter Kit comes in versions for the iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy.

What I liked:

It’s a fun little accessory to have on hand and since the case can be used as your regular phone protection it’s easy enough to keep the light plastic filter wheel in your pocket or bag. I’ve been carrying it around in my coat for the last few weeks and I’ve enjoyed playing with the dual, triple and quadruple lens filters the most. They add a bit of a crazy effect that I wouldn’t normally bother to process within an app but it’s still been fun to experiment all the same. It’s also worth keeping on hand for the 60mm macro filter option, which is a quicker-to-use and much lighter close-up attachment to have on hand than the Phocus option mentioned above.

*all prices quoted correct as at 14 December 2012, subject to change