Gadgets to enhance the iPhone camera

12 Mar

March 12, 2012

By Geoff Meeker

Smartphone cameras have come a long way. When they first appeared, the image quality was pretty sketchy, suitable for a grab shot for social media and not much else.

With the release of the iPhone 4S, however, that all changed. It can’t surpass a professional dSLR (yet), but it’s easily as good as a compact digital camera.

Two inherent disadvantages of the iPhone 4S camera are the small size of the phone – it’s hard to hold it steady, especially for video – and the limitations of the built-in lens.

Now, there are two gadgets that solve those problems, making the iPhone 4S camera more functional than ever. I don’t own any of these, because I don’t have the iPhone 4S – I’m not eligible to upgrade until July – so information presented here is the result of Internet research.

The mCAM (or OWLE) kicks your iPhone 4S camera up several notches. Hidden somewhere inside this enclosure is the iPhone 4S.

The mCAM (OWLE Bubo)

The mCAM (previously known as OWLE Bubo) is a camera mount custom-designed for the iPhone 4S, which snaps right into the mount, leaving all controls and inputs open and accessible. It’s about twice the size of the phone itself, with two “legs” on each side, that allow you to stand the camera on a flat surface.

The mount is heavy for its size, which, combined with the two-hand grip, makes for more stable video shooting. It includes a built in, front-facing microphone, for better audio, and a 37 mm wide angle/macro lens that improves image quality. It also has four tripod mounts, one on each leg, and a “cold shoe” that can hold a light pack.

Most interestingly, the lens has a threaded mount, which allows the use of filters and a dSLR lens adaptor, enabling serious photo buffs to connect their professional lenses to the iPhone.

No, not everyone will want or need such gadgetry. Most are happy with the built-in camera and wide range of photo editing apps that are available. However, I know one local TV journalist who uses the mCAM.

“I found shooting with the OWLE a breeze,” said Curtis Rumbolt, of CBC. “Just pop the iPhone into the back and hit record. The heavy aluminum mounting bracket anchors the camera so your shots don’t jump around. The included lens gives a nice wide-angle effect. The bottom of the mount is nice and flat so you can even lay it down for fixed shooting without a tripod, though the bracket can also be attached to a tripod or monopod. Some of the video I shot with the OWLE can be found on the ‘About Face’ web feature.”

The mCAM is available in Canada from, for $170. The dSLR lens adaptors are more expensive, but you can find them at

The Olloclip lens slips on easily to bring wide angle, fisheye and macro capability to the iPhone 4 camera.

Olloclip lenses

I like the iPhone’s small size and portability, so the mCAM is probably not for me. However, I’m very interested in the Olloclip, a lens attachment custom-made for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

The Olloclip slips quickly over the corner of the iPhone, aligning automatically with the camera lens, and it’s compact – measuring 35 mm tall and 31 mm across. It comes with three interchangeable lenses, made of precision ground glass.

The wide angle gives you a wider field of vision, about double that of the iPhone’s built-in lens, and is great for any situation where you want to squeeze more into the shot.

The fisheye gives an even wider view, about 180 degrees, and is sure to produce dramatic images. It distorts lines of perspective into a more circular shape but that’s standard with fisheye.

The macro enables those mind-blowing close-ups, with a 10X magnification. It allows you to get within an astounding 12 mm of the subject. Sample images I browsed online had incredible sharpness and clarity.

The Olloclip is compatible with all photo apps, and is sure to enhance whatever effects they currently render. It comes with caps for both ends, to protect the lens when not in use, and the little carrying bag is made of a microfibre material that doubles as a lens cleaner.

Best of all, at $75, it’s half the price of the mCAM. You can order the Olloclip at

To see hundreds of sample images, search for “Olloclip image gallery” or check the #olloclip hashtag on Twitter.

The only downside is, no one knows if Olloclip will be compatible with future generations of the iPhone. You should weigh this point, before making a purchase.

It’s a decision I won’t need to make until July.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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