The best camera is undoubtedly the one you have with you, and there's a good chance nowadays that's a smartphone. But, while your phone can almost certainly take good photographs, it might need a little help to be the best camera it can be. Here Gizmag looks at some of the best smartphone camera accessories available in 2015.
With a couple of odd-ball exceptions, smartphone cameras use fixed focal length wide angle (around a 28-mm equivalent) lenses. This means zooming in on a subject involves using image-deteriorating digital zooms, or moving with your feet.
Luckily for smartphone photographers who want to mix it up, add-on lenses can change your perspective. These include fish-eye, telephoto and macro lenses. And no, we're not going to suggest mounting a DSLR lens to your phone.
Olloclip has a number of affordable and versatile lens options for some of the most popular smartphone cameras. The most interesting are the 4-in-1 options for phones including iPhones and the Samsung Galaxy S4/S5. The phone-specific clip-ons give users a fisheye and wide angle, along with 10x and 15x macros lenses for close-up fun. Users flip the lenses around and screw in or detach them to select the effect they want.
The Olloclip 4-in-1 lenses are around US$70-80 depending on your phone.
Moment lenses are about the best quality optics you're likely to see gracing a smartphone. Two lenses offer wide angle or telephoto shooting and have great sharpness with minimal distortion or chromatic aberration. They work on iPhones (4 or later), and a selection of Android phones including the Samsung S4, S5, Note 3, Note 4, and the Nexus 5. The lenses attach via an included mounting plate to suit your phone, or in the case or the iPhone 6, the Moment case.
instaLens optics work with most smartphones and come in options including a wide-angle, super-wide, fisheye, telephoto, and polarizer. If you want to have a range of focal lengths covered with your smartphone camera, the instaLens lenses could be for you. The lenses, which start at around $40, mount to a phone using magnets and adhesive removable metal rings which stick around the phone's lens.
The full collection of five instaLens optics will cost around $145, but they're also available individially.
Cases and mounts
Smartphones are getting slimmer and shinier, which means they look great on your favorite gadget website. Unfortunately it also means they're not ideal when on camera duty, when you might need a bit better grip.
There are a variety of cases which promise to turn your smartphone into a better camera. They offer improved ergonomics, the ability to mount photography-centric accessories to it, and allow you you use the smartphone attached to a tripod.
The Klyp+ cases are the basis of the Klyp system which allows iPhone-ographers to use their smartphone more like a dedicated camera. The iPhone-centric cases offer more grip and also let users mount Manfrotto Klyp accessories. These include lenses, lights, and a tripod mount or kickstand. The latest version of the Klyp+ is compatible with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
The Klyp+ cases for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cost $25, the accessories are extra.
The Moment case is another iPhone-centric (6 or 6 Plus) case which allows users to mount external lenses. But this one also has a couple of clever tricks up its sleeve. A multi-state Bluetooth shutter button enables more traditional DSLR-like shooting. Users can also connect a camera strap, and the case, which is due for release in July, works with the Moment App for better manual control over settings.
The Moment case will sell for around $80 when it goes on sale.
The Joby GripTight mount allows you to attach your smartphone to tripods and stands. The spring-loaded grip clamps around any smartphone and comes in three sizes to cover everything from smaller phones up to small tablets. It features rubber grip pads to hold devices, and on the bottom there's a standard thread for use with most tripods and stands. That said, Joby would rather you use one of its tripods which the GripTight mounts are often bundled with.
The Joby GripTight costs from $15 to $30, depending on what size device you need it to hold.
Tripods and stands
Depending on your subject, hand-holding your smartphone camera isn't always the best option. If you are shooting at a slow shutter speed or need to shoot a series of shots from exactly the same point, you'll need the support of a tripod.
Equally, you might be trying to capture a shot from a unique angle that it's just not going to be practical to contort yourself into. For these occasions a tripod or stand is going to offer you a much better result.
The Manfrotto Pixi is a small tabletop tripod that stands at 13.5 cm (5.31 inches) tall and can double up as a useful video grip. Though it also works with dedicated cameras, the Pixi is great with smartphones via a tripod mount adapter. A push-button mechanism allows movement of the ball-head, or to lock it in place, and folded away it fits in most bags. The curve of the legs on the Pixi also means it's easy and comfortable to hold steady when shooting video.
The Manfrotto Pixi is available for $25.
We've been using the grippy and bendy Joby GorillaPods with cameras for some years now. But they're just as practical for supporting smartphone cameras in various random situations. For this, our pick of the GorillaPod line-up are the GripTight GorillaPod Stand or the GripTight GPod Mini Magnetic, which each come with a GripTight mount.
With a tripod adapter you can mount a smartphone camera on any tripod, but using something designed to keep a full frame DSLR steady, is overkill. Lollipod is a lightweight aluminum tripod which comes in a variety of colors. It can support your smartphone, or small camera, and extends to 113 cm (3.7 ft). You'll need a tripod mount adapter for your smartphone like those previously mentioned, or the matching (pictured) Faith Luvipod.
Sometimes it's just not practical to be with your phone when you're taking that all-important shot. It could be because you're trying to get that perfect selfie, or maybe because you are taking a wildlife image where your direct presence would scare your subject.
While smartphones are often used as remote triggers for other cameras, there are also a range of options available for triggering smartphone cameras too.
If you absolutely must have a selfie stick, at least make sure it's a good one. The XSories Me-Shot-Deluxe combines a stick which extends to 93 cm (37 in) with a Pholder 2.0 phone holder and an XSmart Remote 2.0. This enables hands-free operation via Bluetooth with phones running Android 2.3.6 and above or Apple iOS 5.0 and above.
The XSories Me-Shot-Deluxe will set you back $50.
Muku's Shuttr is a wireless Bluetooth remote for iOS and many Android phones (you'll need to check the website for a full list of compatible devices). It allows remote control of the shutter in native camera apps, which means you don't need to install a special app, and can be used from up to 9 m (30 ft) away, if you're happy being that far away from your phone. It's also handy if your phone is closer, but still out of reach, like at the end of a selfie stick.
The Muku Shuttr will set you back $40.
If you've ever tried to use a smartphone camera in less than optimal conditions, you'll have noticed they tend not to like shooting in low light conditions. This is partly due to the small sensors deployed in smartphone cameras, and that most lack the sort of powerful flash which was typical on compact cameras.
There are many pocketable lighting options which promise smartphone-friendly illumination. They range from basic LED lights to higher-end models which can be controlled by, and synced with, your smartphone.
When we tried Photojojo's Pocket Spotlight, the pocketable battery-powered array of 32 LED bulbs left us impressed, and our smartphones photographs better illuminated. The constant light (rather than a flash) attaches to the headphone socket of a phone, or can be used separately, and the device charges via USB to give an hour of light.
The Pocket Spotlight is available from Photojojo for $30.
The Nova wireless flash for iPhone is a Bluetooth controlled LED flash unit, which lets users create better photos than the iPhone flash on its own. Each pocketable credit card-shaped unit consists of 40 warm and cool LEDs with temperature and brightness controlled from the free Nova Camera app. It's compatible with iPhones from the iPhone 4s onwards and up to 10 units can now be simultaneously triggered for more advanced lighting setups.
The Nova Bluetooth iPhone flash costs $60.
The iblazr is another LED flash and constant light for your smartphone, only this time it's not iPhone only. The small LED unit attaches to the headphone socket of your iOS (6/7/8), Android (4.0 or higher) or Windows Phone (8.x) smartphone. Photographers can then use the iblazr app to adjust the brightness of the light. The app also allows the unit to sync with the camera shutter on the device.
The iblazr currently sells for $40.
There are some other less obvious products out there which enable you to improve, and make the most out of your smartphone photography.
More and more smartphones are beginning to boast built-in photography features such as the ability to produce time-lapse videos. But, while that's all well and good, it means you need something different to stand out from the crowd. The TurnsPro is a Kickstarter-funded moving time-lapse mount which will rotate your smartphone (or camera) as it shoots it video showing the passage of time.
The TurnsPro time-lapse mount costs around $110, with the next batch due to ship in August.
Your smartphone makes a great compact camera replacement up until that moment the battery runs out and you're left without a phone or a camera. The Powermonkey Discovery could solve that problem by being able to recharge your smartphone several times while on-the-go. The portable charger features a 3500 mAh lithium polymer battery and a stylish aluminum case.
The PowerTraveller Powermonkey Discovery costs around $65.
Few photographs nowadays ever get printed out, and many are never even looked at after they're taken. The Canon Selphy CP910 is a compact Wi-Fi compatible printer which uses dye-sublimation technology. It's said to produce lab-quality prints of around 4 x 6 inch that will last up to 100 years. iOS and Android apps make printing straight forward, and you won't have to worry about someone who is looking at your photos stumbling across something on your phone they were not meant to.
The Canon Selphy CP910 costs $85, with ongoing prints costing around $0.20 each.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas about what accessories might help you to improve, or just shake up your smartphone photography. We'll be looking at the best photography apps in a subsequent article, but in the meantime we'd love to hear what smartphone camera accessories you can't live without – let us know in the comments section.