Serious iPhone-Videographer? Our Review of the SmartPhocus Lens System

Once you get into video recording with a modern smartphone you quickly realize how versatile these devices are for even semi-professional grade recording. Cranking out 1080p video from such a small device is great, but you quickly run into a wall if you do want more stable shots. Because of its small size, the iPhone is not very stable to use for longer video use and no amount of Apple software magic can fix that. So what do you do?
That is where professional mounting solutions like the SmartPhocus comes in handy. We previously had some hands on time with the OWLE Bubo (see our review here), which was an impeccably machined kit, but was also quite heavy. Well, the designers have been at work, and this is the replacement. Made from a lightweight polymer, the Smartphocus tightly grips your bare iPhone 4 or 4S, giving it a much more comfortable grip. On the rear you can see the area where your iPhone slides in. Be warned – it is a tight fit. Even things like screen film makes it difficult to insert your iPhone. Once fitted, the camera lens lines up neatly with the Phocus Accent lens mount area, where you can then go ahead and add lenses. This is a big improvement from the previous OWLE body, which required you to put the phone inside a silicone case, then put it in the body.
The plastic casing has a nice tactile feel to it – while it is plastic, it definately does not feel cheap. Because of the solid grip of the phone, the device feels nice weighted once the iPhone is inserted. The casing allows all the outside controls of the iPhone to be used, and it has some very nice touches to quickly connect up your rig. On the top, there is a (cold) shoe for devices like mics or flashes. You can also use the headphone port of the iPhone to host things like little extended mics, just like OWLE before. Shotgun mics will just connect to the side of the phone.
The best part of the SmartPhocus case is the tripod mounts – of which it has three. While it is nice to have a better grip on something as slippery as the iPhone, I suspect most people would use the SmartPhocus purely for the tripod mounts.
The 37mm lens mount is initially meant for the included lenses, but different kits exist. Included in our review unit was the wide angle and telephoto lens. While the iPhone has a naturally wide angle lens already, the wide angle lens does make the phone a lot more useful in tight spaces. From our use we could quickly see the optics were up to scratch – we had no image vignetting, and the coating on the lens did seem to help with lens flare. Barrel distortion was also kept to a minimum. Creative iPhoneagraphers (if that is a word?) will probably enjoy these lenses the most.

If you are feeling particularly creative, you can get hold of a 35mm to DSLR converter which makes it possible to mount Canon EOS lenses to the Smartphocus. This means you can build a pretty scary looking rig – but you have to keep in mind, since the iPhone does not have a mirror, that you will need to use an app that converts the image the right way round when using the converter (like almostDSLR). Keep in mind that the mount is not powered, so you will have to manual focus your lenses if you want to use this adaptor.
Overall the Smartphocus is a big improvement on the older OWLE Bubo. While it does downscale to a plastic body, the overall result is a lot better. It is easier to handle, and the phone is also easier to mount and dismount in the frame. This kit is a great improvement over just using the phone in hand – overall results should look more professional provided the user knows what they are doing. Just like with any camera, a more professional kit does not necessarily lead to better results. The Smartphocus is indeed a niche device, but videographers who are keen to see what they can achieve with their iPhones will probably grab these very quickly…
Price as tested: R1500 from 790tv.
Can be bundled with a RODE video Mic as well.