We’ve got our hands on the Limelens Camera Lens Set from iToys – is this the kit that’ll take your smartphone photography to the next level? We dive in!
Thanks to the emergence of smartphones, photography has become more accessible than ever – and some smartphones themselves have begun to rapidly outpace the compact and bridge camera market as well as infringe on the mighty DSLR. That revolution has brought along with it a plethora of accessories designed to heighten the mobile photography experience – and today we’ve got in our hands on the Limelens Camera Lens Set; a kit which adds two new lenses to a majority of smartphone cameras.
We’ve received the Limelens Camera Lens Set from our friends at iToys – one of the few official stockists of the kit in South Africa, where the package retails for R650 ZAR. The question stands; is this an accessible offering for someone looking to expand their photography repertoire? Let’s dive in! Read: GoPro reveals what its new HERO5 action cameras will cost in South Africa
Unboxing the Limelens system
Unless you’ve acquired your fair share of Apple products, it’s hard to become jaded about a dramatic unboxing – and that’s exactly what the Limelens Camera Lens Set offers. Once a slim cardboard sleeve is removed, one is greeted by a svelte carrying case – a great addition which many competitor smartphone lens kits fail to offer. Opening that up, one finds an informational card case in which product information, device compatibility, and most importantly a series of Limeclips are found.
As the Limelens Camera Lens Set works with a majority of modern smartphones and does away with a harmful magnet, one instead relies on a Limeclip to hold a lens in place. The set is accompanied by three different Limeclips and an alignment disc which serves to help keep everything in focus.
If there’s a downside to the Limelens Camera Lens Set, it’s the fact that one is forced to apply a stick-on Limeclip for as long as they want to make use of the system. The Limeclip itself attaches by adhesive, which will most likely disrupt the profile of your smartphone or any case you want to use. The upside of this system is that the Limeclip is far more secure than using a magnet and won’t disturb your smartphone’s camera housing – securing both the investment of the lens itself and your smartphone’s back panel.
Attaching a lens is simple; once a relevant Limeclip is installed (a handy guide lets you pick the right one for your smartphone model) lenses can be installed by inserting them into the clip and rotating them until they lock in. This, fortunately, feels truly secure and one doesn’t run the risk of dropping a lens – and hence breaking it – on a surface like hard concrete.
In the box, one gets both a fisheye lens and a macro lens. For the uninitiated, a fisheye lens is a wide-angle piece of glass which expands the range of what your smartphone is able to capture. In fact, the wide-angle of the lens is so expensive your images will become nearly spherical – imagine being a fish and looking out of a fish bowl, and you’ve got the idea.
Macro, on the other hand, refers to a smartphone lens which can capture fine, close-up detail. While this isn’t microscopic – you won’t be able to look at the eyes of the common housefly, for example, you’ll be able to get up close to a variety of subjects – such as the bud of a flower.
Both of these lenses offer something your smartphone (likely) can’t do – and that’s the exciting nature of the Limelens system. Rather than serving a telephoto lens (which, hey, the iPhone 7 Plus now has) or a wide-angle lens (your smartphone’s selfie camera can likely suffice for this purpose) the Limelens Camera Lens Set expands the capabilities of your smartphone’s camera system.
The fact of the matter is that Limelens has to work quite hard to add value in a truly crowded market space; if you’ve wanted a clip-on smartphone lens, you’ve probably come across cheaper, once-off lenses elsewhere. If you’ve gone ahead and bought one, it’s probably either sufficed for the purpose you wanted it for, or you’ve grown frustrated by the impracticality of substandard glass on top of your smartphone’s camera.
Something I came to enjoy while reviewing the Limelens Camera Lens Set is that the quality of either the glass found on the macro or fisheye lens greatly surpasses anything I’ve used before on a mobile device. While there are a few niggles to be found, this is one of the most ruggedly compatible systems I’ve had the joy of using.
Let’s kick off with the fisheye lens, which likely is the off-the-wall piece of glass you’ve been searching for to add crazy effects to your images.
Once one has installed and inserted the lens correctly, the fisheye lens is a tricky one to get used to. Thanks to its wide-angle nature, which distorts the expanse your smartphone is typically designed to capture, you’ll likely have to change your approach in how you physically hold your smartphone.
As I usually steady my device by placing one hand higher than the other, you’ll want to keep your hands clear of the fisheye lens unless you really want a blurry thumb or index finger present. If you manage to get used to doing that, you’ll be left with some otherworldly images that approximate the offering you might have already used on a bridge camera system or a DSLR.
Images captured with the fisheye lens usually distort to become circular, and you’ll have to make sure you’ve installed the lens correctly to avoid ending up with a haphazard ring blur on some corners of an image and not others. Another weakness of the system is that – as it relies on a smartphone’s small sensor – you might end up having to patiently wait to capture focus on the subject you desire. Otherwise, you might end up with a situation in which one area of an image is in-focus, while another blurs out entirely. See this image for a demonstration of what I’ve mentioned above:
However, if you’re able to control the system and can patiently set up whatever it is that you want to capture, the results can be astounding. In a controlled environment, one can use the fisheye system to blur out the background of a subject while keeping the center in focus, which results in some extraordinary image prowess. I’m left to feel that between the two lens offerings, the fisheye system is one you’ll want to keep for controlled environments rather than your next instawalk.
Conversely, the Limelens macro lens is one you’ll pretty want to take everywhere. While most smartphones – increasingly those on the premium end of the spectrum – can approximate some kind of close-up photography, Limelens’ macro kit excels in adding additional value to your smartphone arsenal.
Whereas one might have to place their hands and subjects carefully when using the fisheye lens, the macro lens is entirely a different proposition; being both smaller and lighter, the kit doesn’t disrupt the profile of one’s smartphone as readily as its sibling does.
Instead, this is a lens that’s truly a jack-of-all-trades, and is further a master of its own domain. One can keep the macro lens equipped for general purposes, and get in close when the situation allows it.
Detail, too, is abundant. In the right lighting conditions (based upon what your smartphone responds to) one can capture some astonishing detail using the Limelens system; as the macro lens relies on a similar focal length to what most smartphone cameras use, you’ll likely find that focus and other manual controls on your smartphone are more responsive when using it. As such, it’s an easy endeavour to control the focus and lighting in images and capture moments that one otherwise would have to take a step back to accomplish.
As with many other ‘modular’ accessories, the Limelens kit isn’t perfect.
While the set can be praised for its compatibility with a wide range of smartphones, this isn’t an offering which works on all offerings equally. As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest that you’ll probably be happier equipping the kit on a larger smartphone with a greater rear surface area than on a smaller one; in doing so, you’ll give yourself more room to maneuver your fingers – especially on the tricky fisheye lens.
While Limeclip kit is great for securing your investment aboard your smartphone of choice, there’s a level of buy-in involved – once you’ve equipped the relevant Limeclip, you’re more or less stuck (pun intended) with the accessory on your device – if you take it off, you’ll most likely have to buy a replacement.
While the glass itself is of a higher quality than on other smartphone lenses I’ve used, you’re going to want to keep the included carrying case around for the simple reason that both tend to attract dirt and smudges like a magnet. While on a DSLR one could equip a filter to minimise this issue, one isn’t so fortunate on this far smaller offering. Thankfully, the Limelens kit is accompanied by small microfibre cloths for this very purpose.
Of course, it also goes without saying that if you have – or plan on getting – a dual-lens camera system the Limelens kit is a moot point.
That being said, if you’ve been seeking a quality macro or fisheye lens for your single-lens smartphone, the Limelens camera kit is likely the setup you’ve been pining for.
The quality and breadth of the lens kit – not to mention the expertise of its presentation or its compatibility with many smartphones available now and in the near future – is one of the strongest offerings I’ve had the pleasure of encountering just yet. Read: Blips lenses turn your phone‘s camera into a microscope
As a photographer who loves the modularity offered by DSLR, I grew to love using the Limelens Camera Lens Set – and that’s despite the fact that one needs to attach a stick-on Limeclip to their device; an idea I’m generally not fond of.
While it’s not perfect – and I don’t believe any comparative system is – the Limelens Camera Lens Set is a great offering which, for its price point, offers heaps of fun which you’ll no doubt enjoy on your next adventure or instawalk. While some might call a smartphone lens kit frivolous, I’d call it fun – and it’s an investment of great caliber if you’re looking to expand your smartphone photography repertoire.
Score: 8/10 If you’d like to buy the Limelens Camera Lens Set, be sure to visit our friends at iToys, where the kit is available for purchase in South Africa.
What are your thoughts? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!
Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA