Why you should trust me
I’m a photojournalist, a writer, and a professional photographer, and I have a wide range of experience researching, testing, and writing about photography trends, techniques, and tools—including in my role as mobile-imaging editor at DPReview.
I’ve been researching and writing about smartphone lenses for this Wirecutter guide since 2015, and I’ve tested dozens of models along the way. I’ve also read up on every recommended smartphone lens attachment we’ve found on the internet and considered what highly respected review sites such as TechRadar, The Phoblographer, CNET, and Fstoppers have had to say. And we’ve asked friends with various levels of smartphone-photography prowess what they want out of such an attachment.
Who this is for
Smartphone lens attachments are useful to anyone who is trying to get more out of their phone’s built-in camera(s). Like switching lenses on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, they can change up your perspective to be wider or more zoomed in than the fixed lens of your iPhone, or other compatible smartphone, allows. The photos aren’t always perfect, resulting in distortion, blurriness, color shifts, or all of the above, but depending on your intended use, these drawbacks may be perfectly tolerable.
Most people fall into one of two categories of smartphone photographer: the enthusiast who uses their phone’s camera just as seriously and frequently as they would any other camera in their arsenal, and the more casual snapshot shooter.
Mobile-photography and videography enthusiasts should consider higher-quality lenses that are heavier and more expensive but produce exceptional results. Using lenses such as these, you get many of the imaging capabilities of a cheap point-and-shoot camera, with the familiar interface, mobility, and connectivity of your phone.
If you consider yourself more of a casual smartphone shooter, a better option might be to choose a plastic lens combo to up your Instagram game without making a larger investment. Plastic lenses don’t deliver the superior sharpness of more expensive glass models, but they do offer a fun way to expand your phone’s photography capabilities with different focal lengths.
Finally, if you’re a basic smartphone shooter or a newbie and you’re just looking for a fun photography toy to experiment with, a cheap clip-on lens set is a great starting point. The lens quality of such a set can’t compare with that of spendier models, but the results should suffice for social media sharing.
How we picked
Photo: Sarah Kobos
As Apple continues to improve the iPhone with better and more cameras, adding a wide or telephoto lens attachment may seem less necessary if you’re using one of the models with a built-in wide, ultrawide, and telephoto lens. But anamorphic lenses have become more popular recently as a way to give your smartphone videos that ultrawide cinematic look, with cool effects like long, horizontal lens flares across the screen, which even the iPhone 12 Pro Max can’t do. With more and more lens makers jumping into this increasingly competitive market, we took a look for the first time this year at how smartphone anamorphic lenses compare.
For this update, we used an iPhone XS, which has a wide-angle lens with a fixed focal length of about 26mm, as well as an iPhone 11, which offers both a 26mm wide-angle lens and a 13mm ultrawide lens.
We’ve stuck to the same criteria we’ve applied over the five years of updating this review to sort the good from the bad:
- A lens addition shouldn’t cause significant distortion (warped objects or altered perspective) or vignetting (darkening at the edges of the frame). However, fish-eye lenses are designed to distort intentionally.
- The lens should be easy to attach and remove, and highly portable. If aligning the lens with your smartphone’s camera is difficult, attaching the lens to its accompanying case takes too long, or the lenses are a pain to take along, you won’t bother.
- If a case is required, it should be protective and attractive enough for you to use it every day. Or it should be so easy to apply and remove that you don’t mind doing so. For example, we dismissed a number of cases that looked like sci-fi movie props and were also difficult to remove.
- If a lens system requires a separate lens attachment, it should be reasonably priced. After upgrading to a new phone, you should be able to keep using the same lenses without spending too much more.
- A reliable manufacturer is preferable. We looked for companies with a proven track record and a wide selection of models.
How we tested
Using the above criteria, we narrowed our list of lenses to about 90 smartphone lens attachments, seven of which we included in our hands-on testing for the late-2020 update of this guide. Since 2014, we’ve toted the most promising candidates around Seattle, testing them in some typical shooting situations. We’ve filled our backpack with them and put them to work while hiking in the Cascade Mountains. We’ve brought them along on an epic summer road trip to see the Grand Canyon, taken them sightseeing in France, and packed them in our beach bag on Maui. In 2020, we used both an iPhone XS and an iPhone 11 in our testing.
The variety of testing conditions allowed us to see how the lenses perform in real life, helping us determine not just how they perform photographically but also how convenient they are for shooting on the go. After every testing round, we carefully review the results to determine which models are acceptable, and we consider this further hands-on experience in reaching our final conclusion.
Our pick: Moment Anamorphic Lens
Photo: Sarah Kobos
Moment Anamorphic Lens
Moment’s 1.33x Anamorphic Lens gives your smartphone videos a wider cinematic look and cool lens flares.
Moment Photo Case
Moment’s durable case is a smooth and effective mounting system for our recommended lenses. Because it’s so easy to use and protective, we didn’t mind keeping the case on even without a lens attached.
Moment’s 1.33x Anamorphic Lens is our top choice for serious smartphone shooters, especially if you shoot a lot of video, because of its outstanding image quality paired with a superb mounting system using the company’s attractive, portable cases.
Anamorphic lenses produce a wider, cinematic feel to both video and photos, without the distortion of a wide-angle lens. Like watching a movie on the big screen, images feel more dramatic. Lens flare from the sun or a car’s headlights extends into a long beam of light, and bokeh, the soft out-of-focus lights in a background, take on a curious oval shape, caused by
horizontal lens elements and an ovular aperture inside the square-shaped lens.
Moment’s Anamorphic Lens gives a more cinematic feel to smartphone photos and videos. Photo: Erin Lodi
For comparison, the same scene with the primary camera of an iPhone 11 shows far less of the same scene. Photo: Erin Lodi
Moment’s Anamorphic Lens gives a more cinematic feel to smartphone photos and videos. Photo: Erin Lodi
Without getting too technical, an anamorphic lens works by squeezing more of a scene into video and stills. This means that you’ll also need to digitally “de-squeeze” your images and video afterward, or we recommend Moment’s Pro Camera app when shooting with the Moment Anamorphic Lens. By selecting the lens within the app, photos and videos are automatically “de-squeezed” and saved to the camera roll (to be precise, the final images will have a wider ratio of 2.40:1 instead of a typical 16:9).
We tested both the blue and gold flare versions of Moment’s Anamorphic Lens and found image quality sharp overall. We did prefer the slightly warmer tones of the gold version, but the differences are subtle.
Moment’s glass lenses are heavy compared with some other smartphone lenses but easy to use. You’ll definitely notice their weight in your hand and in your pocket—at 1.8 ounces, the wide lens weighs as much as two AA batteries—but the solid mounting system and superior optics are worth the extra weight. When you’re not using these lenses, they’re easy to stow in a bag or pocket because each one comes with a snug-fitting lens cap to protect it from dust and scratching as well as a small drawstring microfiber bag, which can also be useful for wiping off smudges. You can also leave a lens attached and toss your phone into your bag or back pocket; in our testing with the newest lenses and cases, the lens stayed on and so did the lens cap.
In addition to paying for the lens, you also have to purchase a case from the company—such as the Moment Photo Case we used in our testing—to use that lens. The lenses attach to the Moment case using a bayonet mount, similar to how a lens attaches to a DSLR. In dual- or multi-lens iPhone models, the lenses mount either over both lenses, the primary lens only, or over compatible lenses, depending on the iPhone model. Moment uses a case mounting system in order to properly center its lenses in front of (and to position them at the optimal distance in front of) your smartphone’s camera. (Moment also sells an aluminium lens mount frame that screws over just the top part of your phone, but we think the case offers better protection for your phone and will keep the lens from being jostled as well.)
Moment’s lenses twist firmly into the mount on the company’s case. Video: Sarah Kobos
The Moment case feels comfortable and smooth in the hand, with enough rubbery grip on the edges to keep your phone secure. A case-mounted system also makes it easier to continue using your Moment lenses when you upgrade your phone; a new case is an inevitable purchase with each new phone, but Moment’s excellent track record of quickly releasing new cases for new phone models means the glass should work with the next generation of your device. Moment supports iPhone models from 7 to 12, plus Google Pixel, OnePlus, and Samsung models.
If you’re ready to invest further in mobile photography, Moment offers more accessories than any of its competitors, from two- and four-lens carrying cases to wrist and neck straps to cases that include a shutter button with half-press functionality when paired with the Moment app. Moment also sells a filter mount that lets you use 67mm threaded filters, such as a circular polarizer, UV, or neutral density, with any of its lenses. All of this continuing innovation is reassuring if you’re looking to invest in a system that’s changing fast.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The initial buy-in cost of about $150 for the anamorphic lens and $40 for a case makes Moment one of the most expensive lens systems we tested. It’s also a signal that this is a tool for serious photography enthusiasts. If you count yourself in that category, we think you’ll conclude that the quality of the Moment system justifies the cost.
The 2.0 version of the Moment wide lens is larger than its predecessor, and more glass can mean more opportunity for sun flare, which we observed on occasion. A well-placed hand may suffice in lieu of a lens hood.
As with nearly all of the lenses we tested, you can’t use your phone camera’s flash when using the Moment system, since the lens attachment covers it up.
Budget pick: Criacr 3-in-1 Lens Kit
Criacr 3-in-1 Lens Kit
This clip-on set is a cheap way to add variety to your smartphone camera, offering a fish-eye, a macro, and a wide lens that’s better than most in this price range, along with a convenient carrying case.
The Criacr 3-in-1 Lens Kit is a solid choice if you’re not ready to commit to a more expensive, case-based lens accessory system and aren’t overly concerned about image quality. The kit features a 0.6x wide-angle lens capable of delivering a wide field of view that we found more useful than the ones included in similar lens kits, which were either ineffective or so wide that they veered into fish-eye territory. A 15x macro lens and a 180-degree fish-eye lens also come inside the clever three-compartment carrying case with a wrist strap, with the color choice of black or rose gold. You can fit each lens over the front-facing lens or rear lens(es) of your phone—and the clip-on mount will even work with some slim phone cases.
The Criacr kit is fun and affordable, but in terms of image quality, it doesn’t stack up well against the glass optics from Moment: You’re likely to notice some blurring and distortion at the edge of the frame, and in our tests, we sometimes saw darker corners. But maybe these subtle flaws aren’t a major concern for you if you’re just looking to jazz up your Instagram story with some new angles.
For cute, casual snapshots, the clip-on Criacr 3-in-1 Lens Kit is a fun and inexpensive way to experiment with the possibilities of mobile photography. Photo: Erin Lodi
When screwed into the clip-on mount, each lens and clip combo is about the size of a set of keys and slips easily into a pocket when not in use. Each lens comes with a snug-fitting plastic lens cap, but we recommend keeping the included lens cloth with you for removing dust and smudges while you’re shooting. Each lens may be stored in its own section of the three-compartment carrying case, which is about the size and weight of a bottle of vitamins.
These clip-on lenses fit the iPhone and most other brands of smartphones, and they will likely fit the next generations of those devices as well. (Of course, phone designs that place the cameras away from the edge of the phone, such as the Motorola One Zoom, may put their cameras out of reach of these clip-on accessories.) If you’d like to share these lenses between a couple of phones or tablets in your household, this versatile kit works with quite a few different devices.
A clip-on lens like the Criacr can also fit over the front-facing lens of your iPhone, producing an extra-wide view for selfies that can capture more of your surroundings. Photo: Criacr
We found that the Criacr lenses fit with some thinner smartphone cases (such as our pick for the best iPhone case), but not with all of the thin cases we tried. If your current case doesn’t work with the Criacr lens set, we recommend investing in a thin case to use while you’re shooting with these lens clip-ons; adding a new case is always less expensive than replacing your phone.
These type of clip-on lenses are prone to slipping out of position and off the phone entirely. With careful placement, they’re a fun way to experiment with your iPhone photography, but you do risk ruining your images with dark corners and blurring if the lens is bumped even slightly.
In a prior version of this guide we recommended Moment’s Wide 18mm and Tele 58mm lenses, although if you’ve already purchased a spendy three-camera iPhone, shelling out $120 for another lens may feel unnecessary when your new phone likely has the wide-angle and telephoto views that these lenses were designed to allow. These lenses delivered some of the most crisp and clear images in our testing, with very little distortion and no noticeable darkening of our images’ corners, so if your smartphone doesn’t have a super-wide lens, or if you think you need a more zoomed telephoto view, these are still a great choice.
The Moondog Labs 1.33x Anamorphic Lens with Bayonet Mount is very sharp across the frame, and in our testing, sometimes even sharper than Moment’s Anamorphic Lens. But while our top pick snugly turns into place on a case specifically designed for that lens system, the Moondog Labs lens includes a dial to adjust its placement on any compatible bayonet mount case (the Moment case is one of their recommended cases), and that dial is easy to bump while shooting and mounting and unmounting, affecting the lens alignment.
We remain impressed by the sharpness of Bitplay’s wide lens, and we enjoyed the ergonomics and physical shutter button of the latest Snap case. This combo costs nearly the same as Moment’s system, yet Bitplay doesn’t offer the same kind of longevity and product selection behind the brand and seems to be a bit behind on offering a case for the latest edition of iPhone, whereas our top pick had a compatible case for pre-order almost immediately.
We loved that the Ztylus Revolver M Series Lens Kit included a wide-angle/telephoto, macro/super-macro, and fish-eye/telephoto combo in a protective phone case, but it looks like this model is now out of stock and the company isn’t offering any new versions for the Phone 11 series or any iPhone 12 models.
We’ve previously recommended Black Eye’s Pro Cinema Wide G4 as a less expensive alternative to Moment’s wide-angle lens, though we didn’t like Black Eye’s slick and hard plastic case.
The latest lenses from ShiftCam are heavier and larger than the competition and feel unbalanced when mounted to the company’s cheap plastic case. The awkward sliding mounting plate that you have to use to connect the lenses to the case doesn’t make sense. So even though the price is considerably lower than that of the Moment system and the image quality was terrific in our tests, the ShiftCam combo itself is difficult to use.
Lemuro offers a stylish take on a smartphone lens system, with a wider array of cute cases than you’ll find from most of the competition. But the optics aren’t as crisp as the design aesthetics, even though this system is fairly similar to the Moment system in price.
Kodak has entered the smartphone lens arena with a set of clip-on lenses and other accessories, but in an already oversaturated marketplace filled with such attachments, we think the Ciacr set is a better choice with reliable image quality for the price and the bonus storage/carrying case.
Sandmarc’s wide and telephoto lenses delivered sharp images with little distortion in our tests, but they can’t compete with Moment’s quality case and bayonet-style mount. Instead, Sandmarc lenses come with a thin, hard plastic case and a screw-on mount that makes it difficult to put the lens on and take it off quickly. We believe getting a better attachment system is worth spending a bit more.
We don’t think the Olloclip Fisheye/Super-Wide/Macro Essential Lenses combo is worth the price. The lenses attach via a redesigned clip that doesn’t work well with a case—even the newest Olloclip case. We couldn’t pair the lenses with the Olloclip case without seeing some vignetting, so we had to remove it. We find newer iPhones more slippery than ever before, as well as more expensive, making it riskier than ever to use a lens system that requires you to remove your protective case from your phone.
Olloclip’s larger Super-Wide Pro Lens and Telephoto Pro Lens also use the same clip attachment that slides over the top of your phone but can’t work with a case. However, these pro lenses don’t come with the clip mount, so the price gets pretty steep for a single lens plus a clip that you must purchase separately. We also have a hard time recommending any accessory that requires you to use your phone without a case.
The Sirui 18mm Wide Angle and 60mm Portrait lenses appear to be close competitors to Moment lenses at about half the price. However, these heavy lenses require a clip attachment, and in our experience, a heavy lens mounted via a clip makes the phone feel off-balance and is easy to knock off-kilter (owner reviews confirm this experience with Sirui lenses too). Sirui doesn’t yet offer a case for the newest iPhones (such as the iPhone XS we used in our testing), but it does have one for the iPhone X, and some reviewers say Sirui lenses fit the Moment case. However, at that point, you’ve already crossed the $100 mark—and at that threshold, we would rather invest in a system like Moment’s, which has a bit more history, a more robust selection of models, and a faster response time in updating its accessories for the latest iPhones.
Ztylus’s set of larger Z-Prime lenses includes a telephoto, a wide-angle, and a macro lens, plus a lens mount. You can adjust the metal lens mount by screwing it in to tighten it, but even so, it remains susceptible to being bumped out of alignment. We had to remove our case for the lens mount to fit over the phone. A Ztylus case with a lens mount is available for an additional $20, but in our testing, the lenses proved too heavy and allowed for light leaks. The lenses are significantly larger than Moment lenses, too, as they have screw-on metal lens caps that seem unnecessarily heavy. And the set’s hard-plastic rear lens cap feels destined to be lost.
When you’re searching online, you can find a lot of cheap lens-attachment options, many of which continue to be best sellers on Amazon. But popularity doesn’t equate to quality, and in our research for this guide we ruled out a lot of contenders that looked promising but failed to deliver adequate results. As with most small tech gear, you can find several companies selling what appear to be identical products on Amazon. Although these items may well be the same and are likely sourced from the same original manufacturers, the brands reselling them can differ in the level of quality control and customer support they offer. When we encountered seemingly identical models in our research, we took price, reviews, and the brand’s track record into consideration.
Daven Mathies, Moment Anamorphic lens transforms your phone into a cinema camera, Digital Trends, October 29, 2018