Photographing Insects with iPhone + PhotoJojo Macro Lens

I wrote about my Olloclip (a device that slides on an iPhone to turn the camera into a close up capable camera) here a few weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve realized that there are things I really hate about the Olloclip, real deal breakers.  Most problematic for me: you have to take the case off your phone to use it.  In fact, it barely even works with a screen protector!  I’ve dropped pretty much everything I’ve ever picked up, so I really need a case.  The iPhone (at least my iPhone 4) is also an incredibly slippery little device and tends to slide off things that aren’t perfectly flat, i.e. nearly everything.  I left my phone naked for maybe 3 days when I first got my Olloclip, wildly grabbing at it as it slid off everything, before I realized this just would not do.  I searched for a case that would allow me to quickly slip the phone out, but I found virtually no cases that would provide even minimal protection while remaining easy to remove.  After much hand wringing and frustration, I eventually decided I needed to try something else entirely: the Photojojo macro lens.

I had originally avoided the PhotoJojo macro lens because it attaches to the phone via a magnet.  Magnet + little hard drive seemed like a bad idea.  However, I know several people who swear by the Photojojo lenses and I decided it was probably safe to use.  It’s also a measly $20!  Several people who have reviewed the lenses even discussed how they attached the ring to their phone’s case rather than the phone itself with good results.  Photojojo themselves claimed that this would work with a thin case.  So, I decided to go for it.  I bought a thinner case and stuck the little metal ring on it.  And… it totally worked!  The naked iPhone problem was solved!  Now my phone has a case AND I can very easily add the macro lens to it!

The Photojojo macro lens works like this.  First, you attach the included adhesive metal ring to your phone or your case.  When you order the lens, you can order one specifically made for the iPhone 4/4s so that the ring that the lens attaches to doesn’t block the flash.  I never use the flash and hate it anyway, so I used one of the other included, flash-blocking rings because I found it more aesthetically appealing:

iPhone with metal ring

iPhone with metal ring

To use the macro lens, you simply remove the wide-angle lens by unscrewing it and attach the macro lens to the metal ring.  It looks like this when it’s attached:

iPhone with macro lens

iPhone with Photojojo macro lens. The detached wide-angle lens is sitting next to it.

And from the side:

iPhone with macro lens side view

iPhone with macro lens side view

Getting the lens on and off is a cinch!  But, I wondered whether the Photojojo lens would work as well as the Olloclip for photographing insects and I put it to the test.  I’ve photographed insect specimens from my collection to practice using my Olloclip, so I recreated several shots using the Photojojo lens to compare them.  Here are a few examples, taken sitting at my coffee table in my living room late at night (2-3AM or so) with the only light coming from a single floor lamp:

Midad fly

Midas fly. Photojojo lens shot is on the left, Olloclip shot on the right. Click on image to enlarge.

The midas flies both look pretty good.  The Olloclip seems to produce a slightly richer color than the Photojojo lens, but it also lets in less light.  On the other hand, the Photojojo lens seems to generate a bit more noise than the Olloclip.  Both lenses have similar depth of field (very shallow!).  Here’s another comparison:

ichneumonid wasp wings

Ichneumonid wasp wings. Photojojo lens shot is on the left, Olloclip shot on the right. Click on image to enlarge.

Once again, the depth of field is similar, though the Olloclip generates darker images (I had to boost the exposure on this one after I shot it) and the Photojojo generates more noise.  And one more:

dragonfly wings

Red saddlebag dragonfly wings, Tramea onusta. Photojojo lens shot is on the left, Olloclip shot on the right. Click on image to enlarge.

With this shot, I got a brighter image using the Photojojo with the same lighting , but both images are rather noisy.

Ultimately, both lenses are too limited to allow me to do everything I desire in a macro capable camera, so they’re not going to replace my point and shoot or DSLR cameras for photographing insects any time soon.  However, the Photojojo lens definitely has some things going for it:

It’s very inexpensive!  The Photojojo lens is much cheaper than the Olloclip, and less than 1% of the cost of my macro lens for my DSLR!  I have a feeling the glass in the Photojojo lens is lower quality than the Olloclip, but it’s vastly more affordable.

I can use it with a case.  There is a bit of vignetting (smoky black dark spots at the corners) when I use it with the slightly-too-thick case I bought, so it’s not perfect.  However, I crop most of my iPhone photos into squares anyway, so this isn’t a problem for me.  There’s no vignetting if you attach the lens right to the phone.

It’s very easy to use.  Much easier than trying to get the Olloclip on!

The Photojojo lenses work with phones other than the iPhone!  The Photojojo lenses will fit nearly any phone with a lens diameter smaller than the inner diameter of the ring.  The Olloclip only works with the iPhone.

Regardless of whether I use the Olloclip or the Photojojo lens, I have to deal with very shallow depth of field and a camera with a very small sensor.  That said, I think the ease of use of the Photojojo lens and the fact that I can use it without removing my phone case or trimming my screen protector means it’s going to see a lot more action than the Olloclip.  And, if I’m realistic about what I can and can’t do with these lenses, then I’m pretty happy with what I can do with both.  For example, I’m going to end this post with a photo of an ant (a leafcutter ant in the genus Acromyrmex I think – any ant people out there want to confirm?) I took over the weekend using my iPhone with the Photojojo lens.  It’s not as great as it would be if I used one of my good cameras, but it  isn’t half bad:

Leafcutter ant

Leafcutter ant, taken with iPhone 4 and Photojojo macro lens.Q

I’m curious: has anyone else tried out any of the macro lenses available for cell phones?  I’d love to hear what you think!

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21 thoughts on “Photographing Insects with iPhone + PhotoJojo Macro Lens

    • Thanks! I was rather impressed with what one little lens could do to an iPhone camera! It’s not as good as using a camera with a better sensor, but quite nice considering the limitations of the equipment.

  1. Hi!
    I bought the macro/wide angle lens from Photojojo several weeks ago and ran into the problem of having to go caseless. Long story short, I have refused to use my lens until I find a solution for the case issue. I was just searching for cases that might work with the lens and came across your post. I hadn’t thought of putting the ring on the OUTSIDE of the case! I still need to get another hard case that I like, with a smaller camera hole so the “stickyness” will cover more space and be more secure.
    But, I LOVE the lens and I’m excited that I will be able to use it regularly.

    Thank you!
    Avery

  2. i’ve been debating for a few weeks now whether to go with the olloclip or the photojojo lenses, so i’m thankful i came across your post. i had no idea the screen protector interferes with the olloclip, that’s a big deal to me i refuse to be without it. i had read in a review that the photojojo magnetic ring interferes with your phone signal…have you noticed any problems?

    • I have not personally noticed the ring interfering with my signal and I’ve had it attached to my phone for over a month now. I think the ring itself is simply a little piece of metal and not magnetized, so it doesn’t appear to do much. That said, I do have the ring attached to the case on my phone rather than the phone itself. Might make a bit of difference if you attach it directly to the phone, though I know many people who have the Photojojo lenses and they’ve never complained about a loss or degredation of signal either.

      Glad I could give you a bit of information that will help you decide which lens to buy! Hope you’re happy with your choice! I’ve been very happy with mine so far, though you will definitely have to play around with it a bit to figure out how to use it to best effect.

  3. I just got my Olloclip last week and I have enjoyed it, but I’m like you and can’t deal with not taking off my case. I just ordered the photojojo lens and if I like the macro one, I’m going to go ahead and get the others as well. I’ll be curious to see how the zoom lens works out for me. I was wondering if I put on the ring to use the zoom lens if I’d still be able to slide the Olloclip over it to use the macro that comes with that. I want to be able to do both, and if the Olloclip takes better macro shots. . . it will be hard to decide which is worse; less quality or having to mess with my case all the time.

    • If you put the ring on your phone directly, you will not be able to use the Olloclip anymore as the ring makes it too thick for the Olloclip to fit. However, I got around that (since I have both myself) by putting the ring on my case rather than my phone. If I want to use the Olloclip, I just take the case off and slide the lens on. Otherwise, I just snap the Photojojo lens on to the case.

      I do like the quality of the Olloclip a little more, but the hassle of taking the case off the phone to use it means I end up using my Olloclip more often. But see what you like and decide then! The Photojojo lens is pretty cheap, so you’re not out too much if you decide you don’t like it as well.

  4. Hi! I’m sorry I’m commenting on a rather old post, but I have a question about getting your ring fit on your phone. I have a case that seems pretty similar to yours that I REALLY like (it’s the Incipio Edge Hard Shell) and when I put it on to put it over the case, half of it is hanging off the edge (not touching the case or the phone, just hovering over the flash area) is yours like this? If so, did that cause any problems? It looks like I’ll unfortunately have to be buying a new case with a larger area around the the camera!

    • Mine sits a little ways from the lens of the camera too, though I intentionally bought the thinnest case I could to minimize the problem. I looked for a case with a bigger hole around the camera and never found one, so I went with the thinnest case I could find instead. It did cause some minor issues, namely there are some dark shadows around the four corners of the images I take with the Photojojo lens. These weren’t the end of the world for me as I crop the vast majority of my cell phone macro photos I take into squares and upload them to Instagram anyway, which eliminates the dark corners. However, the further the Photojojo lens is from the camera’s lens, the bigger those dark corners are going to be. If the case it thick enough, you might lose the bulk of your image.

      So yes, I did have a few minor issues with using the Photojojo lens attached to my case, but they weren’t major issues for me for the reasons I described. I wouldn’t want to try to use it with a case any thicker than the one I had (though I’ve since moved on to another setup – I’ll post about it on my blog here soon) because it just isn’t going to work as well with a thicker case.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Thanks for the article, I just got my first iPhone for Christmas and have really enjoyed the creativity associated with always have a camera with me. Of course the built-in macro capabilities (close-focus) leaves a lot to be desired so I immediately ordered a Photojojo lens to make up for it. I’ve been shooting with it for a few days now and have been very pleased with the results. Of course, as with any diopter, you lose depth of field, but if you work around its issues it can produce some really nice images. Here are three pictures I took yesterday, all full-frame–no cropping:

    It works great with my Lifeproof Case as well (which I love)!

    Thanks again,

    - Seth

    • Great shots! I am constantly surprised by what I can do with my iPhone and a macro lens attachment. And my camera is 2 models out of date too (I’ve got a 4, not even a 4S), so they are a lot better now. Glad you’re enjoying your adventure with your iPhone camera!

  6. I don’t have an iphone but i did purchase the fisheye and macro lenses. I love them both, the ring stays on pretty well and i just attached the ring straight to my phone, I’ve found that if you can get your phone at just the right angle with the macro lenses you cam capture more of the subject than just the little bit the lenses would normally allow, I’ve also noticed that natural lighting seems to work the best for me because you have to get so close to the subject with this lenses

    • I definitely have the best results in natural light as well. I like bright light, but shade the subject with my hand so that it diffuses some of the light and makes everything look soft. It seems to work pretty well for me. Glad you’re enjoying your macro lens! I think they’re great fun.

  7. thanks for this – I’ve just started comparing macro lenses. Hate idea of having to take case off all the time with olloclip but looks like it has much less distortion on edge. Thanks again for sharing your pics

    • Yes, I do definitely get the vignettes, and I have on nearly every case/lens combo I’ve tried and I’ve just learned to crop them out or slide the lenses around to minimize the effect. I am currently using a Diffcase (haven’t reviewed it yet – will soon!), which is reasonably rugged, but also works with the Photojojo lenses quite well. You can see it here:

      Diffcasehttp://diffcase.com/collections/iphone-5-cases/products/phogo-case-matte-black

      It’s an oddly shaped case, so I’m sure not everyone would like it (the big bulge on one side where a tripod mount is embedded in the case is a little odd). However, I’ve been able to make it work with all of my Photojojo lenses without the vignetting problem because the lenses sit directly over the phone’s lens the way they were intended to with this case. It’s rather nice to have a case that fits the lenses I already had!

      Glad to see someone try the Photojojo lenses with the Lifeproof case! I’ve been eyeing those cases for a while and I’m very happy to see the results of your lens test. Thanks for pointing it out!

      • The DIffcase looks really cool, the tripod mount seems really handy, but I’m too much of a klutz to not have a water resistant case, So I guess I’ll just keep dealing with the vignettes for now!!

        Your pictures are great by the way. And I love dragonflies too (in case you didn’t notice the picture on my post ;P )

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