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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