Insects vs. Three Smartphone Macro Lenses

A lot of you know about my addiction to photographing insects with my cell phone.  I enjoy the challenge.  Cell phone macro attachments are incredibly limiting in so many ways, especially where depth of field is concerned, but that just makes me work harder to get a decent shot.  I keep practicing – and I buy new gadgets when they’re made available.  My most recent macro attachment arrived in the form of a Christmas present from my dad, the SquidCam camera system for iPhone.  Woo!  New camera toys!  New ways to photograph insects!  I was thrilled.

I have done posts about two macro attachments for smart phones in the past, the Olloclip and the Photojojo macro lenses.  Apart from the limitations that they share with all macro attachments for smartphones, they are both difficult to use with a case on your phone.  That is a deal breaker for me as I’m a horrible clutz and drop my phone all the time.  I jerry rigged a case solution with my Photojojo lens, but that’s simply not an option with the Olloclip which will only work on a completely naked phone.

That brings us to the SquidCam!  The SquidCam’s greatest strength is that it combines a case and lenses into a single package.  This is what you get:

Squidcam parts

Squidcam parts

You slip the silicone case around the phone (it fits mine perfectly) and attach the lenses to the case when you want to use them.  You get two lenses, a macro/wide-angle lens and a fish eye lens, and two little silicone pieces.  The smaller of the pieces can be used to cover up the camera lens on the phone when it is not in use.  The larger one can be used to prop the phone upright:

Standing up

Standing up

I don’t watch anything on my phone and I can’t be bothered to put the little piece over the lens, so I don’t use these two pieces.  Still, I can see their utility.

You’ll notice that the case looks like a Lego block.  It dramatically increases the thickness of the phone when it’s on, but those little nubs are there so you can attach the lenses.  All you do is snap the lens onto the little nubs around the lens and you’re good to go:

Squidcam attachment

SquidCam attachment

The lenses attach with a nice, secure fit.  When you want to take a photo, you just remove the little lens cap and start snapping photos!  Very, very easy system to use.  AND, your phone is protected in a nice silicone case.  Those little nubs give this case the texture of bubble wrap, so I’m confident that my phone would survive being dropped with this case.

As with most things in life, there are pros and cons.  The pros, for me at least, are these:

— The system incorporates a case.
— The case feels good and protects my phone.
— Altogether, lenses, case, and little silicone rectangles come to about $50, so it’s an inexpensive smartphone macro solution.  That’s just over half the price of the Olloclip, and about the same as the Photojojo if you buy the lenses that are included with this set.
— It would be very difficult to knock one of the lenses off while in use (not the case with the Photojojo lenses nor the Olloclip).
— The quality of the lens is comparable to the other two I’ve tried.  More on this in a moment.

But, there are problems with the system as well.  A couple of these are fairly major issues:

— My macro lens attachment doesn’t perfectly line up with the iPhone lens, which causes some shadowing in the corners of the images.  You’ll see what I mean here shortly.
— The little nubs on the case are hollow, which means that it can be a little difficult to get the lenses to slide over the nubs as opposed to flattening them.  You have to line them up well.
— While there’s a great little lens cap on the front of the lenses, the backs are completely exposed!  I carry my lenses in a case I made because they would get scratched horribly if they were floating around free in my bag, or even in the little drawstring bag they provide for storing all the bits and pieces.  Not ideal!

So how does the quality compare to the Olloclip and the Photojojo?  I took a photo of a fly (the soldier fly from Friday’s post) with all three lenses to compare.  Each photo was taken at night under the very bright light at my kitchen table, and here’s how they looked.  First, the Olloclip:



The depth of field is terrible, but it’s impossible to do anything about it with the iPhone.  The wing is quite crisp, however, and shows a good amount of detail.  The contrast is fairly high, so there’s a big difference between the color of the eye and the color of the thorax.  Overall, not bad for an indoor smartphone macro photo.

Then the Photojojo:



Again, the wing is fairly crisp and show good detail.  The contrast is a bit lower than with the Olloclip, but the glass in this lens is a lot cheaper than the Olloclip glass too.  I’ve noticed that my Photojojo lenses produce a consistently softer image than my Olloclip.

And finally, the SquidCam:



The wings are clear and crisp and the contrast is similar to the Olloclip.  However, I draw your attention to the dark shadow in the upper left corner in this shot.  That’s the vignetting I mentioned, the result of the misalignment of my iPhone’s lens and the SquidCam macro lens – and it’s a whole lot worse in the uncropped photo.  I can jam my finger into the lens and push it over enough to eliminate that shadow as I snap shots, but that’s a pain.  (I suspect that my particular case is at fault and this is not a widespread issue though – no one else I know who’s tried the SquidCam has had this problem.)  Notice also the thickness of the shadow at the bottom.  Remember, I took these under BRIGHT light.  iPhone photos only look good when taken in good light, so I wanted to maximize the potential to get a good shot indoors by setting my subject under the brightest light I have. That shadow is being thrown by the lens attachment on the back of the phone – the lens is coming between the light and the subject.  All of the lenses have the same problem to some extent.  Compare all three side-by-side:


Side-by-side comparison – click to enlarge in a new tab/window

Note, too, the size of these three products:

Lens collection

Lens collection – SquidCam, Photojojo, and Olloclip

Remember that you need to add the thickness of the case to the thickness of the SquidCam for the full effect.  The bigger and bulkier the lens, the bigger the shadow it casts into the frame.  The Photojojo lens is the most petite of the bunch and has only a small shadow creeping in at the bottom.  The Olloclip is a big, bulky thing and casts more of a shadow.  But the SquidCam has a big, dark shadow!  I think this is definitely something to consider as it will impact the quality of your photos in bright light conditions.  You want bright light when shooting with an iPhone, so this has the potential to become a big problem.

I was really excited about the SquidCam when I first heard about it.  The addition of the case is a huge selling point for me!  I love the case that comes with the SquidCam.  However, I think that the SquidCam system has some design issues.  Between the misalignment of the lenses with my iPhone’s lens (again, I think this is a problem with my particular case/lens combination) and the fact that it is so thick that it can potentially cast a shadow into the frame, I am not completely in love with this product.  It just isn’t as good as my other two options.  Still, it’s a fun product and I do love the case, so I’ll get a lot of use out of it.  Thanks for the new toy, Dad!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

4 thoughts on “Insects vs. Three Smartphone Macro Lenses

  1. I appreciate the review as I’ve never heard of the SquidCam. I have the Olloclip and know of the Photojojo (plus don’t forget the Macro-Band). Very good review.

    I agree that the iPhone needs a LOT of light to take a good photo, especially with macro shots. From your shots, it looks like your primary light source is behind your right shoulder. Have you considered using a reflector to cast some more lighting from the left side. I think it would even out your subject a bit more and bring out some more detail. Food for thought.

    • Glad you liked my little review! And I know I could use a reflector, but I don’t like carrying extra things to take photos with my phone – it sort of defeats the purpose for me! I’ve got 3 DSLR cameras, several good lenses, and an excellent point and shoot (that I carry in my purse, in spite of its bulk), so I only use my phone for photos when I don’t want to carry extra gear. It’s a great idea though! And if I used my phone as a camera as one of my main cameras I would absolutely do it. I’ve done it with my good cameras and it works great!

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