The argument of whether smartphones can take good photos or not has been settled – they can! In this article, we are going to have a look at a set of lenses for smartphones from an Australian company, Struman Optics. While there are many lenses for smartphones on the market, I found a manufacturer that many, including me, had not heard of. Read on to find out how they perform.
I remember Scott Bourne once said on a podcast that when he was shooting a wedding, he had an “Uncle Bob” turn up with a “nicer camera” than his DSLR. And no matter what camera “Uncle Bob” was using, Scott could use his iPhone and still take better images. This was because Scott was a professional photographer with 30 years’ experience, and “Uncle Bob” was, well, “Uncle Bob.”
I totally agree with Scott’s sentiment. It’s the skills and years of experience behind the camera, rather than the camera itself that creates a beautiful image.
Having said that, thanks to the computational power of our smartphones these days, that gap is narrowing.
So, the next stage in this photographic evolution is what accessories we use to make our images from our phones even better.
What are smartphone lenses?
In this article, I want to focus on a set of smartphone lenses I have been testing from Struman Optics. I’ve been trying out various brands for years now to either give me a bit more zoom, a wider shot, or the ever-fun macro function. They were always okay, but not optically amazing.
In the last 3-4 years, that’s changed with some really great glass coming out for smartphones. Unfortunately, you always get what you pay for, so these better lenses do cost a bit more than the cheaper ones we’ve seen over the years. But they’re still not going to break the bank.
The lenses that I’ve been testing over the last two months are Struman Optic’s Cinematic Wide, Cinematic Portrait, and Cinematic Macro lenses.
Struman Optics do make more cost-effective lenses that are more suited to purely photography, but since I am primarily a filmmaker, I got the Cinematic trifecta. Of course, they are great for photos too.
The wide is an 18mm f1.8 equivalent, and the portrait lens is 70mm f1.8 equivalent.
All three lenses attach via what has become a standard screw-on back. The portrait and wide lenses also have a 37mm front, which means you could actually attach standard filters such as a Circular Polarizer or Neutral Density filter.
What’s in the box
Before I go into some of the individual features of the lenses, let’s first look at what they come with. They each come with a travel pouch, cleaning cloth, and phone adapter. Struman Optics do make phone cases that allow you to screw your lens directly on too. I went with that option, but I really like that they have the phone adapter included. That means you can use the lens with any phone or, even dare I suggest it, tablet. (Please people, use your phones as cameras before you use your tablets.)
Using the adapter, which is kind of like a clip, means you could also use the lenses on the front camera of your phone for better quality selfies. ?
The lens cases are nicely made. They are not too thick and have a good rubber grippy feeling. The thing that stands out for me is that the screw connection that you screw the lenses into seems to be solid metal. This is good, as I’ve had lens cases from other brands made of less sturdy stuff that breaks on me when trying to attach a lens. This happened to me while I was on a trip to Hong Kong, which meant I couldn’t use those lenses for the rest of the trip. Going by the feel of the Struman cases, it’s unlikely to happen.
The build of all the lenses is top-notch. They feel solidly made and have an aluminum casing. I appreciate that they come with a back cap as well as a front lens cap. I am not sure about the red ring around them, which I guess is a nod to bigger lenses with red rings. But most people I’ve shown them to have really liked it, so what do I know about design?
Why use them?
One of the first things you may be thinking is, “why would I need these now that most new phone cameras come with 3 lenses: an ultra-wide, a wide and telephoto lens?”
Well, not all lenses are created equal.
For example, the ultra-wide on the iPhone 11 Pro doesn’t feature the pretty amazing low light feature that the wide and telephoto lenses have. So, if you want to take an ultra-wide shot in the dark, you could put the Struman wide on your wide, get the advantage of the low light feature and still have an ultra-wide image.
In the same way that sometimes the tele just isn’t tele enough, adding the portrait lens to the tele gives you even more reach.
One thing to note is that if your phone has an ultra-wide lens, then the lenses will most likely not cover the entire lens as it’s just too wide. You can get some interesting-looking shots with the lenses on the ultra-wide, though, so it may be worth a try!
Finally, that brings us to the macro lens. This has a feature that I’ve asked Struman Optics to add to all of their Cinematic lenses. The macro lens has a focus ring!
Again, you may be asking, “what do you need a focus ring for when the autofocus on the smartphones is so good?” Well, that’s true, but your autofocus won’t always focus on the thing you want to focus on when you’re super close, such as with a macro shot.
The reason I’d love to have the focus ring on the other two lenses is for when I want to a focus pull when making videos. That’s when you adjust your focus from one subject in your shot to another.
Autofocus can do that, but you can’t tell the autofocus how fast or slow to do it, so having that focus ring would be great for that type of creative control in video.
One thing to be aware of is that if your phone has more than one lens, then you may have to use a third-party photo app to force the camera to use the phone lens that has your external lens attached. A few of these apps are Procam, Halide and Manual – all have their pros and cons.
Both the wide and portrait cinema lenses are $249 AUD and the macro is $199 AUD. Struman Optics also has a series of cheaper lenses focused more on pure photography. They are available from their website www.strumanoptics.com.au, and, yes, they ship all over the world.
Have you used these or any other lenses for smartphones? How have you found them? Let us know in the comments section!