Review – MPJ Battery telephoto lens kit for iPhone 6/6+

Review of MPJ Battery Telephoto lens kit for iPhone 6+ (other iPhone 6 models available – see below)

1-sepia
(Trinity Bridge from King’s College, Cambridge)

A few weeks ago I received a very pleasantly surprising email asking me if I’d like to test and review a new telephoto lens kit for smartphones. Bargain! “Yes please!” I’m such a sucker for new gadgets. And this is the best kind of gadget by far – it’s a bit wacky and unfamiliar (a telephoto phone??), but it’s small enough to carry in a pocket and use anywhere, even in a crowd, without attracting attention. So.. when it arrived, I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the weekend, and raced out at lunchtime to start experimenting. What a great thing!

1-turrets
(King’s College, Cambridge)

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The kit includes:
– Lens including front & rear caps
– Cover (in my case, for the iPhone 6+) with threaded lens mount
– Mini tripod with extending legs and ball & socket head (LOOK AT THE CUTE TRIPOD!!)
– Spring-loaded universal clamp (fits any phone)
– Cleaning cloth
– Drawstring pouch
– Instructions

Note: the kit I received included only the telephoto lens; I believe MPJ are now including macro, wide-angle and fisheye lenses in the iPhone 6+ kit. For the iPhone 6, the telephoto kit is still available in addition to the extended kit.

1-side

Installing the lens couldn’t be easier – once the cover is attached to the phone, the lens simply screws onto the mount. It’s fast and secure. The tripod & clamp arrangement is equally simple – the clamp screws onto the tripod, and the spring-loaded top section is stretched to accommodate the phone. Job done, ready for action!

1-rear

MAGNIFICATION:

1-iPhone
(iPhone 6+ default magnification)

1-iPhone+zoom
(iPhone 6+ with maximum digital zoom)

1-tele
(iPhone 6+ with MPJ Telephoto, default magnification)

1-tele+zoom
(iPhone 6+ with MPJ Telephoto and maximum digital zoom)

Click on any image to see a larger version, which will show the difference in quality between the MPJ lens at default magnification, and the phone’s digital zoom. In the centre of the frame, the MPJ lens is substantially better, showing more detail and less noise. The MPJ lens with digital zoom enabled is a lot of fun and very impressive in terms of magnification, but the combination of lens aberrations and noise is crippling. The magnification, even at the default digital zoom setting, is such that camera shake can be a real problem, especially in less-than-ideal light. The tripod helps a lot, but it’s very slow and opportunities to use it are rare so I much preferred to take my chances without, either hand-holding the camera or bracing it against a tree or wall etc if possible.

1-couple in garden
(This was the first hand-held shot I took, and at first I thought I’d shaken the camera or something, because of the flowers that are whooshing out of the bottom left corner. But in fact it’s a characteristic of the lens – a combination of field curvature and coma I think. That might be a problem for someone who’s used to pixel-peeping at DSLR images, but I believe smartphone photographers are more interested in having fun than striving for perfection in the corners of their images. Me, I quite like it. I could use that.)

The MPJ lens has a focusing ring on it, and it did take a bit of experimenting to find out how best to use it in conjunction with the phone’s own autofocus system. The method I found worked best was to manually focus quickly using the lens, and then touch the screen with my thumb to indicate the area of interest for the AF system to ‘fine-tune’ the focus. It didn’t take long before that was an easy and automatic process for me, but I did notice a problem when trying to focus at the close end of the the range – the phone’s AF system would acquire focus quite quickly, but then discard after a second or two, then hunt/re-acquire/repeat. I don’t know what caused that, but it was possible to time shooting to coincide with the 1 second of locked focus.

Aberrations: the lens does suffer from several defects: field curvature, coma, chromatic aberration (see below) and pincushion distortion (see 2nd below).

1-aberration
(Botanic Gardens)

1-pincushion
(Clare College)

All of the above faults mean that the centre of the frame the only area where you could expect to see any useful detail. However, once you know this, and if you’re prepared to work with it, you can have a lot of fun and make some interesting images, either keeping your subject in the centre of the frame, or exploiting the characteristics at the edges.

1-flower
(Botanic gardens, Cambridge. Close focus limit is around 2m.)

1-watercolour
(Botanic gardens, Cambridge)

It’s not a precision instrument by any means, and you shouldn’t buy one if you have that expectation. Learn its capabilities AND experiment to see if you can use it’s unique features to your advantage, and you’ll have a LOT of fun! The above image displays just about all of the faults described above, with digital zoom noise thrown in for good measure. By any scientific measurement it’s hilariously rubbish, but I really like it! It’s got a kind-of watercolour painting thing going on.

1-punting
(Rush hour at the Trinity Bridge)

1-crowd
(Delegates)

1-housemartin
(House martin leaving its nest, King’s College)

1-grass
(Botanic gardens)

1-cycles
(Trinity Street)

1-firework-BW
(Differential focus on an iPhone! Love it. Botanic Gardens.)

1-vintage
(King’s College)

So. The MPJ Telephoto Lens is a LOT of fun, in a very small package that is easy to carry around in your pocket, quick to install and easy to use. If you’re even remotely interested in mobile phone photography, then this is worth the very small price and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it just as much as I do. It won’t replace your DSLR lens, for sure, but you’ll certainly carry it more often. Apply a bit of creative thought, and it might surprise you.

I’ve just heard from MPJ that for $60 (£40), the iPhone 6+ kit now includes Telephoto, Macro, Fisheye, Wide-angle and Fisheye lenses, along with the tripod and clamp. Can’t argue with that! It’s available here:

MPJ Battery 4-lens kit for iPhone 6 plus ($59.99)

MPJ Battery 4-lens kit for iPhone 6 ($59.99)

MPJ Battery telephoto lens kit for iPhone 6 ($49.99)

1-toddler
(Botanic gardens)

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