(Downing College, Cambridge)
Last year, the good people at MPJ sent me a telephoto lens kit for my iPhone – it’s a great fun and versatile gadget and I’d recommend it to anyone (review here). Well.. I was delighted a couple of months ago when the postman knocked on my door again, and delivered the new MPJ model to play with! Awesome! I love it when that happens.
Great looking thing, right?? It’s every bit as much fun as it looks, but before talking about the lens I want to mention the extremely posh packaging – unpacking the lens is an almost Apple-like experience! Very smooth.
Lifting the magnetic cover reveals the contents in a well cut and generously padded foam insert. These include the lens (with front & rear caps); cases for iPhone 6+, 6 and 5 models; an extending table-top tripod with mini ball & socket head; a drawstring pouch, a cleaning cloth, and instructions.
The first thing to say, which is apparent in the photo above, is that the new lens is more substantial than its predecessor. It’s not much longer, but it’s wider and heavier for sure – it’ll easily fit in a pocket, but you’ll know it’s there. The reason for the additional weight is the significantly extended focal length, which requires a lot more light, hence larger diameter lenses. I like the extra weight though – it feels solid and reliable in the hand. So much so in fact, that I left the tripod at home and used the kit hand-held. It might help to find something (e.g. a wall or tree) to brace against because the magnification makes hand-shake a likely problem, but all of the images in this review were taken without any support. For situations where a tripod becomes necessary however, the lens is designed with a tripod bush in a rotating sleeve with a locking screw – a very helpful inclusion.
(Botanic Gardens, Cambridge)
(The Catholic Church, Cambridge)
It’s impressive! Even when stretching the magnification, hand-held, the lens provides very usable images, revealing plenty of detail that can’t be seen in ‘naked’ iPhone photographs. I’m not sure it’s quite long enough for ‘real’ wildlife photography, but for wildlife in the garden, on bird-feeders etc, it’d be ideal!
(iPhone + MPJ Supertelephoto)
(iPhone + MPJ Supertelephoto + moderate iPhone zoom)
Telephoto lenses can be extremely useful for isolating subjects from cluttered backgrounds, and I think the following pair of images shows this well.
(Birch catkins, iPhone only)
(Same catkins, iPhone +MPJ Supertelephoto, showing subject isolation and bokeh)
Conversely, at greater distances, telephoto lenses also ‘compress’ the foreground and background and make images appear very busy and cluttered. The small, unobtrusive MPJ Supertelephoto is ideal for this kind of photography:
(King’s Parade, Cambridge)
Because of the focal length and its reduced depth of field (which creates the attractive bokeh above), the lens does need to be focused, and this can be tricky because while you’re busy focusing, the iPhone will be busy trying to autofocus at the same time. I think the best approach is to manually focus in/out quickly to prevent the autofocus from locking-on, until you’re happy that you’re in the right ballpark, then release the focusing ring and let the phone do the rest.
In common with its predecessor, the lens suffers from chromatic aberration, field curvature, coma and pincushion distortion. The image of birch catkins above shows ‘swirly’ coma in the out-of-focus yellow highlights.
(Chromatic aberration on the edge of the water plumes)
(Chromatic aberration on the peripheral flowers, but not unattractive)
(Clare College, showing pincushion distortion and field curvature)
It’s interesting to compare the image above with the one below, taken with the original MPJ Telephoto lens: the pincushion distortion is there, but seems greatly improved in the new lens. The comparison also shows the 30-40% (my best guess) increase in focal length.
(Clare College with original MPJ lens)
The lens has a very obvious sweet spot in its centre that is free from distortions and defects, and is impressively sharp for an accessory lens. It’s important to keep your subject in this central area while shooting, and then crop to achieve the composition you want afterwards.
(Downing College – focused in centre, cropped to compose)
(The Backs, Cambridge)
So! Like its predecessor, the lens has some idiosyncratic features and characteristics that make it a bit challenging to use until you become familiar, but those characteristics also provide creative options if you’re an optimistic experimenter. The previous lens was versatile and fun, but I think this lens is more useful. It’s a properly powerful telephoto, capable of good sharpness (in the centre of the frame) and recording detail that can’t be achieved with a phone’s digital zoom. Carry it in your pocket, keep it on a window ledge, or put it in the glove compartment of the car – you never know when you’ll find a use for it. A supertelephoto inside the greenhouses of the botanic gardens?? Works for me…