With the launch of iPhone 7, Apple has once again driven a new trend of smartphone photography with optical zoom lenses. If you are using iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, the OOWA add-on lenses can help you alter the field of view and deliver superior quality images.
OOWA recently sent their Pro Kit (US$149) for my review (scroll to the end of the post for a 30% discount coupon code). The Pro Kit comes with both wide-angle and telephoto lenses, which can be purchased separately at US$99. As I am not an iPhone user, I managed to borrow an iPhone 6S Plus to write this article. During the period of review, I also had several smartphone models on hand for review: LG V20, Moto Z with Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Moto Mod, Huawei Mate 9. So I took the chance to do an extensive comparison for this review.
OOWA (pronounced as “oo-ah”) is a product designed in Singapore by DynaOptics which went through a successful kickstarter project. Unlike other lenses, OOWA produces free-form, double-symmetry lenses. The normal lenses are rotationally symmetrical that are optimised for images in a circle, and corners of the rectangular sensors are often compromised.
So, OOWA lenses are designed to map the image space onto the rectangular sensor. Instead or circle, the lens elements are rectangular, as observed above.
OOWA created 2 lenses, a 15mm wide angle and 75mm telephoto. The package also includes a phone casing that correctly mounts the attachments to ensure precise alignment.
The 15mm attachment achieves about 110 degrees field of view, while the 75mm produces 2.5x zoom on existing iPhone camera lens. The latter also includes a soft hood to minimise flare. Both lenses come with front cap but no rear cap (OOWA website contains instructions to make your own). The package includes soft cases with labels of the lens type.
The lenses are mounted, bayonet style. A 90-degree turn locks the lenses securely to the casing. By following a simple trick, the mounting procedure should be relatively snappy.
The gap between the camera lens and the first OOWA lens element is 0.2mm, to maximise optical quality.
This is the difference in viewing angle between the OOWA 75mm telephoto, the standard iPhone 6S+, and OOWA 15mm wide angle.
I will be testing the OOWA wide-angle lens with the LG V20 and a cheapo clip-on fish-eye lens, and the OOWA telephoto lens with ASUS Zenfone Zoom (3x optical zoom), Huawei Mate 9 (hybrid zoom). All images taken with the 2 OOWA lenses are on the iPhone 6S Plus.
OOWA 15mm Wide Angle Lens
The clip-on lens is a write-off. Only the centre area is sharp, then it gets blur as it moves off the centre, and the corners are vignetted. LG V20 achieves a wider field of view of 135 degrees while the OOWA 15mm offers 110 degrees.
From the above image, you can see that the V20 certainly provides wider angle coverage but at the expense of distortion. Some users might not mind its slightly fish-eyed perspective for the fun visual factor. OOWA 15mm, on the other hand, delivers a more optically-critical image without colour shifts or blur.
Wide Angle Distortion
Normal wide angle lens attachment are typically poor outside the centre image, but OOWA achieves excellent optical integrity comparable to interchangeable lenses. Without exhibiting fish-eye distortion that is prominent on the LG G5 and V20, the wide angle images appear better corrected.
What the OOWA 15mm achieves with the wide angle is commendable. Professional image creators can now expand their shooting repertoire without bulky camera systems and costly wide-angle lenses.
OOWA 75mm Telephoto Lens
The above images look good, even the Huawei Mate 9 which claims its hybrid zoom can offer good details and sharpness. Now let me show the cropped images.
You see? Digital zoom will never beat optical zoom. To put things in perspective, this is how an APS-C sensor camera like Sony a6500 looks (similarly cropped).
Here’s another comparison when I use iPhone digital zoom compared to OOWA 75mm lens. Image is cropped to show details.
Closer vs. Further
Shooting with a telephoto lens has an optical advantage: portraits appear more accurate without the perspective distortion. There is better isolation from the background clutter, which makes portraits pop up. Without telephoto, the camera has to move closer to the subject to fill the frame.
A small constraint when shooting with the OOWA telephoto lens: the focus distance is further than when shooting without attachment, which can go really close to the subject. But shooting at close range actually distorts the perception, as you can observe below:
Note also that due to the free-form lens design which is not circular, the resultant lens flare is also not circular shape. Just a minor point in case you want to play around the backlight effect.
For now, OOWA only makes cases for iPhone 6, 6+, 6S, 6S+. According to their website, the lens attachments are designed to work optically with any smartphone with the following camera lens characteristics: 75-degree field of view, f/2.2, 12MP.
OOWA website contains instructions on 3D-printing the iPhone 7 and 7+. Until OOWA creates a solution to support mounting of the lens attachments to other phones, only the above-named iPhone models can work elegantly.
The OOWA lens attachments are superior optical products to expand the versatility of your smartphones without loss of image quality. They are relatively inexpensive compared to larger-format camera lenses, but achieves similar outcomes.
The wide angle result is excellent, edge-to-edge, and instantly lets me shoot wide angle photos on existing phones, achieving no distortion effect compared to LG V20. The telephoto lens captures more details compared to digital zoom on the same smartphone.
The minor inconvenience would be the need to attach the sizable lens on the phone making it hard to leave it on permanently. However, like all craft, there is a price for quality. Carrying the 2 miniature lenses certainly beats lugging a interchangeable lens camera system.
If you do not accept compromises on the smartphone image quality, then I would highly recommend owning the OOWA lenses.
Promo Discount Code For Readers
The OOWA lenses are sold at the official online store. For a limited time, Singapore consumers can enjoy 30% discount off the published prices when they checkout with the coupon code “SG-OOWA“. Shipping is free.
- OOWA Pro Kit US$149 (after 30% discount: US$104.30)
- OOWA Wide-Angle US$99 (after 30% discount: US$69.30)
- OOWA Telephoto US$99 (after 30% discount: US$69.30)
The lenses will soon be available at Singapore retail outlets, to be announced.