Most premium-quality lens attachments for smartphones – like OOWA, Moment – have one limitation: they only work with a few popular phone models because it requires a special mount that is designed into phone case. iPhone owners are the most fortunate because these lens attachment brands will always design cases to support these iPhones. For Android, at most the brands will make cases for the more popular Samsung Galaxy models.
Thanks to bitplay, owners of any smartphone model can enjoy photography with lens attachments. A company based in Taiwan, bitplay has built a huge catalogue of lenses, filters, clips, cases, grips, bags, straps. All these for the discerning smartphone photographer. Distributed in Singapore by Play Distribution Pte Ltd and in Malaysia by Play Distribution Sdn Bhd.
How Does It Work?
bitplay started its business making lens attachments, clips and cases for iPhone models. After years of experience and product development, they now have dozens of products dedicated to improve mobile photography. Instead of limiting to specific models, bitplay designed lens clips that can be adjusted to position over the smartphone camera lens. The first-generation CLIP only works with iPhone models. The latest AllClip can work with almost all smartphones, as long as they don’t protrude excessively and the smartphone is between 58 – 80mm width.
bitplay designed the AllClip thoughtfully with several useful features. First, the AllClip comes with a translucent clip holder and stand with a loop to hold lanyard. The plastic in contact with the smartphone has a silicon coat to prevent scratches. The retail box also includes additional sticker pads to support the AllClip if the smartphone lens protrudes from the phone surface. The AllClip retails for S$29.90 or you can purchase with a bundled lens.
The good thing about AllClip is that you could use it on top of your existing smartphone case, provided it is not too bulky. The minor inconvenience is that the mount slider does not lock, so every time when you clamp the AllClip to the phone, you need to slide the mount in position. This makes deployment a little more hassle than other lens attachment solutions.
Designed for iPhone, Works with all Phones
bitplay offers two sets of lenses: the regular lens collection which are tiny, and the Premium HD collection that are huge and made of a single piece of high strength aluminium and scratch resistance surface.
The Standard Lens collection are compact and easy to use. Each of them (except the full frame fisheye) can double as a macro lens when the front element is unscrewed. The distortion is more apparent, so use it with an artistic licence.
Clearly, the Premium HD lenses produce far better quality. The 3 lenses come with silicone lens caps of same size which is great so that I don’t have to worry about matching caps to the lenses. This standardisation is also intended to allow sharing of add-on filters.
The Premium HD Wide Angle Lens widens the scene by 0.6x and uses 6 lens elements to reduce barrel distortion. The Premium HD Telephoto Lens zooms in the scene by 2x, or 4x if you use it on top of the existing 2x camera lens. The Premium HD Macro Lens offers 3x magnification, and the translucent hood acts as a focus guide and softens light on the subject.
The lens attachments are designed to work best with iPhones in terms of the optical characteristics. For other smartphone brands, the results may vary due to the different lens characteristics of the smartphones (some are wider angle than the rest, for instance).
Given many new smartphones come with several lenses with various angles of view, how does bitplay stack against them? For wide angle shots, the bitplay Premium HD Wide Angle Lens are well controlled in barrel distortion, but do not achieve wider view than those that come with the phones – like the Samsung Galaxy S10+ or LG V30+. On some smartphones, there will be slight vignette around the corners, or the areas towards the sides of the frame may be a little soft. Hence, if your smartphone does not already come with ultra wide lens, then the bitplay Premium HD Wide Angle Lens will work great.
For telephoto, the bitplay Premium HD Telephoto Lens turns out with mixed results. If the phone does not have telephoto optical lens, the bitplay Premium HD Telephoto Lens offers better image compared to digital zoom. But if you compare with the built-in optical zoom lens on some of the premium smartphone models, then it might not be much better.
In the below image, I tested applying 10x zoom on the Samsung Galaxy S10+, and compared to an equivalent digital zoom (around 5x) when fitting the bitplay Premium HD Telephoto Lens. Observe that the latter appears sharper with background separation (depth of field).
Inspecting the full frame without digital zoom, I encounter softness outside the centre frame, which got a little better when I change the aperture from f/1.5 to f/2.4. This seems to be the case because the premium smartphones usually come with distortion-correction post-processing which might alter the performance of external lens attachment.
The most outstanding result comes from using the Premium HD Macro Lens, allowing any casual photographer to explore macro photography with just a smartphone. Wide-angle lenses and telephoto lenses are getting very common on smartphones, but not macro lenses. Even on a DSLR, macro lenses are specialised and cost quite a handsome amount of money.
To use the Premium HD Macro Lens, though, you need to get really close to the subject. Choosing to stack the macro lens over the smartphone standard lens or the telephoto lens does not change the focal length, but merely achieves greater magnification.
The regular lenses are priced between S$39.90 and S$49.90. The Premium HD lenses range from S$69.90 to S$139.90
Love the SNAP! GRIP
Even if you don’t fancy lens attachments, you gotta love the grip attachment. It delivers the same ergonomic experience as a professional DSLR with similar rubber coating.
The shutter release is actually Bluetooth-enabled, and it is removable to be used from up to 10 metres if required. The base of the grip includes a standard tripod mount thread, allowing you to mount the camera to a tripod without buying a separate smartphone clamp. It’s practically a 3-in-1 product!
The grip works with SNAP! Case by removing the clamp which is meant for generic phones. The battery can last for over 6 months (longer if you don’t use it 200 times a day) before replacing. Even if you don’t connect the shutter trigger to the phone, holding the phone with the SNAP! Grip offers a more secure and comfortable hand-holding experience when shooting videos in lengths.
The SNAP! Grip retails at S$79.90.
Filters: A Complete Photographic Experience
The great thing about bitplay is that they have even included filters in their product line-up to complete the photographic experience on a smartphone. As mentioned earlier, the front lens thread for all the premium lens are the same size, so the same set of filters can be used for all of them.
The CPL filter is very useful when shooting the sky or the waters. It is a circular polarising filter that brings out the blue in the sky as well as removing reflections on the water. While new smartphones come with A.I. Mode to make the sky more blue, nothing beats the use of a proper optical filter. Besides, using the CPL filter will further enhance the A.I. Result.
The GND filter is another useful filter. It has a graduated neutral-density coating which works best to balance the exposure in the same frame. For instance, if the sky is overexposed and the land is underexposed, the GND filter brings the exposure level between the 2 closer, thus achieving a better contrast.
The Star filter creates cross-like patterns on off-focus light sources, but the results do not look as natural. Also, some new smartphones already come with bokeh effects to create unique shapes.
Prices of filters range from S$59.90 to $109.90
The bitplay lens system is a ticket to quality image creation using your existing smartphones, regardless of the brand and model. With dozens of products available, bitplay enables smartphone owners with creative photography and DSLR-like handling without constraints on any smartphone lens nor causing image degradation due to digital crop. My favourite bitplay products reviewed are the SNAP! Grip, AllClip and the Premium HD Macro Lens.
It is to be noted that quality results cannot be guaranteed for all smartphone brands due to the inability of bitplay to test all the phone models in the market and create a truly universal optical product. Even professional lens makers for mirrorless or DSLR cameras manufactures calibrates lenses for different brand mounts instead of one-model-fits-all. But if you are one of those unique individuals who own a less-popular phone, you will not be left out in the pursuit of mobile photographic excellence.
The bitplay collection is available at these retail outlets:
- Times Bookstore
- Song Brothers
- Red Dot Photo
- The Bag Creature
- Gadgets Unite
bitplay is also available online at Lazada.SG.