We’ve tested inexpensive smartphone add-on lenses – with disappointing results

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MyBroadband tested a few cheap clip-on lenses for your smartphone camera, and the experience was poor.

Many modern smartphones come with multiple rear cameras with different lenses, usually with a combination of zoom or wide-angle options.

It allows the user to get a larger landscape in the shot or to take high quality photos of something farther away.

The ability to change lenses on a camera is usually reserved for high-end DSLR cameras, but is now available for smartphones in the form of additional lenses.

These additional lenses are attached to the back of the phone to give the phone’s camera zoom and wide-angle capabilities.

Expensive lenses typically use a magnet that sticks around the main camera lens, while cheaper options use a clip that holds the lens to the back of the camera.

We bought a set with a clip-on mount and interchangeable lens options for R180 to see how they work.

The set includes a macro lens for taking very detailed close-ups and 0.67x wide-angle and 180° fisheye lenses. It also has two lens caps and a soft bag for storage and cleaning.

Build quality is reasonable, with what appear to be glass lenses and clean threads for screwing the lenses together and onto the frame.

It was time to put the lenses to the test.

For a fair comparison, we used three devices to test these lenses:

  • Nokia 5 – Single 13-megapixel camera
  • Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro – 48MP main camera, 8MP 2x zoom camera, 13MP 0.6x wide camera
  • Huawei Mate 20 Pro – 40MP main camera, 8MP 3x zoom camera, 29MP 0.6x wide camera

We tested the additional lenses on each phone’s main camera and compared them with the camera alone. We also looked at how it compared to high-end smartphone cameras.

The macro lens was tested for its ability to focus on near objects, while the wide-angle lenses were tested for field of view and clarity towards the edges of the image while the center is in focus.

Field of view was tested by photographing a tape measure at 30cm and calculating the field of view from the visible length.

The closest distance to an object that the camera could focus on was used as the metric for the macro lens.

Photos of the same scene were also taken with all cameras and lenses for comparison.

The main cameras of the three devices – Nokia, Xiaomi and Huawei – had very similar fields of view at 67°, 69° and 71°, respectively.

Xiaomi and Huawei built-in zooms promised 2x and 3x zoom respectively.

The included wide-angle lenses measured 0.68x and 0.70x for the Xiaomi and Huawei.

All images taken with the built-in cameras were sharp from edge to edge. The only exception was the Huawei, which had a little vignetting on the wide-angle lens.

When we started testing clip-on lenses, we discovered that the clip was too short to reach the main camera lens on the Xiaomi. The lens had to be hand-held.

The wide-angle clamp lens measured x0.71 on average, increasing the field of view slightly less than the wide lenses included on the Xiaomi and Huawei.

Although it looks like a good add-on for a phone with a single camera, this lens cuts the corners of the image on all cameras tested. It also lacked focus towards the edges of the image when the center was in focus.

The fisheye lens came close to delivering on the promise of a 180° field of view, but was plagued with the same issues as the wide-angle lens.

When measuring the field of view, we could see objects to the side of the camera, but anything outside of around 120° was complete blur.

The images were also all circular due to vignetting, which may not be desirable.

The macro lens was the best of the three, allowing us to focus on an object about 2cm away. This was not possible with the built-in lenses, even with the Super Macro mode on the Huawei device.

This lens also had no vignetting. It had a very small focus band though, meaning you could only focus on a small part of an object.

Overall, buying a set of inexpensive extra lenses felt like a waste of money if you have a phone with multiple cameras.

The only real value we could see is for an aspiring smartphone photographer with a mid-range camera looking to capture extreme close-ups.

The table and images below give an overview of the test results.

Nokia 5
Lens
FOV (degrees) Closest focus (cm) Relative Zoom
Standard 67 9.0 1.00
Add-in N / A 1.5 N / A
wide ring 93 N / A 0.72
Fish eye ring 120 N / A 0.56
Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro
Lens
FOV (degrees) Closest focus (cm) Relative Zoom
Standard 69 8.0 1.00
Built-in zoom 37 21.0 1.86
Wide integrated 101 9.5 0.68
macro annunciation N / A 2.0 N / A
wide ring 100 N / A 0.69
Fish eye ring 120 N / A 0.58
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Lens
FOV (degrees) Closest focus (cm) Relative Zoom
Standard 71 9.0 1.00
Built-in zoom 25 8.0 2.84
Wide integrated 101 4.5 0.70
macro annunciation N / A 2.0 N / A
wide ring 100 N / A 0.71
Fish eye ring 120 N / A 0.59

Nokia 5 Standard Lens Landscape


Nokia 5 Landscape Wide Angle Lens


Nokia 5 Landscape Fisheye Lens


Close up of Nokia 5 standard lens


Close up of Nokia 5 macro lens


Xiaomi Standard Landscape Lens


Xiaomi Built-in Wide Lens Landscape


Xiaomi Landscape built-in zoom lens


Xiaomi Wide Landscape Lens


Xiaomi Fisheye Landscape Lens


Xiaomi Standard Lens Close Up


Xiaomi Built-in Wide Lens Close Up


Xiaomi Built-in Zoom Close Up


Close up of Xiaomi Macro Lens


Huawei Standard Lens Landscape


Huawei Built-in Wide Lens Landscape


Built-in Huawei Landscape zoom lens


Huawei Wide Landscape Lens


Huawei Landscape Fisheye Lens


Huawei Standard Lens Close Up


Built-in Huawei wide-angle lens


Close-up of Huawei’s built-in zoom lens


Close up of Huawei macro lens

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