Focus On: Wide-angle iPhone camera lenses

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This article is part of our roundup of iPhone camera lenses.

The five current iPhones have a 29mm (iPhone SE, 6s, and 6s Plus) or 28mm (iPhone 7 and one of the iPhone 7 Plus's) equivalent lens, which is reasonably wide angle for most purposes. But if you've ever tried to arrange more than a few people into a shot and then back up far enough to frame them all in the picture, you know that it's not that wide of angle after all.

True wide-angle lenses let you take expansive outdoor nature shots that capture something that corresponds more closely with the scope of human vision minus our peripheral views. Wide-angle shots "look" more natural, as a result. For sports, you can grab a bigger slice of the field than a medium-angle view.

And wide-angle lenses help particularly with any kind of close-in group photography, as well as in any indoor or outdoor space where you can't back away very far from the objects of your shot.

The lower the millimeter number on a lens, the closer the rear lens is to the camera's sensor, providing a wider view. Many lenses, no matter the purpose, state both an actual measurement and then the equivalent for a 35mm camera, because many people's reference point remains 35mm, and it provides a basis of comparison. For reference, the iPhone SE, 6s, and 6s Plus has a 29mm equivalent lens.

The lens systems tested often omitted millimeters, and used factors (like 0.6), to indicate the effect on the iPhone lens. Some provided no details whatsoever, but can be measured and compared to other shots. Most of the lenses tested across seven systems were around 18mm—some exactly that, and others as close as can be determined by comparing identically composed shots or performing math (28mm times 0.6 rounds up to 18 mm).

The best wide-angle lenses have enough internal individual lens elements to correct for chromatic aberration and distortion. The ExoLens, at the top end of the scale, has no detectable out-of-phase imperfections in shots, and objects within the frame that are straight appear straight in the images.

The wide-angle lenses all were just about 18mm equivalent, offering no significant difference in the view swept in. Ranked from best to worst in our current batch of reviews are:

  • ExoLens: Expensive, but near perfection.
  • Ztylus: A little trouble on the far edges of a full frame, but very crisp.
  • Moment: Just slightly below the mark set by the Ztylus, with a bit of chromatic aberration at the extreme edges.
  • Photojojo Iris: Another mark below the Moment, with more blurring and spreading, but fine for snapshots and with judicious cropping.
  • Hitcase: Free of chromatic aberration, but enough blurring around the edges to resemble vignetting. Some cropping helps.
  • Olloclip: A lot of distortion, but a square crop makes an okay snapshot.
  • CamKix 5-in-1: Substantial aberrations and barrel distortion.
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