There are lots of reasons we take so many of our snapshots with a smartphone instead of with a camera. These easy-to-carry devices are always at hand, and they let you instantly share your favorite photos on social media. And smartphone image quality continues to improve as sensors and lenses get better. (Check out the best smartphone cameras.)
But, compared with SLRs, superzooms and even basic point-and-shoots, smartphones still have shortcomings. Few have a built-in zoom lens, for instance. And the LED light on most phones just can’t compare to the stronger burst of the strobe found on stand-alone cameras.
Does that mean you have no choice but to accept the limitations of your iPhone 6s or Samsung Galaxy S7? Nope. Thanks to a new wave of camera accessories, you can now capture better pictures on your mobile devices.
Add-On Lenses and Cameras
A number of relatively inexpensive lenses that slip onto your phone will provide you with optical zoom, telephoto, wide-angle, and other specialty shots. Once available only for more advanced cameras, these lenses cost $20 to $120. But you can also buy add-ons that essentially function like a full-fledged camera.
Olympus Air 14-42 ($500, iOS and Android phones): This lens looks like a mirrorless lens, but it's actually a cylindrical “lens-barrel camera.” What makes it different from most cameras, aside from the shape, is that it lacks a viewfinder and an LCD screen but includes the same large, high-quality sensor you'd find in an Olympus mirrorless camera. You connect it wirelessly to your phone, so that you can use the Liquid Crystal Display to compose your shots and enjoy many of the benefits of an SLR or mirrorless model. It accepts interchangeable lenses, for example.
DxO One ($500, iOS): This lens plugs into the lightning port on your iPhone. It has a large, one-inch sensor and a high quality prime (nonzoom) lens with an f/1.8 maximum aperture, which means you'll be able to capture dramatically better shots than you could with your iPhone alone. It's particularly useful for capturing portraits, since that maximum aperture on the lens produces a very shallow depth of field, much like in the photos you might shoot with an SLR and a high-quality SLR lens.
Xuma Mobile LED Light set ($35): This device is a worthy investment. Charged via a USB port, it mounts on your phone and offers light in three modes. More light equals better contrast, better details, and less image noise in your photos.
Pro photographers have always understood the value of a good tripod: When you want to capture an image in very low light, it allows you to use a slow shutter speed without introducing blur from a shaky hand. Since the sensors on most phones are even smaller than those on cameras, you'll often get muddy shots even in moderate lighting.
To help solve that problem, manufacturers have started to introduce tripods with brackets designed specifically to fit on smartphones.
Models to consider: the Joby GripTight PRO GorillaPod Stand for Smartphones, $30, and the iStabilizer smartFlex, $30.
The much-maligned selfie stick is another useful tool that can do more than just for shoot selfies. You can also use them to capture scenes from high and low vantage points.
Models to consider: The ReTrak Selfie Stick, $8, plugs into the audio port of your phone and lets you capture photos at the press of a button. Others let you connect via Bluetooth.
There are longer, sturdier, and, yes, pricier models, too, such as DigiPower TP-QPXT Quickpod Selfie Extreme Monopod, $45, which comes with a nice carrying case.
If you plan to take photos with a selfie stick, use common sense. Before leaving home, check the venue policy. Museums, sports stadiums, theme park, and other venues have banned the devices.
You might also want to consider buying a portable battery pack. Available at various price points from companies like Mophie and some phone makers, an external battery pack can help you keep the photo shoot going even after your phone's internal battery gives out. (Read about the smartphones with the best battery life.)
Getting a Grip
Smartphones aren't particularly easy to hold when you’re composing photos. The Pictar iPhone camera grip is designed to offer not only a more ergonomic hold but also physical controls that make it easier for you to change the settings on your phone. Learn about the Pictar Kickstarter campaign.
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