Context

The best camera is the one that you have on your person at all times, goes the old adage. Now that mobile phones are getting better and better, we as consumers are getting greedier. We expect our phone to be an assistant—a cameraperson that takes superb selfies, a search engine that guides us to best restaurants and a nanny-cum-play partner to us or our children. Nothing gets more used than our camera phones. In this age, where an event hasn’t really happened unless it is posted on social media, we want a camera which combines the nimbleness of a phone with the high quality of a SLR.

Fantasy

The fantasy is an SLR really—with a few suitably complex lenses thrown in. The quest for mobile phone cameras is to marry two seemingly intractable realities—combining a lightweight, pocket-sized, fairly thin multi-purpose device with the minuscule adjustments that a proper camera can make for light, distance, and texture.

Reality

For most of us, our phone camera has, by default, become the default camera. I have an iPhone 7 Plus in fire engine red. My ongoing goal is to take world-class photographs with it. So I download a whole slew of paid and unpaid apps that aim to capture RAW and other specialized types of shots with my iPhone. I take tutorials. I have also used a number of iPhone attachments that I have written about in these pages: the terrible Olloclip, and the specialized Carson binocular Hookupz that serve a naturalist well. The Ztylus Revolver 4-in-1 lenses follow in this tradition. They are a handy addition to any selfie-posting, Instagram-stalking photographer.

The product

The good news is that the Ztylus lens, in spite of it’s hard-to-pronounce name (and no, it has nothing to do with styluses), comes with its own fairly good-looking phone case. Mine is steel grey and snaps on quickly around my iPhone. When I remove the lens attachment, there is a circular hole in the back of my phone, which serves nicely to reveal the fire engine red colour. Strangely, the colour of my phone attracts comments and curiosity.

Fitting the lens attachment is also easy, if counter-intuitive. I thought that any iPhone camera attachment would have to be placed right on top of the phone’s camera. In this case, the circle on which the lens latches onto is below the camera. It is fairly large—about two inches in diameter. You place the lens on the circle, turn till it clicks, and you are done. How is this lens that is below the iPhone camera going to attach to the iPhone’s lens, you think. And then the really nifty thing happens. There are four lenses fitted into the holder. They revolve out, one after another, to fit exactly atop the iPhone’s camera.

All camera lenses seek to do two things: bring distant objects closer and make things clear. These lenses serve the same purpose. There are four types. The fisheye lens creates a 180 degree view of any object, which looks interesting if weird, particularly for food shots. The wide angle lens is perfect for big fat Indian weddings where you have to squeeze all the relatives into one wide angle frame. Within the wide angle is a 10X macro lens, accessible by removing the wide angle lens. The iPhone camera itself has good magnification. This lens attachment takes it to the next level. Lastly, the CPL or circular polarizer cuts glare and improves saturation, which is good under the bright Indian sun.

I had some issues. Pulling out the wide angle lens to access the 10X macro lens was awkward and difficult. It also didn’t make sense. If the whole point of this device was to give quick-and-easy access to multiple lenses, then prying out a lens takes time. By the time I got to the 10X lens, the butterfly I wanted to shoot had flown away.

The details

The Ztylus Revolver 4-in-1 lenses are available for $39.95 from the firm’s website. Free international shipping for orders over $50.

The bottom line

Mobile phones these days come with remarkably good cameras. Attaching an external lens, no matter how nifty, takes discipline and can become a chore to lug around. If you have the discipline to practice with this—or any other—lens attachment, then your photos will become better by several pixel points.

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