We’ve seen the taglines for years now, the “Shot On iPhone” billboards all over town, and for good reason. I’ve only been a photographer a short while when compared to my colleagues and it amazes me that even in that short span, the sensors and capabilities of the cameras in smartphones have become insanely more powerful than the cameras I started out on.
With each new iteration of mobile phones, the cameras get better and better, but they still aren’t quite as capable as most DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. To help bridge that gap, many companies have created adapters and designed their own lenses to mount to the various phones out there and give them that extra something.
Enter Californian based company Sandmarc with their line up of lenses for iPhone. Sandmarc, founded in 2013 in San Diego, designs premium photography products for iPhone, DJI & GoPro. We’ve recently got our hands on four of their lenses and adapters and gave them a quick run through to test their capabilities. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m a hardcore and dedicated “big” camera user. For me, using my smartphone was really just for candids and location scouting, or those random days when I just wanted to go for a walk and not lug around 20 lbs of gear. So it was a bit of an adjustment for me to get out there and shoot with these lenses and clips. That being said, I still learned quite a bit about my phone’s camera and what these lenses can bring to the table, so clearly it wasn’t all bad! Let’s get right to it and go over all the specifics.
Over the last few weeks we played with four lenses out of the available line up from Sandmarc (the new addition(s) are mentioned at the bottom of this review). The lenses were;
Wide Lens – $99
Made from premium multi-coated optics, the 16mm Wide lens gives you 2x more field of view and delivers sharp photos and videos. Ideal for travel, urban and outdoor photography or filmmaking.
Macro Lens – $89
The 25mm Macro lens enables you to capture vivid details you cannot see with the naked eye. To use the Macro Lens, you must be at a very short distance from the subject. The Macro lens is great to photograph flowers, insects, and small objects.
Telephoto Lens – $99
The telephoto lens is a 60mm Multi-coated lens and gives up to 4x zoom (2nd camera with 3rd party apps).
Fisheye – $89
The Fisheye lens is a 10MM multi-coated lens that gives you 5x more field of view. Ideal for capturing mega-landscapes, closed interior spaces and more.
You can also get all four lenses in a bundle for $299.99
What’s Included with Each Lens
- Front and Rear Lens caps
- Cloth Bag/Case
- Microfiber Cloth
- Quick Adapter Clips
- World’s thinnest lens case
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Who Are These Lenses For?
The simple answer is anyone interested in photography and videography! While they are by no means a “professional” level device, they are very useful, fun, and actually good! Speaking from my perspective, I thought they were great to toss in a small backpack or shoulder bag to have with me for scouting locations for future shoots. An added bonus for location scouting, is no one gives you a second thought while you’re taking photos on your phone! So they’re great for getting in and out without being noticed.
If you’re not interested in carrying around a large or full DSLR system but you still want to be able to get closer to your subject matter, or more creative than just the native iPhone lens, the Sandmarc lenses give you that flexibility while basically fitting in your pocket.
Mounting the Sandmarc Lenses
As mentioned above, each lens comes with a case and a clip that you can use to mount the varying lenses on. The case can be a little tricky to mount the lenses on, and it may take you a few tries to align the threads up properly but once you do it connects pretty fast giving you a clean image. If you’re in a situation where you want to be able to swap the lenses quickly, it may be better to just use the clips instead of the case. As a bonus here you can flip the lens to be used on the front-facing camera too. The trade off is you’ll have to fiddle with the alignment to make sure you’ll get a clean shot, vs the always dead-centered placement when using the Case-Mount.
Sandmarc Wide Lens
The Sandmarc Wide lens, a 16mm equivalent on a 35mm camera, will give you about a 2x field of view when compared to the lens on the iPhone X. A perfect lens to give you a little extra for your landscape and cityscape photos, ensuring you get everything in a single shot.
Sandmarc does better than most lenses on the market when it comes to distortion along the outer edges as I was able to only see a minimal amount.
Sandmarc Telephoto Lens
The Sandmarc Telephoto Lens will give you an equivalent of 3x optical zoom (or 60mm equivalent on a 35mm camera) when positioned over the iPhone X’s lens. Arguably you could just pinch and use the digital zoom to achieve a similar field of view, however you’re going to lose out on the quality of your image if you do this. The native 2x zoomed view will give you a much sharper image through the lens. I mean, just check out the photo below and how clean the end of the pier is when compared to the other wide angle shots!
The purpose of a telephoto lens is to get you closer to the action, and this lens doesn’t disappoint on that front! When combined with the iPhones telephoto lens (bottom mount) you can get up to 4x the zoom!
Sandmarc Macro lens
Weirdly enough, this one was one of my favorites. Maybe it was because I don’t have a Macro lens for my DSLR kit so getting to mess with this guy to get some extra detailed shots was a lot of fun. I fully plan on using this to get details on things that i’ve never been able to shoot before.
Doing some research led me to find out that while there are a LOT of macro lenses available out there for mobile phones, most have a VERY limited focus range. An advantage the Sandmarc lens has over the competition is it’ll stay sharp over a wider focusing distance. Thus giving you a more usable range of framing for your shots.
Sandmac Fisheye Lens
For those moments when a wide-angle just won’t cut it, it’s time to break out the fisheye! This guy is an equivalent of a 10mm lens giving you a 5x field of view with only a slightly amplified distortion. What’s great about this guy is the stylized nature of the shots you can create. Typically found in the “club scene” this lens is also great for shooting landscapes and nature scenes.
- Each lens comes with a phone case as well as the clip version
- Mount system, while a little clunky is very sturdy and secure.
- Cheaper than most other competing systems out there
- Save even more money with a bundle
- Lenses are VERY solid and durably built including a front and back cover.
- Sandmarc even makes filters (ND’s and more) for some of the lenses also giving you even more flexibility and control of your creativity!
- A slight blurriness around the edges on the wide angle and fisheye lenses.
- Only works on one of the two rear facing cameras.
- Case and mount system can be a little tricky to get aligned.
- The case isn’t great, it’s by no means “Bad” but if i wasn’t planning on using the Sandmarc lenses i’d definitely NOT leave the case on for general walkabout usage.
- After just a day or two of use I actually managed to crack the case while trying to get it off of my phone to put my protective case back on. The case is still usable, but it’s only a matter of time before that crack hooks on something and splits it open.
Granted, these were the first lenses i’ve ever used on my iPhone so these guys are setting my baseline. That being said, overall, I was very happy and impressed with the Sandmarc lens kits! The shots I was able to create in my short testing period were clean, crisp and had minimal chromatic aberration and fringing. They added a lot of utility to my mobile phone, and I was able to get more diverse shots than carrying around must my phone on my own. Not only that but the quality is incredible especially for the price point! I feel like as I mentioned above, these are great for the days you want to go out and be able to capture nearly any type of shot, but not have to carry around the weight and size of a full DSLR system. While the quality, naturally, won’t be the same as your full camera system, you can still capture incredible shots from fisheye to telephoto zooms all with a kit that effectively fits in your coat pocket!
I even think with a slight redesign or improvement to the cases for the Sandmarc system i’d be more inclined to leave the case on all the time, thus finding even more reasons to take the lenses with me every time I walk out the door. In the meantime, the clip mounting system provides you with a quick and future proofed method of shooting with the lenses allowing you to use them no matter what version of the phone you’re on.
Bottom line is yes, they are both fun, and functional and if you’re looking for an affordable mobile phone photography system, then definitely check out the Sandmarc Lens & Filter Systems.
I’m actually pretty excited to compare them to some other brands on the market and also play with the Anamorphic lens to see how it holds up for video work!
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Sandmarc Anamorphic Lens & Film Rig
Just recently the team at Sandmarc released an Anamorphic Lens and Film Rig. We haven’t seen or been hands on with these, so we have no first hand input, but from the looks of them and the reviews online it’s a pretty solid setup for the aspiring filmmaker on a budget.
Anamorphic Lens – Designed with professional mobile film-making in mind, the Anamorphic lens captures cinema-like videos with lens flare, black bars and ultra wide aspect ratio as seen in the movies.
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