Updated with Video! iPhone camera lenses and filters for use with the Helium Core iPhone camera rig
There are many lenses on the market, ranging from the basic “kit” lens that accompany some rigs to high end lenses that are sold individually. iPhone camera lenses differ in the quality of the lens design, the quality of the optical elements (the glass), the coatings used on the front surface of the lens, and the build quality. You’ll see those differences manifest themselves in the sharpness of the image, the contrast, the colors and the levels of distortion. In most cases, the adage “You get what you pay for” rings true; better quality lenses and filters generally cost more.
The lens mount on the Helium Core accepts 37mm screw mount lenses and filters. We chose this size because many lenses and filters can be found in this size, since it’s the same as the one used on many camcorders. Do a search for "37mm lens" to find lenses and filters that fit the Helium Core.
In addition to that, the Helium Core was designed to accommodate a couple of popular brands of lenses that use different lens mount systems.
37mm lens mount on the Helium Core iPhone camera rig
WHAT LENSES SHOULD I GET?
One of the questions we get most often is “What lens should I get first?”. As a general rule, we recommend getting a wide angle lens, as it allows you to get a wider field of view, and hence, more of the scene that you’re shooting in your image. This is the most useful lens because while you can zoom in your camera app(we don’t recommend it, but it can be useful in a pinch), you can’t shoot any wider without a wide angle lens. This is particularly useful if you like shooting architecture, as that additional field of view allows you to capture more of the buildings that you want to shoot. It’s also handy to have when you’re shooting in a small, enclosed area, such as a music venue, a house party or restaurant.
Wide angle architectural shot taken with Exolens Pro with Optics by Zeiss
The next type of lens you get really depends on the type of photography you enjoy the most. Some people favor portraiture or street photography, which would be greatly served by having a telephoto lens. Other people may enjoy macro and closeup photography, which would require a macro lens. If you enjoy them both, then you should get both! The beauty of lenses is that if you buy a lens that doesn’t have a unique lens mount, or one that can be adapted to work with other manufacturers’ products, you have an investment that will last an eternity.
The telephoto lens helps you to shoot and focus on your portrait subjects, or shoot a subject in a street scene from afar, without having to get too close. By virtue of its focal length, it provides some shallow depth of field, which is a quality typically associated with portraits. Your subject can be in sharp focus, while her background is a bit softer, which draws your eye to the subject. It helps in street scenes too, as isolating your main subject can help draw your viewer’s eye to him.
Macro lenses are incredibly useful when you need to shoot close ups of items and expose details in your subjects. Macro photography is also an incredibly fun and rewarding way to explore a Lilliputian world, and bring attention to objects that we may otherwise not think about otherwise because they’re so small. Whether it’s the pistils or stamens of a flower, the undulations and textures found in common objects such as a rug, or the terrifying images of common insects taken at large scale, macro photography reveals a new world of imagery to us.
Detail shot of a peacock feather shot with a macro lens
SPECIALTY LENSES AND ADAPTERS
There are a few specialty lenses and adapters on the market that are really interesting to anyone who wants to expand their creative freedom. One of these is the Moondog Labs anamorphic adapter (pictured below mounted on the Helium Core). The Moondog Labs anamorphic allows you to shoot videos and photos in extra-wide aspect ratio. Where conventional videos are taken with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the Moondog Labs adapter stretches that out to 2.4:1.
Moondog Labs anamorphic on Helium Core iPhone filmmaking rig
While many filmmakers shot that aspect ratio prior to the introduction of the Moondog Labs unit, they were shooting regular video and chopping off the top and/or bottom to get that effect. With the anamorphic adapter, you’re not losing any of the camera sensor’s resolution, since the 2.4:1 image is being “squeezed” onto the sensor, then de-squeezed in software, either in post production or in the video app.
Another interesting adapter is the depth of field adapter (DOF), that enables you to use SLR lenses with the iPhone. Companies such as EnCinema, Turnikit and Turtleback make these adapters. They are effectively cylinders with two lens mounts - one on the iPhone end and one on the opposite end. These devices work by projecting the image that goes through the SLR lens onto a screen, which is typically made of ground glass. Your iPhone then records the image that’s projected onto that screen. Unless you have an iPhone 7 Plus, which has the Depth Effect function in its photo app, using the DOF adapter is currently the only way of getting significant depth of field on an iPhone.
It would be virtually impossible for us to test products from every single lens manufacturer, but among the ones we’ve tested, a few companies truly stand out. The Moondog Labs anamorphic adapter is one of our favorite pieces of glass, and it has a unique look that you simply can’t replicate with any other lens. It comes in a 37mm screw mount, which fits perfectly on the Helium Core.
Top view of Moondog Labs anamorphic on Helium Core iPhone video rig
(early prototype of Helium Core shown)
The Exolens Pro with Optics by Zeiss is an incredible family of lenses. It comes in wide angle, telephoto and zoom-macro versions. They are true Zeiss quality lenses, with incredible build quality, aspherical lens elements and their famous T* coating, which gives images a unique look. While these lenses don’t fit directly on the Helium Core, as of the time this was written, we’re in the final stages of development on a step down lens adapter that will allow you to use them.
Helium step down lens adapter enables use of Zeiss Exolens on Helium Core
Moment, Inc. makes some great lenses too, and they’re great value for the price. While Moment uses a proprietary lens mounting system, we designed the Helium Core to accommodate their mount. You can insert the Moment lens mounting plate between your iPhone and Helium Core, so you can attach your favorite Moment lenses, which come in wide angle, telephoto, macro and fisheye focal lengths. A couple of things to note are that you don’t have to use the adhesive backing that comes on the lens mounting plate, and that once you mount it, you won’t be able to mount any lenses using the 37mm screw lens mount. Fortunately, removing the lens plate is a matter of simply removing the thumbscrews from your Helium Core and taking the lens plate out.
Moment lens on Moment lens plate and Helium Core iPhone photo rig
Filters are a vital tool in the serious photographer’s bag, as they allow you to do things that you simply can’t do in Photoshop or in video post-production. A polarizing filter, for instance, helps you to cut down on reflections in water or glass. It also helps to give your image greater color saturation and darken blue skies. The latter has the effect of increasing the contrast between clouds and sky, which could really make your image pop.
Another really useful filter is the Neutral Density filter. As the name suggests, neutral density filters, or ND filters, don’t color or taint the image. They are used when you want to decrease the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor. In photography, ND filters are useful when you want to increase the exposure time of your image. An example of when you would want to do this is if you’re shooting flowing water; to get the soft, creamy look of flowing water, you need to keep the shutter speed low and expose the image longer. ND filters help to make sure that you don’t overexpose the scene when you expose for a longer period of time.
In filmmaking and videography, ND filters are used to help accomplish what is often termed the “film look” or the “cinematic look”. It’s that look that people typically associate with movies, hence the name. In order for you to get that cinematic look, the general rule is that you shoot at 24 frames per second, and set the shutter speed to 1/48 of a second. That relatively slow shutter speed results in motion blur, which contributes to the “film look”. In order to maintain that shutter speed in bright conditions, ND filters are used to decrease the amount of light that hits the camera sensor, preventing overexposure. Without ND filters, accomplishing that look on an iPhone can only happen under very specific lighting conditions, which would make shooting really challenging.
Sample footage showing the "filmic look" or "cinematic look" and the unique look that you get with the Moondog Labs anamorphic adapter
Both lenses and filters really help you as a creative to realize your vision, so whenever possible, buy the best quality products you can afford. The investment will last a long time (I still have camera lenses that are over 30 years old in my possession!) and you and your images will benefit from the better quality of these products.