Our Favorite Smartphone Camera Lens for 2016

Modern Nomad is a weekly column dedicated to mobile gear, must-see world destinations, tips for life on the road, and traveling better through technology.

Professional photographers know the most important tool in their technical arsenal is good, quality glass. Even with a mid-range camera, it’s possible to snap NatGeo-worthy photos as long as you have a good lens or two in your pack. For budding travel photographers who’re looking to pack extremely light, the answer is a quality smartphone lens kit.

Photojojo — long-time innovators of the coolest smartphone accessories on the market — have the solution. Their recently released Iris Lens Series (for the iPhone 6/6s, iPhone 6/6s Plus, and the Samsung S5/S6) is a 3-in-1 lens kit that includes high-quality wide angle, fisheye, and macro lenses in a pocket-sized form factor.

Related: 5 Must-have Accessories for Traveling iPhoneographers

Two notable things distinguish the Iris Series from comparable lens kits. First is its diminutive size and packability. The kit ships with a small white “shoe” for mounting or storing your current glass and two additional cases for protecting the remaining lenses. Even stacked three-high, the entire kit is incredibly small — roughly the size of a Snickers bar.

Photojojo Iris Lens Series

Second is the clever, well-thought-out mounting system. Simply affix any lens in the small shoe, snap the shoe onto your phone (with a tiny plastic clip provided in the kit), and stretch the shoe’s bungee cord over the back of the smartphone. In practice, swapping the lens takes less than 20 seconds — an important feature in the often rapidly changing landscape of travel photography. The versatile bungee design also allows the kit to fit over any case on the market (excluding extra thick waterproof or battery cases).

Build quality is truly second to none. The glass is crafted by the same factory that produces pro grade lenses for the likes of Canon, Nikon, and Leica. The lenses are then mounted into ultra-high precision, lathe-cut aluminum housings to guarantee perfect alignment. Not only do they look great, but they feel solid and durable as well.

Lastly, and most importantly, is the image quality. In short: it’s the best we’ve ever seen in a smartphone kit, period. The wide angle lens provides crisp, clear landscape/cityscape photos (even at the edges) with little distortion. Fisheye lenses have long been something of a novelty, but the Iris’ is an easy way to jazz up your Instagram photos and videos beyond the typical array of filters. The macro lens is designed for extreme close-ups — less than an inch in many cases — for capturing everything from bees on a flower to the fine detail in a line of ink.

The Verdict

For $99 (USD), you won’t find a better designed, higher quality, more easily packable smartphone lens kit anywhere.

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