ExoLens ZEISS Wide Angle: It is the Best iPhone Lens!

Arguably, the iPhone still remains to be the industry's leading smart phone a lot in part due to the camera. Sure there are Android phones like the Samsung S Series and the HTC One Series, that are coming up with extraordinary cameras on their products.  Actually really great cameras that have caught up to the fixed lens camera of the iPhone.

The collaboration with ExoLens® gives us the opportunity to tap into new target groups and provide ambitious mobile phone photographers with high-quality tools to support their creativity.

There are many lens attachments that help level the playing field. Then something awesome happened for iPhone mobile photographers. The Fellowes' ExoLens and Carl Zeiss partnership released the Zeiss Mutar 0.6 Asph T* Wide Angle Lens ($199.95 exclusively on Apple) strictly for the iPhone with the Macro ($149) and Telephoto ($199) lenses to be released next available at the ExoLens shop on their website.

ZEISS has been innovators in the field of optics for over 170 years. They have been in the business not just working on camera and cine glass but range from medical and vision to sports and planetariums. They are responsible for many innovations in the design and and engineering of optics. From the Voigtländer to the Tessar, ZEISS made its name on great glass for those of us who are visual creatives. With that said, you can understand my excitement to try out the new collaborative work between ZEISS and ExoLens. 

Fellowes' ExoLens are innovators as well in the line of mobile photography. Creating great lenses for smart phones and under the Fellowes' banner, the quality is competitive with some of the world's best for mobile technology. 

This is a great pairing and it shows.

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The Unboxing

Jackson Lake, Wyoming (ExoLens/ iPhone Panorama). Brad Puet

I received the ExoLens ZEISS Wide Angle right before my trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. All the images featured in this article are used with my iPhone 6s and the ExoLens Carl Zeiss Wide Angle lens. I was also testing another lens attachment which I found great for general consumers. The ExoLens pushed the envelope. It did so to the point where I thought that any and all mobile photographers who were serious about their iPhone photography, needed to purchase the ExoLens with the highest recommendation.

The box came with the wide angle lens which is an 18mm equivalent. Point of reference the iPhone fixed lens focal length is a 4.15mm or in comparison to the ExoLens WIde Angle - it is basically a 30mm equivalent. The build quality on this lens is extraordinary. It just feels like how a lens should be. It is heavier than other lens attachments. It is also one of the largest lenses that I have for my iPhone. On the back of the lens is the thread where you attach to the lens bracket.

Also included in the box: the lens bracket with rubber liner, an extra liner, a lens cap, a lens hood, and lens bag.  The bracket itself is also of very good quality. It is made of machined aluminum and is light but feels very sturdy. The bracket includes a standard tripod mount (1/4") and a cold shoe mount for extra lights, microphone, or any other accessory that you could attach to it. One of the complaints that I have heard from others is that it blocks the flash unit on the iPhone. As I have mentioned before, the flash on the iPhone or any other smart phone should never be used if you are serious about taking good photos in low light. This complaint from others is a solution as far as I am concerned.

The lens cap and lens hood are also great additions to the ExoLens. Both hood and cap are sturdy and I have left my lens, cap, and hood, attached to the bracket in my camera bag and computer bag and have absolutely no issues with its durability.

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The Lens

The Grand Tetons. Brad Puet

I have been asked to review many lenses and if they do not fair well on the basic of tests, I will not even put a write up and will let the company know. Many of these companies make products that are cheaply made and are actually really cheap to purchase. This should already be a consumers first hint not to purchase. As far as these lenses are concerned; the higher priced products are generally priced high for a reason. Of course there could be exceptions but I have yet to see it. 

The ExoLens Wide Angle and its counterparts, Macro and Telephoto, are priced high. For the price you are getting what you paid for.

As I stated earlier, you attach the lens by screwing the lens onto the bracket. Other lenses attach by clips, adhesives, magnets, and other crazy ways of attaching.  The ExoLens got it right in my opinion by threading the lens onto the bracket. It is secure and it will not slip on and off. The only way you will probably run into a problem is if you drop it. Again you will not have to worry about it falling or slipping off at all. 

For my big camera system, the camera body is important but more important is the quality of glass I have to accompany that body. The same goes for mobile photography. A great lens will give you sharp photos with zero to no distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration. 

In a nutshell:

  • Distortion is any deformation of lines in a photograph. For the purpose of this review, we will focus on optical or lens distortion which means any deformation that is caused by the lens.
  • Vignetting is the loss of brightness or saturation in a photograph around the edges in comparison to the center.
  • Chromatic aberration is when a lens is unable to bring all wavelengths of color onto the same focal plane resulting in some blurriness and pronounced colored edges. 

There are many lens adapters in mobile photography. Some of them rate good for these 3 categories but never great. The bulk of them are actually really bad when it comes to these categories. Again it is based on the build and the glass of course. 

With the wide angle lens, you will definitely get a great point of view that is significantly wider than the fixed lens. As far as how the lens rates on the 3 categories, the lens totally blew me away. There was absolutely visible vignetting and chromatic aberration. Absolutely none. These photos were from a set of about two dozen. In those 24 images, none of them had those issues. In those 24 images, only 2 showed some distortion and because of that ratio, I can almost say that is more of a user issue than a lens issue. It is almost that simple.

The photos I took with the ExoLens Zeiss Wide Angle, especially in comparison to the other lens I was testing, showed as being very sharp with clean edges free of any distortion, vignetting, or aberration.

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My Final Word

Mammoth Springs, Yellowstone. Brad Puet

 I have had the honor and privilege of doing a lot of things within the mobile photography realm. I have had the opportunity of shooting corporate events, commercial and editorial shoots, been exhibited in international galleries, and covered sporting and music events using just my smart phone. 

In doing so, I have used many different types of accessories for smart phones to help my mobile photography. Lens adapters and attachments have been important for me to be able to produce great images for clients and more importantly to share with consumers on the best products that they should purchase. 

I can honestly say that the ExoLens Carl Zeiss Wide Angle Lens is the best out there and there is nothing out there that can compare. 

The bracket is light yet very sturdy. It hugs the iPhone very tight and by itself can protect the smart phone pretty well. It is not necessarily what it is meant for but it can. When I say it snugs tightly, I mean it snugs really tight. It takes a bit of work to pull it off. Also the cold shoe mount and the universal tripod mount shows the foresight in design. 

The most important part of this article is, "how did the lens do?" Well as a professional photographer and one who also uses mobile photography as part of my repertoire, I will have to repeat myself and say that this lens is simply the best. Again as far as my tests go out in the field, the optical quality is excellent. The build and reputation in itself already set itself apart but it definitely showed in the image production.

Some concerns I can see that others may have but were not necessarily something I was worried about are; the price, the bulkiness of the lens on the iPhone, and as said earlier, some complained of the native flash being blocked. I understand the pricing but again I think that in order to attain the best quality and that is your main goal, then you would want to pay the premium money for the premium outcome. I would have purchased the lens regardless based on the name and reputation. As for the bulkiness, it is true. It could be cumbersome. I did adjust my grip and after a few photos, it became a natural and ergonomic fit for me. 

I do look forward to using the macro and telephoto lenses in this series. If the precision quality and build is the same in those lenses are the same as what is in its wide angle counterpart, then mobile photographers who use the iPhone will no longer need to try any other lens adapters.

I look forward to seeing this series of lenses advance and see how and where the competition tries to take the current champion for mobile photographers.

I highly recommend the ExoLens Carl Zeiss Wide Angle lens.