7 Cool Smartphone Cameras and Accessories
JANUARY 27, 2014
By Greg Scoblete
Inch by incremental inch, smartphones are becoming more capable cameras and each step of the way, the universe of supporting photo accessories has grown in functionality, novelty and utility. We’re not suggesting you cast aside your beloved digital SLR (perish the thought), but we do think these smartphones and accessories make great gear bag companions.
It helps to think of the Hitcase Pro as something of a Batsuit. Once your mild-mannered iPhone slips on this ABS/polycarbonate-based suit of armor, it becomes a rugged maniac, capable of diving up to 33 feet underwater, repelling dust and dirt, and surviving otherwise fatal shocks and falls thanks to its silicone-girded interior, all while preserving access to the touchscreen and the full functionality of the phone. But Hitcase does more than merely protect the iPhone from harm, it augments the lens thanks to its wide-angle attachment (which is built just as sturdily into the case). The Hitcase Pro lens allows for a three times greater field of view than the existing iPhone 5 lens. Its railside mounting system lets you secure your phone on eight different GoPro-compatible mounts so you can capture point-of-view footage across handlebars, helmets and more. It also works with a free Vidometer app that will overlay your speed, elevation, compass heading, G-force (!) and GPS coordinates on any video you take, as if to goad you into risking your life. Buyer beware.
Nokia Lumia 1020
Windows Phone may be the underdog among mobile operating systems, but the camera on Nokia’s Lumia 1020 is second to none. The Lumia 1020 boasts a 41-megapixel image sensor with a fixed focal length, f/2.2, Carl Zeiss Tessar lens that includes optical image stabilization. The lens can focus down on subjects up to 5.9 inches away. The Lumia 1020 is loaded with camera-friendly features including a real mechanical shutter, Xenon flash and the ability to capture two images at once: one high-resolution photo for your archives and printing needs, plus a low-res version that’s easier to e-mail and post to social networks. Beyond the camera, the Lumia 1020 offers a high-resolution, 4.5-inch, AMOLED display (1280 x 768; 334 pixels per inch), a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal memory. You won’t be able to use external memory cards on the Lumia 1020 but Microsoft does throw in 7 GB worth of free SkyDrive cloud storage to make up for that. Additional features include LTE connectivity, NFC and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chats.
Price: $299 with a two-year AT&T contract
The Dot is a snap-on lens that enables an iPhone (4 and up) to record 360-degree video. Used in conjunction with the free Looker app, the Dot transforms your phone into an immersive camcorder. You place the phone down on a flat surface or horizontally on the palm of your hand, hit record on the app (or the volume’s “up” button) and everything around you is captured. It can be refocused simply by tapping the screen. Finished videos can be e-mailed or posted to Facebook or Twitter. Footage can also be uploaded to the Kogeto site, where other 360-degree-video enthusiasts are showing off their chops. The resulting video is completely immersive and viewers can use a finger swipe (on touchscreen devices) or mouse scrolls to travel the entire 360 degrees that the Dot has recorded.
Sony QX10 and QX100
While Sony makes their own line of respectable Android phones, its “lens-style camera” accessory has caught our eye with the promise of delivering superior photographs and high-definition video to any smartphone on the market, irrespective of brand or operating system. The QX10 lens-style camera is a compact lens and image sensor designed to be snapped over the lens of a smartphone to create a mobile imaging hybrid: your phone’s large display handles the viewfinder duties and its mobile bandwidth and apps do the photo sharing, while the QX10’s 10x optical zoom lens (25mm) and 18-megapixel image sensor deliver image quality that’s hard to match on a mere phone. Using Wi-Fi or NFC and Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app, the QX10 can snap photos and transfer them to your phone, or it can store images locally on a MicroSD card. The unit doesn’t need to be physically attached to a phone to work: The QX10 can be triggered remotely or work independently without a phone at all (although with no viewfinder, you’ll be shooting blindly). The lens-style camera has a physical shutter and a zoom rocker, or you can use the app to control camera settings. It has a maximum ISO of 3200. If you need a higher end option, the QX100 lens-style camera boasts a 20-megapixel, back-illuminated, CMOS sensor; a 3.5x zoom (28-100mm f/1.8) Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* zoom lens with optical image stabilization; a max ISO of 6400; and RAW image capture capability.
Prices: $249 for QX10; $499 for QX100
Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom
One of several variants of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 flagship smartphone, the S4 zoom’s basic premise is to blend the best features of a phone with the improved optics and resolution of a traditional compact camera. So, the S4 zoom functions as any Android (version 4.2) smartphone would, except it has a large lens and, as a consequence, a larger, bulkier design to accommodate a more traditional camera grip. It offers a 10x optical zoom, wide-angle lens with optical image stabilization. You’ll find a 4.3-inch display (960 x 540; 256 ppi) on the S4 zoom (down from five inches on the standard S4); a 1.5GHz dual-core processor; 1.5 GB of RAM; a 16-megapixel, backside-illuminated, CMOS image sensor; and 8 GB of internal memory (5 GB of which is usable, though there’s a microSD slot for added space and photo storage). Other camera-friendly features include a Xenon flash, light metering, 20 scene modes, and manual control over exposure, white balance, shutter speed and aperture. The 4G-enabled S4 zoom can record 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second (fps), or push the resolution down to 720p for 60 fps recording. A 1.9-megapixel, front-facing camera is also on hand for video calls and all those selfies. One interesting feature on the S4 zoom is In-Call Photo Share, which lets you snap a picture while on a voice call and have that image automatically sent to your interlocutor via text without interrupting the call.
Price: Not available at press time
Apple iPhone 5s
While it may not be quite “DSLR-like”—in the predictably soaring rhetoric of Apple’s marketing executives—the iPhone 5s does represent a significant overhaul of the iPhone’s already market-leading photo capabilities. It starts with a new 8-megapixel sensor that’s 15 percent larger than its predecessor, with a new lens that offers an aperture of f/2.2, making the total photographic package 33 percent more light sensitive than the iPhone 5. The flash has also been substantially overhauled. The new True Tone flash consists of a white LED and amber LED, and a software algorithm that can properly match the flash with the color temperature of the scene providing up to 1,000 unique flash possibilities. Thanks to the new A7 chip, the iPhone 5s has double the autofocusing speed of the iPhone 5 and there’s now an option to record 720p video at 120 frames per second for slow-motion footage. Apple has also overhauled photo management on the phone’s operating system, breaking up the camera roll into collections that can be organized by date or location, and adding Instagram-inspired photo filters and a new square aspect ratio.
Price: $199 with a two-year contract
For iPhone owners looking to inject some added creativity into their photography, the HiLO Lens is worth a look. It attaches to the iPhone (compatible with model 4 on up) at a right angle via a reusable tacky pad, which HiLO claims can be used dozens of times before it needs to be cleaned with the included microfiber cloth. Once the lens is attached, the HiLO lets you achieve some truly interesting angles by laying your phone on the ground, placing it on a flat surface or simply holding it at waist level. The lens features an all-aluminum construction with three glass elements and a 0.7-degree wide-angle field of view. A free companion app gives you the ability to put the shutter on delay and use voice controls to snap a photo. The app also offers independent focus and exposure control for the lens and lets you correct for scene rotation and mirroring. When you’re done, you can slip the lens into a sturdy aluminum container that can be conveniently clipped to a keyring.
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Object of Desire: Lumu