Review: ExoLens' Wide-Angle Zeiss Lens is Bulky, but Takes Distortion-Free Photos

by

ExoLens and Zeiss have teamed up to create some high-quality lenses designed to take iPhone photography to the next level. At $200, the ExoLens PRO with Optics by Zeiss Wide-Angle Kit for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus is almost the price you'd pay for a standalone camera, but the lens is distortion free, compact, and enhances the range of images you can capture with your iPhone.

exolensoniphone
There are dozens of inexpensive lenses on the market, but most of the cheaper options are unable to measure up to the quality you get with the $199 Zeiss/ExoLens combo.

Design

The ExoLens PRO comes in a padded box and ships alongside several mounts to fit different sized iPhones, including the iPhone 7, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 6s Plus.

Right out of the package, the ExoLens PRO stands apart from other lens options. It's over an inch tall and similar in circumference to a standard pill bottle, with a solid weight to it. The outside of the lens is made from aluminum, and the glass of the lens itself is protected with caps on each side when not in use. Zeiss branding is on the side of the lens, which looks more like a small DSLR lens than a standard iPhone lens.

exolens2
Inside the box, there are two carrying bags for the lens and any accessories, along with an aluminum lens hood and an installation guide.

The lens mount, which fits over the camera lens on the iPhone 7 Plus, features two pieces -- an aluminum outer mount and a softer gel liner. The two pieces are combined and then slipped over the camera side of the iPhone, a process that's quick and easy.

iphoneexolensback
Once the lens mount is in place, the ExoLens PRO can be screwed in place and it's ready to use. Despite its weight, the ExoLens PRO feels stable and secure on the back of the iPhone.

While the lens feels secure, it adds a lot of weight to the iPhone and changes the balance of the device. It's unwieldy to hold and I needed to use two hands when taking a photo. Even then, I was worried it would slip out of my hands.

exolenssize
The ExoLens PRO can't be used with a skin or a case on the iPhone, so there's no real way to add extra grip. The extra weight and bulk of the lens also makes it more difficult to carry -- it's not going to fit in a pocket, and it's awkward to use for other purposes with the lens attached.

It's not difficult to pull the lens off when it's not in use, but it's worth noting that this is a lens that you're only going to want to have on the camera for the express purpose of picture taking. There's a lot more on and off action needed than with smaller lenses like the Olloclip.

exolens
The ExoLens PRO lens mount covers up the telephoto lens, so the lens itself only works with the standard iPhone lens. Since this is a wide-angle lens, that's not a surprise, but it does prevent 2x zoom and Portrait mode from being used while the lens is attached. It does not work with the front-facing camera and it also prevents the flash and the microphone from working properly when attached.

ExoLens has other lens mounting solutions for the iPhone 7, including the newly released $50 ExoLens Case, but the lens mount is the only option for the iPhone 7 Plus at the moment.

Lens and Picture Quality

The lens is a Zeiss Mutar 0.6x Asph T* wide-angle lens, which is an 18mm equivalent. That's wider than the default iPhone camera, which Apple says is 28mm.

exolenscomparison

With ExoLens on right, without ExoLens on left

At 18mm, the Zeiss wide-angle lens is ideal for capturing landscape shots or more of an indoor area, and there's an anti-reflective coating on the lens that seems to improve image quality when it's bright outside.

exolensexample1

ExoLens example shot

Pictures captured with the lens are as sharp and clear as those taken without the lens, and there is no distortion at the edges, a common issue with wide-angle camera lenses designed for the iPhone. I also saw no artifacts or color aberrations.

exolensexample2

ExoLens example shot

Bottom Line

This is something of a niche product, and to be honest, I'm not sure who it's targeted at. The average iPhone user isn't going to want to shell out $200 for a wider-angle iPhone lens, nor should they, and photographers who need a wide-angle lens likely have better camera equipment.

It's a well-built lens that produces high-quality images, but it isn't a whole lot wider than what you get with the built-in camera (18mm vs 28mm) and it's bulky and heavy, so it's not a great solution for most iPhone users.

exolensiphone2
That said, it takes excellent photos, so if you're a person with $200 to spare and you take all of your photos on the iPhone and want to extend your range, this is a lens worth considering.

Pros:

  • Distortion free
  • Easy to put on/remove

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Doesn't work with cases or screen protectors
  • Heavy
  • Adds a lot of bulk to the iPhone

How to Buy

The ExoLens PRO Wide-Angle Kit with a Zeiss Lens can be purchased from the ExoLens website for $199.95.

Note: ExoLens provided MacRumors with a ExoLens PRO with Optics by Zeiss Wide-Angle Kit for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received.

Top Rated Comments

zorinlynx Avatar
48 months ago
Lenses last forever and don't become obsolete.

Phones quickly become obsolete after a few years.

Will they be selling mounting kits for future iPhones so you can keep using these expensive lenses into the future?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ignatius345 Avatar
48 months ago

I know these take really high end photos and the results are that of DSLR. But That looks a little ridiculous attached to the iPhone.

No, not the results of a DSLR. A DSLR has a much much much larger sensor and way better optics. This little lens looks cool, but all the light is still getting funnelled through a tiny iPhone lens and a really tiny sensor. It's all OK in the daytime, but at night you really start to see the difference.

I'm not knocking smartphone photography -- it's absolutely amazing, but there's only so much you can do with that compact of a camera.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Fzang Avatar
48 months ago
Can't get rid of the noise though, which is the biggest problem with smartphone photography.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
simonmet Avatar
48 months ago
It's misleading to say this is lens is distortion free. Not even the best lenses in the world claim that, especially wide-angle lenses. Lens distortion is not a check-box you tick either yes or no. There are different types and it varies from the centre point of an image. You simply cannot represent a spherical surface on a flat plane without some kind of compromise.

What the article probably means to say is that it has rectilinear correction (straight lines appear straight) and relatively low spherical distortion compared with other iPhone add-on lenses of its width. In other words, it's a premium version of this type of product. Even well rectilinear-corrected lenses still get volumetric distortion and perspective effects.

Saying "distortion-free" is market bollocks. It's misleading and incorrect and the author should clarify this for the benefit of readers who may not understand.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Westside guy Avatar
48 months ago

I know these take really high end photos and the results are that of DSLR. But That looks a little ridiculous attached to the iPhone.

Well, no, since there are innate physical limitations related to having a very small sensor.

Today's phones do take awesome photos, given what they are. But if one feels the need to add that kind of bulk to improve the quality of one's photos, a DLSR or mirrorless makes more sense.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macduke Avatar
48 months ago

Cheap and mirrorless don't go in the same sentence anymore. Prices for SLRs have been going back up.

Yeah maybe if you get something like the new pro sports 20fps A9 that costs $4499 but the A6000 has one of the best price/performance ratios out there and can often be found on sale around $399 body only. Personally I'm waiting for the A7III which will likely be in the $1799-1999 range and wreck the 5DMkIV. I'm switching from Canon for my personal work but will still be using a 5DMkIII at work.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iphone 5s black slate

Images of Unreleased iPhone 5s in Black and Slate Shared Online

Sunday January 17, 2021 9:47 am PST by
Twitter user @DongleBookPro has today shared images of a prototype iPhone 5s in an unreleased Black and Slate color. The iPhone 5s was launched in September 2013. The device featured Touch ID, a 64-bit processor, and a True Tone LED flash for the first time. Other new features included a five-element lens with an f/2.2 aperture, a 15 percent larger camera sensor, Burst Mode, and Slo-Mo...
iP12 charge airpods feature 2

Hidden iPhone 12 Hardware Feature Could Still be Unlocked

Thursday January 14, 2021 2:51 am PST by
All iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models purportedly have a hidden reverse wireless charging feature, according to an FCC filing. The feature has not yet been activated, but could yet be unlocked for an upcoming Apple accessory. The FCC filing suggests that iPhone 12 models contain the hardware for Wireless Power Transfer (WPT) to accessories: In addition to being able to be charged by a...
google maps detailed street level e1611052089473

Google Maps Gains Enhanced Street-Level Detail in Four Major Cities

Tuesday January 19, 2021 2:34 am PST by
Google Maps has quietly been updated to include significantly more detailed street-level information in a handful of key cities around the world. Upon zooming in, Google's maps for Central London, Tokyo, San Francisco, and New York now benefit from shapes and widths that match the scale of roads more accurately. Meanwhile, enhanced graphical representations of sidewalks, crosswalks,...
macbook pro flexgate

Apple Extends 13-Inch MacBook Pro Backlight Repair Program

Sunday January 17, 2021 10:31 am PST by
Apple this week extended its worldwide 13-inch MacBook Pro Display Backlight Service Program, authorizing coverage for eligible notebooks for up to five years after the original purchase date or up to three years after the start date of the program, whichever is longer. The previous cutoff was four years after the original purchase date. Apple launched the program on May 21, 2019 after...
lg wing

LG Considering Exit From Smartphone Business, Halts LCD Production for iPhone

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:38 am PST by
LG is considering exiting the smartphone business entirely amid declining shipments and accrued losses of $4.5 billion over the past five years (via The Korea Herald). LG CEO Kwon Bong-Seok cautioned staff earlier today that the company is re-evaluating its presence in the smartphone industry: Since the competition in the global market for mobile devices is getting fiercer, it is about...
airpods max sim ejector

AirPods Max Headband Removable With Just a SIM Ejector Tool, Hinting at Interchangeable Headbands

Tuesday January 19, 2021 8:25 am PST by
It is possible to remove the headband of AirPods Max with just a standard SIM card ejector tool, hinting at the possibility of interchanging headbands to achieve a different colorway. Image via Prelook In December, MacRumors revealed the large variety of AirPods Max ear cushion color combinations when it became clear that they were magnetically attatched and available for sale separately....
macbook pro screensaver table

Some M1 Macs Affected By Fast User Switching Screensaver Bug

Monday January 18, 2021 1:57 am PST by
A growing number of user reports online suggest some of Apple's M1 Mac models are susceptible to a Fast User Switching bug that spontaneously activates the screensaver and leaves the user unable to dismiss it. In macOS Big Sur, Fast User Switching allows users to quickly switch between user accounts without having to completely log out. Based on posts in the MacRumors forums, Apple...
Top Stories 43 Feature

Top Stories: MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Pro, and iPhone Rumors, Best of CES 2021

Saturday January 16, 2021 6:00 am PST by
This week was sure a busy one in the Apple world, with a flurry of announcements out of CES early in the week followed by a rash of Mac- and iPhone-related rumors later in the week. The new rumors this week included details on updated MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac Pro models, as well as a few other tidbits, so make sure to read on below to get caught up! Kuo: New MacBook Pro Models to...
shot on iphone 12 apple

Apple Highlights Photos Shot by iPhone 12 Users: Portraits, Cityscapes, and More

Tuesday January 19, 2021 6:05 am PST by
Apple today shared a gallery of photos shot by customers using the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max, with scenes including cityscapes, landscapes, portraits of people, and more at day and night. Shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by "NKCHU" in China (top) and shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by Rohit Vohra in India (bottom) iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 models have a dual camera ...
Apple and Hyundai feature

Apple Car Production Again Linked to Kia Motor's US Plant in Georgia

Tuesday January 19, 2021 4:19 am PST by
Hyundai intends to transition the company's Apple Car involvement to its Kia brand as part of an internal arrangement that could see production move to the U.S., according to a new report today. On Sunday, Korea IT News reported that Apple and Hyundai are seeking a partnership agreement for the upcoming Apple Car by March, and that the electric vehicles could be made at a Georgia factory...