Ztylus Review: This Modular Lens and Case System Protects Your Phone and Improves Your Photos

by

Ztylus is a company that specializes in a complete photography kit for the iPhone, bundling a protective iPhone case with a 4-in-1 lens attachment and an additional LED ring light attachment for improving low-light photos. We gave away a special limited edition Ztylus camera kit earlier this year, and now I'm following up with a complete review of the company's accessory system.

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Compared to other photography accessories available for the iPhone, the Ztylus system has some positives and negatives. On the positive side, it's modular and the case can be used with or without the accompanying camera attachment, plus it's nice to have a complete 4-in-1 system that can be stored directly on the iPhone. On the negative side, it's limited to the rear camera, bulky, and adds a lot of weight to the featherlight iPhone 6 Plus.

The Hardware

There are two main parts to the Ztylus: the iPhone case and the camera lens attachment. The iPhone case can be used without the lenses, but the reverse is not true -- Ztylus's lenses require the Ztylus case and can't be used with another third-party case due to the way the lens attachment snaps onto the back. The case I reviewed is the Metal Series for the iPhone 6 Plus.

ztyluscasefrontandback
The case itself comes apart in two pieces to get it onto the phone, and as far as cases go, it's protective and in line with other open-screen cases on the market. It's mainly made of a hard, textured plastic and comes in several different colors, with a solid metal bottom piece. There's a large hole in the back of the case, which is where the lens attachment snaps in. When the lens isn't attached, there's a separate plastic piece with a built-in kickstand that can prop the iPhone up for taking photos or watching movies.

ztylusstand
The case feels solid and well-made, with cutouts for all of the ports and an inner microfiber lining, but its build and the lens attachment point at the back make it bulky, and it doesn't have a neutral aesthetic that everyone's going to like. There is a second, less expensive case available that's all plastic for a more streamlined look.

ztylusmetalbottom
As someone who prefers simple, thin cases, the Ztylus case is not a case I would want on my phone permanently so it's not something I would use on its own without the lens attachment. For people who like the look and don't mind a case that's more rigid and thick (it's 10.7mm, so I don't mean Otterbox bulk here, but it's thicker than most cases) the versatility of being able to swap between a lens attachment and a kickstand without needing to remove the entire case will be a handy feature.

I should point out here that swapping between the lens and the kickstand was often an exercise in frustration. Each time I needed to change the pieces, I felt like I was putting together a puzzle. It's not entirely obvious how things line up and snap on, and if an attachment is not on in the right position, it won't work properly.

ztyluswithlensattachment
The Ztylus Revolver Lens Attachment is circular with three built-in lenses and one snap-on lens for a total of four lens options. It's about an inch thick, made of plastic and metal, and adds a considerable amount of bulk and weight to the iPhone. Twisting the attachment changes the lens, and each one pops out to cover the iPhone's camera. When not in use, the lens pops back into the circular attachment, keeping it free from dust.

ztyluswithlensattachmentopen
With the case and the lens attachment on, my iPhone 6 Plus weighs 293 grams. The case and lens attachment add 120 grams, a significant addition to the 173 grams the iPhone weighs on its own. Broken down, the lens attachment weighs in at 72 grams and the case weighs in at 48 grams.

Available lenses include fisheye, wide-angle, macro, and circular polarizer (CPL), for cutting down on glare and reflections. The wide-angle lens is transformed into a macro lens by removing a magnetic attachment. Lenses are made of glass and produced good quality images in all of my tests. Each one works as expected.

The fisheye gives a 180 degree view, the wide-angle lens increases the field of view, and the macro lens is 10x with an 18mm focusing distance. The wide-angle produces some distortion at the edges of images and there's some softness at the corners of photographs when using the lens, but overall, pictures taken with it turned out well. The wide-angle, which will let you get more into a shot, is arguably the most useful lens attachment the Ztylus system offers because the macro, fisheye, and CPL will only be used situationally.

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The CPL is nice to have when you need to take a photograph of a bright blue sky on a sunny day, because it'll keep the sky from looking washed out. You can rotate the ring around the CPL to adjust the look of the photo. The fisheye makes fun warped photos, but like the CPL, it's not something that you're going to use on a day-by-day basis.

The macro lens is also not something that most people will use frequently, but it is the lens I was most impressed with. With an 18mm focal distance, you need to be close to a subject to get a clear picture, but pictures that are in focus come out crisp and look fantastic.

I also checked out an optional accessory that works with the Ztylus system, the LED Light Ring Attachment. Like the lens attachment, the light ring snaps onto the back of the Ztylus case, but it can be used with the Ztylus lenses as a standalone attachment. When snapped onto the back of the Ztylus case, the light ring only works with the standard iPhone camera, improving low-light images and videos.

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Image taken with flash on the left, LED Light Ring on right

It works with three AAA batteries and has an adjustable temperature control, dimmers, and a set of diffusers. In my testing, it offered a slight benefit over the iPhone's built-in flash for photos, and a decent amount of improvement for low-light videos. A light like this can be useful for making sure macro photos and portraits come out super crisp, plus it's reasonably priced at $59.95.

ztylusringlightled

Photos

Ztylus' lenses seem to be as high-quality as many other mobile-focused lenses on the market, and all of the photographs I took using the lenses turned out well, with no noticeable difference in light quality or sharpness, except at the edges of images taken with the wide-angle lens. There's some distortion in the wide-angle photos, but it's not hugely noticeable in most images and it's normal for any mobile wide-angle lens.

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No lens photo on left, wide-angle shot on right

You will definitely notice some softness and blur at the edges of photos taken with the wide-angle lens.

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Image taken with wide-angle lens

As you can see in each of the photos, you can get a lot more in a shot using the wide-angle lens. It's useful for landscapes, shots where you want to capture an entire room, panoramas, and more. It's quite versatile and it's the lens that will likely be used most in this set.

ztyluswideangle

No lens photo on left, wide-angle shot on right

The fisheye lens captures a 180-degree shot. It's fun to use every once in awhile, but it's not a lens you're going to want to use all the time. The effect looks best close up or when you get straight lines in the image. Ztylus' fisheye is comparable to mobile fisheye lenses from other companies.

ztylusfisheye
The macro lens included with this set is accessible by snapping off the wide-angle lens. It captures crisp photos with nice bokeh in the background. Macro lenses are another one of those lenses that are fun to use every once in awhile, but it's not something most people will pull out every day.

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A CPL is the fourth lens in the Ztylus set. It's useful for cutting down on glare and reflections (like on a body of water) and it's something that'll primarily be used outdoors. It's a good lens to choose when you want to take a landscape shot that has a bright blue sky with clouds because it'll keep the sky from getting washed out, giving you a nice deep blue. The example below isn't great because there were no clouds in the sky here in California, but it demonstrates the color differences you can achieve using the CPL.

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Normal shot on left, with CPL on right

All of the above photos, plus additional images that I took using the Ztylus lens set can be viewed in this Imgur album in full resolution so you can get closer look at how photos come out with the lenses.

Bottom Line

When choosing a lens system, making a decision between Ztylus, Olloclip, or another lens on the market will come down to the way you use your device, your aesthetic preferences, and the importance of features like upgradeability.

Comparative to other 4-in-1 lenses on the market, the Ztylus is competitive, offering many of the same features with the added bonus of a modular system, but it's more expensive. The Ztylus lens attachment is priced at $69.99, but it requires the accompanying case, with pricing that starts at $29.99, for a total price of $100. One of Ztylus' main competitors, Olloclip, offers a 4-in-1 option for both the front and rear-facing cameras with fisheye, wide-angle, 10x macro and 15x macro lenses for $79.99 and a case is not required.

The Ztylus system is bulkier and heavier than I would like, but it is versatile and will work well for people who want to invest in a case-and-lens system that has multiple purposes and several components. Because it's modular, there's a chance the lens attachments could continue to work with the iPhone for many years in the future, depending on the nature of the design changes that Apple implements.

ztyluscasefaceup
Most lens attachments are fitted so closely to an iPhone that they're rendered useless as soon as a new exterior design comes out, but it's possible that a future design change may leave the camera in relatively the same position, so the lens attachment portion of the Ztylus system could continue to work with a new case.

Of course, any major size or camera changes have the potential to render it useless, so while that's an added perk, I wouldn't recommend purchasing for that reason alone. The other benefit to a modular construction is the ability to add on additional accessories in the future should Ztylus release new products.

There's another perk to the Ztylus lens system worth pointing out - all of the lenses are in a single circular attachment, so there's nothing to lose and no lens caps or cases to fuss with. It's simpler than many competing systems. The included case also seems to offer solid drop protection, a feature that some will love about the Ztylus, and the Ring Light optional accessory is reasonably priced and useful.

Despite the benefits to the Ztylus system, I can't overlook the weight and bulk that it adds to my phone, and so while I can see why some people would choose it, it's not the right system for me. It's overly thick and it is an awkward size that doesn't fit comfortably into a pocket with the lens attached.

It adds an uneven amount of weight to the iPhone that can make it hard to hold the device steady and level when taking photos or videos, and most of the lenses, while good, are only situationally useful and can't match the myriad options offered with other systems. A better lens set would include a telephoto and a wide-angle, both lenses that nicely complement the iPhone's own camera.

Pros:

  • Modular system supports upgrades
  • Can add new accessories
  • Case is well-made and protective
  • Lenses are high-quality
  • Ring Light is useful for improving low-light videos/photos

Cons:

  • Case is bulky
  • Lens attachment is heavy and thick
  • Fisheye, Circular Polarizer, and Macro lenses only situationally useful
  • Base system is more expensive than other options
  • Limited lens options
  • Can't use Ring Light with Revolver Lens attachment

How to Buy

The kit in the review, which includes the Metal Series iPhone Case and the Revolver 4-in-1 Lens Attachment is available for $114.95 from the Ztylus website. There's also a cheaper all plastic case with lens attachment for $99.95, and the lens attachment alone sells for $69.95. The LED Ring Light attachment is available for $59.95.

Note: MacRumors received no compensation for this review.

Tags: review, Ztylus

Top Rated Comments

Benjamin Frost Avatar
72 months ago
Seems a lot of faff and expense for lenses that could become obsolete in two years.

Better to spend $100 on a point and shoot, methinks.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mrgraff Avatar
72 months ago
No matter how good the iPhone camera is (I just used a "6" as my only camera for a vacation last week and got some awesome shots) there is a point where you're spending so much on accessories to make it "better" that you might as well save a few more bucks and just get a "real" camera.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Even Longer Avatar
72 months ago
The very first Con should be: OMG is that ugly.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MH01 Avatar
72 months ago
Just buy a Nokia, about the same size with that case on, except the Nokia looks better
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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