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Phocus phantastic for phun iPhone photography

Back in the dark ages of the iPhone 3GS, there was the OWLE bubo -- a machined aluminum case that provided more gripping surface for holding the phone as a camera, a tripod mount, a cold shoe for an LED light, and interchangeable lenses. When the iPhone 4 and 4S came out, the company didn't create a new bubo the company updated the device to hold the newer iPhones. They're back now as Phocus with a new, less expensive, and lighter product that works with the iPhone 4/4S.

The Phocus comes in two varieties -- a kit with two lenses for US$99.95 or a three lens kit for $134.95. The two lens kit is actually made up of a wide angle lens with a removable macro lens, while the three lens kit adds a 2X portrait telephoto lens. A lens cap to protect the wide angle / macro is available for $8.95. If you like using filters (UV Haze, polarizing, or effect), both the wide angle lens and portrait telephoto lens take standard 49 mm filters.

You're not limited to these lenses, though. If you use either Canon or Nikon SLR lenses, you'll be happy to know that there's a lens adapter ($219.95) that will let you use your favorite big glass for shooting incredible photos.

The biggest change in the Phocus comes in the material used to construct it. While the OWLE bubo was machined from a chunk of aluminum and had some heft, the new Phocus Accent is made of a composite material that is much lighter. And while the old unit had an odd shape that made it difficult to hold with one hand, the Phocus has a nice grip that sticks out on the front for easy one-handing.

For connecting to a tripod, there are three separate screw mounts -- one directly under the center of gravity of the phone and Phocus, one under the hand grip, and another on top of the device. As with the original device, there's a cold shoe for attaching lights or microphones, and all of the iPhone 4/4S ports are easily accessible.

The metal fittings on the Phocus are made out of brass and should stand up well to installing and removing lenses or tripods. As with any screw-mount equipment, I'd recommend a light hand on tightening the lenses to avoid stripping the threads.

How does it work? The photos below show a plain iPhone photo (top) and a shot from the same distance with the wide angle lens (bottom):

Phocus phantastic for phun iPhone photography

Phocus phantastic for phun iPhone photography

The next pair of photos demonstrates the use of the iPhone's built-in macro capability (top) and the Phocus macro lens (bottom):

Phocus phantastic for phun iPhone photography

Phocus phantastic for phun iPhone photography

Conclusion

Having used both the old OWLE bubo and the new Phocus, I am quite impressed with how the company was able to reinvent this useful photographic accessory. Especially with the macro lens, I found the photos I was taking with the 8-megapixel camera in the iPhone 4S to be spectacular when viewed at full size. While the Phocus and iPhone are not a substitute for a high-end professional DSLR, they rival or beat the quality and capability of many point and shoot cameras.

Pros

  • Well-constructed
  • Lightweight, especially in comparison to the first-generation device
  • Included lenses are perfect for adding wide-angle and closeup macro capabilities to the iPhone 4/4S

Cons

  • Cost of SLR lens adapter is prohibitively high
  • May not work with next-generation iPhone
  • Some barrel distortion of photos taken with the wide angle lens

Who is it for?

  • Those who want to use their iPhone 4 or 4S as their only digital camera