Mobile camera lens hardware and technology has taken a huge leap in the past few years. More and more megapixels are being squeezed in, along with new features like dual and triple rear camera sets, AI-based software improvements, and even physical aperture shutters.
However, phone cameras can’t do everything well, which is why there is also a growing market for mobile camera lens add-ons. They can offer owners better telephoto, wide-angle and macro pictures, and even 360-degree images and movies. But, do we really need those enhancements over our default camera equipment? Do they improve the image quality or enhance it in any way? We’re not sure about the first question, but the answer to the second one is no.
The point of most cell phone lenses is not to enhance the image. There are exceptions where an effect is being added that may enhance the image in certain situations. Enhancement conditions also depend on your interpretation.
Polarized lenses reduce glare. If your shot is suffering from glare, this may help or “enhance”. Starlight filters add starlight effects to the image. If you want this effect then it is an enhancement. However, it won’t magically turn your 720p picture into 4K.
Mostly though the lenses are either the macro, wide angle or telephoto variety. All of these will degrade the image a little because you are putting extra glass in front of your lens. The kits you get for $20-some are not going to be high-grade glass so put that into your consideration as well. Of course, you may not notice the effect unless you know what to look for. So don’t automatically sign off cheap lenses just because they are cheap. If they do the job you want them to do, they’re turning into a bargain or even a steal.
So then, why you should use them? Macro lenses let you focus to the object in ways you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. They have the effect of making the objects look bigger. This is kind of the purpose of macro photography, to take pictures of very small things, and optical lenses are great for that kind of the process.
Wide angles are exactly like they sound. When you take a pic of something with your phone it only captures a certain angle in front of you. Sometimes you want to catch more imagery in your shot, but you can’t move back. That’s where wide angle lenses step on the stage, giving that stretch of the perspective which is necessary for a panoramic shot. But, it’s not all peachy. Not only that putting another lens in front of your phone’s lens will give you distortion effect, but wide-angle lenses also give a fisheye look to your pictures. It really depends on how strong the wide angle is. There are lenses labeled “fish eye”, which do this effect on purpose.
Telephoto lenses are the opposite of wide angle lenses. They take a narrow-angle and this has the effect of magnifying a distant object. Imagine looking at the moon with your eyes, and then with binoculars. That’s the idea.
In the end, are the optical lenses really a necessary part of the equipment? We don’t think so. However, they can be really useful for the situations your default camera lens just doesn’t cut it. Just don’t expect that an optical lens will magically enhance the quality of your pictures, because it doesn’t work like that, at least outside of science fiction.