Bright idea: olloclip Core Lens Set for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

olloclip Core Lens Set. Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

olloclip Core Lens Set. Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

olloclip has been known for years for its innovative lens kits for iPhone that give the device’s camera the ability to shoot ultra-wide-angle fisheye shots, wide-angle images that expand the field of view, and macro images that turn the iPhone into a digital microscope. The company has just released the Core Lens Set ($99.99) that works with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and the marketing for the set pushes the “new improved optics” of the lenses. Is the Core Lens Set really better than previous olloclip lenses? Read on…

Like most of olloclip’s products, the Core Lens Set is meant to work without a case on the iPhone. However, if you have a glass or plastic screen protector installed that’s up to 0.5mm thick, the Core Lens Set will work just fine. The Core Lens Set also works with olloclip’s $29.99 ollo case in case you want more iPhone protection. 

The set is neatly packaged with a quick start guide at the top of the box that explains how to use the lenses and the new “pendant stand”. The latter is part of the pendant that holds the lenses when not in use; it now splits into two halves that make a “tripod” or stand for your iPhone. It actually works quite well (see image below).

Pendant Stand. Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

Pendant Stand. Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

Since the Core Lens Set is made to work with both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus — which have radically different cameras — there are two pendants included that are designed for the specific iPhone you own. One good feature about this new design is that you won’t have to worry about losing a small plastic spacer that was included with some of the earlier Plus models. 

The two lenses (fisheye and super-wide-angle) are mounted onto a small base with spring loaded pins at either end — what olloclip refers to as the Connect Lens System. The base snaps into holes on the clip that is then placed either onto the pendant for carrying or on the iPhone 7/7Plus. There’s little bit of “play” with the bases and the clip; that’s normal since the design accommodates screen protectors. In case you’re wondering where that macro lens is, it’s part of the fisheye lens — you simply unscrew the fisheye lens and you have a macro lens.

I was unable to find out if owners of the Core Lens Set will be able to purchase single accessory lenses like the 2X telephoto that’s part of the $119.99 Active Lens Set. I’d love to be able to have that lens as part of a complete iPhone lens set without having to purchase the Active Lens Set separately. I’ve asked olloclip and will post the answer in the comments section once I get an answer.

Optical Quality

One of my primary complaints with most accessory lenses for iPhone is that the optics aren’t that great. Usually — and this goes for the olloclip products I’ve tested before — there’s a tendency to get a bit more lens flare in bright situations and the lens optics can cause blurriness and vignetting around the edges. So I was interested to see if olloclip had fixed the issues that have bugged me in the past. 

To begin with, I took two photos using muted light inside my messy office (see gallery below). The first was taken with the super-wide angle and I was pleased to see that despite the distortion you should expect with this type of lens, there was no vignetting and the image seemed to be properly focused from edge to edge. There was still a little bit of blurriness on the far edges as well as a tiny bit of color fringing seen on the right side of the framed picture (upper right of that photo), but it looked much better overall than previous olloclip images. 

The next image was taken with the fisheye lens, and once again it was better than previous fisheye images taken with olloclip lenses. There’s still the expected distortion that you get with the fisheye, but overall the clarity is better than I’ve seen in the past. 

Finally I removed the fisheye lens to get to the 15X macro and it was impressive. I was shooting a photo of a Canadian “Loonie” dollar coin, and as you can see in the image below the detail is pretty good. One thing I have noticed in the past is that the iPhone has problems focusing on items like this, so you need to take a lot of shots before you’ll get one that is to your satisfaction. Good lighting helps!

Closeup of the Queen! Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

Closeup of the Queen! Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

I then took two photos outside in the morning light to see how the CORE Lens Set did in brighter lighting conditions (see gallery below). With the super-wide-angle, the clarity was much better than in the past over most of the image and there was absolutely no vignetting. There was a slight bit of blurring in the edges of the image, which is to be expected with a super-wide like this. In addition, there was some blue/red fringing as seen on the right (blue) and left (red) sides of the image in areas where there were drastic changes in brightness (shadows). My gut feeling is that this is due to the lens not being exactly centered over the iPhone lens.

The outside fisheye photo shows just how much fun you can have with a lens like this — video is really interesting when you’re shooting with a fisheye lens. The image was bright all the way across and although it showed the expected blurriness in the outer third or so of the image, the clarity of the center two-thirds of the image is far beyond what olloclip lenses have provided in the past.

Conclusion

olloclip has definitely taken a step up in terms of optical quality with the new Core Lens Set. Images are brighter and clearer, with none of the vignetting that plagued earlier models. The Connect Lens System is pure genius; being able to swap out lenses with the push of a button is fast and simple. Turning the pendant into a folding stand for an iPhone is pure genius. 

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★