Cell-phone cameras can take good photos, but a few accessories can help you take great ones.
Choosing which gadgets to own is largely dependent on what you want to accomplish…
Better zoom. Cell-phone cameras have fixed-focal-length lenses, and the views that they capture never vary. You can “zoom in” to get closer to distant subjects using the “pinch-to-zoom” technique, but this is done using digital-zoom technology that simply crops the image, resulting in a degradation of image quality. Good optical telephoto lenses, some up to 12x normal, are available for iPhone and Android phones and are made by companies such as CamKix and Olloclip. There also are kits that include wide-angle and macro (close-up) lenses. Olloclip offers a lens kit that is compatible with many iPhone and Android models ($80) and includes, for example, wide-angle, fish-eye (ultra-wide-angle) and a macro lens. Most accessory lenses attach with a simple clip…some are magnetic.
More (and more flattering) light. Most cell-phone cameras have a built-in LED flash for still shots and a continuous light beam for videos. Problem: The light is not particularly powerful or flattering to subjects and drains batteries quickly. Several companies sell LED light rings on Amazon for about $8 to $10. These lights feature about three dozen tiny LEDs, and the whole thing clips to your phone. They can provide bright, continuous and substantially softer-looking supplemental lighting.
Hands-free road-warrior videos. Through-the-windshield videos are one of my favorite ways to document road trips, but they’re surely not safe if you’re both driver and videographer. Windshield suction-mount phone holders solve the problem. Units such as the Ram Mount Twist Lock Suction Cup Mount (RamMount.com, $55) provide excellent holding power and offer a variable-angle mount. On a bike trip? The iOttie Easy One Touch 4 bike mount (iOttie.com, $25) lets you mount your phone securely to your bike’s handlebars.
Steadier videos. Keeping your videos silky smooth and steady is easier said than done when you’re chasing kids around the yard. Best solution: A gimbal-style balancing device such as the Steadicam Volt from Tiffen (Tiffen.com, $1o0). This is essentially a miniature version of the $60,000 Steadicam you’ve seen cameramen carrying as they jog along the sidelines of an NFL game.
Fair warning: It takes patience and practice to master a Steadicam, but you will get great results with just a few hours of practice. Search YouTube.com for good how-to videos.