When I posted my first Instagram photo a little less than 4 years ago, I didn’t realise that mobile photography would become a part of my life. Today I shoot with my iPhone almost every day, I go to join photowalks whenever I can with the communities and write all I know in my mobile photography blog.
I essentially became a big proponent of this new photography ‘movement’ and started to treat this passion more seriously. But soon I began to find limitations with my mobile camera, especially when it’s compared to its DSLR brother, I wasn’t fully satisfied with what I had and wanted more.
So I started to find ways to push my camera phone beyond what it currently is able to do. Not only by using different and more advanced apps, but also by using various accessories to augment the camera’s physical and technical limitation.
Today I am going to share with you some of these limits I’ve tried to break and the tools I’ve used to do it.
Breaking the biggest limitation
The biggest limitation that all camera phones have is that, unlike the standard DSLR, the camera lens is fixed! In other words, you cannot mechanically adjust its properties (such as focus or focal length), and you cannot interchange it with different lenses.
This means that many of the wonderful photography techniques that we know are technically impossible to achieve if we only rely on what comes with the phone.
This limitation is one I intended to break as early as possible.
But first let us see what cool things we can do if we were able to change lenses:
1. We can ‘zoom’ into a faraway object and take a photo of it as if it were only mere meters in front of us.
2. We can take photo of an object in extreme close-up, as close as a few millimetres. This is called Macro Photography.
3. We can take photo with almost 180 degrees viewing angle.
4. We can create a photographic effect called Depth of Field or also known as Bokeh.
To break this limitation I use what is called conversion lenses. These lenses are created especially for mobile phones. You normally attach them to the phone via some kind of mechanism. This mechanism could be in a form of one of these:
1. Magnetic attachment: Lenses come with magnetic bottom part which then you can stick onto a metal ring which is ‘glued’ to the back of the phone (where the phone lens is).
2. ‘Slide in’: Lenses are attached to a clip which you slide over the side of the phone to cover the camera lens.
3. Clip on: Lenses are attached to a ‘Laundry Peg’ like clip-on. You can then clip it over the phone’s side so it covers the phone camera lens.
4. Case Screw-In: Many conversion lenses come with a specially made phone case. This case typically has a thread on top of the phone camera lens on which you can screw in the conversion lenses. The Manfrotto Klyp+ is an example of such case with screw-in attachment lenses.
These camera phone conversion lenses come in various types, just like what they have in DSLR. They can be categorised as follow:
Telephoto is a long range lens which will allow you to zoom in to your object from far away distance. You can find this type of lenses on the market with magnification in the range from 1.5x up to 24x. You can say goodbye to digital zoom or digital crop because now you can get that close shot without moving your leg or your finger.
Using the Telephoto lens is also the only way (in mobile photography) we can technically create one cool photographic effect called Shallow Depth of Field (DoF), or also widely known as Bokeh.
This is where a main object in the foreground appears to be in focus, while the background and everything else are blurred. This type of effect is very easy to create using cameras with manual aperture and interchangeable lenses, or cameras that have a built-in zoom lens. Unfortunately camera phones lack all of those.
You can still mimic the appearance of having a Depth of Field in a photo by editing it with apps, but even when the result is pretty good it’s still not the real thing.
But thanks to the Telephoto conversion lenses we can break this limitation and achieve the same thing. Using one of these lenses you can create bokeh effect fairly easily.
A typical camera phone lens can already be consider a wide-angle lens because it has wider viewing angle compare to a standard 35mm lens in DSLR. This is why you can ‘fit’ quite a lot in your photo despite being considerably close to the objects. But using a Wide-Angle conversion lens your field of view will expand even more. Let’s say about 30 degrees wider.
If a typical wide-angle lens gives you 90 to 100 degrees field of view, a Fisheye lens will expand this to approximately 150 to 170 degrees depending on the quality of the lens. It’s a very useful lens to use when you want to fit almost everything in front of you in one photo. Although because of its funny and distorted effect that it’s created, many people don’t really like the resulted image.
You can find the above lenses aplenty in the market. Manfrotto actually has all-in-one mobile gears that is called Klyp+, which includes a Screw-in case and 3 lenses (Tele, Wide-angle and Fisheye).
If we try to take a picture of an object from a very close distance, we probably can only go as close as a few centimetres before the lens cannot focus anymore and the picture becomes blur. This limitation can be broken by with Macro conversion lenses.
Using these ‘close-up’ lenses you can go close and personal with your object until up to mere millimetres!
Some Macro lenses provide 10x to 15x magnification (with 12mm focusing distance), while the super macro, or you can call it microscope lens, could give you up to 20x magnification (with 0.7mm focusing distance).
Doing Macro Photography is really an out-of-this world experience for me, and I am really loving it. Moreover, to be able to do it with only a mobile phone, to push it beyond its limit, gives me an endless satisfaction.
Breaking stability limit to take better photo
A sharp photo; meaning one that in focus and not blurry; is one of the most important characteristics for a good picture. Therefore any technique that could reduce that chance of getting an out-of-focus picture would be invaluable for us.
One of the biggest culprits of blurry photos is instability! This is normally caused by camera shake, which happens when the phone moves too much while the picture is being taken, resulting in motion blur on the object you are photographing.
In a standard DSLR camera, you can compensate this by changing the shutter speed to a quicker one, but since camera phone doesn’t have this luxury we will just have to find another way, which means we have to break that stability limitation.
To do this we can use an old-time trick, which is to prop the camera on a tripod. Now, you and I know that a phone cannot be attached to a tripod by itself. This is where we need ‘help’ stretching the phone’s limit by using some special tripod mounting gears.
You can find various types of tripod attachment out there. Some come as a stand-alone product, some come in a bundle with other gears, and others come integrated with mobile cases.
As for the tripod itself, with the help of the above mounting tool, you can virtually use any kind of tripod you want. Nowadays you can find tripods that are made specifically for mobile phone. They are normally small and light. Manfrotto in fact has one of this type, the PIXI.
By using a tripod you should be able to eliminate the camera shake and take sharper photo.
There are more photographic techniques which would be very hard if not impossible to take without employing some stabilization, like for example: Night shot, Long Exposure, Light Trail and Photographing Stars
More limitations are broken!
Pushing mobility to the limit
There is one obvious downside from having all of these additional gears however. That is, we are losing our ‘mobility’. It is after all called mobile photography. Although some may argue that mobility is subjective, just ask those professional photographers lugging around 3 massive cameras and even more heavy gear in their massive backpack.
But if we want to push the limit of our mobile camera, we should be willing also to push the limit of our mobility and sacrifice some of the convenience. In reality, the added weight will be minimal. It certainly is far from back-breaking, hernia-inducing burden that the typical pro would endure.
So then how would we carry all of these stuffs? They won’t really fit our pocket for sure, so we need yet another gear to help us. Some type of camera bag maybe? Unfortunately, as far as I know there is no vendor out there who produces camera bag specifically for Mobile Photographer. However, they do have some lightweight varieties which we can definitely ‘commandeer’ for our purpose.
For example I’ve been using Manfrotto’s Messenger Bag from their Stile Collection. It’s pretty lightweight and has a special pouch inside where I can put all my mobile gears inside its protective surrounding. It is not as bulky as a backpack but it still has plenty of space. It even has a dedicated external attachment to carry my tripod.
Using this messenger bag I could carry most of my mobile photography gears with me when I’m on my own photographic project, doing photowalks with my community or just to go where my feet would take me.
Since I have my gears with me, not only will be ready to shoot anywhere and anytime I want, but also I will be ready for any eventuality I might come across during this shooting.
That’s what I call pushing the limit.