Can you Get a Professional Lens for your Smartphone Camera?
Nope. In fact, most professional lenses cost more than most smartphones. Some cost many, many times more. Any add-on lens you put in front of another lens can only, ever, reduce the image quality. It may be worthwhile if you need the changed angle of view, but do realize you take a quality hit. And that’s only if you can find a good add-on lens. Most are crap.
The only somewhat decent add-on lens system I have seen for smartphones is the Moment system. And this is a System. They solve the other add-on lens problem: how do I securely attach a lens to a smartphone? They make custom cases that add the lens mount. Each lens runs around $100. And cases are only made for very popular phones.
Here’s the thing: most modern phones have a bunch of cameras. If you attach an add-on in front of one, you likely block at least some of the others. On a high-end phone, one of those is probably a ToF or LIDAR sensor for depth mapping and rangefinder, so it’s a bad idea to block it. Plus, many of these phones already have ultrawide, wide, and a portrait/telephoto camera or two. So what are you going to add?
Maybe a fisheye? Moment makes a fisheye, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: your ultrawide camera lens is a fisheye, though not necessarily a full 180 degrees. Your phone uses software to de-fisheye it, and some phones won’t let you turn that off or get a raw output from the ultrawide camera. Last I checked, Samsung did let you turn it off. My Honor Magic4 Pro does not allow this, and in fact, the Honor camera app only allows raw shooting in PRO mode, which only allows use of the main camera. I probably do agree that using lesser cameras is “unprofessional” on a phone 🙂
Now if you’re talking about adding professional system camera lenses to a smartphone, you can using a device called a depth-of-field adapter. This will absolutely lower the image quality you’re capturing on your phone, but if you want a real optical 35mm cinema look, this is your ticket.
This device has a macro lens that sits in front of your phone lens, and a pane of ground glass in front of the macro lens at its focal point. There will be a lens mount in front of that. When you attach the professional lens, it focuses on the ground glass at the full frame size for that lens format. Most of the time when a film is said to be shot on a smartphone, they have some kind of rig to allow cinema lenses to be used. The phone is mostly a gimmick — you could buy a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for the same or less than a premium smartphone and get much better results with the same lens.
I don’t believe any of these are exactly in production at this moment. The camera pictured here is the Alice Camera. It’s not out yet, and I backed their Indiegogo campaign. This is a complete camera, but other than the shutter button, all the controls are on the app running on your phone. This camera is heavily oriented toward AI, computational photography, and AI assisted videography, with on-board processors comparable to those in smartphones, much faster than the processors in typical cameras.
Olympus produced a phone-controlled camera back in 2015. The Olympus Air A01 is also a Micro Four Thirds camera, even smaller than the Alice, and similarly controlled via WiFi to your phone. One useful ability for this class of camera is that the camera and phone don’t have to be touching… you can set up the camera remotely and still use the phone to view and control the camera.
Sony had a few of these, the top-of-the-line being 2014’s QX1, which is an E-Mount APS-C camera. They also had fixed-lens versions. The QX10 and QX30 used a typical 1/2.3″ point and shoot camera sensor, so not a likely improvement over a modern smartphone, but maybe okay back in 2014. The QX100 uses the 1″ sensor from the RX10/RX100 along with a 3.6x optical zoom lens.
Again, none of these are as simple as “adding a lens” to your phone, they’re more like hanging your phone on a camera. You can transfer photos to the phone, as you pretty much can with most any camera these days, but these devices have their own batteries, sensor chips, and memory cards in addition to the lens.