AH Primetime: Attachable Camera Lenses; Good Idea, Bad Execution

January 10, 2014 - Written By Andrew Port

From 8-Megapixels to 41-Megapixels, the camera is becoming the industry’s biggest focus when it comes to smartphone design. Some claim there are clear victors, such as the iPhone 5S, and its remarkable low light performance and the Galaxy Note 3’s 13-Megapixel shooter, which can even shoot 4k video. Others say that Sony’s Xperia Z1’s 21-Megapixel shooter, and even Nokia’s whopping 41-megapixel shooter on the 1020, which features a xenon flash overtake both of the aforementioned phones.

“Megapixel” is a word that is thrown around a lot, and not too many people know what it means – all they know, is that more pixels is better, right? A 5-megapixel shooter is not as good as an 8-megapixel which is not as good as a 13-megapixel– right? Well, sort of.

Fixing the Common Misconception

The first, most necessary thing to understand is that a good camera has to combine  a lot of things when it takes a picture to make it come out exactly how you want it. The flash, the lense, the shutter speed, the processing — all of it is an independent action that happens simultaneously to create a quality photo. So what are megapixels, and how do they relate to image quality? To put it simply, a single megapixel amounts to exactly one million pixels in an image. If you know the width and height in pixels of an image created by your camera, it’s easy to calculate how many megapixels your camera gets. So wouldn’t 41 megapixels be a hell of a lot better than the 16 or the 32-megapixel DSLR’s that Nikon and Cannon make? The answer is no.

It comes down to what is called the sensor, and the size of what Youtube tech reviewer Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) likes to call ‘glass’. The sensor is what detects and takes in the light of the photons being captured and converts it to an electronic signal for further processing. What happens when you have a small sensor? Your megapixels get squished into smaller pixels, and that’s the last thing you want to have happen. Consider it like looking down at Time Square during New Years Eve at all the people crowded in the streets. The pictures capture more, yes, but they are discolored and the details can get grainy and noisy. A large sensor, like those found in actual cameras accommodates spacious, luxurious pixels that have room to stretch out and pick up more light. This means a more accurate image, even if you only have 16-megapixels.

Enter Attachable Lens Accessories

The market is more than aware of this built in problem, and there is no doubt that they are more than interested in fixing it. From start-ups and smaller companies like ECO-FUSED to more popular names like Sony, the options are almost as vast as the prices. You can buy a simple lens and tri-pod from $50, and – if you really are that serious, you can head on over to Amazon and pick up Sony’s DSC-QX100 Smartphone Attachable Lens for a whopping $498. But…we wouldn’t recommend that you do that.

These options are really great, and it is awesome to see the market adapting to a gap in something that could be really improved upon but there are two problems: They are a symptom of a larger issue, and the inconvenience of adding hardware accessories when you’re out and about in the world really can cause issues. To expand on the former, it is undeniable that smartphone cameras are not up to par with point-and-shoots and DSLR’s most of the time, but isn’t that the point? The value of a smartphone camera is that it is with you when you wouldn’t carry the aforementioned cameras around, and you can snap that spur-of-the-moment shot without missing a beat; in fact, that was something that Motorola marketed about the Moto X. Accessibility, not intensity.


And let’s face it, carrying around that Sony lens just to attach it to your camera? That’s a lot of extra bulk, something else to worry about getting stolen or lost, and it is simply too expensive to be feasible. With that money, wouldn’t you rather save a little more and buy yourself a DSLR that has that great sensor? Get the full camera experience, and not turn your smartphone into some sort of transformer. At least, that’s what I would do. I know that not all attachable lenses are as bulky as the Sony, but the smaller ones are just as bad: Easy to scratch, easy to damage, lose, or anything. It just isn’t practical.

Will these lenses sell? Oh, certainly. And I’ve thought about picking one up for myself on more than one occasion. But instead, my Samsung Galaxy S4 can take decent photos in decent lighting, and when I know I want to take better photos? I pack my Nikon Point-and-shoot.

Do you folks agree? Disagree? What is your opinion on smartphone lenses? Let us know in the comments below!