Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: Moment Lens and Case

Moment Lens and Case

I’ve had the Moment lens and case for a couple of weeks now, and have been putting them to use about every other day on long walks about town. What follows is a brief rundown on my impressions, how they work for me, and some areas where I think there are shortcomings. I have not tried any other add-on lenses so I cannot compare these to any other. The photos (except for the one above – obviously) are with the iPhone 6 and Moment lenses.

South Harbor

Mounting and Case

The lenses each ship with a mounting plate (available for most popular smartphones) that sticks to the phone itself. I chose to go with the full case system (mounting plate cannot be used) that includes a built-in bayonet lens mount and a Bluetooth connected shutter button that allows for a half-press focus and exposure lock (like most standalone cameras) that operates with the Moment camera app. The case itself is powered by a coin battery. The app knows, too, when a lens is mounted onto the case and asks which type of lens it is (I assume it optimizes app operation to the specific lens type). The case also includes a small “grip” that eases and stabilizes single-handed operation. Finally the case includes two mount points for either a wrist strap or a neck strap. The case and app don’t require a lens to be attached to operate fully, so you can take advantage of the half-shutter and the grip with just the built-in lens on the phone.

What do I think about the case? I think it is great. The extra thickness and the grip provide much needed stability to one-handed operations. Most camera apps allow volume buttons to be used to trigger the shutter, but their position can make its use awkward. The case turns the phone into a much more usable camera. Having the half-shutter press available again makes me very, very happy. The ability to lock focus and/or exposure and then adjust composition is a huge advantage. I think the $49 is very well spent.

I did (accidentally) drop the phone in the case, onto a hard grocery store floor. I had to reset the coin battery in the case, but no other malfunctions. The case provides a shallow raised lip around the front to provide some front protection as well.

I initially had problems mounting the lens. I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t seem to twist very far on the mount. Only upon looking at the “Get Started” online guide did I learn that it is intentionally set up to be rather tight so that it requires some initial force to rotate it far enough.



I purchased all three lenses currently offered: a wide, telephoto, and macro. What is most noticeable is how large the lens are in comparison to the built-in camera lens, and in comparison to most other add-on phone camera lenses. What this larger size seems to offer is that by using the center portion only, distortion and vignetting is minimized. I’ve also not really noticed any large decrease in image brightness. Since I don’t have other add-on lenses, I can’t comment on whether or not other lenses exhibit any of these possible issues. I can say that the photographic results using these lenses are excellent. Because of their size, when attached the lenses cover the flash.

On the iPhone 6, the built-in lens has a 35mm focal length equivalency of about 29mm. The Moment wide lens is labeled 18mm and the telephoto is labeled 60mm. I suspect that the 35mm equivalencies are pretty similar since the advertised coverage is about 2x more on the wide and the telephoto is rated as 2x. The macro is a true macro lens. It has a very close and shallow focusing distance and offers 10x visual magnification of the subject. It ships with a diffuser hood (use optional) to even out lighting. Each lens also ships with a drawstring carry bag. The lenses do not ship with a cap, though they may be purchased separately. The hoods on all the lenses will provide some physical protection of the outer lens element. The hoods also do a decent job at reducing glare and flare, though not completely.

I really love the wide angle lens, providing distortion free super-wide coverage. I also like the macro lens. It’s use is quite specialized, but offers creation of images on phones that couldn’t be done otherwise.

I am much more mixed when it comes to the telephoto lens. As you can tell from the 35mm equivalent of 60mm, it really isn’t much of a telephoto. It is 2x the phone lens, but still just barely longer than a traditional “normal” lens. I’ve found it useful in physically “cropping” an image where the subject needs more isolation from the surrounding distractions, but I haven’t found it too useful in taking photos of distant subjects – the “reach” just isn’t there. I think a 4x lens, if it ever happens, will be much more useful as a telephoto add-on.

Old Sign

The App

If you have the case then the app is necessary for the shutter button operation. Otherwise any camera app should work fine. With the case and the app running, pressing the shutter button triggers a notification to appear (on the iPhone, anyway) which acts as sort of a shortcut to return to the app.

The Moment camera app is decent. It is simple to use and offers some control. With the shutter half-pressed, the app allows separation of focus and exposure points. Further adjustments can be made by swiping vertically for focus and horizontally for exposure. The exact setting affected can be changed via settings and can be set to other parameters including white balance and tone curve. There is a timed-shutter option with burst shots, saving to TIFF, and showing grid lines.

The online guide says that the app, when used with the case, is supposed to remember the lens attached so that you only have to select it manually once. I have not found this to be true, or else I am misinterpreting what the guide is saying.

Another problem I’ve noticed is that the app + case connection gets lost after a while. Even though the app is running in the background, if I haven’t pressed the shutter button in some time the connection gets “half” lost. What I mean is that pressing the shutter button no longer triggers a notification to appear on the phone. In this state when I go into the app and look at the “Case” screen, I see that the app thinks the case is still connected, but the batter level indicator is greyed.

Sphagnum Moss

Final Thoughts

With air travel becoming so difficult in terms of what and how much can be carried into the cabin, I’ve been looking for some way to ditch a DSLR system. I looked at some premium point-and-shoots (in the $700-1500 range) and the DxO One for the iPhone as potential candidates. I also browsed some of the other add-on lens options for the iPhone. None of them really “spoke” to me in terms of fitting enough of my requirements and none of them “felt” right for me.

The Moment lens and case combination shouted out to me as soon as I saw it. Here was a quality system where I could still stick with carrying around one device. The lenses themselves are larger than some others, but still easily fit into pockets. The image quality is impressive. And the lenses themselves will likely remain useful for many years across additional devices. At $99 each per lens, they are on the high end of add-on lenses. But I do think they are worth the cost.

Using the case, the app, and switching out lenses takes a little practice. As with any photographic equipment, you need to practice to learn the ins and outs before you actually get to a photographic destination. I think I’m starting to feel comfortable with the whole setup, and discovering the uses and limits of each lens.

Will this completely replace a DSLR system? I don’t think so. But I think it goes a long way toward expanding the capabilities of the camera that most of us carry around with us all the time – the phone camera. I’ll soon have a chance to see how much I’ll miss (or don’t) a DSLR when I go on vacation with just my iPhone and Moment lenses.