How to upgrade your smartphone photos with these attachable camera lenses

Julianne Ross, CNN Underscored
Mon February 25, 2019

Story highlights

  • Attachable iPhone camera lenses rival the quality and features of a dedicated camera
  • We rounded up the best options for your phone no matter your budget

Attachable iPhone camera lenses are how Instagrammers and influencers alike improve on the already great lenses on their phones. It's a crowded sea of lenses to choose from, and luckily they're made for iPhones, Samsung and Google Pixel phones alike.

IPhone camera lenses, which are typically clipped directly over your phone's built-in camera, can increase your field of vision without blurring or darkening the edges of a photo, zoom in to tiny details without degrading image quality, and allow for creative effects like fisheye focus.

While attachable lenses can't yet equal the quality of a digital single-lens reflex camera, they're a fraction of the price and size of high-end cameras, making them a fantastic option for hiking, traveling, or exploring a city on foot without weighing yourself down. Case in point: I own both the Aukey Ora attachable lens kit ($23.99; amazon.com) and a DSLR. As a frequent traveler, I find myself reaching for the Aukey more often, simply on the basis of portability.

We've rounded up the best camera lens options for your iPhone, whether you're an avid mobile photographer or simply looking to up your Instagram game.

First, though, a brief primer on a few different types of lenses to keep in mind while shopping:

  • Macro lens: Use this for extreme closeups: a drop of dew on a leaf, flower petals, intricate jewelry or rich textiles.
  • Wide-angle: One of the most useful lenses to have, as it'll essentially double your camera's field of vision. That means stunning landscape shots, plus more flexibility when it comes to balancing proportions in your images.
  • Telephoto: A long-focus lens best used for capturing sharp detail in distant objects.
  • Fisheye: An ultra wide-angle leading to shots that curve around the edges, making your picture look almost spherical.

Some of the best all-around lenses come from Moment. We specifically recommend the Moment Wide lens ($119.99; amazon.com), the Moment Tele lens ($119.99; amazon.com), and the Moment Macro lens ($99.99; amazon.com).

Moment, which launched through a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, makes what are probably the most respected smartphone lenses on the market. At a hundred bucks or more a pop, Moment lenses definitely fall on the more expensive end of the spectrum. But with that price comes outstanding image quality — photos so sharp that people will find it hard to believe you took them with a phone. Moment doesn't play favorites: All three of its lenses work on iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones and the Google Pixel line.

The Moment 18mm wide lens ($119.99; amazon.com) captures double the amount of image in a frame without darkening or blurring around the edges (a common issue for cheaper wide-angle lenses). The wide lens is especially useful for taking videos; Moment points out that smartphones automatically crop images somewhat in order to stabilize videos. With a wider lens, you can get some of that picture back.

The Moment Macro ($99.99; amazon.com) is what you want for extreme closeups — you can hold this as close as an inch away from your subject and get up to 10x magnification. The Macro lens even comes with a removable light diffuser to help control shadows in your shots. The result is crisp, clear closeups with soft, even light.

Round out your set with the Moment Tele 58mm Lens ($119.99; amazon.com), which offers 2x optical zoom. While digital zoom can noticeably degrade photo quality, the zoom you get with the Tele lens brings you closer to your subject without the pixelation and blurring.

Moment boasts that its lenses are made from "cinema-quality" hand-polished glass and feature "aerospace grade metal" exteriors (no cheap plastic here). The lenses certainly feel high-quality in hand. Each weighs in at about 3 to 4 ounces, features a yearlong warranty, and comes with a lens cap as well as a small microfiber bag to protect it from scratches and dust.

Do note that to actually use any Moment lens, you'll also have to buy the Moment photocase ($39.99; amazon.com) or battery case ($89.99; amazon.com). An additional case may or may not be a deal breaker for you, but thankfully the cases themselves are smartly designed, protective and chic. The lenses easily screw onto and off of the cases.

Budget pick: Aukey Ora ($23.99; amazon.com)

Not everyone wants to drop hundreds of dollars on phone accessories, and you don't have to. This popular kit set from Aukey comes with two lenses for far less than the cost of one Moment lens, but it only works with iPhone. The kit is basic but well-made, and it's perfectly adequate if you just want to test the waters and get a bit more creative in your mobile photography.

Aukey's included carrying case is sturdy yet light, and it's easy to swap out the macro for the wide-angle lens. There's no additional phone case needed here, either; simply attach either lens to the included lens clamp, position the lens over your phone's camera and you're good to go. The wide-angle lens has a 120-degree view, while the macro lens has a 15x closeup. The picture isn't as crisp as it would be with the Moment lens, and there can be some edge distortion on wide-angle shots, but it's still a definite upgrade over the basic iPhone camera.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.