Price (RRP): $from 59.95
Manufacturer: Black Eye
Black Eye is a strange name, and we will get to that soon. Suffice to say that it answers the challenge to get more out of a smartphone camera. We are testing the Filming Grip and Pro G4 universal spherical lens kit.
The Black Eye filming grip is both a handheld grip/handle and a short tripod. The Pro Kit G4 comprises three clip-over lenses – Portrait Tele, Cinema Wide and Fisheye.
So, why the name Black Eye?
Back in 2013 professional snowboarders Eero Ettala and Fredu Sirviö, with professional photographer Arto Ekman had been travelling the world for the past ten years, filming for the biggest snowboard video productions and using their smartphones to take videos and photos, documenting and sharing these trips with their friends and fans.
Rather than ‘Go Pro’ they focused on lenses and accessories to get more from a smartphone camera. For reasons unknown, they called the company Black Eye (website here). All products have a 1-year warranty.
The Black Eye G4 lens range (all mm are 35mm equivalents)
- Macro 15x focus distance 20-25mm $59.95
- Pro Cinema Wide 18mm 120° FOV $129.95
- Pro Portrait Tele 60mm approx. 2.5X optical zoom and adds depth-of-field $129.95
- Wide 16mm 160° FOV – adds extra width $69.95
- Fisheye 12mm 175° adds the fisheye distortion $129.95
Sets are available including a carry case and carabiner clip.
The Black Eye Tripod and Handle range:
- Filming Handle/tripod $99.95
- Filming Grip $89.95
It also makes iPhone 7/8/X/11 (all models) cases that accept all Black Eye lenses.
All lenses are high-end, nano ground glass with double-sided AR+ (anti-reflective) coatings. The lens screws into the universal clip that works with most front or rear lenses as well as tablets and laptops. Lenses work with still or video and do not affect camera app or filters etc. However, any additional clip-on lens may reduce light sensitivity a little.
To use – simply clamp the lens over the camera lens of your choice – this could be the primary camera lens, wide or ultra-wide (depends on whether your camera allows you to select a lens or does it automatically). The Universal clip has silicon pads and will not harm the smartphone. A word of warning – be careful if the smartphone has a separate laser, IR focus or 3D ToF sensors that may affect camera quality if covered.
In some cases, you may need to remove a third-party case to get the best contact (poor contact or alignment shows up as blurry or black corners in the screen preview). There is a tested compatibility list here but as long as you get a good flat fit, you will be fine.
As the smartphone sees what is coming through the lens, there is no need for special camera apps.
Although the ProCamera app is recommended for iPhone use.
There is no recommendation for Android, but XDA has a list of the better ones here. BTW – installing a camera app does not affect the original app – it is just another app to access the camera.
One of the key issues is that adding an extra lens with higher magnification may lead to blurred shots if you are prone to shake a little. The answer is to use a tripod or grip, or it may be to find a camera app with auto-stabilisation.
So, while a rank amateur can use these lenses, someone that understands lenses, f/stops and manual settings will get more out of them.
Sample pictures – Samsung Galaxy Note10+
Black Eye G4 lenses
In the case of the Tri-camera Note10+ (review here) which has a standard (wide), ultra-wide and telephoto (2x optical zoom) lens the only useful lens for this smartphone would be Fisheye. In dual and single-lens devices telephoto (optical) would also be useful.
The Filming Grip
Impressive build quality – 300g of solid milled aluminium from top to bottom and the use of a standard ¼” screw mount (Go Pro compatible) make it part of an overall camera mount system to work with other tripods and extenders.
The ¼” socket is on the base and top of the camera ‘gimbal’ as well as the top of the expandable smartphone mount (also acts as a hot shoe holder).
While you may use it as a vertical handgrip, it is straightforward to make it a horizontal grip. To access the tripod, slip off the rubber handle and it exposes the 15-24cm tripod legs.
There is also a detachable Bluetooth camera shutter dongle (iOS and Android) that can fire off a shot.
Alternative – Filming Handle Tripod (not tested)
It’s a similar concept but extends to 50cm.
GadgetGuy’s take – Wanna Black eye?
There are dozens of clip-on smartphone lens makers ranging from cheap plastic to Zeiss optics. Our best advice is to avoid Amazon like the plague as it will throw cheap lenses and ‘all-in-one’ kits at you by the hundreds – well over 10,000 results.
The real issue here is to know what you want a lens to do. Is it for landscapes, portraits, closeups, macro or fisheye? Each lens does something different.
Maybe start at a brick and mortar camera place like Teds that stocks Black Eye and other brands and get some free expert advice. Also, know what your smartphone camera limitations are – fitting a Black Eye to a cheap plastic lens smartphone camera will not get the best results.
Having seen more than a few brands, Black Eye stands out for optical quality and a great add on photography system so it gets our recommendation.
Rating these is also hard. If you know what you are doing and appreciate smartphone photography nuances, then these are a 5/5. If not just buy the best smartphone ‘camera’ you can afford and look at DXOMARK for ratings (anything over 100 is pretty good).