Which iPhone Lenses Should You Get?
Ever since the iPhone 13 Pro was released there have been issues with what I'll call "legacy" smartphone lenses... those from Moment, Beastgrip, ShiftCam, etc. Some worked okay, but most didn't (especially on the 3x Tele).
Now if you have an iPhone 12 series or before they still work great. But the 13 series introduced larger camera sensors (internally) and larger camera bumps (externally), and these things created issues with third-party lenses. I first noticed it with Moondog Labs and Moment on the tele. The edges were soft and in some cases completely out of focus and there are often weird lens aberrations, too.
Some lenses got updated early on like from Beastgrip and those still work fine today. But most ended up being unusable with the later generation of iPhones. And that included the 14 series phones and now the 15 series as well (and beyond).
You might be asking yourself, why even use third-party external lenses? The iPhone has lots of built-in options and now the 15 Pro Max has "seven" lenses (several are virtual, but there are seven different focal lengths available).
The primary reason I use external lenses and recommend others do is because the main camera is the BEST camera and lens. It has the largest sensor and the fastest aperture and so shoots the best images, including in low light. So by adding an external lens to it you can get the best results when shooting wide or tight.
Of course there's a time and a place to use the built-in lenses and not third-party ones. For me it's usually everyday video & photos of family, travel or social media, etc. Those are just candid type shoots and I don't want to bother with lenses. But, if you're doing anything more involved like a short film or YouTube video or whatever the job is - using external lenses can add production value in a variety of ways.
Not only will you get the highest quality results using the best camera, but more interesting too when adding lenses - meaning again, wide angle or fisheye or telephoto, etc. - but also you can get more shallow depth-of-field, especially using a telephoto.
The other thing lenses offer are what I call "specialty" looks. These being anamorphic and macro. Anamorphic specifically is a look you can't get with the phone alone. And while the phone will shoot macro, the latest gen phones aren't as good at close focus and so using a third-party macro lens will often get better results (and way better bokeh). In particular if you use a long range macro.
So all this is to say that while you can get great images using the built-in iPhone cameras, you can take your footage & photos to the next level by adding external third-party lenses - as long as you get the right ones that work.
And that's a question I get all the time... which lenses should I buy?
That's now become a fairly subjective choice...
Earlier this year I would've said Beastgrip or ShiftCam as they were the only brands that had officially updated their lens lines. And both of them are great options. But now other brands have followed suit and that includes Moment, Freewell and ReeFlex.
I recently did videos on both the new Freewell Sherpa lenses and the new ReeFlex G-Series lenses and they both look very good (video embeds below).
As of this writing the ReeFlex are available to pre-order via Kickstarter, but the Freewell are available now. And I haven't yet used the Moment T-Series but will be soon. And I'm currently waiting on a 15 Pro Max case from ShiftCam to use their lenses on the new iPhone. Oh, and to my knowledge Moondog Labs has not updated their lenses yet, but they may not need to (their 37mm mount anamorphic has worked all along, but the Moment mount have had issues). And I have not tested Sandmarc, but it's my understanding that their latest glass works fine with newer phones.
UPDATE: I've now added a first look video at two of the Moment T-Series lenses:
As a side note, I am planning a big comparison video between the different brands once I have them all in-house, but not sure on the timing of that just yet.
But back to the question... which lenses should you get?
It really comes down to what you're shooting, how much you want to spend and what ecosystem you want to invest in. Here's my take on each brand as it stands right now:
Beastgrip - their lenses are top-notch and I really like them a lot. They do however require you to use a cage - either their Beastcage or Beastgrip Pro (or other cage with a 37mm mount). So to me these are probably the best options if you're doing more serious filmmaking and/or YouTube. You can add your own ND filters to them too. Not great for lightweight travel though. Lenses are on the expensive side. Shop here.
ShiftCam - great lenses and overall very lightweight, so they are good for travel and quick setups. You do have to use their proprietary case. These would be my choice for social media or travel style work as again, they're easy to carry and use and produce great quality images. Their ND filters are proprietary. Lenses are moderately priced. Shop here.
Freewell Sherpa - excellent image quality and if you already own a Sherpa case these are your best option. But you do have to use their case as the lens mount is proprietary along with the ND filters (they do have a lot to choose from). The lenses are on the heavy side similar to Beastgrip, but here you mount them to a case versus a cage. That's really my only complaint, so they're not great for quick & easy travel setups (which the Sherpa Kit is with the magnetic ND and grip). But having the ability to add lenses to the system is very nice. Lenses are moderately priced. Shop here.
Moment - I have not used the new T-Series lenses yet, but I have some on order and hope to have them soon. (UPDATE: I have now tested the 18mm and 58mm - watch the video above). Moment has always been my favorite case and lens brand as it relates to lightweight, easy to use mobile filmmaking gear. Not saying they were always the best, but they were my favorite. That changed starting with my iPhone 13 Pro Max as the results I got weren't great as I stated above, but I still used their cases. And I hope the T-Series will be a nice mix of quality glass that's not too big, so they'll be good for travel filmmaking & photography. Lenses are moderately priced. Shop T-Series lenses here.
Moondog Labs - my first smartphone lens was from Moondog Labs. They are the OG anamorphic guys for sure and I still think their lenses are probably the best and especially their lens flare. It's the most subtle and organic blue I've seen. I've not heard about them updating their lens line though and I'm not sure if they need to as many of theirs have worked fine with larger sensors. Of course they only offer anamorphic, so it's more of a speciality shop anyway, but their lens mounts are more or less universal and a great option for that anamorphic look. Lenses are moderately priced. NOTE: Their website and Twitter/X account hasn't been updated in a while. Not sure what's up, but hopefully they're doing okay. Try shopping here.
Sandmarc - I have used these lenses in the past, but I have not used their latest glass. I think since Moment was my favorite I just never got into the Sandmarc ecosystem, but they are very similar in many respects and according to what I see their lenses are performing well. I'd say they are good multi-purpose lenses for travel, social media and filmmaking & photography. And they use a 17mm lens mount, which is nice. Lenses are moderately priced. Shop here.
ReeFlex - this is a brand probably better known for their photography apps like ReeHeld, but they make lenses too. And their previous versions were good, but now suffer from the same issues as other brands when paired with the latest phones. But now they have a brand new lens line called G-Series, and they look very promising. They are on the bigger side so probably not the best for quick travel setups, but they use a universal 17mm mount and now have magnetic ND filters. At first I thought I wouldn't like that part, but I have to say after testing them the magnetic filters are really great to use. At the time of this writing these lenses are available for pre-order on Kickstarter and will eventually be available on their website. I think these are a great in-between option for travel and filmmaking or photography. Lenses are moderately priced right now on Kickstarter, but look to be on the expensive side otherwise.
Still confused? Yeah, there's a lot to consider here. :)
Ultimately as I said earlier, it's a subjective call really more than anything as now all these lenses work well with the latest phones. If you've already bought into one ecosystem then I'd stick with that. And if you're brand new then go with the system that best fits your needs as a filmmaker and/or photographer.
So to me that means if you're making films go with Beastgrip. If you're doing travel videos go with the lightweight ShiftCam lenses. If you're doing a mix of stuff, well, then any will work and it comes down to which brand you prefer.
Happy mobile filmmaking!
Note: Some product links used are affiliate links.