Hands-on review: Zeiss Mutar wide-angle lens

Zeiss is known for producing some of the best lenses for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, and now it has ventured into the world of smartphones. At CES 2016, the German glass maker has introduced three new lenses for the iPhone in collaboration with ExoLens including a wide-angle, telephoto and macro lens.

On the show floor I got a chance to play around with the wide-angle lens and even though it was made for smartphones it feels just as hefty and finely crafted as a five-pound prime. The entire casing is made out of black anodized aluminum and this includes the reversible lens hood. What’s more, the wide-angle lens has aspherical elements and an antireflective coating to minimize reflections and improve light transmission.

Zeiss Mutar wide-angle lens review

As for mounting the fine glass, ExoLens has created a slide-on metal bracket compatible with the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, as well as the two past iterations of the Apple’s smartphone. The machined aluminum bracket has a screw thread around the camera hole and the lenses attaches with a few quick twists.

The lens weighs heavily on the iPhone from one corner so it definitely makes handling the handset a bit more cumbersome. But since it protrudes about an inch and a half, the lens’ body is also helpful little bump to rest your finger against while holding the thin handset.

Zeiss Mutar wide-angle lens

The wide-angle Mutar lens 0.6x is the wide-angle version, reducing the iPhone camera’s effective focal length to around 18mm. There are other options including a 2.0x telephoto and “zoomable” macro lens that allows you to adjust the focus, but the wide-angle put the iPhone’s field-of-view on the cusp of fisheye territory. Overall barrel distortion is fine and it was able to keep all the lines of a nearby brick wall straight. You’ll only see the frame curving slightly at the extreme corners.

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More importantly, the Mutar lens makes the camera seem a bit sharper because it bumps up the contrast. The colors are a bit richer and pop off the screen, but the extra contrast isn’t nauseating to harsh enough to the point you start losing any fine details.

Zeiss Mutar wide-angle lens

Early verdict

The lenses are expected to be available later this spring and they’ll come in two bundles according to a Fellowes spokesperson. For $299 (about £205, AU$425), one package will include the metal bracket with the macro and wide-angle lenses as well as a carrying case. The telephoto lens will come entirely separate for $199 (about £136, AU$283) alone.

That is some serious cheddar to drop on a lens that costs roughly a quarter or even half the price of an iPhone 6S. Still, Zeiss has produces one of the best smartphone accessories I’ve ever seen that’s a remarkable step ahead of everyone else. Olloclip, Photojojo and Moment lenses all might produce a unique look, but Zeiss’ iPhone glass is that much clearer and perfect.

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