Due to its tremendous popularity, the iPhone has no shortage of third-party accessories. In fact, it's got to be the smartphone with the most accessories available out there for pretty much anything one could think of — and then some. This includes several camera accessories to make the best out of the iPhone's already impressive camera, either by mounting it perfectly to get the right angle, or adding an external lens to get DSLR-like results.
However, most of these accessories are mere hardware extensions, without any intelligent side to them that adds more functionality to the device. That doesn't mean no such smart camera accessories exist. What we are about to see is a collection of five such smart camera add-ons for your iPhone that will take your photography experience beyond what's achievable with mere mounts and lenses.
When capturing a breathtaking scene around you, a single standard photo doesn't often do it justice. That's why people love capturing panoramas and full 360° spherical shots. Though keeping your phone steady can be a real pain while doing so, and even tripods can't help with that. What if there was a device that would let you remotely spin your iPhone in perfectly smooth motion to capture absolutely flawless panoramas and even photo spheres? Galileo does just that, and then some.
All you have to do is mount your iPhone or iPod touch into it, and Galileo will let you control its motion both horizontally and vertically using its iOS app from your iPad (or another iPhone), or even from the web using any browser! Available in both Bluetooth and 30-Pin variants, Galileo can handle any iPhone or iPod touch supporting Bluetooth 4.0 via Bluetooth, and the iPhone 4 and 4S via the connector.
In addition to capturing panoramas and photo spheres, Galileo can work in unison with several popular photography apps for other purposes as well, such as creating dynamic timelapse sequences, face and motion tracking, snapping photos upon face detection, and controlling it from your Pebble smart watch, and much more! You can even view a live video stream from your iPhone's camera while being able to spin it in any direction and angle from anywhere in the world. To top it all off, Galileo can even be mounted on any standard tripod stand. And when you're not using it for its robotic angular motion, it can serve as a great-looking desktop mount.
Unfortunately, Galileo doesn't support any other devices at the moment, though by the end of this year, you'll have the ability to access and control Galileo from your Android phone or tablet. A variant of Galileo for Android is also in the works, slated for a 2015 release.
Let's admit it, not everyone would want to spend $150 on a camera accessory for an iPhone that cost them just $99 (on contract). If all you're looking for is a way to keep your phone stable while capturing panoramas or sweeping timelapses, take a look at Veho MUVI X-Lapse.
So, how does it work? Simply mount your phone on Veho, twist it to the desired angle, start capturing the panorama using the app your choice, and let go. Veho will automatically spin the phone to finish the panorama for you, ensuring it's stable and free of any glitches. It works similarly for capturing those sweeping timelapses; just remember to spin it 90° for 15 minutes of capture, 180° for 30, 270° for 45, and 360° for a full hour. In case you were wondering, yes — it works just like an egg timer.
Strictly speaking, Veho isn't an iPhone-specific accessory; in fact, it can support any smartphone that can fit into its mount. Furthermore, you can even remove the phone mount (which uses a standard camera mount screw) and use it with your point-and-shoot or DSLR! And if you have a tripod stand, you can mount Veho on it too using the standard screw! Such versatility along with its simplicity makes it great value for money at just over $20.
So you finally found the perfect mount for your iPhone for taking pictures, but how do you get yourself in the shot without having to stretch your arm out? One way is to simply use the volume buttons on your earphones, but even that only allows for just a few feet of space between you and your iPhone, and for full body shots, you'll be seen holding the earphones in the resulting picture. Another solution is to use the volume buttons on a Bluetooth headset, but unless you already have a pair, you wouldn't likely want to buy one for just this purpose (I wouldn't!) That's why I got super-excited when coming across Muku Shuttr— a brilliant little accessory that you use as a wireless remote for triggering your smartphone's camera shutter from a distance. No more stretched arms, no more half-body shots when you were aiming for full ones, and no Bluetooth headphones or earphone cables barging into your photos uninvited.
At the hardware level, Muku Shuttr is minimal and unobtrusive. It can be hooked to a keychain, ensuring you have it on you when out and about without having to worry about carrying yet another tool. Staying true to its single-purpose nature, it only features one button, making it a no-brainer to use. Since it uses Bluetooth for connecting with your phone, it doesn't even require a line of sight for operation, meaning you can keep the remote concealed in your pictures and just appear natural.
In addition to iOS devices, Muku Shuttr also supports Android devices running 4.1 Jelly Bean or later. On iOS and many of the latest Android devices, it works with the native Camera app, meaning you don't even need to install anything additional on your phone, while for other supported Android devices, Muku offers a dedicated app for the purpose. In addition, it's also compatible with a whole bunch of popular third-party camera apps on iOS.
You've got the perfect mount, as well as a way to remotely trigger your phone's camera, but how about the most important aspect of photography i.e. lighting? Even a rookie photographer know that the natural lighting from our surroundings isn't always adequate to capture the perfect shot, and while smartphone cameras have evolved significantly to offer better results in low-light conditions, the size constraint alone keeps them quite handicapped in this department. You can use your phone's flash, sure, but that in itself creates three more problems.
Firstly, the flash triggers only when you hit the shutter, so you can't tell from the viewfinder how the results would be before the image is actually captured. Secondly, you can't control the amount or temperature of light produced in the flash, resulting in images that often appear under- or over-exposed. And lastly, you can't position the flash anywhere else to shed better light on the subject without taking the camera there too, and that might not be your desired angle. Co-developed by an ex-Googler, Nova is a smart external flash that aims to help you with all of that.
At just the size of a standard credit card, Nova is portable enough to be carried in your wallet. When you're ready to use it, just pull it out and hold it at the best angle for your desired shot. Though that's just the beginning. Nova pairs with your phone via Bluetooth and offers its own app to let you control the temperature as well as the intensity of its light, thanks to its 40 diffused warm and cool LEDs. The result is smooth-toned, natural-looking photos with soft shadows and a sense of depth nearly impossible to achieve with the phone's flash.
Nova works with all devices with cameras running iOS 7 or later, as well as several modern Android devices running 4.3 Jelly Bean or later and featuring Bluetooth 4.0 LE.
All of the accessories that we just saw above have one thing in common - they use your phone's camera for the actual photography, while themselves enhancing the experience in one way or the other. Luxi is different in this regard, in that it isn't primarily meant to use your phone's camera. Instead, it turns your iPhone into an accessory for your camera to help you capture great pictures.
Photography is all about capturing the light reflected from your subject, which in turn depends on the light shining on your subject. Your camera, however, can only detect the former. DSLRs, high-end point-and-shoots, and even some advanced smartphone camera apps allow you to change a lot of advanced exposure settings to get the desired results, and knowing the nature of light shining on your subject can help you determine that. That's why many serious photographers carry an external light meter (also called a diffusion dome) to measure that. However, those devices are usually quite expensive, and may at times just give you data on the incident light, leaving it up to you to figure out the best settings to use in your camera based on that. Luxi is a Kickstarter-funded tiny diffusion dome that's easy on your wallet and attaches to your iPhone to measure the incident light. The information is then relayed it to its iPhone app, which does all the calculations for you and shows you the best settings to use in your camera.
Luxi is the perfect camera companion for those of us who just use the Auto mode on our cameras due to the lack of understanding of all those complex settings. And even for professionals, it spares them the hassle of figuring out the best settings on their own. All you have to do is hold it next to your subject, open its app to get the perfect settings, enter them into your camera, and start snapping. And once you start seeing the results, using Auto mode will become a thing of the past.
Luxi fits iPhone 4 or later and requires iOS 6.1+, and is currently not compatible with Android. However, the developers are running a Kickstarter campaign for Luxi for All — a variant that will fit any smartphone or tablet, along with an Android app to make it usable with Android devices. The funding has already reached its minimum goal, meaning Luxi for All will go into production. Though the campaign still has over a month to go, so you can back it on Kickstarter right now and get Luxi for All at a discounted rate before it hits the shelves.
So, there you have it — our five favorite smart camera accessories for the iPhone. If I were to pick my most favorite one among these, it'll have to be the Muku Shuttr. How about you? And did we miss out on your favorite smart iPhone camera accessory? Do tell us and our readers about it by leaving a comment below.