Understanding Smartphone Camera Lens Types – The Differences Between Wide-Angle, Macro, Telephoto, Anamorphic and Fish-Eye Lenses

Understanding the capabilities and nuances of your smartphone camera lenses can be tough, but it’s necessary for growth as a mobile photographer. In 2020, some cell phones come standard with five cameras featuring 100+ megapixels, so a comprehensive study of both smartphone standard and add-on lenses is more important now than ever.

But, there’s too much technical jargon in the majority of explanations of the types of mobile phone camera lenses. From focal length to the field of view, if you don’t have an intimate knowledge of photography gear, then buying a smartphone with photography in mind is tough. Do you even know which of your mobile phone’s camera lenses is best suited for:

  • Portraits or landscapes?
  • Close-ups or shots from a distance?
  • Action shots or marvelous macros?

Once you add clip-on lenses to the mix, things get more confusing. Think about it, if you add a Moment Wide lens to a Wide camera on an iPhone 12 Pro, then does the scene become exponentially wider? Will there be any sort of distortion from the widening? How will the lenses complement each other?

Well, there are lots of different kinds of lenses, and each seemingly serves a very different purpose. So, your best option for answering the questions above is finding a content creator using your exact set-up. You can then evaluate their work and see if it works for you. Remember, you need to know what to buy based on your mobile photography style. And, even more importantly, why that lens is so crucial.

Types of Smartphone Camera Lenses – What Comes Standard versus Add-On Lenses

When it comes to developing an understanding of the basics of the cell phone camera lenses, it’s crucial to know the difference between lenses produced standard for a phone versus those added through a third-party, like Moment. The above video does a great job of providing visuals that show this.

S0, both Apple and Moment have a Wide option, but what’s similar and what’s different about the offerings? How do they react together? Do you need one if you have the other?

The jist of how to pair a mounted phone camera lens with the lenses on your phone is this – pair lenses and cameras together that are designed to do similar things. For example, it’s ok to mount your Wide-Angle lens onto an Ultra-Wide Camera – they’re both designed to capture landscapes! Do note, though, that one benefit of your cell phone coming with five cameras is that you can experiment with the other pairings too.

If you’re looking to purchase some of the top clip-on lenses for cell phone photography, we’ve broken them down before in a more thorough list. If, on the other hand, you’re a mobile cinematographer, we’ve covered smartphone videography tips, tricks, and gear too.

The 4 Mobile Photography Lenses

These lenses, as one might guess, are ideal for shooting still photos.

Before we get into what each cell phone camera lens does, perhaps it’s best to understand ‘the how’ behind the process of taking a photo and how each different lens affects the process. This way, you’ll better understand the benefits of adding additional clip-on lenses to your arsenal.

When you press the button to take a photo on your DSLR, a sensor opens to allow light into the camera. There is a manual setting within a camera that adjusts how much light is let in, how much the sensor opens, and for how long the sensor remains open, among other things.

With your smartphone, the same mechanics are happening, just digitally.

So, the vital thing to understand is how the clip-on lens affects what these manual settings create in the digital file.

Each lens is perfect for specific situations and less than ideal for others, so keep in mind what you like to shoot while reading. In each section, there will be a discussion of the best subjects for each mobile photography lens.

What is a Wide-Angle Lens?

Wide-angle lenses are ideal for legendary landscapes, capturing cityscapes, and certain kinds of portrait photography

Are you looking to fit more into your photos while being able to shoot almost anything Whether you want to shoot massive landscapes or a cramped and cluttered corner office with immaculate clarity, a wide-angle lens is for you. It’s also the most versatile option by far.

The idea behind this style of lens is to decrease the aperture to increase the depth of field of the image. When this decrease in opening and increase in depth of field occurs, the image ‘pops’ or grows wider. The effect that the wide-angle creates is an emphasized and crisp foreground, and a pushed back and out of focus background, or why the image ‘pops.’

The ‘pop’ is an optical illusion resulting from the lens. This mobile phone photography lens is experimental and utilized typically in landscape photography. The image above is an example of the effect.

How it works

While people tend to believe that the increase in depth of field brings more of the image into focus, this is a myth. The lens only makes the image feel larger and draws the eye through the photo differently.

One way to take advantage of the way it draws your eyes is in cityscapes. The movement of the eyes, in this case, results from the angular nature of buildings. The abundance of leading lines present in the buildings, street signs, and other urban objects draw the eye through the photo. Regardless of which lens we use, this would be the case, but the wide-angle lens accentuates the lines more than other lenses would.

Try to also create converging verticals by shooting a variety of different angles. Converging verticals will make the subjects of your photos appear either taller and longer, or shorter and squatter. By changing your vantage point of tall objects like buildings or mountains, you can experiment with converging verticals pretty easily. The objects in question are made to appear spatially different than they are.

You can do portraiture with a wide-angle lens as long as the vantage point is correct. In traditional portrait photography, the subject commands attention within the photo. When doing portrait photography with a wide-angle lens, however, the person seeps into the background of the image. While the subject is still the highlight of the image, it is both less in focus and not as centered.

Potential Problems with your Wide-Angle Lens

There are specific issues with distortion and chromatic aberration when it comes to wide-angle lenses. These problems result in minor discoloring around the fringes of your photos. A little editing, however, can solve any issues.

Wide-angle lenses also tend to be more expensive than other types of lenses. While this is the case, it’s worth remembering that they’re much more adaptable and useful to a variety of situations. A telephoto or fish-eye lens, on the other hand, is not.

The Wide-Angle Lens We Recommend – Moment Wide 18mm Lens

Moment Wide 18mm Lens
  • Will require the purchase of an M-Series Case
  • Lens Size – 18 mm
  • Distortion – <0.5%
  • Magnification Ratio – .63X
  • Lens Coating – Multi-layer, low flare broadband anti-reflection
  • Moment’s Unrivaled Warranty + Customer Service

What is a Telephoto Lens?

Telephoto lenses are ideal for wild animal photography, sports photography, portrait photography

A telephoto lens is a correct choice when the subject is far away – necessary either for convenience or safety. Mostly, if you need help magnifying the content in your frame and you don’t want to zoom (you must be doing your reading!), then a telephoto lens is what you need.

The subjects of your photos will appear closer to the camera then they are, which is why the telephoto lens is perfect for both sports and wildlife photographers.

It is, however, essential to note that this is not a zoom lens.

Typically, a lens is considered “telephoto” if it has a focal length of 60mm or longer.

How it works

So, the effect created by the telephoto lens is one in which the subject is in focus, but the background is blurred.

In short, the longer the lens and the wider the aperture, the more of this effect you get. All telephoto lenses will have a focal length near or higher than 60mm, while the better ones will tend to have one greater than 70 mm.

While this rule of thumb works to an extent, it’s essential to keep in mind that the telephoto effect has more to do with how close to your subject you are than the focal length of the lens. Having a telephoto lens with an above-average focal length will only help you so much.

One neat trick to improve the visual relationship between a subject and its environment is by creating the illusion of less space between the two.

To explain, this kind of compression effect is similar to how our brains see object-to-background relationships. For example, when mountain ranges appear to be sitting practically right on top of a cityscape.

While telephoto lenses are ideal for capturing landscapes, sports, and wildlife, experiment with portrait photography too. With the same effect mentioned above in regards to the mountain and cityscape, a telephoto lens can also help facial features appear more proportional at different focal lengths.

Potential Problems with your Telephoto Lens

Yes, telephoto lenses are useful in a variety of situations, but there are still some issues to keep in mind.

For one, stabilization is extra necessary with a telephoto lens. To combat stabilization problems, try a wide aperture and shallow depth of field in addition to a smartphone tripod. You do have a smartphone tripod, right?

This tip is best for darker situations.

The Telephoto Lens We Recommend – NEW Moment Tele 58mm

Moment Tele 58mm
  • Will require the purchase of an M-Series Case
  • Lens Size – 58 mm
  • Best for dual lenses
  • Approximately 2x optical zoom when mounted over a single-lens camera or wide side of a dual-lens and approximately 4x optical zoom when mounted over the new iPhone telephoto lens
  • Equivalent Focal Length (specifically when over the iPhone XS Wide) – 58mm
  • Distortion – somewhere between  <0.75% and 1% depending on use
  • Designed for F/1.8 Lenses in mind
  • Lens Coating – Multi-layer, low flare broadband anti-reflection
  • Moment’s Unrivaled Warranty + Customer Service

What is a Fish-Eye Lens?

Sandmarc 10mm Fisheye Lens Photo Example
Photos With Phones

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Fish-Eye lenses are ideal for artistic pursuits, extreme sports, & warped landscapes and cityscapes

Sometimes we call a fish-eye lens an ultra or super-wide lens. For our purposes, however, we’re just going to call it a fish-eye lens.

There are two kinds of fish-eye lenses: a circular and a full-frame. While there are similarities between the two varieties of lenses, one is more useful than the other.

How it works

The image you’ll get from a fish-eye lens is highly distorted. The effect gives your shots a dynamic and abstract feel.

These lenses were popular in the nineties for music videos and the like, but today they’re used for other styles of photography too. Namely, these include vast panoramas of landscapes and the sky, as well as for shooting close-up subjects such as crowds, interiors, and architecture.

While it seems like the fish-eye lens is as useful as a wide-angle, this is not the case.

The full-frame fish-eye lens is more useful than the circular. It still has a 180-degree field of view along its diagonal. The horizontal and vertical sides of the image are less than 180-degrees (typically around 150 degrees horizontal and 100 degrees vertical).

These degree numbers create a fish-eye effect. In the full-frame, this essentially means that there is a less dramatic effect. There are no black edges in the image, so the full-frames are more practical.

The circular fish-eye lens, on the other hand, has a 180-degree view in all directions. The 180-degree view in all directions results in a circular image, with the edges of the frame being black. The fish-eye, in this case, has more extreme effects and tends to be used for more artistic shots.

Potential Problems with your Fish-Eye Lens

As you might expect because of how the fish-eye lens warps the image, there is a litany of potential problems.

For example, a curvilinear effect is unavoidable when using a fish-eye lens. It is when the subject of the photo tends to bulge, and straight lines appear curved. While this is the intended effect of the lens, in some cases, it occurs more or less than desired. Experimentation is necessary to combat this problem.

Another potential issue stems from the immense apparent depth of field. The depth of field problem means that your shots will appear sharply focused from front to back. Or that the whole image is in focus.

To keep your image looking professional, your background should be uncluttered so as not to draw attention away from the subject.

The Fish-Eye Lens We Recommend – NEW Moment 14mm Fish-Eye Lens

New Moment Fisheye 14mm Lens
  • 14 mm equivalent Focal Length featuring 170-degree FOV (min of 15.88mm when shooting)
  • F/1.7
  • Should support all smartphones with sensor sizes up to 7.6mm
  • Higher resolution in the center of photos and lower resolution along the edges
  • Weight of Lens – 73.1g

What is a Macro Lens?

Macro lenses are ideal for smartphone macro photography, close-ups, and some portraits

Macro photography is such a different style of photography that we’ve done a whole guide on it.

Because you take photos of such a small subject in macro photography, the magnification of the item is the primary purpose of the lens. Without getting into too much detail, there is a term that’s important to macro photography. The magnification ratio tells you how the image projected on the camera’s sensor compares with the subject’s actual size.

To explain, a lens with a 1:2 ratio can project an image on its sensor up to half the size of the subject while a lens with a 5:1 ratio can project an image five times the size of the object.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the depth of field is minimal at close range.

How it works

This cell phone camera lens magnifies the subject, but how does it do it?

Essentially the phone lens is just convex. To be convex means that instead of being curved outwards, a macro lens is instead curved inwards. The same technology is used in magnifying glasses and has been around for centuries. The significant advances in regards to convex lenses occur in magnification power.

One photography tip implemented by macro photographers is focus stacking. Focus stacking is a technique that allows you to combine multiple photographs using different focus distances. The goal is to produce a single image with more of a subject in focus.

The focus of the image is of the utmost importance in macro photography.

On the topic of focus, the “flat field” focus is another important subject in the field. It gets used to compensate for the curved focus plane – or to make sure that the edges of the frame are all in the same focus as the center.

Detectable curvature should, as a result, become eradicated. Note that “flat field” focus is only for flat things, not for 3D objects like insects, reptiles, or flowers.

Potential Problems with your Macro Lens

So, to succeed with macro photography, you should go ahead and invest in a tripod, gimbal, or handheld and some light source. Natural light is ideal, but because of the narrow aperture used in macro photography, the camera may struggle to get enough light.

When shooting, it’s imperative also to remember that there will be more contrast. An increase in contrast does mean that the lens can better fix similar tonal values and locate boundaries between small areas of different luminances.

Remember, you may be magnifying your subject, but you’re also expanding your mistakes! As a result, be wary of the contrast, lighting, and stabilization throughout your shot.

The Macro Lens We Recommend – Moment 10x Macro

  • Will require the purchase of an M-Series Case
  • Removable diffuser hood is great for improving both clarity and lighting
  • 1-inch working distance isn’t great (but is better than most cheaper models)
  • Crafted with aerospace-quality metal and hand-polished glass (same as high-grade 4k film lenses)
  • 10x Magnification
  • Weight of Lens – 34.7g
  • Moment’s Unrivaled Warranty + Customer Service
  • Lens Distortion is less than 1%
  • 25mm Focal Length

Videography and your Cell Phone Camera Lens – What is an anamorphic lens?

We’ll admit that we’re not as experienced when it comes to videography. At the same time, we’re always eager to learn and expand our knowledge when it comes to anything with a lens (not a lense though because that’s something different).

Most of the technology, when it comes to cell phone camera lens for both photography and videography, however, is similar. So, the learning curve isn’t too steep.

If you’re a videographer, then be prepared for more content suited for you coming soon.

How it works:

The focal length is critical when it comes to videography lenses. A lower focal length number leads to a wider angle of view. To capture more of the scene, utilize this smaller focal length. A lens with a longer focal length will bring the viewer closer to the action with more space compression in the image.

So, the focal length is one of the most critical factors in the appearance of your image. But, there are some misconceptions about it. The most noteworthy misunderstanding, for instance, is between “listed focal length” and “effective focal length.”

The former is as it sounds – the listing on the lens itself.  The “effective focal length,” on the other hand, is the more important number and is not going to be listed on the lens for you.

Sensors that are smaller than the full-frame come with a crop factor that will change some aspects of your photo. Consequently, the crop factor will increase the “effective focal length” of your lens.

Different kinds of videography lenses:

In addition to focal lengths, there are also prime versus zoom lenses to consider when it comes to videography.

Prime lenses have one fixed focal length, while zoom lenses cover a broader range of focal lengths.

The latter tends to be more expensive and comes in two varieties – internal zooming and external zooming. External zooming lenses exist in abundance and are more affordable. Internal zooming lenses are a better choice when adding accessories such as matte boxes. These lenses tend to be more challenging to find and are more expensive.

Prime lenses will often have a faster or broader maximum aperture than zoom lenses.

For a better understanding of the difference between prime and zoom lenses, check out the video below. While they’re talking exclusively about DSLR and photography, the differences in the lenses that you can see also apply to videography.

So, you heard them talk about aperture at length (which is perhaps more critical in videography than photography!) or the opening in the lens that allows light to enter the camera.

A multi-bladed iris controls the size of this opening. The iris also influences the appearance of bokeh — or blur— in your image. More blades lead to a more circular opening, producing smoother, more pleasing bokeh in the defocused areas of the picture.

Potential Problems with your Anamorphic Lens

There are numerous things to consider when it comes to videography lenses. Namely, these potential problems include low lighting performance, selective focusing, high-speed zoom, sensor size, and autofocus ability.

By reading the product reviews – both good and poor ones – you can begin to establish which lenses perform well in these problem areas versus which do not.

The Anamorphic Lens We Recommend – Moment Anamorphic Lens

Moment Anamorphic Lens
  • Will require the purchase of an M-Series Case
  • 1.33x magnification
  • 2:40:1 Cinemascope
  • Aerospace-grade metal
  • Distortion – Vintage Anamorphic barrel-type distortion
  • Hand polished glass found in 4k film cameras
  • Moment’s Unrivaled Warranty + Customer Service

What to remember about your smartphone camera lens


You can use some of these lenses can for multiple purposes; it doesn’t mean they should be.

By this, we mean that yes, you can take video with a clip-on phone lens, but should you?

No. Well, certainly experiment with different shots using all your lenses. But, if you’re hoping to be more legitimate, then purchase the correct equipment.

Be cognizant, though, of why you’re buying. Some types of lenses are very niche (i.e., fish-eye for video), and unless you’re looking for a particular thing, you should lean towards a more useful option like a wide-angle lens.

So, your knowledge of your phone camera lens must now be better than it was at the start of this guide. You have a better understanding of every cell phone camera lens, so find the lens that is most useful for you and your mobile photography journey.

One thought on “Understanding Smartphone Camera Lens Types – The Differences Between Wide-Angle, Macro, Telephoto, Anamorphic and Fish-Eye Lenses

  1. What a thorough explanation of the different kinds of smartphone photography lenses. As a DSLR user myself I must say I needed a little clarification before purchasing a clip-on lens and I found all the information I needed right here.

    Keep up the good work Photos with Phones!

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