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Ztylus Z-Prime lenses – review with sample images and video

Z-Prime wide lens iPhone 6S

Updated 19 January 2017 

  • These lenses control distortion and chromatic aberration very well
  • The telephoto lens has very good centre sharpness
  • Both lenses are soft at the edges of the frame: OK for video, not so good for photography

I’ve been looking for a good add-on lens for my iPhone 6S for some time. The standard iPhone lens is very sharp, and for stills it’s a useful 29mm equivalent wide angle. But it’s limiting for filmmaking: its built-in video stabilisation crops the image, making it the equivalent of around a 40mm focal length.

Z-Prime lenses

The Ztylus Z-Prime lenses come in 0.63x wide and 2x telephoto versions, which works out at around 24mm and 80mm for video. That’s a really useful combination.

widewide

The wide angle fits more in than the standard lens, gives dramatic perspective, and is easier to handhold.

Ztylus Z-Prime iPhone lens telephoto sample

The medium telephoto is ideal for details, and for undistorted closeups of people.

The kit I bought includes the two lenses, a part-metal case, a belt clip carrier with a carabiner for attaching it to a pack, and a bag and cleaning cloth. (If you buy single lenses, you get an all-plastic phone case.)

The lenses are only available for the iPhone 6/6S and 6/6S Plus. (Ztylus have a different, twin-lens solution for the iPhone 7 series).

The lenses

With the 0.63x wide-angle lens, the first thing I noticed is the lack of barrel distortion (lines bending outwards) compared with cheaper add-on lenses. Sharpness is OK for HD video at the centre, though it falls off towards the edges. I wouldn’t use it for shooting 4K or for still photography.

I couldn’t see any chromatic aberration (coloured fringes near the edges), which is a serious problem with some other lenses I’ve tried.

I was more impressed with the 2x telephoto lens. It’s great for picking out details, and gives a nice shallow focus effect.

It’s very sharp at the centre, with hardly any distortion. It’s tricky to hold the phone steady enough, though: I’d only use it on a tripod, a stabiliser, or with a pistol grip kit like Ztylus’s own or the rival Shoulderpod.

Going wider and longer

If you use Filmic Pro, rather than the native Camera app, you can switch off stabilisation to get the full 18mm effect of the wide lens. But Filmic Pro is trickier to focus. Unless you set your focus point near the centre of the image,  you can end up with  sharp corners and everything else soft. Focus can also drift in and out unless you lock it.

With the tele lens, centre sharpness is good enough that you could shoot in 4K, then put the clips in a 1080p HD film and zoom in to double the size. That doubles the effective focal length to 160mm, but you’d need a solid tripod.

Sample shots

The top four shots, taken from the same distance, show how much of the scene each lens captures.

iPhone standard lens sample

iPhone standard lens

Telephoto lens

Ztylus telephoto lens

Ztylus wide lens

Ztylus wide lens

Ztylus wide lens without stabilisation

Ztylus wide lens without stabilisation

The test images below were shot in 4K. Right-click (option-click on Mac) on the images to download full sized versions.

iPhone standard lens, 4K sample

iPhone standard lens

Z-Prime wide stabilised sample

Wide lens, with stabilisation

Z-Prime wide lens sample shot

Wide lens, without stabilisation

Z-Prime tele shot iPhone

Telephoto lens

Ztylus Z-Prime telephoto iPhone 6S

‘4K crop’ telephoto shot in 1080p timeline

The Ztylus case and system

The lenses are part of a modular accessory system which includes a multi-lens turret, a ring light and a belt clip. The modular system means that when you upgrade your phone, you just buy a new case and you can carry on using the lenses and other accessories.

You fit the phone in its case by taking off the base (which is held on with a single knurled screw), sliding the phone in then reattaching the base.

The case is lined with thin foam to protect the phone and make for a firm fit. It’s a lot chunkier than a silicon sleeve. It includes a flip stand to prop the phone up for viewing.

The cutaway for the mute switch is well recessed, so it’ll be tricky for nail-chewers. The Lightning connecter and standard minijacks fit OK, but when I connected Rode’s bulkier SC-6 microphone/headphone adapter I had to leave the base off.

Attaching the lenses

iphone kit - 1

The bayonet mount is quick and simple to use, with a simple twist-on/off action. The lenses lock securely into place, and you pull back on the red plastic tab to unlock them. They have neat spring-loaded lens caps which flip open at the press of a tab. The lens cap assembly is held on with a magnet, so you can take off the whole thing if you prefer.

Build quality

Build quality seems good. Both lenses are multicoated, with five glass elements, and the bayonet fitting is metal.

On my case the lens mount didn’t sit perfectly level, so the lens tilted inwards slightly. I checked with Ztylus and it’s within normal manufacturing tolerances. It doesn’t seem to affect sharpness as long as you’ve set focus correctly at the centre of the frame. With Filmic Pro, using the default position for setting focus can cause one side of the image to be soft.

Update: using the lenses with a stabiliser

The Ztylus case is too big and thick to fit properly into my DJI OSMO Mobile stabiliser. I’ve managed to get around this by prising off the part of the case that holds the lens mount, adding some tape inside to ensure a tight fit, and sliding it onto the end of the phone. It’s not that secure but it does the job.

The heavy lenses unbalance the stabiliser, so I remove the detachable lens cap to reduce the weight, pull the adjustable stabiliser arm out as far as it’ll go, then use Blu-Tack to stick a counterweight (a coin) on the right hand end of the stabiliser. This works well.

If you already have a Ztylus kit and you don’t want to damage your case, you could get the inexpensive ‘Lite series case’ and cut that down instead.

Verdict

I think these lenses are really good. I’m using them together with the pistol grip kit as part of my high-end iPhone filmmaking kit.

I’m impressed by the lack of distortion with these lenses, and centre sharpness on the telephoto lens is good. The edges are soft, though this is less of a problem for video than stills.

Overall sharpness on my sample of the wide-angle lens isn’t great, and not good enough for 4K shooting. The rival Olloclip has better centre sharpness (though its edge sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberration are all worse).

You don’t have to buy the two-lens kit, so you might be better off just getting the tele lens. (Use the link below, then search for ‘telephoto’ on the Ztylus site.)

Buying the lenses

You can buy the Z-Prime lenses from the Ztylus online store. Use this link to get 25% off your first order. They offer free worldwide shipping on orders over $50.

Non-USA orders are shipped from China; mine arrived within a week. (Customs charges and VAT will add quite a lot to the website price.)

Disclaimer

I haven’t been paid to write this review but Ztylus gave me a discount on the lenses. I get a percentage of the purchase price if you buy the lenses through my link.

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