Last year, however, I spent way too much on a phone.
Since 2000, I have been learning how to pack less. My travels were more enjoyable, and my back pain was less, as I gradually reduced from a 70-liter backpack.
My camera was the only travel item that I couldn’t give up. I love the Sony A7 II link=”B00PX8CNCM/] when I travel and the excellent photo quality it offers.
But. It weighs in at over a kilogram and can be a pain to transport around. My travels are documented in every way possible, so I always have a large camera around my neck.
In an attempt to overcome this issue, I decided to splurge on a new iPhone, upgrading from my embarrassingly-outdated iPhone SE to the XS. I hoped the upgrade would let me forget about my camera.
Unfortunately, that was not true.
I quickly found that the iPhone XS camera, though one of my favorites on the market, was still very limited. The photos were nowhere near as good as my Sony. This is why I continue to reluctantly drag my camera around all over the globe.
SANDMARC reached us last month to inquire if we were interested in reviewing the series of lenses it offers for smartphones. I was instantly interested because it sounded like what I was looking for.
These lenses might be able to enhance my photos enough to allow me to stop using my phone as my camera. A peek at the company’s Instagram page makes it clear that they can.
SANDMARC gave me three lenses to review: the fisheye, macro and wide-angle.
Tables of Contents
What’s Inside the Box?
Each lens came in a cardboard case that contained several accessories.
The phone case where the lenses are screwed into is first. It was made for the iPhone XS. However, you can find versions for every iPhone model, from the 7 to the 7 Plus.
If you don’t own an Apple device, an external clip is included. It works in the exact same way. You simply insert the lens into the clip, and then secure the clip over your phone.
Also included in the box is a drawstring bag that can be used to store your lens, and a microfiber wipe. You can’t have enough of these.
Design and Build
The first impressions I had of the lenses were that they are solid. They are small (around 40mm in diameter) made from multi-coated glasses. They felt strong and solid, but weren’t too heavy.
At 71 grams, the wide angle lens was the heaviest for ultralight travelers. The macro lens weighs only 25g, while the fisheye lens weighs 55g. To protect the lens from scratches, there is a plastic cover on both the front and back.
Although the weights of the macro and fisheye lens were not too noticeable, I noticed that the wide-angle lens was heavier when attached to my phone.
The phone was still usable but I needed two hands to balance the screen while taking pictures. Also, carrying the wide-angle lens attached to my smartphone made me feel heavier.
How the SANDMARC Case Works
The case is made out of a light, smooth plastic with a slight rubbery texture. It’s lighter than previous phone cases, which has both advantages and disadvantages.
You can carry your phone around without difficulty because it doesn’t weigh or add any extra weight. The case will not protect your phone if it is dropped.
Unfortunately, the case isn’t as strong and well-built as the lenses. One month of light usage caused mine to develop a crack in the corner. It was only once or twice that I took it off my phone.
The case or lenses didn’t break apart and SANDMARC provides a case that comes with every lens. This meant I had two spares. It was still a surprise considering the quality of the lenses.
The cases have two positions that allow you to position the lenses depending on what rear camera you’re using. The SANDMARC lenses can be used over the default iPhone lens and the telephoto lens beneath it. The lenses held their place securely, without any risk of falling, once attached.
I have kept the case on the phone for the last month, regardless of whether I used the lenses. It has performed well, despite the crack. The slight bump on the lens mount does make it slightly thicker at one corner.
Because the iPhone XS camera is designed to cover the flash, a part of the SANDMARC lens also covers it when it’s attached. It renders the flash unusable. For most people, this will not be an issue (I rarely use the flash), but for others, it might be.
The clip accessory can be used in place of the SANDMARC case if you don’t like it.
A look at the Clip On Mount
I was curious to see how the clip on mount works in real life, so I borrowed my partner’s pixel2 phone and tried it out. Overall, it worked great. As long as you’re willing to put up with 20 seconds of trial & error while getting the lens aligned perfectly.
To protect your phone’s screen from being scratched, there’s soft padding on one side. The other side can be used directly over the existing camera.
The easiest way to position it was to use the camera app on your smartphone. Next, move the clip so that no lens part is visible on the screen. Once the clip was secure, it remained in place during my photo shoot.
One advantage of the clip-on mount was the ease with which you could switch between SANDMARC lense. Each lens came with its own clip attachments. If you place them beforehand, it is easy to switch between them.
You can even improve your selfies by using the clip-on Mount! Use the clip to place wide-angle lenses or fisheyes over your front-facing camera. This will allow you to include more of your background in your self portrait photos.
Fisheye lenses are a great way to capture selfies in foreign locations. They show more of the environment than standard iPhone front-facing cameras.
So how are your photos?
The SANDMARC Wide-Angle Lens
Most travelers will use the wide-angle lens most often when on the road. It has twice as much field of view and allows you to fit more of the scene in your shot.
This feature is great for taking photos of crowds, big buildings and landscapes. The photo quality was amazing, and I didn’t see any distortion at the outer edges.
As I said, this lens is the most heavy, which can cause the phone to feel a little unbalanced. If you want to get a better photo, it is best to hold the phone in both hands.
Below are examples of the same scene when shot using the standard iPhone camera, SANDMARC wide angle lens and SANDMARC fisheye. All photos were taken without any editing. Photo taken with standard iPhone lensesPhoto taken with SANDMARC wide -angle lensThe fisheye lens is also available
The Fisheye Lens
The SANDMARC 10mm fisheye lens will capture more of a scene then the wide-angle. Although fisheye lenses can create significant distortion, not everyone likes them. I found that the distortion was minimal with the SANDMARC’s model.
I did notice blurring at the edges of my photos using the fisheye zoom, which can be seen in the above photo.
This lens proved to be very useful in photographing small coffee shops and hotels as well as for taking selfies. It also works well for making travel videos with a GoPro-esque effect.
The Macro Lens
I had the most fun with SANDMARC’s macro lenses, even though they have the fewest applications for travelers. If you aren’t planning on taking lots and lots of artistic, close-up shots around the world, this lens probably won’t be very useful when you’re out on the road.
The lens itself is beautiful. I loved taking close-up photographs of everything in my home and then gasping when I realized how dusty it was. This lens allowed me to take photos of flowers, plants, and even my boyfriend’s eyeballs.
Click/tap on any tab to see the individual photos.
The macro lens is equipped with a transparent plastic hood. It can be removed to allow for more light and focus. If the plastic rim touches an object, it is in focus. It’s simple.
If you are passionate about taking close-up shots, the SANDMARC or clip-on case can be used to attach your macro to a telephoto lens. This adds an extra 2x zoom.
Other SANDMARC offerings
SANDMARC also produces telephoto lenses for people who prefer to zoom using their camera and not their feet. This lens was not provided to me for review but I found it to be very useful in travel photography.
SANDMARC has a number of filters that you can attach to your lenses if you want to enhance your phone’s photo quality. Both neutral density and polarized filters can be purchased on Amazon.
All four lenses discussed in this article are now available from SANDMARC’s online shop. Prices are as follows:
- Wide Lens Edition – $99.99
- Fisheye Lense – $89.99
- Macro Lens Edition – $89.99
- Telephoto Lens Version – $99.99
You can also get the Lens Kit for $239.99 from SANDMARC. This includes all the lenses. Save $150 compared to buying the four lenses individually.
If you are thinking of buying multiple SANDMARC lenses, it would make more sense to purchase the entire set to get more value.
Get Us in Your Inbox
Subscribe to our email newsletter for the latest in travel tech news, tips and articles. We will also send you our 25-page free guide. This guide contains useful hints, advice and tips to help get you started.
There’s no spam and you can easily leave at any moment. Our privacy policies explain how we deal with your personal data.
So, Are the SANDMARC Lenses Good for Travel?
My verdict: Yes!
While the SANDMARC lenses are quite costly, I believe they still provide good value, especially if they are part of a complete kit. Moment (reviewed ), is the nearest competitor. Moment sells similar lenses but doesn’t bundle them together in a discounted package.
I was amazed at the improvements in image quality due to these lenses. I plan to use both wide-angle and fisheye lenses for future trips. This will result in better landscape shots as well as selfies.
The macro lens won’t be useful in travel photography but I think it would be helpful for non-travel purposes. As a result, I’ll probably spend an inordinate amount of time taking pictures of my plants. Then, I’ll wonder how they got so dirty.
I had hoped that SANDMARC lenses would be able to convince me to ditch my expensive camera for future trips. Now, how do I feel?
While lenses have allowed for greater variety and quality in the photos my iPhone produces, they are limited by the sensor’s small size. SANDMARC has no control over this.
Unsurprisingly, even the best add-on lense won’t transform my iPhone into a high-end full-frame camera. However, my Sony will still travel with me.
The SANDMARC lenses offer more flexibility when it comes to what and how I photograph, but they are especially useful for me when I’m traveling around a new area without my large camera. I will now not only be taking my camera along on my next adventures but also a few lenses for my smartphone in my bag.
While I am not sure if it is a good idea or a problem, it is happening.