Over the past few days at IFA we've seen a wave of products that exist only to make your smartphone more powerful and convenient. With products like Sony's QX10 and QX100 camera attachments, and the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, it's becoming clear that manufacturers see your phone as an exciting new gateway to your wallet.
It was no different at tonight's Showstoppers event—a yearly press gathering where lesser-known products vie for a slice of the tech news limelight. For photographers, the two most interesting exhibitors both pitched ways to improve your mobile photography, albeit in distinctly different ways.
Olloclip: Turn Your iPhone Into a System Camera
Smartphones are great for photographers on the go. They're small, lightweight, and the image quality you get out of them is easily good enough for documentary purposes. Heck, sometimes you can pull off a genuinely excellent shot. But they're limited to a single focal length unless you want to use digital zoom—and trust us, you don't.
Olloclip addresses this shortcoming head-on, at least for iPhone and iPod Touch owners. The company's unique three-in-one add-on lens gives you the flexibility to take fisheye, macro, and wider-angle shots without adding much weight or bulk. The clever design simply clips onto the iPhone's built-in camera and adds a few more layers of glass to achieve the special effects. It's not quite the leap in image quality you'd get from a $250 Sony Cyber-shot QX10, but at $69.99 out the door it's a cheap way to give your phone some new life.
While the three-in-one lens has been on the market for a while, the company has just introduced two new products: a telephoto lens with a circular polarizing filter, and a quick-flip iPhone case that includes two tripod mounts and a large, dedicated shutter button. The telephoto doubles the iPhone's effective focal length, bringing your subjects closer without the same degradation in image quality you'd get from digital zoom. The circular polarizer, meanwhile, will help erase annoying reflections and intensify the color of daytime shots.
The flip case is perhaps the coolest product Olloclip makes. At just $49.99 from the company's website, it turns your phone into a pretty respectable little rig. Thanks to the dual mounting sockets, you can screw one side onto a tripod and attach a flash or LED light to the other—perfect for DIY videography or carefully composed stills. The case's "quick-flip corner" rotates out of the way to let you snap on an Olloclip lens and butts up against the iPhone's volume up button, which already serves as a hardware shutter release, giving you a big, comfy button to press.
i-FlashDrive HD: Smuggle Your Stuff Into Apple's Walled Garden
Once you've taken photos with your smartphone, you need a place to put them. iPhones in particular are infamous for their lack of expandable storage, so a number of manufacturers have stepped up to fill the void. One of the most notable is PhotoFast, a Taiwanese company whose i-FlashDrive HD is a USB stick that can plug right into your iPhone.
With 8, 16, 32, or 64 gigabytes of storage, potentially doubling, tripling, or quadrupling your available space. The company's app lets you fill that space with photos, videos, music, and all kinds of other documents, and they can be opened directly from the drive—no copying to your phone's memory is required. Of course, DRM-protected content is off-limits, so the i-FlashDrive HD is only useful for media you've obtained from non-iTunes sources. Regardless, it's a great place to dump your volumes of old photos while still keeping them close at hand.
The free iOS app is a pretty utilitarian affair, though it does offer a few other features, including a voice recorder and the option to backup your contacts to a file on the drive. You can also transfer files directly to and from Dropbox. It's a great feature, though it does raise the question of why you wouldn't just use Dropbox in the first place, rather than spending between $100 and $300 for what is, essentially, a USB stick.
But if you want your files with you—on your person—and you've maxed out the available space on your phone, there aren't many other options. The i-FlashDrive HD fills a niche and fills it well, even going so far as to offer convenient encryption for sensitive files. In Apple's walled garden, it's a convenient ladder.