Near universal compatibility
Another thing to tote
Black Eye, a competitor to Olloclip and Moment, has introduced a range of clip-on lenses for modern smartphones. The company claims its Pro Kit G4 trio of lenses can match the versatility of a dSLR. That’s a bold statement. The Pro Kit G4 includes a 2x telephoto lens, a wide-angle lens, and a fisheye lens. Can this kit really live up to Black Eye’s promise?
Find out in Android Authority‘s Black Eye Pro Kit G4 review.
Black Eye Pro Kit G4 review: The big picture
Add-on lenses are a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to upgrade the experience of taking pictures with your smartphone. While more and more flagship phones are shipping with two or three rear lenses, many phones still include just a single rear shooter. The impetus behind these multi-camera designs is to improve the utility of phone-based photography.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 and Huawei P30 Pro are prime examples of this modern multi-lens trend. Each includes a standard lens, a wide-angle lens, and a telephoto lens. This gives users the flexibility to capture the shot they want, whether it is zoomed in for a close-up or ultra-wide to get the whole scene.
The Black Eye Pro Kit G4 lets you clip three different lenses over your phone’s camera to take the place of such built-in lenses, bringing your mobile photography up to speed with the competition.
Black Eye’s basic design is simple and effective. Each lens is affixed to a metal clip. The clip has two solid fingers and a strong spring. Rubber strips on the inside of the prongs prevent the clip from scratching the phone’s glass. I can’t overstate how functional this form factor is.
Last year, Olloclip introduced a similar universal clip-on system. It relied on plastic fingers, and suffered from a weak spring. As such, it struggled to hold lenses on the phone. Black Eye’s clip is far superior and firmly affixes each lens to the phone. Moreover, the clips can easily slide into your pocket like a clothespin for secure carriage as you walk around.
A small hole under the lens helps guide you to correctly cover the phone’s camera. This was particularly convenient with the Google Pixel 3 XL, which has a single, raised camera module on the back. The Black Eye clip system grabbed hold of the Pixel 3 XL and was easy to install and center in a jiffy.
Black Eye's system doesn't work with absolutely every phone.
While it works seamlessly with the Pixel 3 XL, the Black Eye lens system can also work with phones that have multiple cameras, it just takes a bit more work. For example, I checked to see if the lenses would fit on the LG G8 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It requires a little more finessing to center the lens on devices that have square or flush camera modules, though it’s still easy enough to achieve correct positioning. You’ll know the lens is off center if you see a large black ring around the camera via the viewfinder. What you see through there viewfinder sharpens up once the lens is in the proper spot.
The clip can also be used with user-facing cameras for some extra-special selfies.
Black Eye’s system doesn’t work with absolutely every phone. Black Eye maintains a list of devices with which the lenses are compatible here. Many of today’s top phones are included.
Phone cases may also get in the way and I had varying degrees of success. A thin case on the Pixel 3 XL didn’t cause any problems, but an OtterBox case did. Your mileage will vary.
The lenses themselves are top quality. They feature aluminum housings, highly polished glass, and robust screws to affix the lenses to the clips. I like that each lens has its own lens cover to protect the glass. The covers are a little fussy.
The Pro Kit G4 has its own carrying case. The case is sturdy and firmly cradles each lens and clip in its own berth. The case is closed by a zipper, and a lanyard loop is robust enough to support use with a carabiner. This means you can attach the kit to the outside of your backpack if you wish. Black Eye included a small microfiber cloth so you can clean the lenses when needed.
Black Eye makes a range of lenses from fisheye to telephoto. The three lenses in this kit include the Pro Portrait Tele G4 for 2.5x magnification, the Pro Fisheye G4 for a 180-degree field of view, and the Pro Cinema Wide G4 for 120-degree, wide-angle shots. Each individual glass element has three layers of protective coating. The housing is painted matte black.
Black Eye nailed the design of its lenses.
Pro Portrait Tele G4:
This is the chunkiest of the lenses. In order to achieve the 2.5x magnification, the glass elements need some space between them. I’m thankful for the extra little bit of magnification past 2x. It won’t match the crazy 10x zoom on the Huawei P30 Pro, but it does work really well as a portrait lens. For phones that don’t have any sort of optical zoom, such as the Pixel 3 XL, this helps get a little closer to the action without cropping and losing resolution. However, many of today’s top phones include a 2x optical zoom camera.
Pro Fisheye G4:
I love fisheye photography. It’s so dramatic and fun. It lets you exaggerate the foreground while packing in an enormous field of view in the background. I was able to take a shot that included the full ceiling in my office and the tops of all four walls. Similarly, you can use fisheye to take a picture that includes the floor, wall, and ceiling. There’s nothing else quite like it, and no phone ships with optical fisheye capability. The fisheye is pure joy.
Pro Cinema Wide G4:
With a 120-degree view, the Cinema Wide lets you capture broad landscapes with clarity. Black Eye kept distortion to a minimum. It’s also helpful when you need to capture a group shot indoors, or otherwise need to be close to your subject while also including lots of background. This is probably the best “everyday carry” lens, as it truly expands the range of your shots. Huawei, LG, and Samsung have begun slapping wide-angle cameras on their phones and I’ve found them incredibly useful.
Black Eye nailed the design of its lenses. I’ve never come across a better-made, easier-to-use system, though Moment’s case-based system is also very good.
Mobile photography results
How do the pictures look? Good, for the most part, with the usual caveats with respect to how these lenses bend light. Remember that we used a Google Pixel 3 XL with the normal shooting mode enabled. All the noise reduction, exposure, and white balance issues normally seen on Pixel 3 XL shots carry over. The lenses only have an impact on sharpness, from what I can tell.
I took a telephoto shot, fisheye shot, wide-angle shot, and normal shot in a handful of spaces so you can see how the images compare. Full resolution samples are available here.
I really like that the wide-angle increases the field of view with minimal impact. The subject barely shows any sign of distortion. In fact, it’s hard to find any distortion at all. The corners of the wide-angle frames do tend to soften out a bit but otherwise they’re quite good.
The fisheye produces plenty of distortion and softness. With a 180-degree field of view, the lens lets you capture pretty much everything that’s in front of it. The effect isn’t as obvious outside, though it becomes very obvious indoors. Straight lines will bend and curve as if the picture were being laid on a bubble. The corners show a lot of softness and loss of detail, which is to be expected.
The 2.5x telephoto helps most when you want to take shots of people. When paired with the Pixel’s portrait mode you’ve got a really good tool on your hand. Remember, 2.5x isn’t going to let you capture close-ups from hundreds of feet away. The magnification is sometimes hard to event spot. The one thing I appreciate is that you can combine the optical zoom provided by this lens with digital zoom in the camera app. This means your zoomed shots will look better all around. I didn’t spot any obvious softening or other problems. The telephoto lens does a solid job.
The bottom line here is that you can get more from your smartphone camera via these lenses. Sure, some phones have wide-angle and telephoto built in, but many do not. The Black Eye Pro Kit G4 is for the phones that do not.
Value for the money
It all boils down to the math. The Pro Kit G4 sells for $249. You can buy an entry-level camera with 5x or 10x optical zoom for that money, but you cannot get any type of dSLR system at that price. Moreover, like any good dSLR, you’re investing in a system with the Black Eye lenses. For example, I bought a camera earlier this year and a number of lenses to use with it. That’s sort of how you have to view the Black Eye kit.
If $250 is too much scratch, you can step down to some of Black Eye’s less-costly lenses — all of which rely on the same clip system. Options include a 3x telephoto, macro, simple wide-angle, and a series of two-in-one and three-in-one kits. You can also skip the idea of the kit and buy each lens individually. This could be the best path for the budget constrained.
The real thing to keep in mind is that these lenses are nearly universal and can be used with tablets and other devices. For those interested in upping their mobile photography or Instagram game, $250 may be a minor investment. More to the point, a phone and several clip-on lenses is a lot less to tote than a bulky dSLR.
Black Eye Pro Kit G4 review: The verdict
Black Eye’s clever clip system is the best I’ve used, and the lenses in this kit provide hours of mobile photography fun. With fisheye, wide-angle, and telephoto to choose from, your single-camera phone just got a lot more powerful.
Would I recommend the Black Eye Pro Kit G4? It helps to know what you’re doing, and a bit of creative flair is a must. If you’re a photography fanatic, but eschew the idea of carrying around a heavy SLR and lots of glass, the Black Eye Pro Kit G4 strikes a reasonable balance. It instantly gives your phone a bigger degree of creative potential.