Review: Moment Cases and Lenses for the iPhone

Moment’s collection of smartphone cases and add-on lenses promise to extend the versatility of my iPhone 8 Plus. How well do they work? Read on. And (pssst…), I have a YouTube video version of my review at the bottom of this blog post. 

I must admit that when I got my first smartphone several years ago, an iPhone 5, it was to replace a flip phone. The fact that it could run apps, like the iPad I had been using since they were first introduced, was gravy. But its camera function? No way. A toy. Do not mess with my DSLRs, thank you very much.

Well, things have changed. I have gone from an iPhone 5 to the 6s model and now the iPhone 8 Plus. And, along the way, I started to see my smartphones as more camera than phone. I have used them for several photographic projects, made books with iPhone photos and exhibited large prints using iPhone images.

So it is no surprise that I would upgrade to the iPhone 8 Plus with its built-in wide angle and telephoto lenses.

I bought it two months ago and, of course, needed a protective case. More than that, I wanted a case with a built-in battery. Something to keep my iPhone going for an entire day while on a long walk, away from chargers and wall plugs.

There are a great many battery cases for the iPhone 8 Plus. A dizzying variety. But one case stood out, the Moment Photo Battery Case.

What caught my attention was the word “Photo”. Here was a case that would not only keep my iPhone charged, but perform double duty as a lens mount for a series of add-on Moment lenses. It was a case that promised not only to protect and charge my new phone, but to extend its photo capabilities as well. Too good to be true? Let’s see…

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My Moment kit: (from top and clockwise) Lens Case, Photo Battery Case with iPhone 8 Plus, 60mm Tele Portrait Lens, 18mm Wide Ange Lens, Photo Case.

The Moment Photo Battery Case.

It’s a very slim 149 gram case that adds very little bulk to the already large iPhone 8 Plus. It adds a scant 7mm of thickness to the phone and will still slip neatly into a pant pocket. The rubbery TPU (thermoplastic urethane rubber) material helps protect the phone but it is not shockproof-rated. I like that it is fairly grippy. It feels good in the hand. Inside is a 3800 mAh battery, not terribly large but with enough kick to keep me going the entire day.

This is a one-piece case. The camera slides in from the top, which bends back until the phone is fully inserted and engages the case’s built-in lightning connector. Although the phone slides into place easily, removing it from the case is rather difficult. I need to grab onto the protruding lens on the phone to get a good grip and pull fairly hard to work it out of the case. Why I would want to remove the phone is explained below.

Here’s where the Moment smartphone case really shines: cutouts over the rear-facing phone lenses are actually bayonet mounts on which the matching Moment lenses can be quickly attached. For the dual lens 8 Plus, there is an additional bayonet mount over its telephoto lens.

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Bayonet mounts over the iPhone 8Plus tele and wide angle lenses.

The buttons on the case work well. They don’t protrude that much, so accidentally pushing one is not a problem. The case also has a good-sized shutter button on one side. It has a nice soft touch and a half-push locks focus and exposure. The shutter button is a well-placed for landscape (horizontal) shots and much preferable to the touch button on the iPhone screen.

The bottom of the case adds a bit of length to the camera, room needed for the case’s lightning connecter. To charge, just attach an Apple-certified lightning cable and wall charger to the case. This charges both the phone and the case battery. It eliminates the need for an additional mini-UBC cable that most other battery cases require. Note that non Apple-certified lightning cables may charge just the case and not the phone. A small LED in the bottom of the case indicates its charge status.

Business end of the Photo Battery Case showing: the silver shutter release, speaker ports, loops for wrist and neck straps, lightning connector for charging and data transfer.

Business end of the Photo Battery Case showing: the silver shutter release, speaker ports, loops for wrist and neck straps, lightning connector for charging and data transfer.

Something to be aware of—and this is true of all battery cases for recent iPhones—is that the lightning connector will only allow charging and data transfer. It will not allow audio pass-through, a limitation imposed by Apple. Therefore, bluetooth headphones or earbuds (such as Apple’s own AirBuds) are required.

Music played through the iPhone speakers are ported through the case’s extended bottom. The sound quality is very good with little loss in volume. However, the iPhone’s bottom microphone is completely blocked. I tried using voice recorder apps with the phone in the case and got little more than a soft garbled recording.

There are loops at the bottom of the case that allow the attachment of wrist and neck straps, both available from Moment. I didn’t purchase either so I have not had a chance to test them. They are attached with cord loops and not easily removed. Unless you always plan to have the phone hanging from your neck or wrist, I would think a strap would just be an annoying dangly bit when pocketing the phone in pants or a jacket. A quick-release buckle would be a welcome feature on future straps.

My case is designed to fit the iPhone 7 Plus but it fits just fine on my 8 Plus. Cases are also available for other recent iPhones, including the iPhone X, as well as a variety of Android phones. The iPhone 8 Plus Battery Photo Case will set you back USD $100.

The Moment Photo Case.

Note the absence of “Battery” in this product name. Moment has a line of conventional, battery-less cases as well. The case is similar in construction to the battery version, just more compact. It doesn’t block the lower microphone and it can be used with wired headsets. I purchased one for day-to-day use in the city, when I know a battery will not be required. And, of course, the case has the same bayonet mounts over the phone’s lenses.  It’s reasonably priced at USD $29.00 for the iPhone 8 Plus version.

The Moment Lenses.

The collection includes four lenses: a macro, a fisheye, an 18mm wide angle and a 60mm telephoto lens. I have the wide and telephoto lenses. The other two are a little too niche for me, especially considering each lens costs USD $90-$100.

My wide angle and tele lenses are beefy, well constructed beasts. Very impressive but heavy. The 18mm weighs in at 76 grams and the 60mm is 49 grams. These second iteration (v.2) Moment lenses are designed to work with current, improved line Moment camera cases. The lenses attach quickly to the case with a quarter turn. Lenses come with both a lens cap and a soft fabric pouch.

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A handful of lens: the Moment 18mm wide angle.

The Moment wide angle lens has an 18mm focal length which, I’m assuming, is equivalent to an 18mm lens on a full frame 35mm film camera. That’s a very wide angle, excellent for interiors. Image quality is very good. Images remain sharp to the corners and there is no significant evidence of chromatic aberration or fringing. It’s a beautiful piece of glass, quite bulbous as you would expect with such a wide angle lens, protruding well out from its metal barrel. A scalloped lens shade projects only a bit past the front surface of the lens. Keep that protective lens cap handy!  And I did notice pronounced flare from point light sources, such as overhead spotlights in a restaurant. However, backlit shots with a low sun showed no signs of flare.

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The Forks, Winnipeg. Moment 18mm wide angle lens mounted over the iPhone 8 Plus 1X lens.

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The Forks, Winnipeg. Same view with the iPhone 8 Plus 1X lens.

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The Forks, Winnipeg. Moment 18mm wide angle lens mounted over the iPhone 8 Plus 1X lens. Detail of the lower right corner of the picture. Sharp right to the corner.

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The Forks Market, Winnipeg. Moment 18mm wide angle lens mounted over the iPhone 8 Plus 1X lens.

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The Forks, Winnipeg. Same view with the iPhone 8 Plus 1X lens.

The telephoto lens has a 60mm focal length. On an iPhone 8, which has only one wide angle lens, this lens reduces the temptation to resort to quality-robbing digital zoom. It’s a reasonably good focal length for portraits and street photography.

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The 18mm and 60mm lenses with their lens caps and protective pouches.

My iPhone 8 Plus has two lenses built in, a 28mm wide angle ( labelled 1X by Apple) and a 56mm telephoto lens (labelled 2X by Apple). Mounting the Moment 60mm lens over the phone’s 56mm lens provides a substantial telephoto boost. I would guess that the focal length is around the 120mm mark.

In my tests I found the tele lens to be sharp at the centre but fairly soft at the edges. This works well for portraits and the lens, which is officially named the New Tele Portrait Lens, was designed with this in mind. Whether I want this pictorialist effect in my landscape photos is debatable. It is also hard to hold an iPhone with a 120mm lens attached and expect a sharp image, especially in low light conditions. But that has more to do with the poor camera-handling ergonomics of all smartphones.

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The Forks, Winnipeg. Taken with the iPhone 8 Plus 2X lens.

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The Forks, Winnipeg. Moment 60mm tele lens mounted over the iPhone 8 Plus 2X lens.

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The Forks, Winnipeg. Moment 60mm tele lens mounted over the iPhone 8 Plus 2X lens. Detail of the lower left corner. How soft it gets!

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The Forks Market, Winnipeg. Taken with the iPhone 8 Plus 2X lens.

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The Forks Market, Winnipeg. Moment 60mm tele lens mounted over the iPhone 8 Plus 2X lens.

Both Moment lenses work with the native iPhone camera app, provided they are mounted over the phone’s wide angle (1X) lens. Mounting the Moment tele lens over the iPhone tele (2X) lens does not work. The image is black. To work with this lens configuration, the Moment app is required. See below.

The Moment App

As soon as I got my Moment cases and lenses, I installed the Moment app on my phone. It’s available in both iOS and Android flavours. It’s primarily a camera app with photo and video modes. It offers basic camera functions such as flash control, self timer mode and so on. RAW image capture, the best quality and most flexible file format for photos, can also be selected, a great feature missing from the iPhone camera app. Dragging vertically on the screen allows control of focus, exposure or colour temperature. Once selected, dragging horizontally allows adjustment of the selected parameter. The Moment app will lock focus with a half press on the Battery Photo Case’s shutter button. Note that the half press feature does not work with the iPhone Camera app.

If you have the Moment Tele lens, then the Moment app is essential. It allows the lens to work when mounted over the iPhone 8 Plus telephoto lens.

The app also monitors the Battery Case and, if Notifications are set up, it will inform you of charge status from the lock screen.

While the Moment app improves on the iPhone Camera in some respects—notably in its ability to capture RAW images—it is not as full-featured. The iPhone app features slow-motion, time lapse and panoramic photography as well as Portrait Mode.

But the greatest advantage of the iPhone’s native camera is its availability from the iPhone lock screen. A quick screen swipe and I’m ready to take a picture. With the Moment app, or any other third party camera app, I need to unlock the phone and search for and open the Moment app before I’m ready to take a photo. It may not seem like much, but what is iPhone photography if not a quick draw camera, instantly and always at the ready in your pocket? I realize that this is a limitation imposed by Apple and not a reflection on Moment’s engineering. Perhaps someday Apple will allow me to select which camera app I can access from the lock screen. Until then…

My Moment

This is a great system that elegantly solves the need for a protective case and for battery power in the field and expands on the creative potential of smartphones. I regularly shift between the Photo Case and the Photo Battery Case depending on the needs of the day, knowing that I will be able to use my Moment lenses regardless. The Photo case is best for in-town use, where I am more inclined to use my wired headsets and make use of the bottom microphone. The Photo Battery Case is my go-to for longer walks where I will be using power-hungry apps, like those for GPS tracking and way finding.

I find the 18mm lens most useful, especially for interior work and tight spaces. The tele lens is less useful for my purposes. With its edge softness, the lens is best for portraits, as advertised, but less versatile for landscapes or urbanscapes. For these, I prefer edge-to-edge sharpness. And it’s damn hard to hold an iPhone steady at arm’s length with a 120mm lens attached and expect sharp results.

This is my first set of auxiliary smartphone lenses. While I enjoy the extended range of focal lengths, approaching a modest DSLR in that respect, there are a lot of bits to manage. Slipping a lone iPhone into a pocket is easy enough and it serves its function as the camera that is always with you. But carrying two extra lenses changes that dynamic. As compact as they are, they are barely pocketable. And those big, beautiful glass surfaces need to be protected in a case or with the supplied lens caps.

I have a smart-looking zippered case made by Moment (USD $20). It holds my two lenses and seems to keep the glass safe without the need for lens caps. But it is a bulky package. Where do I put it? It has a belt loop but it is too narrow for the belts I wear. Or do I pocket the lens with just the lens cap? Fine if I’m wearing a jacket but it’s an inelegant bulge in a pant pocket. Or do I get a murse for phone and lenses? And, if it comes down to carrying an extra case, why not just use a small point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera?

It’s a problem yet to be solved.

 

Sample Gallery

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Assiniboine Park Pavilion, Winnipeg. Moment 18mm lens.

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Assiniboine Park Conservatory, Winnipeg. 18mm lens.

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Assiniboine Park Conservatory, Winnipeg. Moment 18mm lens. Captured with the Moment app as a RAW file. It’s high dynamic range scenes like this, stretching from dark shadows to extreme brightness, where RAW capture is so useful. Along with a little post-capture work in Lightroom, of course.

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Bruce Park, Winnipeg. Moment 18mm lens. A backlit shot with the sun just above the frame (note the sun dog!).

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Bruce Park, Winnipeg. Moment 60mm lens.

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Bruce Park, Winnipeg. Moment 60mm lens. Detail of upper right corner. Note how soft the image gets from centre to corner.

 

Here’s a YouTube video overview of my review:

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