Criacr Telephoto lens

An $11 12X Zoom, Macro, Fisheye Kit for Mobile Phones Can’t Be Any Good, Can It?

Two weeks ago I told you about a $16 camera kit for mobile phones from a company called Criacr. My title questioned whether that could possibly any good. As I explained the downsides of a cheap kit like this (lens aberration for example) I also explained that I was having a great time with it and how I thought it was totally worth the $16 I spent.

Still Enjoying the $16 kit

Macro Slo-Mo Star Lily Stamen

Since then I’ve continued to enjoy that kit even more. As you may recall, this kit came with a 1.5X macro and a 0.6X wide-angle lens. You can use the macro alone or the macro plus wide-angle but the wide-angle can only be used with the macro already attached.

Since these lenses can only fit over one of your phone’s lenses, if you have a fancy phone with 2 or even 3 lenses, you can only use the primary lens. That eliminates special functions like 2X zoom, wide-angle, and portrait photography when using the Criacr lenses.

But after writing up the article, I realized that some special functions don’t require anything but the primary lens, like 1X video and even slo-mo. For Mother’s Day, Steve and my kids got me an embarrassment of flowers, and all three bouquets included my favorite flower, the Lily. Lilies smell fantastic, especially the Star Lily.

In the center of the Lily are several stamens with boat-shaped anthers on the end that are designed primarily to sprinkle reddish-brown pollen all over your counter which stains absolutely everything. The reason I’m giving you this important information is because of something Dorothy said. When she got me back into the kick of macro photography she said that you’ll start to notice things you never saw before because you weren’t looking closely enough.

I put the macro lens on my iPhone and got up super close (less than 1 inch) away from the boat-shaped anthers sprinkling pollen all over, and as I did this I bumped the flower with my hand. To my delight, I noticed that the anther are actually suspended on a point of the stamen, and they pivot on that point!

And that’s when I got the idea to do a slo-mo video of that tiny anther rocking on the point of the stamen. It’s soooo cool! I put the 11-second long video in the shownotes of course.

Snail rain Criacr lens
Snail Just for Dorothy

But what about that $11 kit?

Criacr complete lens kit
Criacr $11 Lens Kit

At the end of the discussion about the $16 kit, I told you I found a $11 kit from Criacr that might be even more fun, so to hold off on buying the first one till I got the second one and gave it a play.

The $11 kit comes with a crazy amount of stuff:

  • 12X telephoto lens (the main reason I wanted to try this kit)
  • 198° Fisheye lens
  • 15x Macro Lens and 0.63x wide-angle lens (attached together)
  • Phone holder for tripod
  • Tripod
  • Two phone clips
  • Handy carrying bag
  • Enough lens caps that you’ll always seem to have a couple leftover

12X Zoom

As I mentioned, the 12X telephoto (which they call zoom) was the real attraction for me on this kit. I’ve been in so many situations where if I JUST had a long lens for my iPhone, I’d have been able to get that one shot.

Aligning the original kit’s lenses to my iPhone’s primary lens is trivial because you can actually see through the lens attachment to your phone’s lens. Makes it super easy to get it just right. The 12X zoom from Criacr is really long, which means you really can’t see through it to your camera lens. The opening is also much smaller so it’s really a bit tricky to get it aligned. I found that no matter how I wiggled it around, I got some vignetting on one corner. I decided that I could just crop it out in post.

I said the zoom is long – it’s nearly 4 inches long and 1.25” in diameter (that’s 10cm by 3.5cm for those of you of metric persuasion). The length and the power of the telephoto mean that you lose a lot of light with it. In a practical sense, I found that in taking photos indoors with the telephoto, my iPhone 11 Pro would go into night mode where it took a series of 1-second exposures and stacked them. If you don’t have a phone with that feature, your photos might be blurry or dark.

You might think that focusing that far away would be problematic, but this little telephoto actually has a focus ring that works remarkably well. Remember, this entire kit with 4 lenses and a tripod is $11. I think the reason it’ss so easy to focus this long telephoto lens is because you have a great display to see how well it’s focusing. Instead of a tiny LCD display inside a big-girl camera, you’ve got the 6” display of the phone.

Outdoors during daytime it had no problems in terms of light. I took a photo of the HIGH VOLTAGE sign on the top of a power pole, first with the 1X lens on the iPhone and then with the 12X telephoto and it really shows off how long this lens is.

High voltage without and with telephoto
Without and With 12X Telephoto

The lens quality is not great of course, and I didn’t expect it to be. The sharpness is isolated to only the very middle of the image. so while the words “HIGH VOLTAGE” are fairly crisp in the center, as soon as you get out to the arms of the power pole, it gets blurry.

I took another shot of a little bird watering stand up against a fence and again the quality of the lens is evident. It’s a kind of cool, artsy effect though and there’s something very pleasing about the shot to me.

Bird water with and without telephoto
Without and With 12X Telephoto

One thing I neglected to mention in my previous review is that the lens clips they provide go right over your case. Not having to remove the case is probably the thing that makes these lenses most likely to be used.

Speaking of the lens clips, I mentioned that this $11 kit comes with two of them. I thought at first they did this just to make it easier to swap between lenses. For reasons I cannot fathom, the thread on the 12X Telephoto is just barely different than the thread on the macro lens. I kept trying to thread one of them onto one of the clips and while it looked like it should fit it just wouldn’t thread, so I switched to the second one and it worked. I noticed a tiny instruction manual and it actually said that they’re dedicated clips. If I were trying to get costs down to $11, I would have made those threads the same!

One final thought before we move onto the other accessories. This little 12X telephoto lens can actually be used just with your eye like a monocular. Pretty cool!

Speaking of the macro lens…

The original $16 kit comes with a 15X macro lens 1.6ø x .25” thick and can focus about an inch away from your target. I bought the $11 kit for the telephoto but noticed it also came with a macro lens that showed the same 15X as the one in the $11 kit. The $11 kit version is way way way tinier though. It’s .75ø and .38” thick. I’m talking the size of maybe two dimes stuck together.

I slapped on the macro lens from the $11 kit and was sad to find out that it didn’t work as a macro lens at all. I took a bunch of comparison shots to see how the primary lens of the iPhone 11 Pro and that same lens with the tiny version of the 15x macro compared. I couldn’t focus any closer to the target with the macro. I was disappointed and actually started penning a letter to Criacr (they include an email address in the tiny manual). I wasn’t shaking my fist or even wagging my finger at them (again, $11) but I thought it was interesting that the macro didn’t do anything.

Before sending though I wanted some better comparison shots. I took some photos of the tiny fisheye lens (it’s a nice, small target to sit in one place on my desk). I took a closer look at the shots and noticed that the background was bendy and distorted with the tiny macro and not distorted on the regular iPhone’s lens.

Macro wide-angle together
Macro and Wide-Angle Lenses Together – see how tiny?

I still didn’t send my email but got started writing up this article. I wanted to make sure I got all the specs right and that’s when I noticed something interesting. In the description of the macro lens, it says, “Macro Lens and Wide Angle (Attached Together)”. I took a closer look at my lens and sure enough, that itty bitty teeny weeny lens was actually two lenses screwed together.

I unscrewed the wide-angle lens from the macro and now the macro was only .25” thick! That’s crazy pants. I’m also not the first person to not realize the two lenses were attached to each other. In the ad on Amazon, it says “The Macro Lens and the Wide Angle Lens are attached together while you receive them. (NOT LENS MISSING)”

More importantly, the macro lens now worked and worked really well! I went back to taking photos of the tiny fisheye lens with the iPhone’s primary camera and then with the itty bitty macro lens and the difference was extraordinary. I also compared that tiny macro with the macro from the original kit and the images were really quite similar. It’s funny to think that the original macro lens now feels massive to me. This little 15X macro lens is so small you could keep it in your billfold and never notice it. The clip to hold it takes up a bit of room (2.5” x 1”) but if you’re super skilled at keeping your fat fingers out of the photo you can actually hand-hold the lens to the iPhone and get a macro shot!

Wide-angle Lens

Like the original kit, the wide-angle lens only functions when screwed into the macro lens. And like the stupid-expensive $16 version, at 0.63X its pretty close to the iPhone 11 Pro’s 0.5X in wide angleness. I’m not a big wide-angle person so I’ll move along.

Fisheye Lens

Ada fisheye
Ada Lovelace in Fisheye Lens

The real party in this kit is the fisheye lens. This lens creates the kind of photos you have to post sparingly or people get sick of them. I chased our pets around for a while and got an absolutely hilarious shot of our cat Ada. She stuck her nose right at the lens and it’s huge in the photo. I made certain to send that picture to Dorothy too and she aptly described Ada as looking like a gopher!

While every piece of optics so far has met the tech specs listed in the Amazon ad, the fisheye lens is simply not the 198° they advertise. 180° is the most you could possibly get if the glass was flush with the front of the metal holding it. The glass would have to be bulging out of the metal ring holding it in order to go beyond 180°.

This lens not only doesn’t bulge out, but it’s also set back from the front of the ring holding it. In my super-accurate measurements using a protractor I saved of my dads from the 1960s that’s only 1.5” across, I estimate that I can only see 60° off-center to either side or a total of 120°, not 198°.

1960s protractor

This inaccuracy in the spec does not detract one little bit from the giggle I get each time I look at this ridiculous photo of my cat.

Tripod and phone holder

Criacr tripod
Criacr Tripod with Macro/Wide-Angle Attached

I can’t believe I’m still not done telling you about everything you get for $11 from Criacr with this kit! The last thing is the phone holder and tripod. The phone holder is a simple plastic frame with a metal clamp held by a very tight spring mechanism. It’s actually a bit tricky to get over the width of an iPhone 11 Pro, so I don’t think it would fit the max size.

It has rubber on any surface that touches the phone so you’re in no danger of scratching it up. The frame has a standard 1/4-20 thread on it so it easily mounts on the tripod.

The tripod stands 5 inches tall without the phone holder and believe it or not has an adjustable ball-head so you can turn a little handle and adjust the angle of the phone. You can turn the phone from landscape to portrait with this adjustment, but in portrait, the imbalance is too much for the little legs and the tripod falls over. I guess you could use it to steady an indoor shot with that big telephoto but you have to keep your hands on it.

Bottom Line

I cannot believe how much fun I’ve had with this $11 lens kit from Criacr. I’d have paid $11 just for the shot of my cat in the fisheye lens alone. Steve has been watching me play with this and I’ve been running in with new photos to show him and he said he thinks I’ve had $11 worth of fun in a single day.

You’re probably bored right now, so no matter how cool your phone’s camera is, give yourself a little treat and buy the $11 Criacr lens kit and give yourself a little bit of joy.

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