Smartphone cameras are replacing regular cameras. Unless you’re a professional photographer or a real enthusiast, you’re probably not walking around with an actual camera. You may have even given it up on trips and events — smartphones are light, portable and easy to carry around, so why bother?
One significant difference comes to play when you want to zoom in on things. Smartphones only offer digital zoom, which usually reduces the image quality. In fact, on most smartphones, even zooming in a bit will result in a somewhat blurry photo. Want to shoot something that’s really far away? Good luck with that. Unless you own a Snapzoom, that is.
The Snapzoom is a scope mount — a plastic contraption that aims to connect between your smartphone and your binoculars or telescope. Using the Snapzoom, you’re supposed to be able to take pictures of anything you can see through your magnifying device, and do so with your smartphone camera. Sounds too good to be true? We purchased a Snapzoom and I’ve taken it for a serious spin to find out if this is a real breakthrough or merely a gimmick. Want to find out first-hand too? You can win this $150 Snapzoom and binoculars set for free! Read on for more details.
What Is The Snapzoom?
When I first stumbled onto the Snapzoom, almost a year ago, it was nothing more than a concept. A group of people came up with an idea, and that idea was available for pre-order through the Snapzoom website. Things took longer than expected, as often happens with such things, but seven months later, the Snapzoom finally landed on my doorstep.
The Snapzoom is in essence a smartphone mount for your binoculars. You attach your smartphone to one side and your binoculars to the other — a combination which should let you shoot photos as seen through your binoculars. It’s a simple idea, but one that is not as easy to execute.
Looking around for similar scope mounts, I didn’t find many, although there are a few options worth checking out. The most promising of the lot, if you own an iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S4, is the Meopta MeoPix iScoping adapter, which works with both binoculars and telescopes. There’s no price for it on the website itself, but looking at several US retailers, you’re looking at around $70 for this adapter. There doesn’t seem to be a way to get your hands on it outside the US, though.
Another similar product, the iScope, is aimed specifically at hunters who want to shoot or film their hunt through their rifles, although the iScope adapter does work with binoculars and telescopes as well. The iScope seems to be available with mounts for various smartphones and costs $119 off the iScope website or $67 from Amazon. Warning, the website is heavy with hunting photos. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The last scope mount I managed to find is the S4 Zoom SVS. This mount is supposed to work with any smartphone, and mounts on binoculars, telescopes, and even microscopes. It costs $57 on Amazon.
Overall, the Snapzoom doesn’t have too much competition. The fact that it fits all smartphones and ships internationally makes it one of the most viable options if you don’t live in the US, or own a device other than an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S4.
At the moment, the Snapzoom is listed as “in-stock” on the website, but is still available for “pre-order” only. There’s no indication as to how long it may take to ship.
What Do You Get?
At the time I pre-ordered the Snapzoom, the company offered a Snapzoom and binoculars set. This was lucky, as I don’t own a pair of binoculars myself. Unfortunately, this set is not offered anymore, and all you can get right now is the Snapzoom mount itself for $75. If you win the Snapzoom in this giveaway, however, you’ll be getting both the mount itself and the pair of Nikon binoculars that came with it. Hurray!
The binoculars are small and lightweight, and come with their own case and strap. For such a small pair, these binoculars are quite powerful, with 8x magnification and a 25mm front lens. They also claim to be waterproof, but I haven’t tested this to make sure.
On to the Snapzoom itself! While the mount does feel a bit like a prototype at times, the designers thought of almost any possible scenario, and included accessories accordingly. We’ll go through what each one of these are for, but first, let’s take a general look at what comes with the Snapzoom.
Aside from the mount itself, you’ll get a tripod adapter, a small screwdriver, a ball-shaped weight and a metal bracket for it to slide in, and a piece of extra padding. While at first this collection of items might seem a bit weird, all these things have their specific uses, as you’ll soon see.
At the end of the mounting process, this is what you’re aiming to get:
How do you get there? And is it really something you’ll be able to do everywhere and every time you want to take telephotos? That’s what we’re going to find out next.
Assembling The Snapzoom
As you may have seen in the video review above, assembling the Snapzoom is a bit of a process. The first time you do it, you’ll need to make specific adjustments for the smartphone you’re using, and you’ll have to make these again when using the Snapzoom with a different smartphone.
The Snapzoom has two sides. The one you see above is the smartphone side, which you need to adjust using the red screws. This is only a matter of getting the right width for your smartphone and tightening things up around it so it doesn’t fall off the mount when you use it.
You do need to get the smartphone on the Snapzoom the right way: the camera needs to fit in the top slot, on the other side of which you will place your binoculars. The slot goes all the way across the mount, but you may have a bit of trouble with especially wide phones. I had no problem fitting the Nexus 5, even with its case, but the Sony Xperia Z1 was almost a no-go.
The side you see in the photo above is the binoculars side. This is where you’re going to fit your binoculars, and align one of their lenses with your smartphone’s camera. This is the most tricky part of the process.
To start, you’ll need to use the included screwdriver to loosen up the mechanism so you can move it around. You want to adjust it so the middle of the binocular holder is aligned with the smartphone’s camera lens (as seen above).
Once aligned, use the screwdriver again to tighten back the screw. You don’t want this moving around when you use the Snapzoom.
It’s now time to place in your binoculars. Using the Snapzoom’s black screw, you can adjust the width of the holder to fit your pair of binoculars and to tighten it around them so they don’t fall off. The Snapzoom comes with a strap you should tighten around the binoculars for extra protection.
You’d think the assembly part ends here. Not so. Even when everything is sitting in place, most chances are you won’t be seeing a clear picture through your phone’s camera. It takes some moving around, adjusting, tweaking and budging things over in order to see what you’re supposed to see on your screen. You’re looking for a sharp image surrounded by a vignette. Don’t expect to get a completely clear picture at this point.
You can now either shoot as is for best quality and crop the images later to get rid of the vignette, or use your phone’s digital zoom to get a complete picture. The latter is the recommended method on the Snapzoom website, but I find it can reduce your final image’s quality significantly, so it’s not always the best option.
If this process looks a bit complicated, keep in mind you won’t have to repeat all of it every time you want to use the Snapzoom. Once the mount is adjusted for both your phone and your binoculars, most of your work is already done. You’re still going to have to place both device into the Snapzoom and adjust them to align properly, but the process is not as complicated or as long as the first time, especially once you get the hang of it.
Using The Snapzoom
The first thing you’re probably asking yourself is, do the photos this thing produces really justify the work? It all depends on what it is you want to shoot and the reason you got the Snapzoom in the first place, but when it comes to telephotos in general, the Snapzoom definitely delivers.
This is a water fountain I shot using my Nexus 5, without digital zoom. The quality is good, but you can barely see the fountain from where I’m standing.
This is the same fountain, shot without the Snapzoom, using my phone’s digital zoom as far is would go. The fountain is definitely closer, but the image’s quality is not really acceptable.
Now, here is the same fountain shot taken from the exact same spot, this time using the Snapzoom without any digital zoom. I cropped the photo to get rid of the vignette caused by the binoculars. Pretty impressive.
Once the Snapzoom is already assembled, it’s easy to use. You aim, you shoot, you score. It’s now all up to the magnifying device you have connected on the other side of your smartphone, and, of course, your camera’s abilities.
It’s not all sunshine and flowers, though. Although it’s fun and easy to use, you’ll find that taking good photos is still a bit of a challenge without a tripod. Videos are almost out of the question.
The reason is the huge magnification, which does a good job of magnifying your movements as well. As you aim to take a picture with your Snapzoom, you’ll notice that things are very shaky. You’ll need to practice some breathing exercises for a really stable shot, and I wouldn’t recommend trying videos without mounting the Snapzoom on a tripod. Luckily, it does come with a tripod mount, but that’s just another thing to carry around, which kind of defeats the point of the whole exercise.
Another problem I ran into all the time is one that’s a bit easier to solve. With most smartphones and smartphones cases, the Snapzoom is going to press your phone’s buttons, causing all sorts of weird things to happen. This was so common with my Nexus 5 (especially with my Spigen case on), it became almost unusable at times. The Snapzoom even went so far as to turn my device off. There is a solution, however.
Remember that extra piece of padding that came with the Snapzoom?
Once you see where the Snapzoom comes against your buttons, you can use the extra padding to create a small recess where your buttons go. It’s all shown in this video:
While this solves the problem for your regular smartphone, the problem could still occur when using a different one, and there’s not much you can do there.
If you’re still curious about the weight and bracket the Snapzoom comes with, these are used as counterweights to balance the Snapzoom on a telescope in landscape mode. Since I don’t own a telescope, I didn’t get to try this myself, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t work as promised.
Living With The Snapzoom
There’s no denying that the Snapzoom is a neat device. It promises to turn your smartphone into a telephoto camera, and it delivers on that promise. Once my Snapzoom was assembled, everyone enjoyed using it and taking photos with it, despite (or because of?) the fact it made us feel like spies.
As fun as it is, the Snapzoom is not for everyone. To start, I just couldn’t find uses for it in my everyday life. It could be great for bird or animal watching, or for shooting a sports event from a high seat. But these are things I rarely get the chance to do. This is different from person to person, of course. So the first thing you need to ask yourself is, “How often do I need/want to take telephotos?”
In addition, the Snapzoom is not as hassle free as I’d hoped. Lugging our dSLR around, especially with a telephoto lens, is getting a bit old, but lugging around the Snapzoon and binoculars was not a whole lot different, when it came down to it. Especially when assembling and adjusting came into the mix. So the next question you need to ask yourself is, “Do I own a dSLR and a telephoto lens? If so, are they really that hard to carry around and use?”
If you find that you often want to take such photos or videos, and you don’t own a good camera or the right lens, the Snapzoom is a great option. Especially if you plan to use it with the same devices every time, which makes assembling easier.
If this is not the case, you’ll find yourself enthusiastic at first, but once you use it a couple of times, you may find yourself leaving the Snapzoom at home just so you don’t have to mess with it.
Should You Buy The Snapzoom?
For the true fans of telephotos who always wished they could take them with their smartphone, the Snapzoom is a great find. For the rest, I’m afraid it won’t serve as much more than a fun gimmick.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it, but only if you really plan on taking lots of telephotos with your smartphone.
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