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How to Turn Your Smartphone into a DSLR

DSLR quality photos on your phone

Remember when people used to carry around point-and-shoot cameras? Or your Uncle Tommy would break out his camera bag with a tripod and lots of lenses at a birthday party or family reunion? For most of us, the smartphone camera has actually eliminated both of these scenarios.

You’ve probably learned that the best camera is the one you have with you, and smartphone camera quality has increased dramatically in the past few years—so most of us get all the casual shots we need with the camera built into our phones.  But if you’ve been itching to improve the quality of your smartphone photos even more, you still may not need to buy a DSLR. It’s quite possible to turn your phone into a DSLR and get high-quality image results by using these phone accessories and apps:

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Lenses: Most smartphone cameras use a single lens that’s equivalent to shooting with a 28mm lens on a SLR camera. That means you’ve got a fairly wide angle on your shot…and if you zoom, you’re doing that digitally. At some point, you’ll start to lose quality on zoomed shots. But you can attach an external lens to your smartphone and improve your zoomed shots, or create other special effects. For iPhones, the Olloclip is hard to beat. The company offers a variety of lenses for all versions of Apple smartphones and for Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5, from fisheye and macro lenses to telephoto and wide-angle. Most lenses run between $50-$120, with some multi-lens options in the $70-$80 range. For iPhones and a variety of Android phones, high-quality Moment lenses offer a better view on the world, too. Moment lenses attach to almost any phone with the included mounting plate, or you can order a special Moment smartphone case separately. Wide angle, telephoto and macro lenses are $99 each.


Flash: There are a number of external flash and light options for smartphone cameras. The iBlazr2 ($59.99) attaches to most smartphones and many tablets with a clip and pairs via Bluetooth. The iBlazr2 works with native camera apps and offers adjustable light levels in a flash, or it can work as a steady light source for a video. It also works with a regular digital camera with a cold shoe mount you can buy separately.

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Apps: Finally, there are a number of apps in the Apple and Google Play stores that will let you improve your shots before or after the fact. One of the simplifications smartphones make is setting the focus and exposure from the same spot on the image. You can control that location by tapping the image before you snap, but you’ll need a special app to select different parts of the image for focus and exposure. VSCO (Free for Android and iOS) lets you do just that, as well as make many other adjustments to amp up your photo quality and special effects. After the fact, sometimes you see something amiss in your image. Try Touch Retouch ($1.99 for Android and iOS) to get rid of telephone lines, random people, or other things cluttering up your otherwise perfect shot!

What’s your favorite tip for getting professional quality photos from your smartphone?