Review: Optrix PhotoProX rugged iPhone camera housing

Optrix PhotoProX rugged case brings interchangeable lenses to iPhone 5 (September 24th, 2013)

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Optrix

Price: $150

The Good


  • - Decent optics
    - Rugged case
    - Interchangeable lenses

The Bad


  • - Front-facing camera blocked
    - Reflection from LED flash
    - Case affects sound

The point and shoot camera is on the ropes. With the improving quality of smartphone cameras and software, the fat lady is tuning up, if not exactly springing forth with song.

The Optrix PhotoProX, ($149.95) is the first rugged iPhone photography case complete with four lenses that include normal, fisheye, macro and telephoto optics. Billed as the iPhone photography case for the active lifestyle, it is waterproof to 33 feet, and has been drop-tested to 30 feet.



We spent a time with the PhotoProX, trying everything from Facebook and PicStitch usage to actually spending an afternoon shooting a photo assignment for our sister website, Leftlanenews.com.

Opening the kit finds a book-like box that nicely displays the optics, and the actual PhotoProX case. Additionally, a lens carrying case is part of the mix and houses the four lenses, a cleaning cloth, foam insert, wrist strap and very critical yellow rubber o-rings. More on these later. Of note, the back of the case features a mounting system that can take advantage of Optrix's numerous camera mounts that allow a PhotoProX-equipped iPhone to be mounted virtually anywhere.



Getting started

Putting the kit together requires little more than five minutes. The iPhone5 is placed into a black sleeve, that itself appears like a thinner protective case for the iPhone, enables easy insertion into the polycarbonate case through a flip open top. There is a hinged bottom access cover. With that cover closed, and the phone safely inside, you would think you'd be ready to go. But slow down, Simon. It's time to burp the baby. No diaper over the shoulder trick necessary here, instead you want to use the palm of your hand to apply pressure to the face of the membrane that stretches over the face of the iPhone. While continuing to apply pressure, pop the clip on the back to release trapped air, and voila, the membrane is almost one with the screen.

This little trick cured many of the ills we thought were inherent with this case. I guess that means reading the instructions are vital to any operation. On the other hand, the iPhone and its camera will still function, but without the tactile response we get with the iPhone on its own. In other words, you'll have to push quite hard to get a proper reaction from the screen of the iPhone.



On the other end of the case is another hinged affair, which protects and offers access to the speakers, microphone, Lightning plug recepticle and headphone jack. Purposefully tough to open, it incorporates a gasket to seal out the elements.

Drawbacks were few but could be deal breakers for some: The iPhone FaceTime lens is blocked by the case, and the flash at the rear of the camera has a tendency to reflect a large hotspot back into the image after bouncing off the inside of the case. For those who don't use either feature, carry on and stay calm.

The only other possible peeve was to sound quality when in the case. While we could hear others clearly, but at reduced volume through the earpiece, on several occasions, we had callers saying they were having a tough time understanding what we were saying even with the microphone hatch open.





Optically speaking

The optics from Optrix (sorry, pun intended) are quite good, actually. Built from aircraft-grade aluminum retaining rings and optical glass, under clean room situations, they offer the equivalent of a cropped 170-degree fisheye lens (not displaying a complete 180-degree circle of view), a macro lens for extreme closeups, a normal lens, which is actually a clear piece of glass that the standard iPhone shoots through and a telephoto lens which effectively doubles the reach of the iPhone's built-in zoom function.

The bright yellow o-rings are critical pieces of the Optrix equation: They are needed to ensure a watertight seal when the lens is screwed into its mount. They will most likely last longer than you'll have this generation of iPhone, but just in case, the company includes a pair of replacements.

We kept the standard, clear lens on the PhotoProX most of the time, but we really had the most fun with the fisheye. Well built, we do wish it offered the complete circle of view as found on a Nikon or Canon fisheye, but then we remember that those optics street for at least $1,500 per lens. So we'll make do with what we have.

At the other extreme was the telephoto attachment, which we found sharp in the center, but soft at the edges. Comparing that optic to the iPhone's built in zoom quickly had us choosing the latter for its optical advantages. The macro lens facilitated closeup photography in most cases, but we found, as we did with the telephoto, that a still subject works better than one in motion. The edge softness of the lenses tended to enhance the blur, especially when photographing people.





The wrap-up

Optrix's PhotoProX kit offers fun lenses that expand the usefulness of the iPhone5 (and iPhone5s) cameras, but they go a step further. In addition to lenses that allow you to change up your photography, they offer the added protection of a near-ballistic case that protects it from drops as well as immersions.

Perhaps there is a way for an iPhone to survive one of those dreaded toilet dunkings after all.



by Mark Elias


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