One of the reasons I was anxious to switch from an iPod Touch to an iPhone was the iPhone’s camera.  Over the years I’ve carried various small cameras to capitalize on unexpected photo opportunities or to document the various project that I’ve been working on.  The idea of having one less thing to carry was very appealing, and with the added capabilities of cataloging, geo-taging and uploading the photos directly from one device was something I thought could really reduce my turn-around time processing and publishing these images.

I didn’t have high expectations (or requirements) for the camera since it would only have to hang with my most recent camera of choice, the VistaQuest VQ1005.  At about $25USD, this 1.2MP camera requires almost ideal conditions to take “good” photos, but it has allot of character and its small size and durability (as well as high level of compatibility, storing its photos on a regular SD card) made it almost ideal for my application.

I say almost idea because, like the iPhone’s camera, it lacks the ability to take close-up, detailed photos.

Almost immediately after I started using the phone I thought of several applications that I wanted to write using the camera, and a few of them would use it as a way to import printed information or drawings.  I carry a Molskine around that I use to sketch out ideas and I’d like to catalog some of these items so they are always with me.  Unfortunately, the phone’s camera lacks the focus range and/or resolution for this sort of work.  Since upgrading the resolution of the camera is out of the question, a change to the optics is in order.

I was aware of several DIY methods of solving this problem and some seem to do the job well.  However all of them seemed inconvenient enough that I would inevitably be without them at the times I need them the most, so I didn’t pursue it.  Then one day I came up with an idea for a new app so compelling that I needed to solve this problem, so I decided to come up with a product myself.

Once again I searched around for the latest DIY solutions to the problem to use as a starting point for my own research and this is when I happened across Griffin’s Clarifi iPhone Case.

For the most part this case is your run-of-the mill iPhone protection device.  There is the novel feature of being able to remove the bottom half of the case to allow for docking, but otherwise it’s a two-piece plastic sleeve and clear screen protector similar to so many others that I’ve seen.

The interesting difference however is that this case incorporates a small lens that can be slid into position in front of the iPhone’s built-in lens which provides the ability to take macro (i.e., close up) photos without loosing focus.

I’m not a big fan of cases for electronics, especially when they are well-designed products that are a pleasure to look at and hold, and coming from the iPod Touch, I already felt the phone was a little “bulky”, but if the case can provide such valuable functionality, in addition to protection, it might be worth the extra bulk.

The Clarifi retails for $34.99 but I was able to get mine from Amazon for about $25.00 including shipping.  Here’s the results:

Shot of my notebook with the standard iPhone lens

Same page, with Clarifi lens in place

This is a shot of some notes I had for release 1.1 of my iPhone app “Horsepower”. The paperclip is just holding the page flat because the depth-of-field of the macro lens is shallow.

Here’s another page with some future concepts for Horsepower, apparently the auto-rotate of the phone’s camera doesn’t work so hot when you’re not parallel to the ground.

Another "before" shot (you'll have to rotate it in your head)

...and after

I definitely recommend this case, you can get it for the cost of a plain-vanilla iPhone protector with the bonus of being able to take photos of small or close-up things. For my application this is a requirement, but even for more casual purposes it’s very nice for getting shots in close quarters.