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Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

The following article was generously supplied by one of our community members Terry Betts. Demonstrating a keen interest in filters, I invited Terry to put together the content he has been sharing inside our smartphone photography forum. 

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!
Can you use filters with your smartphone?

The most obvious answer is, "yes.", open up Instagram, Adobe Lightroom mobile or Snapseed (to name just three) and apply the filter effect of your choice.
But what about physical, hold it in your hand filters. Can the filters that have been used for decades be attached to smartphone camera lenses? The answer is still, yes.

But how? And why?

First the how

There are several methods of affixing a filter to your smartphone, possibly more than this article will show. These are the methods that I use for pairing filters with my smartphone.

1. The Universal Lens Clip.

The Universal Lens Clip is available to purchase for just a few dollars, also from Wish with an accessory lens for smartphones. This clip has a 37mm thread onto which those accessory lenses fit. It's also sold with a filter set, again on Wish and again the filter size is 37mm. If the clip is as much as you want to use, for some it'll be the only sensible option, then building a collection of filters at 37mm is all you need.
My own set of filters are 55mm, you'll see why later. Obviously, 55 doesn't fit directly on 37, so a step ring is required. Fortunately, there is such a thing as a 37 to 55mm step ring, thus allowing me to use my filters with this clip. 

2. The traditional method, filter attached to the lens.

We smartphone photographers have quite a range of accessory lenses that we could purchase, Moment and Struman Optics are just two. Of these options, I personally use the latter and for two of my smartphones have Struman Optics phone cases, my current phone is not supported, hence the Universal clip.

Struman Optics offer a Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) to use with a couple of their lenses, the Cinematic Wide-angle and Cinematic Portrait. This filter is 55mm, a standard fitting and that there is an extra ring in the kit. This ring is an adapter that fits the Cinematic lens to allow the use of the CPL. It follows then, that any 55mm filter can be fitted or, with an additional step ring, a larger filter if you have any from your film photography days..... I am that old!
I have a Cinematic Wide-angle and the filter kit, this is why I have chosen the 55mm filter path. Had I chosen 37mm then the filters would not work with the Cinematic lens.

Another filter management system is the NiSi P1 Prosories Mobile Phone Filter Kit. Options for this square-shaped glass are a polarizer, graduated neutral density (ND) filter, 3-stop ND filter, a blue light night filter. Click/tap to read more here.

3. A Struman Optics case and Struman Optics lens clip.

Whilst the range of cases that Struman Optics sells is increasing year by year, the range is still limited. For my previous daily use smartphones, I have purchased a phone case from Struman Optics to fit my Struman lenses too, Unfortunately, there is no case my latest smartphone nor likely to be, so using a clip is currently the only way to use either lens or filters.

For those of you who can use a case then it is also possible to attach filters without using a lens. The thread on the case is 17mm, we, therefore, need to get up to 55mm. You'll need 55mm filters if you are going to use a Cinematic lens.

Non-standard step rings are nigh on impossible to find in Australia, I've scoured the internet and the best supplier is in the US. Even then there is no single item that solves this issue and the solution is two-step rings. A 17mm to 37mm plus a 37mm to 55mm. It's no big deal and they are cheap enough.

The lenses from Struman Optics will be supplied with a clip, not a Universal Lens Clip as described above but specifically for Struman Optics lenses. As with the phone case, the thread is 17mm therefore the same method as with the case can be used to mount a filter only option.

So far we've seen how to use screw mount filters, arguably more convenient than resin filters but the resins are better for their graduated filters. Whilst a more cumbersome approach ( NiSi make nice, neat small filters but have a very limited range) it can be done.

Learn more about Struman Optics Cinematic range and filters - here

Now that we've covered the how, what about the why?

Special effects filters used at the time of image capture are usually better than trying to achieve the same result with software. Neutral Density (ND) and Infra-red (IR) filters have particular uses as do the previously mentioned CPL.

Let's suppose that you are wanting to take a motion blur image with your smartphone. In auto mode the camera is going to use a fast shutter speed to eliminate blur. That's how they are set up. A few smartphones have a long exposure mode that you can use to introduce motion blur, but not all. Mine don't. My option is to switch to manual mode (if you don't have a manual or Pro Mode then this is where you might want to stop reading, or change your smartphone) and adjust the settings.

Once in manual mode I reduce the ISO to the minimum, 50, and adjust the shutter speed until I get a correct exposure. It's going to be too fast for motion blur so I need to reduce the amount of light and that's where ND filters come in. Less light, needs longer exposure time, more blur!

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

Photo of a local wier, ND filters got the shutter speed down to 2s at 50 ISO. Without the ND every splash of water would have been pin sharp.

Infra-red photography, easy peasy with a smartphone. Most dedicated cameras will have a bypass filter to block Infra-red from the sensor, some don't and those that do are of varying effectiveness. To truly enjoy IR photography with DSLR or mirrorless camera the bypass filter must be removed. This is a one way process and said camera can no longer be used for normal photography.

However, our smartphones do not have a bypass filter and are ready for the exciting world of IR photography. You'll still need an IR filter as this blocks the visible light frequencies, allowing just the infra-red frequencies to pass.

The human eye sees light in the range of 400 to 700 nanometres, Infra-red is 700nm to around 1mm.
Most IR photography is landscape based with plenty of foliage, this is because the chlorophyll in leaves reflects IR and appear lighter in the resulting photograph. IR can also be used for portrait photography, smoothing out skin tones. The only results I can find so far are for Caucasian skin so I don't know whether this is a constant for darker skin subjects.

This first photo was taken with no filtration of any sort.

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

Photo 2 is with the IR filter attached, note the serious pink cast!

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

Photo 3 is the IR image processed in Lightroom mobile.

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

Photo 4 is a normal monochrome conversion of photo 1. Note that the grass, foliage, leaves and flower stems are dark in this image unlike photo 3.

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

Photo 5 is an attempt by Lightroom mobile to replicate IR with a preset. Compare to the real thing in photo 3 and you'll see why a physical IR filter produces superior results.

Using Physical Filters On A Smartphone Camera!

So you see, you can use filters and they extend the possibilities of smartphone photography.

Happy snapping.

Step rings and Universal Lens Clip obtained from

My ND filters are Gobi (now known as Urth) and purchased on Amazon.

My IR filter was purchased on Wish.

Thanks again Terry for supplying this  comprehensive article and sharing your knowledge.


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