Category Archives: reference

Why clipping a lens to your phone can’t turn it into a great camera

Clip-on phone lenses are the bait for a lot of web scams.  Here’s why you shouldn’t bite.

  • It’s risky to get involved with a web scammer.  Also, regardless of their sales pitch, the lenses they offer aren’t very good.
  • A camera (even the one in your smart phone) has several parts whose quality is crucial to catching a high-quality image.  The lens is just one of these parts.  
  • Getting a great camera (including magically turning your phone into a great camera) won’t make you a great photographer.  Just as buying a master’s palette and brushes wouldn’t make you a great painter.  Photography is an art.

Beware of phone lens web scams

A scammer is someone who takes your money by trickery or theft.  Keep in mind that the scam is not in the product; it’s in the way it’s sold.  A good product can be the bait in a scam; however, I’ve yet to see an online phone lens offering in which the lens was better than mediocre.  Getting involved with a web scammer poses a risk of theft from your credit card account.  Here are some phone lens scams that I’ve researched:

How a digital camera (even the one in your phone) works

(Real photographers, please forgive me for my limited mastery of camera technology.). I found this nice diagram of a SLR (single-lens reflex) camera on .  The camera in your phone works basically the same way.


What’s going on here:

  1. Some light from the subject of the photograph enters from the left.  The light is focused by lens elements.  Also, the aperture (an adjustable “valve” built into the lens) positions and throttles the light beam.
  2. The light beam is diverted to a viewfinder by a mirror and prism arrangement.  Some high-end cameras have a mirrorless design.  Your phone solves the problem of both putting up an image on the viewfinder (the phone’s screen) and saving it by forwarding the image from the sensor to the screen.
  3. When the photographer presses the shutter button, the mirror lifts out of the way; the shutter opens for a brief moment to let the light beam shine on the sensor.  Then the shutter closes and the mirror moves back into place.  In the case of a phone, an electrical shutter function controls the exposure of the sensor to the light.
  4. The sensor is the digital equivalent of film; its job is to capture the image.  Then the camera copies the image to memory, such as an SD memory card.

Clipping a lens to your phone doesn’t have much effect on how its camera works

Imagine clipping an external lens to the outside of the lens barrel at the left end of the diagram.  Hopefully this thought will stimulate suspicion of the scammers’ claims about making a phone outperform a $4,000 DSLR (digital SLR).  Let’s take a closer look at some of these parts.

  1. If you clip an external lens over the camera’s lens, the light beam goes thru both lenses.  So, the added lens has no effect on the quality of the built-in lens.  Nor does it affect the built-in lens’ aperture.  So you can’t improve the camera’s low-light performance by clipping on a lens.
  2. Clipping a lens to the camera doesn’t affect the way it shares the light beam between the viewfinder and the sensor.
  3. The shutter is a crucial part of the camera.  The faster it can open and close, the sharper the captured image.  The shutter must also expose every part of the sensor to exactly the same amount of light throughout its cycle of opening and closing.  Clipping on a lens doesn’t affect the quality of your camera’s shutter.
  4. The sensor is also a crucial part of the camera.  The larger and more sophisticated the sensor is, the more precise and detailed the captured image can be.  Another measure of camera quality is the speed with which it can copy a captured image from the sensor to memory, because you can’t take another picture while this is going on.  Clipping on a lens doesn’t affect the quality of your camera’s sensor.

Okay, now for the good news.  Modern smart-phones already have lenses, shutters and sensors that are about the quality of an entry-level camera — quite good enough to take pictures you’ll be proud to show off, and to enable you to learn about the art of photography.

Taken with an unmodified iPhone 6.

Getting a better camera won’t make you a better photographer

A good photographer has mastery of his camera’s features and functions, skill in image composition, some degree of control over lighting, and the dedication to create or go to interesting subjects.  Clipping on a lens doesn’t affect any of these attributes.

Certainly, adding a good quality lens to a phone can give a photographer more flexibility over his composition.  And it can be a fun thing for anybody to do.  But a good quality phone lens costs about as much as an entry-level camera that will probably give better results.  If you still want to try a phone lens, TechRadar has posted a review of the best ones available.

Instead, consider taking some photography classes at your local community college.  (Borrowing a real camera for these would be a good idea.). If you have a camera that you don’t know how to use, a one-day hands-on class in camera basics will pierce the mystery.   From there you’ll see the way to go as far in the art of photography as you want to go.

Why scammers hate PayPal

Charging you more than you authorized, explaining it as an upgrade or a lifetime warranty.

  • Selling you more or different products than you ordered.
  • Charging you monthly for an auto-ship service or newsletter subscription that’s buried in legalbabble, or for a “discount club” that’s out of the blue.

These practices are the hook inside the “free” flashlights and “barely legal” lasers offered on some high-pressure web sites.  You can ask your credit-card issuer to help you get your money back; but it’s better to prevent a theft than to try to recover from it.  PayPal stops theft by keeping the seller from seeing your credit card data.   Here‘s a simple chart that shows how.

Before you can use PayPal for the first time, you need to set up a PayPal account and arrange for a means of payment.  A credit card is best.  This way, in addition to the protections and guarantees PayPal offers, you add a layer of protection by your credit-card issuer.

The other requirement for use of PayPal, of course, is that the seller must accept it.  Not offering PayPal doesn’t prove the seller is a scammer.  But offering it means the seller is willing to do business in a way that protects you.  That’s encouraging, even if you opt to pay by credit card instead.

Russell, an online merchant, advises “Only accepting Visa and MasterCard during checkout should automatically raise a red flag and the buyer should stop and research or close their browser.

In future reviews I’ll be noting whether a seller offers PayPal.

The Scam-O-Meter; more than you wanted to know

Untrustworthiness in web-site offerings is what I made the Scam-O-Meter to detect.

Here’s a detailed explanation as of 4/24/17, including some minor revisions.  Keep in mind that I’m not talking about illegal advertising; I’m talking about signs that a seller is a scammer (someone who takes your money by trickery or theft).  If this all seems too complicated, here’s how to safely ignore it; shop on Amazon!

Scored attributes

In the following list of scam-site attributes, -1 means true, +1 means false, and 0 means undetermined.  These scores total to between -10 (deep mistrust) and +10 (highly trusted).  I show a site’s total score by the position of the needle on the Scam-O-Meter scale.

scamometer -7rRidiculous claims: Extreme stuff that common sense tells you can’t be true — that, to be honest, you want to believe.  If the product is going to revolutionize your whole life at hardly any cost or risk, that’s ridiculous.  

  • If the claim is made in a phony review (see “Phony reviews” below) I credit it against the seller who’s paying the reviewer.

Suspicious location: Scammers are shy about revealing their location.  (Previously named “Post Office box.”)  What triggers a negative score here:

  • Post Office / UPS box
  • Same address as a known scammer
  • No physical address (includes vacant lots, abandoned buildings, etc.)falcon

Onerous terms: Evil lurks in many Terms and Conditions documents.  If the T&C is just too hard to read, that’s “Obfuscation;” see below.

  • Unreasonable obstacles to returning a defective or unsatisfactory product for a refund.
  • Terms that undermine or contradict advertised terms (or reasonable customer expectations).
  • Terms that diminish your legal rights.

Ads, spam, robocalls: Aggressive advertising; sharing your data with other companies.

Lying and deception: If I find that a seller lies about anything, I ding them a point whether or not it seems important.  (I overlook severe ignorance here, but laugh at it elsewhere.).covers

Obfuscation: A website that’s designed to distract you, confuse you or hide important information.

Phony reviews: 

  • Reviews featured on-site.  If the reviewers don’t have full names, or their photos turn out to be clip-art, they’re phony.  Otherwise they’re only probably phony, so I’ll let it slide.
  • Reviews by paid shills; these are just a complicated form of advertising.

Crummy product: Nobody wants one of these.  But keep in mind that a scam can involve a good product.  Sometimes it’s the way the product is sold that’s evil.

Overpriced: I don’t insist on the cheapest price.  But a price that’s two or three times the going rate on Amazon gets a -1 from me.

75% discount: Scammers are so habituated to advertising this specific percentage that I consider it a good indicator.  (This is a new criteria.)

Unscored attribute

Unauthorized charges:  If I find that a seller is stealing from credit card accounts, then I absolutely mistrust them.  I show this result with a red stop-light labelled “CREDIT CARD RISK ALERT” on the Scam-O-Meter.

  • If the seller’s address is the same as that of a known scammer who’s stealing from credit card accounts, I consider him the same person and turn on the red light.