A while back, I wrote a feature on a product called the OWLE Bubo for iPhone 4, which I thought was a very interesting idea for a product. The OWLE intrigues me because it’s both a unique idea, and very well executed. I’ve now gotten my hands on one of these to review – read on for my thoughts.
When I first unpacked the OWLE Bubo – a full fledged camera mount for the iPhone 4 ($169.95, store link) – I was a bit overwhelmed – I immediately had the thought that there was more to the mount than there was to my iPhone. In using the Bubo, however, and becoming familiar with it, I ultimately felt that it was really rather nicely balanced – it does what it is expected to do, provides enough heft to add stability and “security” to the scenario, and is versatile enough to allow the adding of accessories, additional lenses and microphones, and “cold shoe” accessories.
What Is It?
The question that naturally arises, then, is what exactly is the OWLE Bubo, and what should be expected from it? The OWLE Bubo, in a nutshell, is the ultimate photography and video mount for the iPhone 4. It is, in its essence, a large, ergonomic, very solid piece of aluminum that is capable of standing on a table of its own accord, can be hooked up to a tripod, be fitted with lenses, lights, and microphones, and enables you to take higher quality – near professional quality – photos and videos on the go using your iPhone 4.
Its name, OWLE, stands for “Optical Widget for Life Enhancement”, and while we’re not sure it really enhances life, it certainly does do what’s expected of it. The unit comes with a (surprising good) silicon case that helps to both protect your iPhone while in the mount (and help it fit more snugly), as well as lenses and a microphone that serve to extend the raw abilities of your iPhone. Overall, the Bubo is a versatile mount that transforms your iPhone into a much more capable and professional audio and video capturing device.
What’s In The Box?
The box, which is surprisingly compact for everything that it manages to hold within, contains everything you need to get started with and get a good feel for the Bubo. The basic package ($169.95) includes a lens kit, microphone, cleaning cloth, lens caps for both lens configurations (wide angle and macro), a soft cloth bag to carry the lenses in when you aren’t using them, and an instructional booklet to explain how everything works.
Out of the box, the Bubo includes a combination wide angle and macro lens. It accomplishes this with a 2-part lens – with both parts together, it acts as a wide-angle lens, and removing the outermost portion of the lens transforms it into a macro lens, capable of picking out the detail as close up as you’d like. The Bubo, by default, accepts any standard 49mm screw-in filter or lens, enabling you to ad custom effects to your shots.
Design / Look & Feel
The Bubo is both a very attractive and very well-designed piece of equipment. It features two large curved handles that contour well to your hand. The device, due to its weight, size, and ergonomic construction, feels very satisfying in your hands. It’s designed to be held with both hands for security and stability, is hefty enough to feel extremely solid (and help to avoid shaky shots), but lightweight enough that it isn’t burdensome to use for longer periods of time. Even with the bulk of the Bubo, OWLE has managed to create cutouts for the volume buttons, dock connector, and headphone jack.
Since the Bubo is made of solid machined aluminum, and the edge of the iPhone 4 is also made of aluminum, OWLE thought of a clever way to both protect your iPhone, while at the same time ensuring a snug fit. They do this by including a (surprisingly high quality) silicone case that wraps around your iPhone, then nestles firmly into the Bubo. It fits very securely around the iPhone and it has all the standard cutouts for access to the controls, buttons, headphone jack and dock connector. The case also has an exceptionally good grip due to OWLE’s fantastic work in texturing it well.
The Bubo can be adapted to use a variety of lenses, including lenses intended for SLR cameras (with the use of a specially-made adapter), meaning there really is no limit to what can be done, visually speaking, with the Bubo. It also allows for the use of other microphones, besides the one that is included. In addition, the Bubo features four tripod receptacles, which, in addition to being useful for actually mounting to a tripod, can also be used to attach other optional accessories, and there is a “cold shoe” mount that can be used to add lighting, sound, or other accessories.
Images taken with the Bubo, versus the un-augmented iPhone 4 lens, simply looks crisper and neater. The wide angle lens provides a really nice extended capturing area, and the macro lens does a fantastic job of making out details very close-up.
I’ve taken several shots to illustrate – the above shot demonstrates the un-aided lens of the iPhone 4 taking a picture of my lilac hedge, while the below shot reflects the difference when I added the Bubo’s wide angle lens to the scenario. You can see that the lens does a great job expanding the field of view of the image. It’s also worth noting that the sharpness and even the color quality of the image seem to be improved.
The Macro lens also does an incredible job, which is demonstrated in the below image, in which I was able to capture and magnify the fine print from a post office receipt I happened to have in my pocket at the time.
In the real world, the Bubo performs admirably – the included lenses are of sufficiently high quality that, if anything is hampering your shot, they’d be the last thing to blame. The added microphone is also a beautiful touch. While the iPhone 4’s built-in microphone is already pretty good, the difference is night-and-day between using that and the included external microphone – it dramatically improves the sound quality. The mic features a windscreen to help reduce environmental interference, and can swivel to pick up either the operator’s voice or the sound in front of the unit.
One initial issue that I had was that It can be a bit tricky to operate the iPhone’s touchscreen while it is in the Bubo. After becoming used to the feel of the device, however, I found it to be fairly easy to hold the iPhone securely with one hand while manipulating the iPhone with the other. And the construction and solid heft of the device makes it feel like a professional piece of equipment – like a high end camera or some such. The added heft also tends to reduce your tendency to shake the camera while taking a shot.
Wrapping It Up
The OWLE Bubo is a very high-quality and well-made device that is sturdy, does everything that it claims it should, and does it all without missing a beat. While the OWLE Bubo (with its $169.95 price tag) is not for everybody, it’s certainly a worthy option for those looking to make more out of the imaging capabilities of their iPhone, and can help the mobile journalist, cinematographer, or photographer by offering a more portable alternative to studio-quality equipment, while providing enough function and quality to fit the bill.
If you’re a so-called pro-sumer, or just want to take great images without investing in a second camera (if you own an iPhone, you already have a great camera in your pocket), the OWLE Bubo is calling your name. It’s price tag may turn away more casual photographers, and it’s size and weight, while substantially lesser than it’s studio-level counterparts, still is not suited for carrying around all the time, and can’t fit in a jacket pocket.
Still, though, if you’re an ardent hobbyist, or are just looking for a practical and effective way to hone your iPhoneography skills, I think you’ll be delighted with what the OWLE Bubo has to offer. Your videos and photos will be better, you’ll have fun using it, and you just might gain some “geek cred” for making good use of technology that you already have.
For its many, many strengths, its excellent balance of form, function, and aesthetics, and for providing a low-cost yet very usable alternative to professional-level equipment that could cost thousands of dollars, I happily award the OWLE Bubo a 5 out of 5, even despite it’s seeming high cost, because I ultimately feel that it provides an exceptional value for the money.
Summary / Pros And Cons
All in all, using the Bubo was a delightful experience, and restored my faith in the ability of the market to produce high-quality and functional iPhone accessories at (comparatively) respectable prices. Here are some of the high points and low points that I encountered during my adventure:
- Improves photo and audio quality.
- Looks and feels great while you’re using it.
- Secures and protects your iPhone.
- Provides access to almost all of the iPhone’s controls.
- Provides a cost-effective solution to more expensive tools when extreme resolution or image quality aren’t a factor.
- It was initially concerning to insert the iPhone the first time before I was used to it.
- It can take some getting used to the weight, feel, and shape of the device.
- The asking price ($169.95) might place many users outside of its scope.
The OWLE Bubo can be obtained directly from ActionLifeMedia ($169.95), as well as various accessories that can be used with the device. To learn more about the OWLE Bubo, or to purchase, visit ActionLifeMedia on the web.