Recently, I found myself Googling “best iPhone fisheye lenses,” because I’ve been wanting to create some ‘90s-inspired videos for this summer. As a huge fan of the Beastie Boys’ music videos and Spike Jonze’s trademark skate films, I wanted a fisheye lens that could match the vibe of Sony’s beloved VX1000 camcorder. In the past, I’ve ordered smartphone fisheye lens attachments on Amazon, but it seemed that anything I got turned out to be cheaply made and just didn’t work well. But viola! My Google search came to an end when I found the Death Lens by Death Digital for $45.
The Death Lens is a little bigger than cheap fisheye lenses you’ll find on Amazon, but it’s also better quality.
Credit: Kenneth Bachor / Mashable
What is the Death Lens?
The Death Lens website was easily laid out and I immediately learned what this company’s MO was — like me, the creators of the Death Lens wanted a tasteful nod to the past that worked seamlessly with modern day smartphones.
Death Digital’s website says: “In our past, a group of five or more would share a VX1000 and legit fisheye setup. The struggle to get footage and share footage was difficult to say the least. Now we hope to pay our struggle forward by providing a lens that anyone can afford and anyone can use with their very own cell phone.”
The Death Lens attaches to a custom phone case.
Credit: Kenneth Bachor / Mashable
Featuring endorsements from skate legends including Andrew Reynolds, Don “The Nuge” Nguyen, and Beagle, I knew this lens had to be legit. Also, I noticed the product had been around for a few years and by this point was thoroughly tested. Above all, the glass looked nice and videos on Death Lens’ Instagram and videos uploaded by YouTubers looked dope.
I was sold and decided to take the plunge, a $45 price tag was slightly above what I’ve paid in the past for smartphone fisheye attachments, but I wanted a lens that would finally be my end-all-be-all for all of my fisheye needs. I put in an order and within six days the Death Lens arrived at my Brooklyn apartment.
Unboxing the Death Lens Fisheye
Opening the box, I noticed how cool the custom packaging was. I thought to myself, OK this company is taking their fisheye game super seriously, even boasting the phrase “widest iPhone fisheye system available anywhere.” The instruction booklet was minimal, with the two main takeaways as 1) All users must download their custom Death Lens app to work in tandem with the lens, and 2) Carefully use a firm “pinch grip” to hold your smartphone, so your fingers don’t get in the shot. OK, easy enough.
For starters, each Death Lens comes with a smartphone case — when ordering, you select your smartphone’s size. It’s this custom case that you screw your Death Lens into, which provides much added stability instead of just clipping a lens on your smartphone. After snapping the case on my iPhone 13 Mini — it’s a little tight — I screwed the lens on and downloaded the app. Boom, I was good to go. Mimicking the interface of an OG camcorder, I quickly learned that Death Digital’s app is super easy to use. Even though it’s simple, it has everything a user would need to experiment with their new fisheye.
Everything about the Death Lens is ’90s coded, down to the app interface.
Credit: Kenneth Bachor / Mashable
Going to the settings menu, the options on the app for recording include: square, classic, or HD (giving you the options for 4K, 1080, or 720). I wasn’t really into square mode, but I see how this would be cool for users making Instagram-specific videos. HD was fun, but I found it to be way too hi-fi for what I wanted, so I kept the app in classic mode, which looked respectfully vintage. Besides resolution, there’s a steady cam feature that’s useful while filming skaters or other fast-moving subjects. I kept the steady cam mode toggled off, as I knew I’d mostly be pretty still while filming for this assignment. There’s even a little retro battery meter for your smartphone’s battery within the app, keeping with the old school vibe. Lastly, there’s a white balance option, but I just kept this on auto for the sake of filming continuity.
This may sound basic, but one of the coolest things about the app is that you can choose to save your fisheye videos either to your smartphone’s library or to the app’s own separate library. Since I was filming a lot of short clips, this option proved useful for cataloging my fisheye videos and keeping them separate from the rest of my iPhone’s videos.
You have the option to shoot video in HD.
Credit: Screenshot: Death Lens
The Death Lens is fun and impressive
Testing the Death Lens out for one week, I immediately noticed the overall solid quality of this product. It authentically felt like I was filming with a mini VX1000 and I couldn’t be happier. The lens is small, but packs a great punch. From biking to pizza with friends, I took the Death Lens out in a multitude of settings and I couldn’t stop thinking about how it performed way better than I’d expect for something of its size. It’s incredibly versatile, partly due to its durability and construction and also the sharpness of the high-quality glass lens itself.
Above all, spending one week with the Death Lens was fun. Besides being easy to use, it served as a great accessory and conversation piece when seeing friends, who seemingly all had their own amusing fisheye lens stories to tell. For visual inspo, I stopped by Stephen “ESPO” Powers’ Brooklyn studio to take some fisheye footage of his artwork (and of course a cameo by the man himself). As someone who does street photography, it was freeing not bringing a full-size camera in my bag and toting just a small lens that can comfortably fit in my pocket.
The ultimate test was a day walking around Coney Island, since I took the Death Lens on some rides and made video shorts of local boardwalk characters. I found the portability as super handy and discreet instead of carrying around an intimidating larger camera. While testing out the Death Lens, I got into Chloë Sevigny’s “Sale of the Century” and the lens was the best way to capture this one-of-a-kind clothing sale and all its colorful attendees, which included Lynn Yaeger, Mr. Mickey, and of course, Chloë Sevigny herself. On a Wednesday night, I went to Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook to capture Smokey Hormel’s Round-Up and the lens performed impressively in low light.
Some minor downsides
Though I’m singing its praises, there are a few downsides to the Death Lens. For one, the smooth plastic case it comes with feels a bit cheap and is sometimes hard to grip. Speaking of gripping, it definitely takes some time to train yourself how to properly hold the phone case so your hands don’t get in every fisheye shot. It really takes some practice. Also while balancing your phone correctly — the lens throws the weight off a bit — you have to be careful not to drop it or be too shaky when capturing footage.
Unfortunately, my iPhone hand stabilizer that I bought years ago seemed to get in the way of the wide fisheye lens. Eventually, I mastered the balancing act and was able to do a pretty good job filming without a hand stabilizer. If you want, you can order Death Digital’s own hand stabilizer for $40, which is aptly named the Death Grip.
Is the Death Lens worth it?
All in all, I highly recommend the Death Lens to anyone who’s a pro or amateur filmmaker and wants to have a little fun by spicing up their smartphone’s visual capabilities. For under $50, it’s a great timeless accessory that’s small and easy to throw in your pocket. The quality of the lens far surpasses the many iPhone fisheyes I’ve previously bought. So many cheaper versions try unsuccessfully to recreate the same aesthetic. This one is spot on and feels like a classic Sony VX1000.
As a friend of Ricky Powell, who photographed everyone from the Beastie Boys to Sofia Coppola with his fisheye lens, I know he would’ve loved to see me using this without the fuss of a big camera. I’m really looking forward to capturing more with the Death Lens this summer and capturing my memories with the fisheye vibe.