Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

For the serious watch enthusiast, a good loupe should be as essential an accessory as a selection of high-quality straps or basic tools. Why? Because a proper loupe opens up a new world of watch appreciation that would otherwise be difficult to capture without expensive camera gear and a rather high level of expertise in photography. The Loupe System was designed from the ground up to blow its competition right out of the water – ahem, claiming to be "The best hand-held loupe you have ever looked through!" – and, more importantly, it was from the get-go engineered to be used specifically to inspect and photograph watches. Today, we take a look at how the Loupe System fairs as a loupe and how well it performs as a camera lens when mounted onto an iPhone 6S Plus. //Nerd alert!//

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items
Shot on the Loupe Systems 10x magnification loupe and the iPhone 6S Plus

Allow me to set off on a personal note by saying: I have never liked using loupes. The utter majority of them are a pain in the neck (literally!) to use; it takes way too long to get in focus what I actually want to see; and once I achieve that miracle, the loupes more often than not reward me with a distorted and heavily magnified, but not very informative view of whatever I was trying to look at. This is probably why I have a bunch of branded loupes laying around somewhere on the shelves, gathering dust: most of them are useless!

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

What Makes A Good Loupe?

What you ideally want from a loupe is all of the following: a magnified, but not distorted image; a lot of light (which, if you are familiar with lens design, you will know is not that easy to achieve); accurate colors with minimal aberration; and last but not least, a wide viewing angle that allows you to see more of what you are looking at and hence get a more three-dimensional understanding of its structure. The main issue with cheap loupes lies in their primitive construction: they comprise just one single lens which, on its own, is not nearly enough to tackle all those issues linked to distortions, color aberrations, sharpness, and depth of field.

There are more complex and better-designed loupes out there, referred to as doublets and triplets, for the use of two or three lenses, with the additional ones serving to cancel out those aforementioned, undesired distortions... And yet, many of these are still not entirely free of noticeable compromises.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

About Loupe System

Loupe System – surprise, surprise – set out to overcome all of these issues. The Hong Kong-based company was established by a watch collector who, after searching for the perfect loupe to no avail, decided to create a new company that would design and make a loupe ideal for scrutinizing the finer details of timepieces.

Ultimately, the Loupe System's lens construction ended up being based on a 1980s camera lens design that contains five elements (or lenses) split into three groups. Technically, the Loupe System is a standard loupe with two doublets mounted above and below it, which are specifically designed to correct the image enlarged by the central element. Once modified for the first Loupe System model, that optical system provided a clear 40mm-wide viewing field with 6x magnification, free from most chromatic aberration and image distortion.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

Model Variations And Build Quality

Today, the Loupe System is made available with three different levels of magnification – 3x, 6x, and 10x – with different external decorations, ranging from silicone rubber (priced at $525 for any one of the three magnifications) through carbon fiber ($625 each) to alligator leather-wrapped pieces ($800 each). The ones we will be taking a closer look at in this review are the 3x and 10x, with silicon rubber wrapping on the former and a carbon fiber band around the latter.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

Regardless which one you buy, Loupe System loupes are always shipped in a waterproof ABS case that you can actually transform into a four-watch, dust-proof, waterproof, and crush-proof watch transport case using the second inner foam set that's included. A nice, thoughtful idea. The loupe is placed in a high-quality hardshell zip case, made and sized perfectly for peace of mind when you are carrying it around, keeping the loupe safe from knocks and perhaps even from a bit of water and humidity. A microfiber cloth and a carrying pouch complete the package.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

Every external part of the loupe feels high quality, in line with what you would expect after paying over $500 for the most affordable of the three versions. The silicone rubber feels soft but very durable, and not at all like the horrendous cheap material that you can often find elsewhere. One gripe I have with this black rubber is that it also works brilliantly as a lint-magnet. It is impossible to keep it clean: a brief contact with a shirt or any other surface with any lint on it, and it all ends up sticking to this black silicone surface. Fit and finish is good all over.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

At the end of the loupe's central element is a recessed edge that allows for the removal and replacing of the rubber frame closer to the user. The loupes come with two different types of rubber pieces with different thickness so as to adjust the distance of your eyes to the lens, ultimately resulting in a different field of view.

The standard one, which gives a 40mm-wide viewing field for the Model 01 with the 6x magnification, places the eye at the optimal distance to take advantage of the best optical performance the loupe can offer. The alternative, thinner top rubber element places the eye closer to the loupe, thus providing a wider, 50mm viewing field.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items
Image taken with the 3x Loupe – notice the heavy vignetting in the corners and the super sharp center
Optical Performance

The least amount of distortion, unsurprisingly, is delivered by the 3x magnification piece, so let's talk about this model first. It is convenient to use for its low distortion and it really is a fantastic piece for taking a closer look without getting lost in details too much. This 3x magnification shows the subject in a way you wish you could see when simply lifting something close to your eyes. Nice and easy, with great viewing angles and vast sharp areas, allowing you to have an overview that is rich in detail and lacking in distortions. Great viewing angles become an issue when using it on the phone mount, but more on that a bit later.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items
Bexei Dignitas: Beautiful images can be captured using the 10x Loupe

At the other end of the spectrum is the 10x magnification model – here, wrapped in carbon fiber. It is ever so slightly but noticeably heavier than the 3x version, for it has to contain more glass to get to this increased magnification. It allows you to get much closer and scrutinize much finer details, thanks to its greater magnification. It is not per se sharper than the 3x version, but the amount of detail you can see truly is an eye-opening experience (pun intended).

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items
Notice the considerable chromatic aberrations in the upper left and lower right corners of the 10x. Impressively rich in details in the center.

One compromise that comes with this greater magnification is a higher level of chromatic aberration. Chromatic aberration, in essence, is color fringing that you can best see on the edges of bright, contrasting areas, but it is also something that can affect fine detail. Distortion is also considerably more noticeable than on the 3x piece. With all this noted, this high magnification loupe is still incredible for closeups and, just as importantly, the most user-friendly of its kind that I have ever used. It makes "diving into" the movements and dials and even cases great fun, as it allows you to discover minuscule, never-before-seen details in each and every watch.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

Using The Loupe System As iPhone Camera Lens

A superb additional feature to the Loupe System is that you can purchase mounts made to perfectly fit the iPhone 4/4S, 5/5S, 6/6S, and Plus models – a universal version for Android phones is promised but appears to not be available yet. The mounts are not cheap, with prices ranging between $80 to $90 – with the black iPhone 5S case standing out at an bewildering $150, while the white version goes for $80.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

On the topic of the mounts, I will say that while the fit on the tested iPhone 6S Plus is excellent and allows for an extremely accurate fitting of the loupe to the camera, it is also made from an unusually hard plastic with minimal flexibility anywhere around the edges. This rigid construction makes getting the mount on or off the iPhone difficult until you get the hang of which side and corner to put on first and last. Also, its uneven and hard surface has made me feel concerned about scratching the sides of the phone. In essence, the mount works well, but its material could use some more refinement, especially with the hefty additional price tag in mind.

Loupe System iPhone Mountable Macro Lens Review Luxury Items

Once the mount is on the phone, all you need to do is remove the rubber top piece from the loupe and slide it onto the mount, so that the loupe now functions as a camera lens for the phone. Start up the stock camera application (or any other, for that matter) and, when using the 3x magnification loupe, you are greeted with the sight above. As you can see on this screenshot, there is massive vignetting on the edges of the frame, forcing you to crop into the center of the image to get rid of it.

What do you think?
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  • Not sure I’d want to replace my DSLR (with macro lens) with a phone + Loupe Systems setup. But for just looking at (not photographing) watches, the Loupe Systems products are simply great. The wide field of view is a major selling point. Our own Dr. Max used his personal one with the light option at BaselWorld 2016. I had played with the non-light ones previous years at the Loupe Systems booth and was always impressed. But the light option should seriously be considered. The only drawback to any and all of the range of products is their price. And that they don’t have a mount for my Samsung phone 🙂 Thanks for the in depth review David.

    • MEddie90

      I agree. From the point of picture quality, a professional or even sub professional camera would probably out-do this piece of kit. I terms of convenience however it seems like a nice option, its relatively portable if your’re attending a convention or meeting, fairly non intimidating and innocuous and has built in, easy to use share functions.

      Definitely a great option for those who use Instagram and similar social media plus for on the spot personal viewing of a watch. Main drawback for me is the price, seems like a lot of money and while i’m sure the quality is there i’d be cautious of spending more than $100 on a loupe let alone the ridiculous price of some of the peripherals.

  • SuperStrapper

    Interesting for sure, but not likely a product I would be interested in (even if I did ever stoop to an iPhone).

    David, I too struggled with traditional loupes for years, buying nicer and nicer ones assuming that better quality would make them easier to use. What has the most impact for me was a tip a watchmaker gave me, to keep both eyes open. Made a big difference.

    • Absolutely right on the keeping of both eyes open.

  • David Wrubel

    A good DSLR and macro lens is much easier to deal with and delivers better results if you know what you’re doing, it seems. If you already have a DSLR, buy a good macro lens for roughly the same price. If this iPhone system were a couple hundred dollars less expensive, it would be much more interesting.

  • Omegaboy

    My 6 year old Panasonic Lumix ($299) can do comparable shots. On macro, you can literally touch the camera to the watch.

  • cluedog12

    These appear to be excellent lenses, offering appreciable improvement over the competition (larger field of view). For anyone with a serious collection, the added utility would seem to make it an easy decision.

    Those on a budget, like me, can do decently well with a $30 loupe and $20 clip-on phone lens.

  • ??????

    My 250$ Canon SX50 HS can make same or superior quality macro + can make close-ups of the Moon 🙂

  • iamcalledryan

    I was just browsing their website this morning after deciding that it’s time to look into buying one!

    As a lover of the regular loupe, I must say I find the financial commitment and various add-ons of the system a little intimidating but I expect it will be fun getting to grips with it all!

    • David Bredan

      Let us know how you like it!

  • Isaac Lara

    If you are going to compare to a DSLR you should have used a macro lens.

    • David Bredan

      The 85mm PC-E Micro Nikkor used in this comparison is the best macro lens Nikon makes today.

      • Isaac Lara

        Hi David, thanks for the reply. I read your article a bit more carefully this time. I see that your lens is a 1:2. My canon is a 1:1 and I don’t have to heavily crop at all and I’m a watch nerd and freq take photos for instagram. I suppose the jump to 10:1 must be pretty incredible. I’m curious how difficult it is to light properly with the loupe and iphone.
        Cheers.

        • David Bredan

          My pleasure 🙂 The other macro lens I use is the 60mm 2.8 G ED Micro Nikkor that does have a 1:1 reproduction ratio. Extension tubes can get you even closer than that, but at that point you are once again looking at some compromises. My instagram account is 95% of images I took with Nikon gear, but I expect that to change now that I have this at hand. I see myself packing this case and a 10x Loupe in my bag and carrying it with me to meetings etc, where I would not necessarily take my hefty and heavy Nikon gear. As the saying goes: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

      • GalaxyGuy

        I would say the 200mm Micro is a better choice for shooting watches than the 85mm, but maybe I am wrong about that.

  • laup nomis

    I’m good freinds with my local antique clock restorer. He’s always glad of an excuse to have a cup of tea and a chat, so I take all my watches down. He’s not down-right rude about any of my buys, but I get another (professional) opinion.

  • Johnny Tank (Forever Autumn)

    I’d like to see an article on how to get good lighting for photographing watches. How to avoid glare and reflections.

  • Luke S

    While I agree that the biggest selling point for this system is convenience I think that the comparison you made in the article is a bit unfair. You compared the cost of this Loupe system ($525 lens only) with a professional camera equipped with a lens designed for architecture ($5200, camera + lens).
    If you compare say a Nikon D5300 ($600, wifi-equipped) + Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED ($530, Autofocus, VR noise reduction) then the price would be comparable to an iPhone 6s+ ($650) + Loupe System ($525).
    Then again, the whole point of this system is convenience and I think people will ultimately buy this for inspecting a watch closely on the iPhone’s massive 5.5-inch screen.

    • Maybe I can agree with the system if money is no object. However, money is always an object of concern, and as such, this system is _seriously_ over-priced.

      As a long time amatuer photograper I always have a FujiFilm F500EXR camera and extra batteries with me all the time.

      I really dislike using a phone to take a picture. Results are mixed at best for me (can’t grip the phone as well as I’d like to be able to get a good shot. And worse, I’m left-handed).

      Having just come from Amazon I can tell you that there is no way I would pay the kind of money this system costs.

      I put my little point and shoot camera in a small tripod and took some pictures of my watch with it. Results were… mixed. After setting up a light and a small white plate for softer background light the results were… less mixed. If I invested more time for a better shooting setup, I could get consistently better pictures.

      The camera itself it able to take pictures with the lens as close as a fraction of an inch away from the target object, and generally takes nice pictures. If you want to see what the camera can do for yourself, I’m sure there must be information available, probably easier to Google it.

      As for the time and effort of getting the pictures from the SD card to your computer, editing as you like, is a tiny effort. You can use free software to batch downsize the pictures. After they’re on your computer, it’s up to you as to what you do with them. Attaching them to an e-mail works good, and gives you a copy as well if you keep your sent e-mails (I do). Also, if you have the same e-mail on your phone (most people do) moving the pictures from computer to phone is greatly simplified.

      This is more work than the loupe system and is also _way_ less money.

      I can think of no reason that would convince me to try and turn my phone into a feature rich camera when I have a perfectly good feature rich camera already. Moving and editing the pictures is not hard or particularity time consuming.

      This is one product that costs way too much money, and will probably end up in a drawer somewhere after the novelty has worn off.

      Cheers!

    • Not everyone has the big 5.5″ screen that some iPhones have, or have Android phones instead.

    • Also… if you go for the camera route, you end up with a great camera and maybe more than one lens!

  • wallydog2

    Having a loupe would shatter my universe. My Timex Expedition (deadly accurate), Caravelle (deadly accurate) and Edwin Quartz (deadly accurate) say nay, nay

  • Raymond Wilkie

    I totally miss the point of this gadget. I use a Samsung. Loupe,…………….more like loopy.

  • Marius

    The only loupe I would take into consideration would be the Hodinkee Loupe System. Coupled with a Hodinkee sportcoat, you would have the perfect pair. However, please remember this: the Hodinkee loupe works best for collections similar to mine, i.e. Patek, JLC, and the like.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      Noted.

  • Gokart Mozart

    Are the mounts only available for Apple. What about for a phone with a decent camera, like my Nokia 1020.

    Is Apple the telephone equivalent of Rolex?

    • Raymond Wilkie

      I’m very anti Apple, ……don’t know why,…….just am

      • Gokart Mozart

        Maybe it,s because they have $50 billion in cash, and yet the workers who make the products in China have virtually sweat shop conditions and rights.

        An ordinary product priced at rip off levels.

        I own no Apple products.

        • Raymond Wilkie

          That is a good enough reason alone to shun all apple products. You have to ask however , where does it stop. ?, your designer Jacket, shoes, handbags ( i could go on ) . We live in an unjust world, always have done always will. I have struggled with the rest of the herd to buy into this system ( no pun intended ) and have come to the conclusion ” I’ts the way of the world. ” Sweat shops as horrible and unjust as they are ( i have seen them myself on my trips to India ) keep people off the streets. Your choice to perpetuate the problem.

          • Gokart Mozart

            I agree with you, but none of these companies have $50 billion cash lying about. That is my major issue. That is on top of the dividends, the profit and the senior management bonus payments. They could earn interest on the cash for a year and then give it as a bonus to all the lower paid employees in the far east. Therefore they are not as such losing anything but most companies would still not do that.

            Saying that if other companies could some how manage to have $50 billion in cash, many of them would still pay the same to the far east production companies (and hence employees) as well as to the US and European store employees .

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Just a two word reply.
            Shareholders.
            Ethics.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      Ooh, 1,000th comment. ……………………and still no one listens,

    • Chaz

      Richard Mille

      • Gokart Mozart

        No, I don’t think so. Relatively speaking nones heard of Richard Mille. Also Apple like Rolex is not as good as they think they are or most people think they are. and borderline average.

        RM i would say is more like Vertu, very expensive a bit pointless and cause extreme views when discussed.

    • The problem with the 1020 is that the lense is too far away from the edge of the phone. Other than the system David is reviewing, loupes get attached to the phone via a simple clip-on, which will not reach the 1020 camera.

      If you like Windows phone I recommend you move to Lumia 950 or 950 XL. Less megas, but far more quality (not to talk about speed). Believe me, I have both phones. With the 950 I use this: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019BVM4S4?ref_=ams_ad_dp_asin_3

      • Gokart Mozart

        Thanks Santiago.

  • vmarks

    I use the Olloclip Macro lens setup with my iPhone. I have 7x, 14x, and 21x at my disposal. There is a hood on the 21x, but it’s removable, which is necessary to get the phone close enough to the dial.

    For lighting, I have a manfrotto LED lamp, which I bounce to soften it.

    To keep phone reflections out of the dial, I mask the phone back with black or white polystyrene sheets with a hole for the lens in them. This way, no one sees my awesome phone case reflected in the crystal.

    https://www.instagram.com/p/BH0RIKTAy-g/

    Of course, my error was that I didn’t use an iPhone holder to steady the camera – this is what focus looks like when you do it by hand.

  • Good article David and clearly shows the pros and cons of the system.