Get a Grip on Your iPhone Photography
UPDATE: Please note that I’ve updated this review to reflect an improvement to the lens mount on Shuttercase. Updated content will be in italics.
When I first got into mobile photography, or more specifically, iPhoneography, I was dead set against using any accessories with my iPhone. Whether it was add-on lenses or detachable devices that made my phone work more like a traditional camera, I was having no part of it.
As my journey in iPhoneography progressed, I slowly warmed up to the idea of using accessories. Now I have way more than I would ever have imagined. I mean, I’m not overwhelmed with accessories, I just have ones I would actually use, from an Osmo Mobile to Moment lenses to what I’m going to write about in the paragraphs to follow.
In 2016, some folks from the US and Sweden got together and tried to come up with a case for the iPhone that would, according to one of the guys, have the look and feel of an old Ricoh GR to get away from having their fingers all over the screen while they took pictures. This was the inception of Shuttercase. After many attempts to produce a successful design, the team decided to cancel their plans. However, when the iPhone X was released, they felt the photographic capabilities of this newly designed iPhone warranted another effort and they revitalized the project.
They started an Indiegogo campaign and although they didn’t reach their funding goal, they believed in their idea so much that they took whatever funds they received and went ahead with production. And quite frankly, I’m glad they did. I backed the campaign when I had an iPhone 8 Plus, and thanks to their awesome customer service, when I asked if I could change my order to fit my new Xs Max, they didn’t hesitate to make the change. I received my Shuttercase a few days ago and I had thought of doing an unboxing video, but as usual, I forgot about making the video and just tore into the Shuttercase. What can I say? I’d been waiting for this case for months!
I want to start this review by saying how impressed I am with the packaging. The black box with silver embossed lettering and imagery is very elegant, and the diagrams on the sides of the lid accurately represent the case, though not to scale, in vivid detail. There’s just enough branding on the box, including their website, so there’s no mistaking who they are or what their product is. The lid fits nicely over the bottom half of the packaging and is similar in fit to any of the Apple products I have purchased over the years. It’s like Shuttercase took a page out of Apple’s packaging notes… if there is such a thing.
The first thing I see once the lid is off is a booklet with instructions for how to use the case, etc. That’s something that I don’t need to go into, other than to say it’s informative and useful. Next is the case itself. It sits in a form fitted plastic tray. Remove the case and the tray and underneath is a foam pad with three cutouts for the camera handle (I like to refer to it as the battery pack), a felt pouch for carrying the battery pack when you aren’t using it, a small micro USB to USB charging cable (in with the pouch), and a low profile hand grip that slides in where the battery goes when not in use, plus there are two small cutouts for the thumb buttons (they provide a spare).
So let’s get to the case. The build quality is excellent. It fits the phone as good as any well made case and is easy to put on. Since this review is for using the case for photography, I’ll address using it with the camera handle installed as opposed to the hand grip. The camera handle slides into place along a pair of grooves and finishes with a click. It fits so well it looks like it’s part of the case body. There’s a small cable that hides nicely in the bottom of the camera handle and when you want to charge your phone, simply remove the handle, flip the cable out, and after reinstalling the handle, plug the cable into the Lightning Port of your iPhone. The battery in the camera handle is a 3,000 mAh unit that takes about 6 hours to recharge. The literature in the box says the battery will take about 2 hours to charge an iPhone X from 10 percent to about 70 percent. For my Xs Max, I’ll have to try it out to see how much of a charge I can get.
Once the phone is snapped into the case, there’s a small groove on the side of the body where the thumb button slides into place. It also goes into place with a slight click. The thumb button is there to make holding the phone ergonomically correct, but it juts out over the screen by about 2 mm. However, I haven’t found it to be in the way of anything yet.
As for using the volume and lock buttons on the phone, they’re fairly decent in the way they operate through the case. The volume down button is a little soft but that’s because it’s mechanically connected through the back of the case body to the shutter button on the other side. The little mute switch is difficult to switch to silent and because of the angle of the case body going from back to front, I couldn’t get my finger in the opening to switch the ringer back on. I think Shuttercase would be doing us a favour if they made the opening a little bigger.
The secret sauce of Shuttercase is the shutter button itself. I mentioned that the shutter button and the volume down button are mechanically connected through the back of the body. I think this is genius. It allows you to use Shuttercase with any camera app without the need to connect to the case via Bluetooth. I also mentioned that the volume down button was a little soft to the feel because of the mechanical connection to the shutter button. Obviously, the same soft feel is present in the shutter button which makes it feel more like the shutter release of a DSLR without the half-press-to-focus function. Having to use a little pressure to take a photo with this kind of button isn’t a problem; as an avid tapper of the virtual shutter on the screen, I just have to get used to using it.
Holding the phone with Shuttercase feels decent in the hand. Wrap the lanyard around your wrist and there’s no worry of dropping your iPhone. Shuttercase makes one-handed photography a breeze and would come in handy for those who like to take selfies. One thing I’ve noticed is how convenient it is to work some of the camera functions in Halide (my go-to camera app) while holding Shuttercase. Switching from the 1x to the 2x camera on my Xs Max is a breeze.
Shuttercase promotes their product as a modular case. This is not only because you can remove the camera handle and replace it with the hand grip, but also because the lens mount plate is interchangeable. I use Moment lenses so the mount plate is designed to accept Moment lenses. For the Shuttercase that fits the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, they have a mount plate that will accept SIRUI lenses, which have a mount similar to Moment, and the Shuttercase website promises there will be more to come.
The mount plate may or may not arrive at your door already installed on the case but mine was. My Moment lenses fit the plate nicely, although a little tighter fit would be better, I feel confident they won’t fall off. The immediate area around the lens mount opening on the Shuttercase is thinner in construction compared to the Moment photo case I have. This is something the guys at Shuttercase will need to work on, and I’m sure they are. When I attach a lens, the thinness of the mount area gives a little in the centre on the part between the cameras, which makes the lens sit slightly askew. This affects the picture quality in that there is some aberration along the sides of the photo. If Shuttercase are able to beef up the sturdiness of this component and make it more like Moment’s cases, they could sell a newly designed mount that can replace the current one. However, if you aren’t using any lenses, it’s obviously a non-issue.
The folks at Shuttercase are continually working on improving their product and to this point the focus has been on the lens mount portion of the modular case. As you can see in my original post, the Moment lenses did not fit square, which made the case unusable with these lenses. Shuttercase went to work on redesigning the mount and they hit it out of the park! The lenses fit perfectly and I couldn’t be more pleased. As soon as I heard they had redesigned the mount, I went to their website and ordered one. The white one looks great and compliments the case very nicely. You can hear me discuss the upgrade on the Tiny Shutter Podcast at the 24 minute 15 second mark.
Shuttercase is a small company. They had an idea that they almost completely gave up on but thankfully, they decided to see it through. Their product isn’t made to improve your photography — that’s our job — but it will make taking photos a little easier and perhaps more fun, and with the battery pack, we can have more fun longer. If you ever thought you’d like your iPhone to feel more like a camera when you’re out taking photos, Shuttercase is the way to go. I’m glad I bought one.