Should I do anything to protect my iPhone 11 Pro's lenses?
October 1, 2019 1:32 PM   Subscribe

People have always used lens caps to protect the lenses on their expensive cameras. I just got an iPhone 11 Pro, and one of its main features is the camera system. Shouldn't I cover its lenses when I put it in my pocket or bag? But how?

I just went from an iPhone 6, which has one tiny lens on the back, to an iPhone 11 Pro, which has 3 much larger lenses on the back. I'm excited to have these new cameras, and I want to take care of them. I want to take great pictures with them for a long time.

When I've had an SLR, I've always tried to be super careful with the lenses, never ever touching the glass and using lens cleaning tissues and lens cleaning solution to get the dust off. The idea was that fingerprints, or oil, or dust, or god forbid scratches would degrade the picture quality.

Fast forward to 2019. People have these great cameras on their phones and they don't do anything to protect the lenses. Put it in your pocket, throw it on the car seat, throw it in your purse or backpack. Whatever.

Sure, buy a case for the phone, but the cases actually have cut-outs to keep the lenses exposed at all times. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as a lens cap for a smartphone. I did manage to find some glass lens covers available for sale on Amazon, and I so I may try those. But they seem like a fringe product at best.

It all leaves me wondering, why isn't this a thing? Are smartphone lenses just much much tougher than SLR lenses? Is it too much trouble for 99.999% of people to care about? Or are there best practices I could and should follow to protect this investment I just made, to keep my lenses in great shape so I can keep taking great pictures?
posted by Winnie the Proust to Technology (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here's the one article I could find on lens protectors for smartphones. The lack of any good reviews for even their top recommendations makes me highly skeptical.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:44 PM on October 1, 2019

The lens cover is made from industrial sapphire. This is the same material that is used for the "glass" in supermarket scanners. I've never seen a scratched "glass" in a supermarket checkout scanner.

Smartphone lens covers are much much tougher than SLR lenses.
posted by monotreme at 1:57 PM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

SLR lenses can be pretty far from pristine and you won't notice it in your image (ask me how I know) so I would figure it works the same for smartphones. Plus they probably have a whole bunch of image processing software to deal with scratches, dust and smudges too. And in the end most of the photos will only be viewed on another phone with a tiny screen (in comparison to a computer monitor or large print) so it would be harder to notice imperfections in the image unless you were actively looking for them.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:08 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it's not really something I'd worry about beyond protecting the phone generally. I use a very minimal case on my iPhones -- typically the Apple Leather one -- and have never had a problem with lens damage.

Basically, the phone lenses aren't as fragile as your SLR lenses.
posted by uberchet at 2:38 PM on October 1, 2019

The thing you want to prevent is the lenses being where the phone rests against a surface when screen side up. a case thick enough with indentations/a lip that keeps the lenses away from the surface is good enough protection for flat hard surfaces.
posted by TheAdamist at 2:44 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Take your iPhone 6 and try to scratch the lens cover with any standard household item. You can’t do it, because monotreme is right.
Also my very-much-abused iPhone 6 has a a pristine unblemished surface on the lens cover, despite years of exposure to pocket sand and worse, ymmv.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:58 PM on October 1, 2019

They're tough, but the glass cover on my XS is cracked. No clue how I did it. Fortunately the crack doesn't affect the photos right now, but I fear the waterproofing is compromised.

I'll consider whatever this thread comes up with for next time.
posted by hollyholly at 3:10 PM on October 1, 2019

For what it's worth, even rugged-case manufacturers like Pelican and Otterbox have a cutout for the lenses and leave it at that.
posted by mhoye at 5:41 PM on October 1, 2019

You're mostly concerned about scratches, though it's possible the lens could be chipped or cracked in a high impact. A decent phone case is the best you can do to protect against that happening. When it comes to scratching, take a look at the Mohs Hardness Scale which ranges from 1 to 10 (10 being hardest). The sapphire coating on iPhone lenses is at about 9 on the scale. There is very little in day-to-day life that will scratch them.

Diamonds or things coated with diamonds like some drill bits and abrasives can do it, since diamond is at 10 on the hardness scale. Tungsten carbide tools and abrasives can (9 on the scale). Rubies and other sapphires can. There are some ceramics that could have silicon carbide, titanium carbide, or other substances that might scratch an iPhone lens, but you're unlikely to encounter those in a form that would do any damage.

A few grains of quartz (from soil or sand) is the hardest substance that a lot of people probably have rubbing against their phones in their pockets or purses. But quartz, at 7 on the hardness scale, is softer than sapphire.
posted by theory at 8:29 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you. I'm hearing the same message from all of you, and it makes sense. I guess I'll just let go of past habits, avoid keeping loose diamonds in my purse, and focus on taking pictures.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:34 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

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