The designing of our new Moment Wide Lens started by accident. Originally we thought our current lenses would just work with the new, larger aperture phones. But after enough customers started mounting lenses to their iPhone 7’s, we started to realize that we had maxed out what our optics could do.
It turns out that the vertical stack between our glass and the lens on the phone varied by device due to unpredictable tolerances, leaving some customers with great images and others with dark corners. We even made two different versions of our mounting plates to move our lenses as physically close as possible to the iPhone 7 glass.
In the end we came to realize that the only way to deliver exceptional results on these new devices was to redesign the lens from the ground up.
The first Moment lenses were designed back in 2013 for iPhone 5. And since then, just a few things have changed. Phones have moved from one lens to multiple. Image sensors have gotten larger. Digital stabilization has gotten better….etc.
Of everything that has changed, the single the biggest technical difference is the use of larger apertures.
Making It Bigger
When we started designing the new Moment Wide v2 we asked ourselves one question: “how big is too big?”
A larger lens would enable us to open up the first element, use more glass, and deliver a superior image. At the same time, a bigger lens could be harder to use, add more bulk, and increase the price customers would pay. This put our optical engineer and product designers at odds. Something had to give.
To solve the problem, we started with our current lenses, making new models of varying size. From small to really large, we put these models in pockets, hands, and bags to see how their size impacted the user experience.
At the same time, our optics team started redesigning the wide lens against the new F1.8 aperture, only to quickly realized that in order to achieve the image quality we desired he would have to increase the diameter of the first element, unlocking the engineering solutions available.
This natural push and pull was stressful as we tried to improve image quality without creating a lens so big no one would carry it, or so expensive they wouldn’t buy it. Like most projects, it took us many iterations and getting a lot of things wrong before we got it right. Ultimately we ended up with a lens that is about 40% larger in size and delivers stunning image quality at an affordable price.
Improving The Interface
A bigger lens puts more stress on the attachment between the lens and phone.
Currently our lenses rely on a thin, hardened metal interface, connecting the bottom of the lens to the the mounting bracket on your phone. This design worked to accomplish our original goal: enable Moment lenses to work with or without a case. But with this result came the reality that over time the lens opening couldn’t grow, and the interface could wear and become loose.
Wanting to improve this experience we went back to our traditional cameras to study their interfaces. Larger in size, we looked what elements we had to have and which aspects we didn’t need. We contrasted that exploration with a deep dive into our own interface and the limitations it delivered over time.
The one benefit to a larger lens is it forced us to rethink the use of metal plates. Over the last three years, a majority of customers used a different 3rd party case that worked with our lenses, which helped us to realize that by designing our own cases we could deliver a significantly better lens experience. An experience that better guided the lens into place, provided the interface with more strength, and a spring detent that would ‘click,’ and secure the lens into place.
The result is a dramatically improved lens mounting experience. Low profile, durable, and easy to use.
Maximizing Image Quality
All great lenses start with the glass.
In making Moment lenses, we’ve always relied on a cinema lens design and manufacturing process. Different from the cheap lenses you find on Amazon, we actually design, polish, and assemble our own lenses. The benefit is we can deliver better quality than anyone else. The downside is our lenses are expensive, something we have always wanted to change.
This new Wide Lens followed a similar process. Starting with advanced optics software, we iterated on several design directions. Looking at both aspherical and non aspherical designs, we eventually came up with a few solid directions, each with their own pros and cons. Over a series of weeks, we whittled these down to a final design that was ready to prototype.
Prototyping glass is expensive and permanent. With no room for error, each set takes 4-5 weeks, costing up to $25K. Getting the design wrong is an expensive mistake, and in making products for the mobile marketplace, time is definitely not on your side.
When the prototypes arrived we actually assembled them wrong. With tolerances that weren’t quite right, the optics did not slide into place correctly and we had to try and force them. The elements were off just enough that the image quality was underwhelming. It was the point in the project where your heart sinks and you start thinking of different ways to combine all the swear words in your vocabulary.
Wrestling with the alignment over the course of a few days, we finally got the elements seated correctly and holy s*%# the image was better than we had hoped. The pictures were razor sharp edge to edge, and the lens much more tolerant to misalignment with no dark corners to be found.
We are still tinkering with coating, blackening and small mechanical details so we expect the images to get even better for production. Overall we are very excited about the quality of this glass.
It is by far the best lens we’ve ever made.