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Crowdfunding an iPhone camera: Is the Ladibird project a scam?

August 24 , 2013 by: Haje Jan Kamps Opinion & Editorial, Reviews

Today, I came across an interesting IndieGogo campaign, for the Ladibird; a snap-on professional camera for the iPhone 5. Initially, I thought it was a brilliant idea, but then I started reading about the product, and I immediately became incredibly skeptical. Allow me to explain…

The sample images

First of all, the thing that made me wonder what’s going on, were the sample images. They look fantastic, without a doubt, but when you look at the Ladibird video, you see that the product is just a 3D render. So that made me wonder: Where did the example photos come from? Right at the bottom of the page, they explain that the shots are taken with “a 50mm prime lens on a 12 megapixel Nikon D700″.

Now, there’s a lot of problems with this, in my mind: For one thing, the Nikon D700 is a high-end professional camera that cost USD $3000. It’s also a full-frame camera, with a 36mm x 24mm sensor built in. The Nikon lens used (a 50mm f1/8) is also a mighty sharp piece of kit. Do you think it’s fair to use photos taken with a pro-level camera as examples for what an iPhone accessory lens can do?

The specifications

In the IndieGogo campaign, the Ladibird manufacturers do the following:

The Specifications

The Specifications

The thing that isn’t clear to me, is why they are talking about a ‘mirrorless sensor’ as if that’s a standard. Mirrorless cameras have wildly different sensor sizes; The Pentax Q has a 6.17 x 4.55 mm sensor. The Sony NEX-6 has a 23.5 x 15.6 mm sensor. The Leica M9 has a 36 x 24 mm sensor. And there are tons of sizes in between.

The lens spec itself, too, is fuzzy. They are talking about a “Ladibird 50mm (35mm equivalent) large aperture prime lens”, which patently doesn’t make sense, unless they have a sensor that is 45% larger than that found in the highest of high-end SLR cameras. A more likely explanation is that they have their terms mixed up, and that they have a lens which actually has a 35mm focal length (Which is roughly a 50mm equivalent on an APS-C size sensor), but it does worry me: Would you trust a lens designed by a company that isn’t sure which way around the crop sensor conversion factors go?

Developing sharp lenses is an incredibly difficult and challenging task.

But what about the large sensor and 50mm?

All of this makes sense, apart from the fact that they are talking about limited depth of field, which doesn't depend on the focal length: There's no reason why a 50mm should have more pleasing depth of field than a 100mm lens. It is mostly dependent on the aperture, but that isn't mentioned in the marketing material.

All of this makes sense, apart from the fact that they are talking about limited depth of field, which doesn’t depend on the focal length: There’s no reason why a 50mm should have more pleasing depth of field than a 100mm or 35mm  lens. It is mostly dependent on the aperture, but that isn’t mentioned in the marketing material.

The Ladibird guys have done a great marketing tasks, but as someone who’s written a book on mirrorless cameras, and has technical edited a rather chunky stack of books about photography, I can’t help but feel I’m somewhat qualified to evaluate this project, and it’s setting off all manner of alarm bells.

In their marketing site, they’ve equaled small sensors with blurry photos. That’s patently not true: The Nikon 1 series have tiny sensors in them, but are capable of producing fantastically sharp images. Similarly, my iPhone 5 has a miniscule sensor in it, a quick browse through the ‘most interesting’ photos taken with the iPhone 5 on Flickr reveals that many of them are tack-sharp works of art. This would infer that a small sensor is in and of itself no reason to buy a Ladibird.

The other argument they make is that the 50mm f/1.8 lens is cruise control to awesome photos. Now, in most cases that might well be true, but those specs alone aren’t enough. “50mm” only means that the lens has a focal length of 50mm. There’s nothing inherently better about this, and there are many examples of absolutely dreadful 50mm lenses out there. In fact, I could build a 50mm lens myself out of a couple of lens elements, a kitchen roll, and some Blu-Tack in about 20 minutes, but I can pretty much guarantee that the photo quality is going to be severely lacking.

So, is Ladibird a scam?

I have no way of knowing that, but the IndieGogo page does set off an awful lot of alarm bells.

I won’t be backing the IndieGogo campaign myself, and I’ll tell you why: I know how incredibly hard it is to build photography equipment, and so far, we haven’t seen a single prototype or sample image from these guys. Even the mock-up image doesn’t seem realistic (to have a 50mm focal length, the lens barrel would probably need to be longer), which makes me wonder how far along in the process they have come.

If the mockup image represents the current state of play, then I fear they’re about to get a rude awakening if they think that $20,000 is enough money to develop a fully functional prototype of the Ladibird. For a product this advanced (Apple MFi; App development; Sensor design; Lens design; Testing; industrial design; production design; prototyping…), I’d estimate you may not be able to complete the full development cycle for less than $150,000. Bear in mind two things: $150k is a very low estimate for a product this advanced, and at the end of this phase, they will have perhaps half a dozen prototypes; they still wouldn’t have created a single Ladibird for the Indiegogo backers.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do want a product like the Ladibird to exist, but wouldn’t part with any money until I’ve seen at least a couple of sample images.

The biggest worry is that the marketing material is such a hodge-podge of technical, factual, and physics-related inaccuracies… Let’s put it this way: if Ladibird was a book, and it was passed to me for technical editing, I’d have to craft a very difficult letter to the publisher, suggesting that it’s in a shape beyond where a tech-editor can help, recommending that the book was cancelled or seriously re-written. It certainly wouldn’t be in a state to offer pre-selling it to the public.

Or, put in other words: I’d probably just wait until the product is available to buy in a store.

About Haje Jan

This post was written by Haje Jan Kamps, who has written 565 articles for Photocritic

Haje has written half a dozen books about photography. He spends most of his time running Triggertrap, a company that creates creative tools for triggering your camera.

His most recent books are:


  • Perhaps the recently announced Sony cameras in a clip on ‘lens’ that use the smartphone as the evf/lcd makes for a more portable, higher quality alternative

  • I would guess that by “50mm (35mm equivalent)” what they *actually* mean is that it’s not a 50mm lens, but a lens that gets the same FoV as a 50mm lens would on a 35mm sensor. So… in other words, they’re saying absolutely nothing.

    I wouldn’t say it’s a scam straight off the bat; I’d say rather that it sounds like they’re just completely incompetent. Which is the sad thing about Crowdfunding: there’s no board of directors or investors scrutinising the company to make sure they actually know what they’re doing!

  • Dear Jamie Zartman,

    The Sony camera you mention is the QX100 and QX10. QX100 is a standard zoom lens with in-built camera sensor attachment. QX10 is a standard zoom lens camera smartphone attachment but with a normal compact camera image sensor. The announcement is on Sept 4 2013. These cameras share the same property as ladibird: they attach to smartphones. However unlike ladibird, the Sony variants are not using prime lenses (for now).

    Dear Haje Jan,

    We have explicitly stated on our Indiegogo page that the US$20,000 is not to be used for prototyping, BOM (Bill of Materials) or staff expenses such as salaries, travel & accomodation. We are keenly aware of the budget required to undertake an industrial design project of this size involving CnC processes, Engineering Evaluation, design & tooling and most importantly, the sensor itself. We are still raising that budget required and the Indiegogo campaign proceeds are not part of the development budget. The figure is sizable. You are not far off.

    We have also stated that at any time if we cannot produce the ladibird (i.e run out of funding, business continuity failure due to natural disaster/ key founder death or disability etc), the money is returned to all our backers. Their pledged money is only used once we have completed the engineering evaluation version of our ladibird and are ready for mass production.

    Unlike Arduino/3D printing, camera technology is not open source. We have worked very hard to obtain the necessary partnerships with a manufacturer who agreed to support us with a sensor that is 7.5x larger than smartphone sensors. And that is also why we cannot show you, or anyone for that matter, the development hardware. Apologies for the necessary discretion but please understand that we are a small company of 4 key members, who are now accessing camera tech previously only available to Sony, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Ricoh, Pentax, Fujifilm, Samsung Imaging. We must respect the camera industry practice and we have signed a mutual NDA with one sensor manufacturer. You can find smartphone camera modules easily and buy them off eBay, but you cannot do the same with a professional photography camera CMOS sensors. Nor can you reverse engineer by breaking open a camera and trying to connect it to a PC for development. We travelled to Taiwan to get the development hardware. You can also get the same from Japan or South Korea. China has just started making it’s first APS-C sensor but it is not ready for market.

    As to your comment about our sensor size, we have explicitly stated the sensor is 7.5x larger than smartphone sensor.

    Most compact camera sensors are 1/3.2″, sensor area size: 4.54mm x 3.42mm = 15.5268mm²

    Thus our sensor size is: 7.5 x 15.5268 = 116.451 mm²

    Sensor sizes used for photography applications (in order of smallest to biggest):
    – 1/3.2″
    – 1/2.3″
    – 1/1.7″
    – 2/3″
    – 1/1.2″
    – 1″
    – 4/3″
    – 1.5″
    – APS-C (Canon and Nikon variation)
    – Full frame

    Simply put, the size of 116.451 mm² corresponds to one of the above sensors and we are using it in ladibird. Again, we cannot publicly state the size due to our NDA.

    Those D700 photos show one optical property that is necessary for good portraiture: shallow depth of field and the ‘bokeh’ effect that comes with it. These effects, while seemingly a result of low apertures on large apertures such as f/1.8, are actually more dependant on CoC (Circle-of-Confusion) rating. We realised this when we were trying to understand why can a DSLR take a great portrait of a person with wonderful bokeh at f/2.4, yet the iPhone, which also has a prime f/2.4 lens, is unable to capture a person with the same quality of bokeh. The answer lies in CoC.

    A full frame sensor has a CoC rating 0.03, an APS-C sensor has CoC rating of 0.02. The smartphone sensor on iPhone 5 or any other smartphone is CoC 0.004. Compact camera CoC is 0.005. Both of these latter CoC are far smaller than the DSLR/MILC class CoC. We find that with smaller CoC, picture quality in terms of bokeh deteriorates greatly and is limited to creating bokeh only for small subjects. If you are able to deduce our sensor size (we cannot state publicly as we are under NDA), you can also find the corresponding CoC we are using. The CoC rating of the ladibird is sufficiently high enough to capture a photo of a human sized object (or smaller) and thanks to the f/1.8 lens, give that pleasing bokeh that people want but cannot get with a traditional zoom lens which given by default as a kit lens coupled with DSLRs or the fixed zoom lens on a compact camera.

    The normal zoom lenses for both compact and DSLRs has been 28 – 90mm, f/3.5 – f/5.6 and has has always been marketed simply as “3x zoom” since the late 80s. Photographers know that the largest aperture on such a lens, f/3.5, is only accessible when you are using the zoom lens at 28mm. However 28mm gives distortion effects when taking photos of people up close human portraits should be taken at 50mm. But with zoom lenses, using 50mm only allows max aperture of about f/4.5. You are unable to generate the bokeh with such a combination. You could do get bokeh with a longer telephoto such as 200mm f/4.5. But the lens would be incredibly large.

    Thus the ladibird lens is really aiming for is a field of view of 50 degrees and able to take a portrait of a human sized subject from a distance of 1.5 meters away (standard distance people stand) when taking a photo. However most people could not understand this readily, thus the best definition known to public is a 50mm lens. The ladibird lens does give a 50 degree field of view, but it is not a 50mm lens that is associated with the 35mm standard. That is why we stated (35mm equivalent) on the Indiegogo page. This is similar for the iPhone. It is a 4.31mm lens that gives an equivalent view of 33mm. On a sensor that is smaller than full-frame i.e APS-C, to achieve an equivalent view of 50 degrees, the lens used must have focal length of 35mm due to a crop factor of 1.5. On mirrorless cameras such as Olympus Pen, an equivalent view of 50 degrees will come from a 25mm lens due to a crop factor of 2. Thus the ladibird lens is XXmm that gives equivalent of 50 degrees of view due to a crop factor of XX. Again, apologies, we cannot state these technical data bits now.

    Also, the bokeh generated by a 35mm, 50mm and 85mm, 105mm, 200mm differ greatly. Basically the longer the focal length, the bokeh gets better but subsequently the photographer must stand further away. Between all the focal lengths, we believe in 50mm being the optimal length for full-length portraits or hip to head. The longer focal lengths are more apt for head to shoulders portraits.

    As you can imagine, writing all the above on our Indiegogo page would not have attracted sales thus we marketed as best we could to the layman what could be done. There other universities who have approached crowdfunding on these technical points and failed to garner enough support from backers. The IGG page is to prove that people do want such a product and we find the mass cannot understand the above that we have shown.

    We are not a scam. We are working with 2 Asian universities: National University of Singapore & another institute in Taipei that cannot be disclosed at this time. Right now we are kindly housed in the National University of Singapore We believe that this reputation is what drove most of our customers, Asians, to support our product.

    However, as we are not a large multi-corporation, nor have been funded capital at VC (venture capital) level, we do face the risk of running out of funds along the way. And since we are primarily only 4 people spread across 2 countries, we do face risk of business hazards such as natural disasters/key staff death/disability. That danger is largely inherent in Taiwan, which faces risk of tornadoes and earthquakes occasionally. In the case of any business failure, we have kept aside our backer’s pledge money and if we fail, we will simply refund all backers. Again, we emphasize what we wrote on the Indiegogo page: we are NOT using the Indiego funds for prototyping, Bill-of-Material costs, CnC milling, salaries, expenditure etc. All pledge money is kept separate from us. Right now we are still finalising a method to make sure backers can check and audit the pledge money publicly. We like to think of our backers as our board members or upper management: they put their faith in us and we have to report to them.

    You may visit our facebook page at to see our progress, feedback and support from our backers.

    We will only release sample images from the prototype to our backers for now. If we are able to get approval with our manufacturer, we will then release them publicly.

    We know the camera companies are taking the same step forward and now it seems Sony may actually be taking that first step forward. But we differentiate ourselves as we want to return to the days of rangefinder cameras, which employed the 50mm prime lens to capture great quality photos.

    Also, we are doing beta-testing with our customers. Unfortunately, due to budget, we are only testing in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taipei for now. Hong Kong and Taipei are very close to each other. Singapore is actually very far away, but we started here and part of our team is here as well.

    Thank you for your reading this far, I hope the above can change your mind about us. If you still do not, we will invite you to await our real, mass-crowdsourcing 2nd Indiegogo round at End of Year 2013/ Q1 2014. This Indiegogo is really our prototype round and a chance for us to experience crowdfunding. As of now, we have 109 customers in 13 countries, 14 locations. The US$20,000 goal is not to get money to build a product: it is to prove there is demand for the next iteration of cameras and that money is reserved for the last stages of manufacturing.

    Lastly, we would like to state the reason we are doing this: everyone on our team has worked in some professional capacity with a camera. Photography in short, runs in our blood and we are doing this for the sake of passion. Crowdfunding a product is a difficult choice to do in a country that is much more focused on being a financial hub, but we did it anyway because we want to make this happen.

    • Thank you for your in-depth reply.

      Basically, I think you’re going to face a very interesting challenge.

      1) if you are planning to not use the money, why are you raising the money?

      2) if you’re not going to share key details of what you are doing, how are you expecting people to get behind your crowdfunding project? You’re asking people to invest blind, but without giving them the details they need to make an informed decision.

      I admire what you’re trying to do, but as someone who has used crowdfunding a lot (both as a project owner and as a backer), I’ve got to say that your reply, above, doesn’t really address the core issues I have with your campaign. Your reply also contains numerous factual errors.

      Nonetheless, best of luck.

  • 1) As we have mentioned, the money is to prove there is market demand. We have yet to finalise a method of publicly displaying this money once the Indiegogo campaign is over. We are not putting this cash with our corporate accounts. The pledge money is reserved for use only once engineering evaluation prototype has completed and we are ready for volume production. We are not a large corporation unlike the other big camera companies. We are a small company breaking new ground and this is essentially a new class of product. We needed to know who our key customers are. Currently based on country data, it is Singapore, Hong Kong and United States. You may see the country list everyday on our facebook.

    2) We will only report to our backers on our progress such as investment proceeds, cashflow and outreach progress. If you do not wish to back us, but wish to get these reports, please donate US$1 to our campaign and we will include you inside the mailing list our to all our backers. We believe that quite a few people have already done so to track us. Also, we are beta-testing in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taipei. The reason is due primarily due to budgeting: Hong Kong & Taipei are relatively closeby and Singapore has the largest group of backers.

    3) Our tech manufacturers do not share your opinion that we are in error. Based on the above photo-optic data, they had the confidence to let us work with up to APS-C sensors. But we are not using APS-C due to economic and design constraints. We could seriously build an APS-C 35mm prime lens version of ladibird right now (that again, will effectively be a 50mm version based on 35×1.5 crop=50), but the price and image quality result would not be much different from what ladibird’s current configuration and is not economically justifiable to the consumer. Also, such a configuration is already present in an existing product: Sigma DP2 Merrill. We do not believe it performed well in terms of cost to revenue. Thus we instead build on a smaller, but equally functional sensor with a matching lens that connects to smartphones.

    In your article, you are correct to assess that the ladibird lens should be thicker. We are trying to get a pancake Tessar lens configuration at this moment to prevent this. This is why we did not reveal exact physical dimensions. That is the real challenge for us at the moment: the core electronics tech is almost ready to market but getting the industrial design to make a glass that fits our sensor specification will take time. Currently only 2 of the camera makers have access to such a lens. We will not simply put a standard zoom lens onto ladibird. We could do that, and we believe eventually most of the other camera makers will onto their own offerings in future.

    There are many issues at hand: the ladibird Digital Signal Processor. Energy transfer between USB slave-host interface of the lightning port. Funding to support beyond prototype stage. Inventory unit cost holding and manufacturing contracts to handle. We need time to build resolve all these issues, and that’s why we turned to crowdfunding. It allows us to interact directly with our customers to get their feedback, act transparently with all our key partners involved and let everyone see the necessary needs to continue this project. For customers, if we fail, they get refunded. Our risk is higher because we are working full-time and have a manufacturing needs to deal with.

    We highly suggest you donate the US$1 to the campaign. We will be announcing some good news to our backers about funding for our operations and a media partner who has offered to work with us. We hope the above does address your concerns and invite you to continue following on our progress.

  • Hey,

    I can understand leaving too technical information out of a campaign but even your explanations here still leave some questions. Ok, its a lens with a field of view like 50mm on full frame. But to get the same depth-of-field like a 50/1.8 lens on a much smaller sensor (7.5 times larger than 1/3.2”) you would need a impossibly fast lens, much faster than f1.0. And if your lens really is 50mm equiv. with f1.8 – on your sensor size that would translate to about the same background separation as a photo with 50mm f4.5 on a full frame camera like the D700. If your lens would actually be a f1.0 lens, that would still only compare to a 50mm f2.8 on D700 – and the photos on your inidegogo campaign don’t look like they are taken with f4.5 or even f2.8. You should at least disclose the real specs of the lens because 50/1.8 is clearly wrong or show sample images of portraits with the right amount of depht of field.

    Best regards,

  • […] Some points to consider Crowdfunding an iPhone camera: Is the Ladibird project a scam? | Photocritic […]

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