Smart phone housings allow you to shoot great photo and video underwater. The current generation of housings make use of the high quality camera found in mobile phones today, are watertight with pre-dive testing systems, and allow you to use advanced accessories like video lights.
This complete guide to smart phone housings will discuss compatibility, what to look for when shopping, an overview of vacuum pumps and leak detection systems, and some tips for shooting underwater while scuba diving and snorkeling. I’ve even filmed a video that highlights these topics. Let’s dive in!
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Smart Phone Housing Basics
What is a Smart Phone Housing?
A smart phone housing is a waterproof case designed to let you shoot photos and videos with your phone while underwater. As a diver or snorkeler, you press buttons on the outside of the housing to change between photo and video modes, image review, and a variety of camera settings changes. Most housings use a bluetooth connection and an app that then relays the commands to the mobile phone’s camera. Some housings even allow you to press the screen through the housing back just like you would above the surface.
With proper preparation and maintenance, flooding your precious phone is unlikely. These smart phone housings use a latch and o-ring system that creates a water tight seal that protects the phone. In addition, many manufacturers use additional safety measures, including vacuum and leak detection systems, which we’ll review later in this article.
Can You Shoot Great Photos and Videos with a Smart Phone Housing?
Absolutely! Our mobile phones feature powerful cameras that have the ability to shoot fantastic underwater photos and videos. There are several caveats, however.
First: Most of the smart phone housing apps use the phone’s camera but process the images through proprietary software. This means that the final images you record may not have the quality you see in regular topside photos.
Second: For those doing very deep dives in dark conditions, images can suffer from the camera software applying a high level of noise reduction and smoothing in order to reduce noise (the grainy look) produced when shooting at a high ISO. This particular issue can be fixed by getting close to your subject and adding videos lights to your smart phone housing system.
RELATED: Underwater Video Basics
Underwater Housing Compatibility
Most of the smart phone housings on the market today are built to accommodate a wide variety of phones, including Apple iPhone, Samsung, Google Pixel, and Huawei. This means you can likely purchase the housing brand of your choice while knowing that the housing will likely work even after your next phone upgrade.
That said, you still need to verify compatibility between your phone and the underwater housing, plus ensure that the manufacturer has an app for your operating system (iOS or Android). Be sure to read community reviews, as some apps are much better than others!
Vacuum and Leak Detection Systems
Taking your mobile phone underwater is scary. We control our lives through our phones these days and the proposition of flooding the phone is certainly a hesitation in purchasing a smart phone housing. In reality, there’s really no worry about flooding your phone if you’re diligent in cleaning the o-rings and contact areas and use the following features.
Vacuum Pump System
A vacuum pump system allows you to seal the housing, then manually pump air out of the housing to create a vacuum. This takes just a few seconds. Next, the housing software monitors the vacuum pressure for several minutes to see if there is any change (a change would indicate the seal is not 100%). If the system gives you a green light, then you have a watertight seal and can go diving worry-free. If the system gives you a red light, then you need to inspect your o-ring and run the test again.
Leak Detection System
A leak detection system relies on a device located inside the housing at the bottom. If water does happen to penetrate the housing it will drip to the bottom and trigger this alarm system, which usually has an audible alarm paired with red flashing light. If you ever see this on a dive, you would abort the dive and safely return to the surface. By catching these drips early, chances are your phone will survive the incident.
Both of these smart phone systems help you know that your phone is safe and watertight inside the housing. The result is peace of mind and confidence to go out there and create great images.
Lighting for Smart Phone Housings
Your smart phone housing is ready to dive right out of the box. In doing so, you will be relying on natural sunlight in the water to shoot photos and videos. We call this Ambient Light. Ambient light is great for large scenes where you’re not very close to the subject, like reefs, shipwrecks, and whales.
One of the general rules in underwater photography is to get close to your subject, which helps deliver the clearest images. When you’re close (within 3-6ft or 1-2m), your images will benefit from using an artificial light or torch, which we call a video light.
These video lights bring vivid color into your underwater imagery while also creating more depth through contrast and shadow. Video lights can be used for both still photos and videos, and for looking into dark areas of the reef while diving, so they’re a great investment.
To attach your video light(s) you’ll need a tray and handle system plus an arm that allows you to mount and position the light. This is a convenient setup for scuba divers, but might be a bit cumbersome for snorkeling and freediving. Luckily, you can add and remove this kit as desired, giving you full flexibility to customize your smart phone housing rig for each dive.
Be sure to read my complete Buyer’s Guide and Comparison of Video Lights linked below to help choose the right light for your budget and diving.
Best Video Lights Comparison
Smart Phone Housings vs. GoPro Underwater
There are two main choices for shooting underwater photo and video in a small, compact package. You can choose to purchase a housing for your mobile phone or you can buy a GoPro with dive housing.
There are many similarities between the systems. For example, both are easy to snorkel and freedive with, and both can be used with one or two video lights for more advanced photo and video of close subjects. But there are some key differences as well as pros and cons with each choice.
The video below shares everything you need to know in comparing the two camera options.
Smartphone Housings vs. GoPro Underwater
Popular Smart Phone Housings
Below are some of my favorite smart phone housings. These are universal housings, meaning they fit a variety of iOS and/or Android phones. The links below are affiliate links, so you get the best price online and I get a small commission to help support this website.
SeaLife SportDiver Underwater Housing
The SeaLife Sport Diver housing has great ergonomics and an intuitive, easy to use app. The housing accommodates nearly all iPhone and Android phones made in the last several years (a detailed compatibility chart is available on the SeaLife website).
The Sport Diver smart phone housing features a vacuum pump and leak detection system so that you can rest easy knowing the housing is water tight before submersion. The triple 1/4-20 thread plate on the bottom creates versatility when mounting the housing to a variety of tray systems, including SeaLife’s Sea Dragon lighting system. Red and magenta filters are available.
Oceanic+ Dive Housing
The Oceanic+ Dive Housing is designed for iPhones, allowing you to shoot underwater photos and videos while also using your phone (and Oceanic+ app) as a fully functioning dive computer. The Oceanic+ app has received excellent reviews as a dive computer, which is also available on the Apple Watch Ultra.
The housing is compatible with iPhone X and up, features large buttons, and automatically applies color correction to photos so that they’re ready to share as soon as you surface!
The housing is depth rated to 60m (196ft) and can be mounted to any tray/handle system.
Divevolk Sea Touch 4 Max Smart Phone Housing
Divevolk stands out from the other housings because you can use the touch screen of your camera. All other smart phone housings use physical buttons that control the phone’s camera functions via bluetooth app. Since you can use the touchscreen on the Divevolk housing, you have access to your native camera software, including all the apps you might use topside for manual settings and more.
Inserting the phone is also different. Instead of opening the entire back of the housing, you place your camera in a tray and slide it in from the side. This means you have much less o-ring surface area and less o-ring maintenance.
Kraken Universal Smart Phone Housings – KRH Series
The Kraken Sports universal smart phone housing comes in four different models. Each housing fits most popular iOS and Android phones and are controlled via one of several bluetooth apps. These are the Kraken Sports App (Android/iOS), Open Camera (Android), Deep Photo (iOS), and Pixel Dive Case Connector (Android). This can get confusing fast, so I’ve broken down the key housing features below:
Smart Housing V2.0 (KRH08): Great housing, powered by rechargeable 18650 battery that also charges your phone while in the case (via included cable). This is awesome! No need to open the housing and charge the phone between dives. $375 Backscatter | Mozaik
Smart Housing V2.0 PRO (KRH07): This version is the same as above but has depth and temperature sensors you can chose to display on the screen while diving, plus an automatic dive log created with each dive. $449 Backscatter | Mozaik
Universal Smart Phone Housing (KRH06): Earlier version of Kraken’s Smart Phone housing powered by AA batteries.
Universal Smart Phone Housing PRO (KRH05): Same as the KRH06 above but with depth and temperature sensors you can choose to display on the screen while diving.
They also have an optional M52 / M67 adapter that allows you to mount macro diopters and wide-angle wet lenses to the front of the housing, opening up new fields of view for small and large scenes.
The adapter is $49 at Mozaik.
All four Kraken Sports housings feature a vacuum and leak detection system and a mount on the bottom that is compatible with most tray and handle systems.
Trays, Arms, & Lights for SmartPhone Housings
Smartphone housings have great ergonomics for hand-holding the unit, however there are several reasons you may want to mount your housing to a tray and handle system. The first is stability underwater. Holding two handles is far steadier than hand-holding the camera underwater, creating more stable shots even with image stabilization.
Second, the handles offer a mounting point for arms that hold underwater video lights. There are several types of arms you could choose for this purpose, including flex-connect, ball arm and clamp, and SeaLife’s Sea Dragon Flex-Connect system. I provide all the details in my article:
See you in the Wild Sea!