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!
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!
Be sure to check out the 2021 Smart Phone Housing Buyer’s Guide below.
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 guide to video lights below to help choose the right light for your budget and diving.
2021 Video Light Comparison
Popular Smart Phone Housings
These are two of my favorite smart phone housings. 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. SeaLife first released the app for iPhone, however an Android app will be coming soon. The housing itself accommodates nearly all iOS and Android phones made in the last several years.
The Sport Diver smart phone housing features a vacuum pump and leak detection system. It also attaches seamlessly to SeaLife’s Sea Dragon lighting system. This allows you to effortlessly attach a tray and grip plus a variety of lights at different lumen strengths.
Kraken Smart Phone Housing
The Kraken Sports universal smart phone housing comes in two different models. Both models work with a wide range of iOS and Android phones. Those with Google Pixel 2 and newer versions can download a custom app (“Dive Case Connector”) that allows use of the native Pixel camera software (instead of using the Kraken app software to control the camera).
The Kraken Sports housing also features a vacuum system and a mount on the bottom that is compatible with most tray and handle systems.