Updated - January 2022
Want to use your iPhone snorkeling for pictures and videos, instead of lugging around another camera? It's a good idea, if you get a quality underwater housing. The iPhone can take some good pictures while snorkeling, but there are some pluses and minuses to it we share below, along with some setting tips and recommended waterproof housings and accessories.
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Your iPhone is worth a lot of money, has a lot of your pictures and contacts on it, and other valuable data you would hate to lose on a trip. If you search for "waterproof iPhone case", you will find tons of products, that can be very inexpensive, by companies with no history, that provide no warranty on your phone. We would not risk our iPhone with these products.
What you want is a real underwater housing designed for snorkeling and diving, with real housing seals, optical quality glass lenses, and great apps that give you many picture and video controls on your phone.
For iPhone snorkeling we would avoid all soft bags, and the cases made by these companies: LifeProof, OtterBox, Armour Shell, Pelican, Dog & Bone, Catalyst, Lunatik Aquatik, Hitcase, Seideio, Incipio, Griffin, Snowlizard, Optrix, Mophie, Tech21, PureGear, Lanyos, Ounne, and any other off brand not mentioned below.
Note, the iPhone 7, 8, X, XR and SE are already waterproof to an IP67 rating, and the XS, XS Max, 11, 11Pro, 11ProMax, 12, and 12Pro to an IP68 rating, but neither is suitable for snorkeling; you will still need an underwater housing.
For iPhone snorkeling, we recommend you get a housing made by ProShot. They make real iPhone snorkeling housings, designed to be waterproof down to 50 feet, with a great control app. They have been around for years, are based in the USA and provide an excellent product, service and warranty, at a very affordable price (even less with the coupon below). We have talked with them many times, and are always impressed with their service. They actually give you a warranty on your iPhone, not just their product, if your iPhone is damaged due to a defective housing.
ProShot has cases for the iPhone 6/7/8/SE, 6/7/8 Plus, iPhone X/Xs/Xs Max/XR, iPhone 11/11Pro/11ProMax, and iPhone 12/12Pro. ProShot is offering our readers 20% off your first purchase at the link above with the code TropicalSnorkel20.
You will use their well designed app with the housing, which reprograms your physical buttons to be used underwater. The housing uses a clear cover over the front of your screen that allows you use your touch screen to make changes in the app before you get in the water. The touch screen will not work while in the water. But you can use the touch screen to setup what camera/video options you want available via the physical buttons before you get in the water. This page shows how the app works, and many details about the different setting options available.
The app that comes with the housing has a setting for underwater mode, to help your colors look good. And it also has a function for adjusting the underwater colors after the pictures have been taken. So no additional filter is needed.
ProShot cases come with a floating hand grip and they use standard GoPro mounts for attaching other accessories.
We really like the simplicity of the ProShot case, and how compact it is. Because it uses your physical buttons on the iPhone to control it underwater, your battery life lasts much longer than some of the more complex housings below that use Bluetooth to control your phone.
Watershot is another company who used to make a quality housing. But they appear to have stopped making housings for the newer versions of iPhones, so we are not sure about the future of the company.
But you can still buy a Watershot housing for iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, and 8 Plus, although quantities available seem limited. They have made housings in the past for iPhone 5 & 6 and variations, but most are either out of stock or production.
These are very robust housings, and are normally offered in either a standalone flat port option, or a kit that also includes a wide angle lens. They are depth rated down to 195 feet, and come with an app that customizes your camera controls. The housing also has a tripod mount on the bottom. The housings use a locking cam latch.
AxisGo by AquaTech
The AxisGo iPhone snorkeling cases are made by a camera underwater housing manufacturer, with cases for most of the different iPhone models, with a waterproof rating down to 30 feet. They are physically big and bulky compared to the ProShot cases, cost twice as much and do not come with the handle they are often pictured with which is another $100. They do claim you can use the touch screen underwater, but we have read reviews saying it is not very effective.
SeaLife SportDiver iPhone Housing
The SeaLife SportDiver iPhone Housing is a much larger, heavier, and expensive option. One housing fits many different models of iPhones. And it uses a completely different technology for controlling your phone. Instead of the app using the buttons on your phone, this housing has batteries and a computer on board that connects with your phone through Bluetooth. It then uses its own shutter button, and a few other buttons on the housing to control the app functions. It also uses a vacuum pump to improve water-resistance, as well as having an alert system for if it starts to leak.
Here is the main reason why we don't recommend this product for snorkelers. It eats battery fast. Divers have said it only lasts for maybe 1.5 dives. And snorkelers spend a lot more time in the water. And you have to turn the phone on and activate the Bluetooth communication system before you put the phone in the housing. That also means battery drain time is increased unless you can load it right before you get in the water.
As mentioned it is also physically much larger than our recommended ProShot case, and it weighs over twice as much, before you add the phone, at 24 oz compared to 10 oz for the ProShot. And it costs three times as much. And in our personal experience the customer service and product support of ProShot is much better than SeaLife. Finally, they offer no warranty of your iPhone and ProShot does.
Kraken KRH04 iPhone Housing
The Kraken KRH04 is very similar to the SeaLife above, in terms of size, cost, and features. It also uses a Bluetooth connection. Reviews are very mixed on this product so we would skip it, for many of the same reasons as mentioned above with the SeaLife.
The biggest benefit of using your iPhone snorkeling is that you already own it! You don't have to buy and carry around another camera, and it's easier to share pictures from. You can get some pretty good snorkeling pictures with it. iPhones have either a fast F2.2, F2.0 or F1.8 lens, and an 8-12 megapixel sensor capable of 1080P or 4K video, and image stabilization. Depending on which model, iPhones have two to three lenses, offering wide, ultra wide and telephoto lens options.
The iPhone has a small sensor, so the image quality will not compare to cameras with bigger sensors, particularly as the light levels get low. And you may not have as much control of the functions, depending on what housing system you use. The iPhone camera tends to select too slow a shutter speed, which will give you blurry fish pictures at times. You also don't have the white balance control of better cameras, so your colors will not be great in deeper water. Although again, depending on what housing system you use there may be external filters available, and even the ability to shoot RAW.
Battery life may also be a bit less than some other camera options, particularly considering that you can't swap in a fresh battery between snorkel sessions. Instead you must charge your phone, which may or may not be an option when out for a day of snorkeling.
The biggest drawback of using your iPhone for snorkeling though is the potential for flooding and ruining your phone. Sure, you may have it all backed up. But you probably really need it when traveling. It's important to consider what would happen if your phone was ruined during a trip.
Here are a couple of tips to get better pictures snorkeling with your iPhone.
While taking pictures:
Your iPhone will likely not float in its housing. So you must have a strong wrist lanyard, and preferably a floating buoyant lanyard, or a bouyant handle like the one that comes with the ProShot housing above.
You will definitely want a iPhone car charger for between snorkel spots.
Get more anti fog strips. They will help keep the housing and lens from fogging up.