Updated – June 2023
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.
Note: Our suggestions come from hands-on experience. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you purchase from the links below. We may make a small commission, from Amazon or other companies, at no extra cost to you.
Get a Real Underwater Housing – Not a Waterproof Case
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 snorkeling 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, Temdan 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, 12Pro, and 13 models to an IP68 rating, but neither is suitable to take your iPhone snorkeling; you will still need an underwater housing.
ProShot iPhone Housing
For iPhone snorkeling, we recommend you get a housing made by ProShot. They make real iPhone snorkeling housings, 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 (and 20% 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 designed specifically 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. These cases are great for taking your iPhone snorkeling and are waterproof down to 50 feet, and allow you to use your touch screen before you get in the water.
ProShot is offering our readers 20% off your first purchase at the links above with the code TropicalSnorkel20.
ProShot also now makes the brand new ProShot Dive case, that fits all iPhones, and is waterproof down to 130 feet. It is a little bit larger than the custom fit cases, but the benefit is that if you upgrade your iPhone, it is likely you won’t have to upgrade your ProShot case, because this one is universal. You cannot use your touch screen with this model.
You will use their well designed app with the housing, which reprograms your physical buttons to be used underwater.
The touch versions use 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 or 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 for snorkelers, though the new dive case has an optional add-on of red filters, recommended for deeper than 30 feet.
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.
Say, if you are finding this page helpful, we share lots of snorkeling camera and photo tips in our free monthly snorkeling newsletter.
Watershot iPhone Housing
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 iPhone Housing 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 one and a half 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 iPhone snorkeling 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.
Pluses of Using Your iPhone Snorkeling?
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.
Minuses of Using Your iPhone Snorkeling?
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 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.
iPhone Snorkeling Picture Tips
Here are some tips to get better pictures while snorkeling with your iPhone.
- Backup your phone before snorkeling!
- Turn Auto-Lock to “Never”
- Use airplane mode to prevent calls and texts
- You may need to open the app before putting it in the case
- Fully charge your iPhone before snorkeling
While taking pictures:
- Put the app into sleep between pictures to save battery and to reduce lens fogging from heat. On some apps once the 20% battery life warning pops up you can’t take pictures anymore.
- Video quality will be better than picture quality. Shoot video when there is good fish motion to record. In video try not to move the camera, or pan it very slowly for better results.
- Some apps have a focus lock feature that is handy in some situations for recomposing.
- If available and necessary for your housing, you may want to use a red filter for better color when looking down into deep water, or when there is a lot of water between you and your subject. In shallow bright conditions, or when your subject is close, don’t use the filter.
- If the light is low, and there are moving fish, shoot in burst mode to have a better chance of getting a sharp picture.
Recommended iPhone Snorkeling Accessories
Your iPhone will likely not float in its housing. So you must have a strong wrist lanyard, and preferably a floating lanyard, or a floating hand grip like the one that comes with the ProShot housing above.
You will definitely want an iPhone car charger for between snorkel spots.
Get more anti-fog inserts. They will help keep the housing and lens from fogging up.