Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties when it comes to photography, is that our cameras and smartphones are not made for the water. While some more recent models are waterproof, few can dive far beneath the waves.
This is a great shame, because underwater photography can be amazing — even in a swimming pool. Just diffuse sunlight streaming through the air bubbles makes an interesting picture. You may also want to capture family fun, or discover a vibrant world just off shore. As the legendary ocean explorer and scientist, Jacques Cousteau, once wrote: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder for ever.”
To help you make the most of watery environments — and keep shooting in the rain — we have compiled a list of the best waterproof phone cases known to man.
The Case for Underwater Photography
When it comes to equipment, choosing the right waterproof case is essential. Some are designed to survive white-water rafting, but nothing deeper. Others are made specifically for exploring the ocean floor.
Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to determine what each case can handle. The International Protection Marking code classifies the products by their ability to resist the elements. Along with dust, sand and other intrusions, the code covers waterproofing. When you examine the specifications of any case, look for something like this: IP68.
The “IP” part simply refers to the International Protection code. All the useful information can be found in the digits. The first number relates to physical intrusions; the second tells you how waterproof the product is. So in the example above, the product would rate 6 for dust, and 8 for waterproofing.
Higher numbers are generally better, and the scale goes up to IPX9 for water. Only cases with IPX7 or better can safely be immersed — and even this rating only guarantees water resistance down to one metre. Note, however, that most cases exceed their rating. Consequently, few IPX7 cases will flood when taken a millimetre beyond their range.
In addition to liquid resistance, many waterproof cases offer other forms of protection. A wet smartphone is not easy to grip, so textured surfaces and impact absorption are welcome features.
The other key consideration is image quality. Many cases that protect your phone from water are not specifically designed for photography. While they may not obscure the camera, the plastic might scratch easily or distort your photos. But fear not — we have tried to avoid such products in this roundup.
With these considerations lodged firmly at the front of our minds, it’s time to meet the contenders.
Pelican Marine Case
Available for: iPhone 6, 6s, 7
The folks at Pelican have been making rough, tough cases for military and medical equipment since the 1980s. Nowadays, they also offer protection for regular smartphones. The Marine case is surprisingly slim, given that it allows your iPhone to dive two metres (6.6 feet) beneath the surface. In fact, this IP68 case can shrug off water, snow, dust and dirt.
Inside the rigid polycarbonate shell, impact absorbing elastomer helps to cushion blows. Even the clumsiest iPhone owner would struggle to break their device with this case installed. In spite of all this armour, the Pelican case causes no great degradation of image quality. The only downsides are a slightly stiff headphone port, and the high price.More Info
Dog and Bone Wetsuit Impact
Available for: iPhone 6/6s, 7, 7 Plus; Samsung Galaxy S6
On paper, Dog and Bone has matched Pelican stride for stride with the Wetsuit Impact case. It offers the same IP68 protection, meaning you can safely dive to two metres (6.6 feet). It also offers military-standard drop protection. Silicone, polycarbonate and rubber are the defensive materials in this instance. Furthermore, the Wetsuit does not inhibit your photography.
What makes this case stand out are the small details. The main bumper is grippy and comfortable to hold. The screen protector is made from 9H flexible glass — the best currently available for impact protection. You even get 12 months’ free insurance against water damage. The only recurring complaint among owners is sound quality during calls.More Info
Catalyst Waterproof Case
Available for: iPhone 6, 6s, 7
Despite being rated at IP68, the Catalyst case can comfortably withstand depths of 10 metres (33 feet). This takes you out of the shallows, and into snorkelling range. The case is actually designed specifically to endure the harshness of seawater.
As with its competitors in the same class, the Catalyst can easily withstand snow and dust. The polycarbonate case survives military drop tests, while offering good access for your charging cable. The case is largely clear, apart from the grippy bumper that wraps around the edges of your device.
While the catalyst is relatively pricey, you get what you pay for. In terms of photography and protection, this case gets the job done.More Info
Vansky Waterproof Dry Bag
Available for: Universal
The Vansky costs less than a takeaway pizza and offers no drop protection, but it outperforms all the cases mentioned above when it comes to waterproofing. Made from premium grade TPU, this bag can safely descend to 30 metres (100 feet) beneath the surface. In addition, the Vansky floats, so your phone cannot sink to the ocean floor. Along with water, the IPX8 dry bag can handle snow and dust.
The clear sides of this case are good for photography, and it works with any smartphone with a screen size of 5.7 inches or less. You can easily use the touchscreen and iPhone Touch ID. Meanwhile, the supplied arm band is useful when you need your hands free.
All round, the Vansky offers incredible value.More Info
Watershot Pro Underwater Case Kit
Available for: iPhone 6/6s, 7
It would be more accurate to describe the Watershot Pro as a photography kit, rather than merely a case. It adds considerable bulk to your iPhone, but the housing is made for serious depth. You can dive to 60m (195 feet) with the Watershot and take beautiful photos through the optical-grade glass window. The ergonomic grip is particularly useful when you’re diving in gloves.
Additionally, Watershot makes several accessories that can be attached to your Pro case. The wide-angle lens lets you capture undersea vistas, while the pistol grip and lighting tray are great for videographers.
In contrast with all this positivity, the Watershot comes with one major downside: the walls are thick enough to prevent normal touchscreen usage. You actually have to download an app and use the integrated buttons to operate your phone. This is a necessary evil for scuba diving, but annoying at shallower depths.More Info
LifeProof Frē Waterproof Anti-Shock Case
Available for: iPhone 6/6s, 6/6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus; Samsung Galaxy S7, S8, S8+; Google Pixel, Pixel XL
If you could choose only one case for every environment, the Lifeproof Frē would rank highly amongst the options. The reviews of this well-made case are glowing with praise.
The acclaim cannot be attributed to outstanding specs. The Frē survives underwater at a depth of two metres (6.6 feet) for one hour. The shock-proof design can handle falls from adult head height, and it keeps out the dirt and snow. Decent all-round protection, then — but nothing that can’t be found elsewhere.
What makes LifeProof special is the build quality of these cases. The Frē hugs your phone like underarmour, and the anti-reflective optical glass camera window ensures crisp images. As a general use case that can come swimming, the Frē impresses.More Info
Available for: iPhone 6/6s, 7, 7 Plus
There are two things that will instantly strike anyone who picks up the Hitcase Pro. Firstly, this thing is rugged. It has an anodized aluminum frame that can protect your phone from drops of five metres (16 feet). The case is rated at IP68, but it can withstand 10-metre dives (33 feet).
The other very notable feature is a prominent lens. Rather than merely allowing the light to pass through, this case actively enhances your photographic experience. The case comes with macro and super-wide glass lenses, and you can purchase a regular wide-angle lens separately. Furthermore, this case is compatible with eight different mounts, including a floating rig.
This is just about the maximum protection a case can offer, while leaving your phone’s touchscreen open for use.More Info
ImpactStrong Waterproof Case
Available for: iPhone 6/6s, 7
In comparison with the other cases on this list, ImpactStrong’s contribution is remarkably inexpensive. The abilities of this case match those of rivals costing twice as much.
For instance, the ImpactStrong case can happily stay submerged at two metres (6.6 feet) for one hour. It also offers 360-degree drop protection from head height. The anti-reflective glass camera window guarantees good photos, while secure ports provide access to the physical controls on your phone.
Apart from the inevitable grumbles about slightly muffled sound and incompatibility with third-party cables, this case seems to be a hit with owners. For the occasional pool photographer, you can’t go wrong for $20.
Analysing the Options
All of the cases mentioned above will provide your phone with some protection from H2O. The choice, therefore, comes down to each mobile photographer’s individual needs.
For shooting in the rain, the ImpactStrong or LifeProof Frē cases should suffice. The difference in quality doesn’t seem to match the difference in price between these two options, although the LifeProof is universally revered.
Note, however, that the latest iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models come with some water resistance. They should cope with the occasional splash — so these cases are more about protection than waterproofing.
The Dog and Bone Wetsuit Impact and Pelican Marine cases would be wise choices for regular swimmers. They are slim enough for everyday use, and they can happily sink to the bottom of most human-made pools. In open water, you can safely dive deeper with the Catalyst Waterproof case.
If you don’t care about other forms of protection, grabbing the Vansky dry bag is a no-brainer. While your images may suffer from some distortion, this $10 case can dive further than most.
Finally, there are the two specialist options. Scuba divers and watersports enthusiasts would be well advised to invest in the Watershot Pro or Hitcase Pro. The former provides the greatest range; the latter is easier to use, and probably a fraction better for photography.
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls
For too long, photographers have lived in fear of water. By equipping our phones with waterproof cases, we can record every dramatic storm and capture the beauty of crashing ocean waves. For any mobile photographer, they make a wise purchase.