Why Smartphones Could be the Future of Underwater Photo and Video

By UWPG Staff

People have been talking about smartphones taking over the camera market for years. But will they actually become viable replacements for entry-level cameras, particular underwater cameras? For all intents and purposes, it's looking more and more like this could be the case. Earlier this year, Olympus sold its imaging business to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP). This was certainly ominous news for any compact or entry-level shooter as olympus cameras are particularly popular with new underwater photographers. JIP isn't exactly known for bringing back failing brands from the dead. In fact, their business model is often to create a lesser product focused on domestic markets in Japan. So with innovation of the Olympus brand out of the question, compact underwater photo shooters are left with the Sony RX100 lineup and the Canon G7X lineup as the top camera options. The Sony RX100 lineup tends to be fairly pricey and doesn't exactly cater to smaller budgets - though the performance of these cameras is excellent.

Colors abound on the Car Wreck. Photo: Brent Durand

iPhone 6s+ in Kraken Smart Phone Housing  |  Fantasea UWL-09F Wide-Angle lens  |  2x Kraken Hydra 5000 lights

 

 

Smartphone Camera Features

With options limited, it's time to take a serious look at a technology that is continuously being upgraded by some of the top tech companies in the world - the smartphone. A look at the release of the iPhone 12 Pro, it's clear that cell phone cameras are a good investment for any budding photographer. Phones lilke the iPhone 12 come with a triade of lenses including telephoto, wide, and ultrawide. Some phones now offer RAW files, 12 megapixel photos, manual shooting and even 4K video. Their sensors might not have the dynamic range or detail of a larger, compact camera sensor, but there's no denying that cell phone cameras have come a long way. Moreover, cellphones can do what every photographer wishes standard cameras could do - they have apps like instagram, facebook, and twitter. That means you can come up from a dive and send your photo that you just took off into the eternal sunshine that is the internet. Compact cameras are at a severe disadvantage as connectivity options are very limited comparitively. 

It pays look search the nooks and crannies of the Car Wreck for colorful subjects. Photo: Brent Durand

 

iPhone 6s+ in Kraken Smart Phone Housing  |  2x Kraken Hydra 5000 lights

 

 


 

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How does underwater photo and video with a smartphone work?

To bring your smartphone to diving depths, you need to have an underwater housing. Thankfully, there are currently two excellent smartphone housing options - the Kraken Universal Smartphone housing (now on sale at Bluewater Photo) and the SeaLife SportDiver iPhone housing. Because smartphones are controlled with touch screens that can't be used underwater, smart phone housings come with a free app that connects the housing to the phone via bluetooth. Then when you push you shutter button or other controls on the housing, the app will tell your phone what to do. We've found that the phones connect fairly seamlessly. Kraken and SeaLife also work hard to improve their apps and add features like RAW files, some manual controls, etc. 

Like any underwater camera, if you intend to take underwater photos and video with your smartphone, you're going to need video lights to capture the best colors. There are underwater camera treys available for smart phone housings where you can attach a video light. The video light will light up a scene with white light and you will get colors like reds, oranges, and yellows that are normally lost in the image due to light attenuation. 

Smartphone housings are also compatible with wet lenses that can be screwed onto the front of the housing underwater. So if you want to take macro photos or get even closer to your subject for wide angle photos, there are lens options available. We recommend contacting Bluewater Photo to see what lens options are available with your smart phone housing. 

Distortion can create a fun effect when used sparingly. Photo: Brent Durand

 

iPhone 6s+ in Kraken Smart Phone Housing  |  Fantasea UCL-06LF Diopter  |  Kraken Weefine Ring Light

Compact Cameras vs Smartphones for Underwater Photography

Pros of Smartphones

There is no denying that smartphones are the future of camera technology. We think that a smartphone housing is the best option if you are on a limited budget. Smartphone housings are fairly inexpensive and mostly universal. So if you upgrade your phone, you likely won't have to get another housing. They also come with a vacuum system to keep your phone safe. If you just want to take photos to share on social media, then a smartphone housing will save you the extra step of downloading and editing your photos - you can edit directly in the phone and send them out immediately from the phone. Cameras should have had this functionality a decade ago, but alas they do not.

 

Cons of Smartphones

Ultimately, the image quality is still slightly better with a compact camera, but not by much. Because compact cameras have larger sensors, they tend to have slightly better dynamic range and details. The biggest benefit of shooting underwater with a compact camera is that you can attach an underwater strobe which is much more powerful than an underwater video light and will give you much better colors in your image. We hope that in the future smart phone housing companies will consider a way to trigger strobes using the built in camera flash on smartphones. 

 

Macro time! Photo: Brent Durand

iPhone 6s+ in Kraken Smart Phone Housing  |  Fantasea UCL-06LF Diopter  |  Kraken Weefine Ring Light

Conclusions

If you are serious about getting into underwater photography or video, ultimately it will be better to get a compact camera or mirrorless camera in the short term. But if you're on a budget and just want to take photos to share on social media, we highly recommend considering a smartphone housing.

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