Can You Shoot Underwater Photos with an iPhone?

Photography Gear

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we tried to revive wet smartphones by sticking them in a bag of rice and hoping for the best. Now, most modern smartphones are “water-resistant.” If water gets into them, they won’t be destroyed, like in years past. Still, we’re not supposed to dunk them in the water. But try telling that to kids.

My friend Alex called me recently, excited about the underwater shots his daughters were getting on the iPhone, and he was right, the footage and photos were incredible. But the idea of putting a naked iPhone into the water struck me as a little, well, scary. A few years ago my iPhone wouldn’t charge, due to “water damage” in the charging port, so I’d be wary about putting my $1,000 device that runs my life into the water for an extended period of time.

Alex and his 13-year-old daughter Zadie had no such qualms, so I stopped by to chat with Zadie about it recently and gave her one of my old phones to get footage with.

Underwater photography “shows the type of pictures that you can’t normally take but you’d like to take when you’re having fun,” Zadie tells me.

It brings you to an underworld where the sky is usually always blue, there are sometimes bubbles and it’s always dream-like. Yup, it’s just too much fun.

But is Your iPhone Safe Underwater?

I have had fun shooting videos and photos with the iPhone in the rain, and while the shots were great, the LCD screen became totally non-responsive. I had to dry it out to get it to respond to my commands. Zadie agreed that the LCD screen doesn’t like water, and to get around this, Zadie said she used the volume button to snap the shutter instead of the on-screen button, and for video, she started it before the phone went into the water.

And what happened after Zadie took my old phone for a swim? Did it stop re-charging? Did the screen get ruined? Were there any problems? None.

However, Apple doesn’t approve. The Apple website says that in no uncertain terms are we to take the phone into the drink.

To prevent liquid damage, avoid these:

  • Swimming or bathing with your iPhone
  • Using your iPhone in a sauna or steam room
  • Intentionally submerging your iPhone in water.

Samsung is less sanguine about going underwater with recent Galaxy devices than Apple, saying they are rated IP68, which means they can be submerged for up to 30 minutes no more than 1.5 meters. The iPhones have the same rating, just a different warning to customers.

There’s no question that Zadie got fantastic results from the underwater iPhone. But at such a hefty price for the device, one that many of us use to run our businesses and personal lives, I still don’t think the potential risk is worth it. I do have a solution, however.

When my son was growing up, I used to fork over $20 for a Kodak one-time use cardboard camera that could be taken underwater, and then spend another $20 on developing. In other words, each shoot cost $50 or so. They didn’t shoot video, and you only got 24 shots per camera.

Thankfully, we all live in the digital age. Instead of putting your nude iPhone in the water, there are many alternatives.

Shooting Underwater Photos on the Cheap

With a Smartphone

If it has to be an iPhone, maybe because your kids or partner is most comfortable with it, I’d buy a used iPhone SE for just over $200, and make that your wet camera. No business, Wi-Fi only, and by picking up the cheapest iPhone, you’re doing fine with the one lens, as you’ll be shooting everything wide anyway. Ditto for a cheap late-model used Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel, of which there are many and easy to pick up in the $200 range.

Keep the expensive phone for the important stuff, and the secondary phone, (sans wireless service, of course, why pay for that?) as the wet phone.

Buy a Waterproof Compact Camera

But if you’re serious about underwater photography, and want to take the camera into the oceans and lakes and go way deeper than a few feet, there are many true waterproof cameras that would be safer and more reliable. A good used GoPro Hero 8 can easily be had for under $200 and Panasonic still makes a waterproof point and shoot for under $200 as well.

Buy a Waterproof Case

Last resort: buy a waterproof case for the iPhone, like the Hitcase. Its case is both “drop-proof” and waterproof up to 10 feet, and with protection, you could potentially take it into the ocean. However, I’d still be wary of putting my work/life phone into the deep blue sea, and would rather do it with a cheaper secondary phone.


About the author: Jefferson Graham is a Los Angeles area writer/photographer and the host of the travel photography streaming TV series Photowalks. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. This article was also published here.

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