As our phones are getting more and more evolved, embedding always higher quality cameras, some of us just ditched the idea of owning a separate camera. To be fair, the perspective of travelling light without any bulky photography equipment is appealing. This is especially the case for us scuba divers when we already travel with our beloved scuba diving gear.
Until this year, I have always preferred carrying my G7X Canon camera and its housing which are relatively light and compact. However, as I took underwater photography more and more seriously, year after year, I added handles, a video dive light, one strobe, another one plus all the chargers and small accessories to do essential maintenance on the go. The result? I’m now travelling with 12 kg of gear in my backpack just for underwater photography. So, if taking underwater pictures with my phone could be as good as I heard, it got me thinking. Could using a diving phone case be a reliable alternative?
Introducing the Seatouch pro 3 by Divevolk
I had this conversation several times during my last dive show marathon from Orlando to Düsseldorf via Paris. These conversations made me meet Divevolk, who just popped up a sample and said: “you should try!”.
Just as a quick reminder, as I saw several people on boats this summer with phone waterproof pouches, unfortunately, you cannot go diving with these. Remember your Open Water course. Every 10 m, you add 1 atm (or roughly 1 bar) of pressure around you. Considering the effects it has on your body, the density of air your breathing, the size of your lungs, etc., imagine what it can do to a fragile phone!
As a result, this is the first and most important feature of the Seatouch pro 3 housing. It is rated IPX8 and down to 80 m deep, but beyond offering a tight waterproof hard case, it integrates a pressure balancing device inside its handle. This way, thanks to its flexible gel-like screen cover, you can keep using the touchscreen of your phone.
The housing comes in versions for iPhone and Android phones such as Samsung or Huawei. The housing comes with a set of adapter trays for smaller phones. This way, once you slide the phone into the housing, it will be perfectly aligned with the screen cover and the window at the back for the camera.
The waterproof opening is small and located on the side, instead of being on the back like most camera underwater housings. It is operated with two medium-size metal screws and includes a set of 3 seals.
The housing can be completed by a collection of accessories such as a clamp to fit different wet lenses such as wide-angle, macro and a red filter. For those who want to do more with their setting, you can also order handles and a fixation system for you dive light. However, no travelling case is offered or available for the housing, so I wrapped the housing in one of my microfiber towels. On the other hand, the tiny wet lenses come with a small hard case conveniently closed with a zip.
The weight of the housing is about 750 g, so if you add the clamp (227 g) and some of the wet lenses, you come up nearly with a total weight of 1 kg. Regarding its dimensions, the housing is 20 cm long, 10 cm wide and 5 cm thick.
Test 1 – Snorkelling in the Esterel Calanques, French Riviera, max depth 4 m
I use an Asus Zenfone max pro M1. Due to its large size (159 x 76 x 8.5 mm), I didn’t need to use any adapter to slide it into the Seatouch pro 3 housing. With just a light shake, it was also easy to take it out. However, as stated by the manufacturer, it is essential to remove any glass protector screen you might have on top, which was my case for instance.
Disclaimer: My phone is certainly not the best in terms of camera specifications and quality. I initially chose it for its amazing battery life of 5000 mAh. As I can connect my Canon cameras (G7X and EOS M50) via Wi-Fi and then transfer in seconds high-quality pictures to it, it sounded like the best choice for me.
After a first test in the swimming pool of my friend in Menton with a paper tissue which remained perfectly dry, I could go for a first trial in real conditions. Be careful when you do the first waterproof test, use the mock phone (a plastic block delivered inside the housing) to protect the flexible cover screen from being crushed. Since I didn’t want to drown my phone too quickly, I thought a snorkelling session with a few quick freediving dips was a good idea.
This summer, on my last day in the Esterel, I went snorkelling in one of the gorgeous red rock “Calanques” (creeks). As I put my phone into the case on the tiny pebble beach, I noticed that the two screws to close the housing are a bit too small and hence not so practical. It’s not critical, but it could be improved. On top of the Seatouch pro 3 housing, I fitted the clamp with the wide-angle lens and a red filter.
Mask, snorkel, fins… here we go! Wearing my brand-new UV protected rashguard and leggings by Aqua Lung as the sun was hitting hard, I went snorkelling and diving for 45 minutes in crystal clear water. I started swimming over a Posidonia seagrass plateau not deeper than a meter, and quickly I found a small drop-off to a sandy bottom at 4 m deep. It was indeed a perfect setting for my test with bright sunlight and water at 26°C.
Here are the main things I noted:
1 – The Seatouch pro 3 diving phone case is obviously perfectly waterproof; I couldn’t see any traces of humidity inside.
2 – I could fully control my phone via the touch screen, changing between the automatic built-in camera app of my phone and another manual settings camera app I had downloaded. To be honest, it wasn’t as easy to tap or slide as it is on land, as you need to do it through the gel cover, you may need to press a bit harder, but it worked!
3 – In photo mode, I had to stay as still as possible; otherwise, my pictures were all blurry. It worked much better in video mode, so I thought I could only use it and do screenshots later on. Note, this is related to my phone specifications, obviously not the housing.
4 – The wide-angle wet lens gave fantastic results. If you are planning to take shots of underwater landscapes or even just a selfie, the difference with or without is tremendous since being underwater reduces even further the normal angle of view of your camera. However, despite my best efforts of tightening the screw of the clamp, it kept slowly sliding. The wet lens needs to be perfectly aligned with the lens of your camera, which is small, so it was a bit bothering.
5 – In snorkelling conditions, the red filter was no use. As long as I remained at the surface, there was just too much light; the pictures were obviously too red. It was only when I reached 4 m deep that it started to have some interesting effects.
In a nutshell, I was quite satisfied with this first test even if I recognised my phone is definitely not the best as an underwater camera. But if the housing was working well in deeper conditions, I could think of investing in a phone with better specifications. For instance, today the best phones for photography include the iPhone 12 or the Samsung Galaxy S20 but given their price, think twice.
Test 2 – Scuba diving in Menton, French Riviera, max depth 30 m
For my last dive this summer, I was in Menton on the French Riviera, and I decided I had enough good shots for the season to left my underwater camera at home and switch to my phone with the Seatouch pro 3 housing. I can’t deny how good it felt to return to the scuba diving centre that morning with only a small backpack. This time, I mounted the clamp again with the wide-angle lens and its red filter, but I also brought my i-torch pro 6+, a 2,800-lumen video dive light.
After descending under the surface, as we were swimming above the plateau of Posidonia seagrass off Cap Martin, things went well at first as we were at about 12 m deep. I tried a few shots with natural light with and without the red filter, and I found the difference amazing, considering that day, the sky was cloudy and the sunlight low.
Unfortunately, as we dive dived deeper to the drop-off to check the red gorgonians at 30 m, I started to have trouble controlling my phone with the touch screen. As long as I only used the photo mode, everything was fine. However, as I had a better result with the video mode, I quickly switched to it. I started recording, but then I lost control of the touch panel and couldn’t stop the video. I kept tapping on the screen, but nothing happened. Obviously, the housing couldn’t manage the surrounding pressure. It was only when I ascended back to 15 m that I regained control of my phone’s touch screen and could stop the video.
Apart from this issue, I could test that the combination of my phone camera and my video dive light could give decent results when diving deeper. The red filter works well, but there are some limits to what it can do. Just remember to remove the red filter when using your video dive light.
Due to the pressure balance issue I had below 15 m, I wouldn’t consider the Seatouch pro 3 housing together with my phone (or any phone), a reliable alternative to my current underwater camera. There is nothing better than mechanical buttons with quality springs to sustain the pressure of the depths while ensuring reliable operation.
However, the housing remained perfectly dry, so it is no issue to bring your phone, even an expensive one, as long as you stay shallow. I would say it’s a good option for beginner scuba divers who want to start bringing back memories from their first underwater adventures.
In my case, now I have tested the high-quality results of my camera together with double strobes, there’s no coming back I’m afraid, even if it means managing the weight of my backpack.
What about you, would you dare to using a diving phone case?
If you have any other questions related to my experience, please let me know in the comments!
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I received a sample housing from Divevolk for the purpose of this review. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.
PIN IT FOR LATER
Have you looked at the new SeaLife housing. Very Cool! https://youtu.be/VuSalniS88U
Thanks for sharing, Gary! No, I haven’t; have you tried it yourself?
Not yet. They are suppose to start shipping this month. Looks very interesting though. Would save a lot of room and weight from my current setup! Love your stories BTW!
Please, whenever you have a chance, let us know how it goes! (thank you so much for your kind comment!)
I I just bought the Divevolk. I was in the Maldives mainly around 20 -25 metres. The system worked perfectly. I also bought a rig and back scatter 4200 lumen lights. Absolutely brilliant setup. No issues with the housing or accessing the apps at all at any time. No evidence of any water either from condensation or leaks.
The other thing is that I am a diabetic and the app for Libre 2 worked as well.
Obviously the more you dive the better kit you want but this is a huge step up from GoPro and a much lower cost.
The other thing that makes a massive difference is using 4K on the phone. The difference between 1080 and 4K is significant.
Hope this helps.
Thank you so much for the detailed feedback, Cliff!