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Some of today’s top smartphones are said to be water-resistant. They are given a rating which indicates the extent to which the phone can keep dust out, and how long it can remain submerged underwater without any damage.
The maximum rating a smartphone can get is IP68 which means it is dust-proof and can go as deep as, and stay submerged for as long as the manufacturer claims.
So, does this mean you can take pictures with your phone underwater?
Technically, if you have a water-resistant phone, you can take pictures with it underwater. However, smartphone cameras aren’t optimized for underwater photography, therefore it can get quite tricky.
If your phone is not waterproof or you don’t feel comfortable with having it in the water, there are waterproofing solutions available for a variety of smartphones that can enable you to take pictures underwater with your phone.
How water-resistant are smartphones?
A smartphone’s ability to be submerged in water and continue working is given what is known as an IP rating.
IP is the International Protection rating (sometimes called Ingress Protection rating) that measures a device’s ability to keep liquid and dust from getting inside. The first digit after the “IP” relates to solid particle protection (resistance to dust and dirt) and the second number indicates water resistance.
Most dust-proof and water-resistant smartphones have a solid particle protection rating of 6. This is the highest rating and it means it gives you complete protection against dirt and dust.
Water-resistance ratings go up to 9, but smartphones marketed as water-resistant usually have a rating of either 7 or 8.
What do the numbers mean?
A smartphone that has a water resistance IP rating of 7 can be immersed up to 1m (~3ft) in water, for no more than 30 minutes. The highest IP rating for water resistance a smartphone can get is 8, which means continuous submersion beyond 1m according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
So, if your phone has a rating of IP67, it means it cannot ingest any dirt or dust and can go up to 1m underwater for 30 minutes.
However, if your smartphone is rated IP68, not only do you get complete dust protection, you can submerge it deeper than 1m underwater for a period your phone’s manufacturer has specified.
So, be sure to check what the limits of your IP68-rated phone are before deciding to dunk it in water.
Can you submerge your phone in other liquids besides water?
Smartphone IP ratings generally mean ingress protection to a specified extent in simple freshwater. So if you’re phone takes a dip in the pool, it should be fine. Just make sure you dry it with a clean, soft cloth.
However, you may want to think twice about using your phone in a hot tub because hot water might just mess up your phone. The same goes for really, really cold water.
Saltwater such as seawater can also cause some issues if not dealt with correctly. If your device has been in saltwater, you need to rinse it with clean, freshwater. After that, dry it thoroughly.
If you leave it to dry naturally, then it’s possible that salt may wedge itself somewhere in the phone and potentially cause damage.
As previously stated, water-resistance refers to freshwater exposure. Therefore, there’s no guarantee that the same protection will be provided against chemically treated water, alcohol, milk, juice, oils, and anything else that is not categorised as freshwater.
When smartphones are tested for water-resistance, they’re tested in freshwater only, and nothing else.
It’s also worth noting that a phone’s rating of IP67 or IP68 does not include protection against pressurised water. Therefore, it would be a good idea to keep water jets or high-pressure water away from your phone.
So, it’s another “no” for phones in hot tubs with water jets.
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Notice that I never say that smartphones are waterproof. That’s because they’re not. Despite scoring high ratings, it’s impossible to completely keep water out of smartphones due to how they’re assembled.
Also, not every single handset gets tested. So, there’s a possibility that your device might not perform underwater as advertised.
And even if your phone was tested and rated highly, regular wear and tear caused by constant use and the occasional phone drop, will definitely render your smartphone less and less water-resistant over time.
With all that and the fact that manufacturers don’t offer a warranty for water damage to your phone, one can be forgiven for thinking that underwater smartphone photography is a myth.
However, there are ways of capturing those cool shots from below the water without putting your phone at risk.
Underwater smartphone housing
No matter whether you have a water-resistant phone or not, if you’re looking to take underwater shots with your smartphone, I’d highly recommend putting it in an underwater housing for smartphones just to be safe.
These waterproof housings are specially designed to fit phones within certain dimensions (manufacturer specific) and keep water completely out while still allowing you to operate the camera, much similar to a GoPro waterproof housing.
What’s cool about underwater housings for smartphones is that you can even go scuba diving with them! Check out these amazing underwater shots from the guys at the Underwater Photography Guide!
Even though good quality housing can be a bit more costly than other options, it offers the best underwater protection for your smartphone.
Waterproof smartphone case
If a dedicated underwater housing for a smartphone and the price tag attached to it is too much for you, then you may want to consider a waterproof phone cover.
There are plenty of these you can choose from that fit your phone and suit your needs, each with their own specs. Some of the best waterproof smartphone cases not only offer you protection against water, but they are also shock-, snow-, and dirt-proof.
That’s the nice thing about these covers-- their versatility. Unlike with clunky underwater housings, waterproof cases can be used as regular, day-to-day phone covers.
The touch screen remains responsive through the cover although things like fingerprint scanning do not work as well.
Waterproof phone bags
Of the underwater protection solutions for smartphones that we’ve discussed, this is the easiest on the pocket.
Waterproof phone bags are simple in design and can fit a range of different smartphones. They are basically plastic pouches specially sealed to keep water out when submerged underwater.
However, waterproof smartphone pouches are not as sturdy and tough as dedicated underwater housings and waterproof cases. Therefore, extra care must be taken when using these.
I personally wouldn’t use waterproof bags for extended periods of time at great depths. However, they might be fine for photography in swimming pools or snorkelling at shallow depths. They’re particularly perfect for splash protection above water, too.
IMPORTANT: Before using any of these accessories with your phone underwater, it’s best to test that they are still in good condition and that no water can leak in.
One way to do this is by placing a small, dry piece of paper or cloth inside the housing, case, or pouch, and let it sit underwater for at least 10 minutes. If you notice wet spots on the cloth or paper, then that casing is compromised and needs to be replaced.
Challenges of shooting underwater
Despite how cool the idea of taking photos with your smartphone underwater sounds, it’s a different world down there. Water may be considered clear, but it’s a lot denser than air. And with that comes some complications for underwater photography, smartphone or not.
The first big issue is lighting. Because of the density of water, there is increased opacity which means visibility is quite reduced. This reduced visibility will, of course, depend on the body of water in which you’re shooting.
For example, visibility in a clean swimming pool is better than the visibility in murky ocean water. And because light travels differently underwater, colour does not appear the same as it does above water.
Another major challenge is the reduced sensitivity of the touch screen. This not only makes it difficult to focus on a specific object but even taking a picture may prove to be tricky.
However, this is not to say it is impossible to take good pictures underwater or that it is even futile to attempt to do so. As mentioned earlier, there are underwater housings that are specially designed to make it easier to take pictures underwater.
Also, there are lighting options that can greatly improve the visual quality of your underwater snaps. What you need to do, though, is practice, practice, practice, and practice some more until you become acquainted and comfortable with underwater photography.
Here’s what you need to understand: even though smartphones can be water-resistant to some impressive depths, this does not necessarily mean they are intended for underwater photography. It would actually be silly to expect that from a phone when no other camera used to capture images underwater is waterproof itself.
With the proper underwater housing and accessories, it is possible to take pictures underwater with a smartphone without the risk of damaging it.
If you are new to smartphone photography and would like to improve the quality of your mobile photos in general, I recommend you download this free ebook that will teach you five ways in which you can do so. It is simple, yet very informative. Best of all, it’s absolutely free! Download your free copy here.
Please use your own discretion when using your phone underwater. Waterproof smartphone housings, cases, pouches and dry bags can be defective and can fail. The Smartphone Photographer will not be held responsible for any damage to property as a result of immersing your phone underwater with or without any protection.