Immersed with a smartphone

Colin Gans, November 2021

Outside of my day to day work with SQL databases, my lockdown pursuits have included projects related to image print (3D, laser etching) and capture…

For anyone interested in the pursuit of underwater photography: has the time come to ditch that heavy, expensive, dedicated underwater camera rig that consumes large amounts of your time and space in favour of a small rectangular convergent device on which you can post process, print, publish and capture those images while maintaining an acceptable level of quality?

I’ve used other smartphone housings but yesterday my new Seafrogs housing arrived and I was up early this morning setting up for its first test in the bath. I’ve been drawn to this particular one as Bluetooth allows you to navigate the phone’s camera controls using four directional buttons plus the shutter to position a cursor on the screen and in particular allows use of pano mode; something which on a traditional camera takes a great deal of time and effort in stitching together individual images.

The iPhone 13 Pro’s camera settings including the three focal lengths (0.5, 1x, 3x) and pano mode can be accessed. A few moments of setup and practice are needed on the phone which must be on, camera app launched and locked in portrait mode to avoid the buttons changing context.

Setting up the housing hardware was not entirely straightforward which is not surprising for a design that purportedly caters for 15 different smartphone models. There were a couple of gotchas on my iPhone 13Pro version. Significant vignetting was evident on the ultra wide focal length (0.5 / 13mm equivalent) setting and the phone’s lenses were not correctly centered in the port. To solve the vignetting issue I had to dust off my Dremel tool to bore out the circle of the lens port aperture by cutting away some of the plastic. Centering the phone lenses involved replacing the supplied insert with my own homemade version.

A removable plastic insert is supplied for positioning your specific model of smartphone in the housing; however the insert provided for my iPhone 13Pro model failed to centre the iPhone’s three lenses even with the enlarged port aperture. So I ended up discarding this and super-gluing custom cut EVA closed cell foam packers around the device for a snug and lens-centered fit. Superglue bonds EVA foam to plastic rather well but make sure you’re in a well ventilated space when doing this!

The housing comes with a standard external M67 port thread which is handy for attaching any macro or wide wet lenses you happen to have lying around (everybody has these right?). I tried an old Inon macro lens and it worked well on the 1x and 3x focal lengths.

The phone screen timeout must be disabled and I’ve yet to see how it goes with the phone overheating in a confined space. Turning on the phone and launching the camera before water entry will require the housing to be opened. Small anti-fog sheets are supplied. The housing comes with a vacuum pump but no leak alarm.

I am trying to get my head around the fact that a part of my life is dependent on a smartphone and subjecting this vulnerable extension of my mind to depth and pressure requires a leap of faith. Managing risk through backing up, pre-immersion checks and attention to detail in prep and maintenance must be good practice. Maybe also, AppleCare; or perhaps a second phone…

Downsizing to this more portable, convergent solution will hopefully see some benefits in convenience with acceptable quality in underwater imaging.



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