Phones are increasingly used in underwater photography and although there are still limitations to what you can do with them in water, housing manufacturers are increasingly offering models for the latest phones. Although a smartphone is not necessarily the best tool for underwater stills, most of them work well for video. The big bonus is, of course, that the footage is ready to be viewed and shared as soon as you are topside.
For a while now I’ve been on the hunt for a simple and reasonably inexpensive smartphone case that would be able to accommodate almost all phones, be it an Android or IOS. Over the years I have seen and tested various ones, and there are some really great ones made but usually they come with two main issues. Firstly they are made for only a single model of phone (typically an iPhone) so they are always a few models too late on the market. Secondly, they are complicated and large things or they require a Bluetooth connection, which makes them prone to compatibility issues as phone software constantly evolves.
Probably the best housing for a smartphone I have tried was made by an American company called Valstech. Very clever fully mechanical design but once again very expensive (over 600 quid) and only fitted a certain iPhone model. Even today, the latest phone they offer a housing for is already 3 years old.
Can there be a sub £200 case for all smartphones that do not require a troublesome Bluetooth connection? That was the question in my mind when I suddenly came upon a previously unknown Italian company that had just launched a mechanical universal phone housing called the Nautismart Pro. On paper, it ticked all the boxes. Here’s what I think after I have been playing with one for a month.
The Nautismart housing is made from clear polycarbonate with colourful inner bits. The secret of this inner liner is that it has two spring-loaded adjustable wings that can hold various sizes of phones inside the case. As long as your phone is no longer than 167mm or wider than 83mm it will fit. The large acrylic port window will mean that even the latest multi-lens camera phones can be accommodated.
Apart from this spring-lever contraption, the design is super simple. The housing has only three buttons on the backdoor, which are enough for taking shots and changing settings via the app. Next to the port window, there are two screw thread holes that are used to attach external lenses. Currently the housing ships with a simple bayonet lens holder for Inon UWL-100 28AD wide-angle lens. Not sure why the company has chosen to make an adapter for an obsolete and rarely used lens like this but they promise that a 67mm lens holder will be available soon.
The housing also has a tripod mounting plate with one ¼ 20 TPI tripod socket and two M6 sockets. I’d be much happier if all of the sockets would be standard tripod 1/14" sockets as that is what 99% of housing accessory manufacturers use. But even with one socket most of the tray and handle systems will work and a keen underwater videographer could easily build a lighting system to support this housing.
The cleverest bit of the Nautismart Pro is the app. When you start with the app you simply press the three buttons on the back of the housing to align the screen buttons and you are done. Want to use another phone? No problem! Just align the buttons as many times as you want. The simplicity of the system is the key here. There is no struggle to connect to Bluetooth... especially with Android devices with so many different phones models and OS versions out there. The simple Nautismart app is available for Android and iOS devices for free via app stores. For my review, I have tested the app with various different Android phones (including Android 11) and the current build seems to work well.
Via the app, you can choose photo and video modes for both rear and front camera… Yes, you can do selfies. There are also basic settings like white balance, exposure and zoom, although at least with the multi-camera phones I tried the app wasn’t able to utilise the longer lenses when zooming. This will mean the “zoom” function will be only electronic for now. Within the app, you can also review pictures. When writing this, reviewing video footage seemed still a little bit buggy but the company is working on it.
The Nautismart Pro housing costs £189 in the UK. For the housing to be this cheap, there is, of course, some compromises you have to accept... For example the port glass. The Nautismart port window is acrylic instead of actual glass and this will mean it is prone to scratches and some reflections. Acrylic ports work well in normal lighting conditions as long as you don’t try to take pictures against the sun. To get a housing for a smartphone with a glass port you are looking to spend about 80-100 pounds more.
The Nautismart Pro housing might not be the prettiest underwater case out there and it certainly feels slightly rough around the edges. But you have to remember that this is the first product of the company. All-in-all it functions extremely well and is, to my knowledge, the only sub £200 non-electrical non-Bluetooth case that can take 99% of current smartphone models. I’d thoroughly recommend this housing for snorkellers and divers who want to record fun underwater memories without spending a lot.
Get a Nautismart smartphone housing HERE