Waterproofing often prevents damage to a phone that falls in the bathtub. But you can also hope to voluntarily submerge it in water to capture original photos. But what are the results? We tried it for you…

The holidays are in full swing, and your smartphone is following you on your summer wanderings, from the beach to the poolside. As we reminded you in our feature dedicated to the big swim, smartphones, even certified water resistant, can end up hidden in a bag of rice. Nevertheless, if you take care of their certifications, don’t immerse them for too long and at a controlled depth, and of course take into account their state of wear, some smartphones can be used underwater. They can be used as waterproof cameras and allow the most creative to capture original scenes.

For our part, we set up a mini aquatic lab to compare the results delivered by IP68-certified smartphones. We created a suitable photo test scene using elements placed at the bottom of an aquarium and photographed the whole with three different smartphones: the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Google Pixel 5 and the Sony Xperia 10 III. Models that can be described as premium, high-end and mid-range. If you usually use a touch button, it no longer works underwater, nor do Bluetooth remotes. Don’t panic though: the volume buttons allow, most often by default or after setting, to trigger the capture. So we dove in and used this method.

The results

The comparison you can see is a cropping done on our test scene, for the sake of our plastic Steve. The first observation is reassuring: in the water and under the summer sun, none of our test smartphones failed to produce good quality photos. And if we refer to the tests of these S21 Ultra, Pixel 5 and Xperia 10 III conducted in the Lab, the ranking of the results at the finish remains.

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<!–[if IE 9]><!–[if IE 9]> Comparatif sous l'eau

From left to right, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Sony Xperia 10 III and Google Pixel 5


In fact, we can observe the punctual appearance of chromatic aberrations, which take the form of a blue border at the base of the figure’s hair, on the shots of Google’s and, to a lesser extent, Sony’s models. The Japanese model is the least effective of the three, suffering from a less controlled exposure, for example on the phone the figure is holding. Its skin is paler, and especially less close to reality.

Between Samsung’s phone and Google’s, it’s hard to decide. The colorimetry seems more accurate on the Google model, which offers a high level of detail, which can be seen on the left hand of the pers

oning. Samsung’s, which avoids the chromatic aberration trap that our other test models fall into, produces a homogeneous result, but not without imperfections. We can perceive a slight overexposure on the phone held in the hand of the character, a hand that seems smoother than on the shot of the Pixel 5. Samsung’s emphasis on detail is still noticeable on the figure’s beard.

What parameters can affect the shots in real conditions?

The rendering of aquatic photos is subject, as in the open air, to the ambient light. Let’s take the example of a picture taken in a swimming pool: the further away the smartphone is from the surface, the less light is available from the outside. It should also be noted that our test aquarium is completely transparent, while the perimeter of a swimming pool is opaque, and of more or less dark color. The luminosity will vary accordingly. And let’s remember that our test water, clear, will perhaps be less so in real conditions…

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What about protective accessories?

We can’t recommend it enough: it’s better not to take any risks and to protect your smartphone if you intend to use it in or near water. We’ll skip the massive hard shells that can be used for diving, as they resist pressure, and focus on the most accessible accessory: the plastic cover. Sold for a handful of euros, these cases can accommodate large smartphones, with manufacturers generally mentioning models up to 7 inches. They do not improve the resistance of smartphones to pressure, but allow both to use the mobile in seawater without fear, for snorkeling sessions for example, and of course in a pool. Be careful to expel the air from the pouch when closing it, otherwise it may float.

<!–[if IE 9]><!–[if IE 9]> Pixel 5 – with cover <!–[if IE 9]><!–[if IE 9]> Pixel 5 – without cover

Our test scene required us to trigger the capture using the smartphones’ volume control buttons to keep the same distance as our photos without a cover: pressing the side of the cover moved the clear plastic away from the camera lens, creating an unattractive blur (here using our Pixel 5). In real-world conditions, you’ll have to make sure you place it as close as possible, but also clean it properly, as salt marks can also tarnish your shots. If the results aren’t perfect, we can’t advise you enough to use a protective cover, so you don’t come back from vacation with regrets…