The one time I cracked an iPhone was while it was in a “case.” I tried the bumper that Apple provided for free following the kerfluffle about the iPhone 4’s exposed antenna. The phone slipped as I got out of the car, spidering face-down on a cement driveway. So you can imagine my hesitation before dropping my iPhone 5s—deliberately, repeatedly—this time encased by the $150 Optrix PhotoProX.
The circumstances have definitely changed, however. The PhotoProX is not a case you would use every day. It’s designed to be a shockproof, waterproof (down to 33 feet) housing for your iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s so you can capture photos or video without worrying about inconveniences like destroying the phone due to moisture, sand, or slippery fingers.
The PhotoProX comprises three pieces: a clear weather-sealed housing; a minimal, snug-fitting case for the iPhone; and a set of four lenses that screw onto an opening for the iPhone’s camera: a fish-eye lens, a 2x telephoto lens, a macro lens, and a “0-degree” lens that doesn’t change the optical view.
The interior shell is thin, hugs the back and sides of the phone, and is also easy to remove if you normally use a different case or prefer to carry your iPhone bare.
The phone is secured in the external housing via an easy-to-open top hatch that locks solidly and keeps out water. A locking door at the bottom can expose the headphone and Lightning port. The only other point of possible exposure is the lens mount, which is sealed with a plastic O-ring (extras are provided).
You access the iPhone’s screen via a plastic membrane that offers a moderate amount of interaction, requiring pressure to ensure contact with the touchscreen. It’s not something I would use for much texting or other activities, but it works for launching an app and controlling the camera. The upside is that getting in and out of the case is easy, so if you do need to do more on the phone that requires better touchscreen sensitivity, accessing the iPhone isn’t a problem.
Dunking the whole contraption was nerve-racking at first, but I didn’t need to worry. Recording video and snapping photos underwater worked well, and the iPhone even picked up sound well enough in its enclosure.
The included wrist strap proved essential at preventing the iPhone from floating away while snorkeling. The case also includes a mount for attaching various clip-on adapters (sold separately).
I did have trouble pressing the external buttons (sleep and volume), which required a lot of focused pressure to activate the iPhone’s buttons. Instead, I usually pressed the onscreen shutter button in the Camera app.
The lenses are well built, but the optics are disappointing. The telephoto exhibits quite a bit of distortion and softness at the edges, while the fish-eye lens picks up the outer edge of its housing, resulting in a thin red circle around the image. I stuck with the 0-degree lens most of the time.
And what about that durability? I’m happy to report that my iPhone 5s remains intact after being splashed, exposed to sand, immersed in swimming pools and the saltwater ocean, and, yes, dropped by my deliberate butterfingers.
The PhotoProX, alas, did not survive two real-world contacts with the sidewalk: on the second drop, from about 3 feet, the plastic fractured where the case met the top latch. I can’t discount the possibility that it hit at just the right angle to break the housing; I did not deliberately attempt to subject it to anything other than a casual fumbling. Optrix advertises the case will protect the phone from a 30-foot drop; I can verify that the iPhone is indeed fine, even if the case was sacrificed.
Do you plan to get wet? Or dirty? Or sandy? The Optrix PhotoProX offers the protection you want when making photos with your iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s in those less-than-pristine situations. Unfortunately it did not survive a drop test (but did protect the phone). I also wish the lenses performed better, since they seem to be the main draw aside from the waterproof protection.