The Hitcase Pro is a rugged and waterproof iPhone case with a dynamic rail mount and interchangeable lens system, essentially turning your iPhone into a go-anywhere, shoot-anything action camera.
Designed in Canada and manufactured in the U.S. isn’t something you often associate with smartphones or big chunks of plastic, so I was surprised when I was given a rugged iPhone case sporting this claim to fame. So is this the perfect iPhone accessory for clumsy, nature-loving GoPro wielders? Read on to find out, and at the end of this review, we’ll be given away a complete Hitcase Pro case and lens selection worth around $200!
Tough, Waterproof & Massive
There’s no hiding from the fact that the Hitcase Pro is gigantic. Despite being a big block of plastic and rubber that adds considerable thickness to your svelte Apple smartphone, I could still just about fit it in my pocket without any serious problems.
Designed for iPhone 6 and 6s (a lighter Hitcase Snap model is available for Plus users only), the case features rubberized snap-in corners which make the edges less severe, providing additional shock resistance and security in the form of a locking mechanism. A thin screen protector covers the face of the device, designed so that you can still use your iPhone while it’s in the case.
In addition to the rubberized corners, the case uses a snap-lock mechanism which requires some serious force and a flat metal object (like a coin, or the supplied “key”) in order to open. When you finally get inside, you’ll find a cushioned back panel and a rubberized insert, into which the iPhone sits. The cushioned back panel then sits flush against the back of your smartphone, helping to create a waterproof seal that’s good for a rating of 10 metres (33ft).
The model I reviewed is the Action Pack ($150 direct), which comes with a super-wide lens and a few additional accessories, but the vanilla Hitcase Pro standard model only comes with a regular wide lens. The lens screws into the back of the case to create a tight waterproof seal, providing some pretty decent results — all things considered.
You can quickly access the 3.5mm headphone and lightning charging ports via the supplied removable seal. This is pretty handy because opening and prizing your phone out of the case can take time and effort, but it could be disastrous if you don’t reattach the seals properly. Unfortunately there’s no waterproof charging cap supplied, so you can’t attach and external battery or headphones and maintain some resistance to the elements.
Usability takes a tumble, but that comes with the territory for most rugged cases. Unless you’ve got massive hands, you’re going to have trouble reaching the top corners of the screen. The large plastic outer is a world away from the smooth aluminium of a naked iPhone, and the touchscreen isn’t quite as responsive as you’re used to.
In fact, the touchscreen requires quite a bit more pressure to engage thanks to the thin but not invisible plastic coating. It’s a small price to pay for a completely waterproof housing, but it can take a bit of getting used to when you’ve adjusted to Apple’s responsive OS. Typing can be a frustrating experience, and I found it difficult to swipe-upwards to reveal Control Center, or touch the time at the very top of the screen to scroll to the top of a list.
Both the speakers and microphone worked better than I expected while my iPhone was protected by the Hitcase. Sound is a bit hollow and distant, but you can still use your phone to make calls or capture passable audio alongside super-wide angle video.
By far my biggest issue with the Hitcase Pro’s design is the choice to use ultra-squishy rubber button covers for the power and volume rockers. If you’re used to taking photos using the volume buttons, this will probably irritate you — especially if you’re trying to capture something in a hurry. Taking selfies is almost impossible due to the size of the case, you have to put serious force into the button before you feel the click.
Though it means these buttons won’t be activated by accident, I’d much rather harder rubber or even plastic covers to make activating the camera shutter less of a chore. This is especially frustrating considering the additional effort required to hit the on-screen shutter, and that the Hitcase Pro has considerable photographic potential.
An Interchangeable Lens System
The Hitcase comes with a super-wide or regular wide angle lens (depending on whether you opt for the Action Pack or not), and you can expand your collection with a flat and macro lens too. These lenses range from $20 to $35 each, or you can cough up $60 for a pack that includes the super-wide and macro lenses. While this may seem a little steep, it’s not a bad price when you consider the price of similar systems like the Olloclip ($80).
The glass is surprisingly high quality, and each lens is treated with scratch-resistant and anti-reflective coatings. Results are pretty good considering the nature of a snap-on lens system, which uses two lenses to manipulate the image in a rather crude manner.
Unfortunately you don’t get a completely distortion-free experience, particularly when using the super-wide. It’s sharp enough where it matters, but there’s a distinct lack of definition around the edges of the shot. It’s much less noticeable in video mode as most of the blurry parts of the image are cropped out. The iPhone’s lack of dynamic range is easy to spot when using the wider lenses, thanks to a larger field of view, which makes metering a bit hit and miss at times.
The ultra-wide lens bends time and space, so you can kiss goodbye to straight lines and normal-looking faces. It’s probably best suited to shooting GoPro-style videos where you don’t want to miss any of the action, but it’ll make your pets look adorable too. The regular wide-angle lens reins in the distortion a little, capturing a broad field of view without warping the image quite so much. There’s a lot less distortion around the edge of the image, so it’s better suited to photography than the ultra-wide.
My favourite lens of the bunch is the macro, designed for up-close-and-personal photography. The lens has a magnification factor of 3x and a working distance of between 15 and 25mm, which can take a bit of getting used to if you’re used to the iPhone’s rather restrictive focusing distance. The lens provides ample opportunity to get up-close and personal with insects, raindrops, or your cat’s nose with surprisingly pleasing bokeh for a snap-on.
There’s also a flat lens, which maintains your iPhone’s current focal length — perfect if you just want regular photo performance from your iPhone while protecting it from the elements. There’s no distortion in terms of blurry edges or curved horizons, and it’s the cheapest of the bunch at $20.
The experience of taking photos while your iPhone is in the Hitcase is somewhat marred by the aforementioned squishy buttons. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to macro photography, for which you really need to keep the camera stable. I found myself fishing around for the “click” or repeatedly tapping the screen to try and fire the shutter way too often. This can mar the iPhoneography experience, despite the versatility of the lenses on offer.
Of course, a snap-on lens system is never going to be as crisp as a GoPro or other dedicated action-camera for ultra-wide angles, and nor are iPhone macro or wide lenses going to match an SLR or expensive point-and-shoot for still shots either. Based on what I’ve seen from other iPhone lens systems (particularly cheaper ones) these are up there with the best the platform has to offer.
Mount & Accessorize
In addition to offering protection from the elements and more photo opportunities, the Hitcase Pro also allows you to mount your iPhone just about anywhere — provided you’ve got the right accessories for the job. As expected, there are a ton of accessories available for purchase to accompany the company’s unique “Railslide” mounting system; the mounts are also compatible with GoPro cameras.
Mounting is a simple case of sliding your iPhone into the waiting rail, and detachment requires a small amount of pressure on the release mechanism then pulling your phone out. Unlike other mounting mechanisms (like the standard one used by GoPro) attaching and detaching your phone is a relatively quick and painless procedure that doesn’t rely on screws, while still feeling tough.
If you go for the Hitcase Pro Action Pack, you’ll get a selfie-style stick, a tripod mount, and a sticky surface mount — perfect for sticking on smooth curved surfaces like helmets or dashboards. The company uses a Tumblr-esque naming convention for each of these accessories, because who needs vowels, right?
I managed to get hands-on with most of the mounts, which work with varying degrees of success. I was impressed with the quality of the “ChestR” chest-mounting system, which is comfortable and is made from tough water-friendly neoprene. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t tilt upwards, particularly as I wanted to use it for cycling but found that it captured more of my handlebars and legs than the road ahead.
Hitcase supplies a bicycle-mounting system called “TubulR” which can also be used to mount your iPhone on rails and poles, as well as handlebars — with disappointing results. Despite having front shocks on my bike, mounting on the handlebars provided very shaky footage. The mount is somewhat flimsy, and uses zip-ties to secure in place. I think one core problem is that the iPhone and Hitcase Pro combination is quite weighty, and the mount just isn’t sturdy enough. This causes the iPhone to wobble and move with each bump in the road.
You can get a “MotoR” mounting system designed for off-road mountain biking and motorcycles, but I didn’t get to try that out. I did however get a “StickR” which allows you to mount your iPhone on your helmet. My main issue with this is that it looks pretty ridiculous, and it’s probably not something you want to use on a regular basis, and it definitely made my helmet feel a little less stable on my head.
Both the size of the iPhone in the case and the weight is of concern, particularly for flimsy mounts like the “TubulR” and wearable mounts like the “SuckR” — though for activities where you’re not likely to be too hunched over, the chest mount yields smooth and usable results.
Using Your iPhone Like a GoPro
The Hitcase does a great job of protecting your phone, and though usability suffers, it’ll please photographers too. One thing the Hitcase Pro encourages is that you to use your phone like a GoPro, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily the best idea.
Unless you’re carrying spare batteries, your iPhone probably won’t last long doing a ton of recording. Sure, you can turn on Airplane Mode to save some battery, but isn’t connectivity the point of having a smartphone? Even when you do run out of battery, you’ll have to expose your iPhone to the elements again by lifting the flap to access charging ports.
You’re also going to have to choose between functionality — as a camera — and connectivity if you want to use your iPhone as a GoPro. Incoming calls will interrupt your recording, regardless of which app you’re using. If you’re simply looking for some way of protecting your phone that also takes pretty pictures, this is less of a concern.
And there are uses beyond that too — for travellers looking for a case that will withstand serious abuse, the Hitcase Pro is worth a look. If you like the idea of turning your iPhone into a rugged GPS, this case can keeping your device weather-proof. Depending on where you mount it, you could get some pretty good stable footage — though it doesn’t make a great bike or helmet-mounted solution.
The Hitcase Pro has left me feeling a little conflicted. I don’t think I’ve ever used a rugged case that I’d like to keep on my phone all the time, but then again I’ve never used one that has so many mounting possibilities either. Though the Hitcase Pro keeps your device waterproof and protected, it does so at the cost of usability. Squishy buttons and a touch screen cover make photography more difficult than it should be, despite the high quality lenses which are undeniably fun to play with.
It’s like the Hitcase Pro tries to do it all, and while managing to provide protection for your phone (arguably the most important task), it’s not without its flaws.