So where to start? We’ve split them into four categories just to make it nice and easy, by budget, so you can find the camera that suits you.
The Action Cams
GoPro and the like seem like seem the obvious choice here, and if all you’re interested in is getting wide angle shots of you surfing and the scenary then they are great. Trouble is they are not that versatile.
You’re stuck on just one or two modes when it comes to perspective, and for shooting the day to day ins and outs of a surf trip they are actually not that great, especially when it comes to getting those killer lineup shots which are going to adorn you Facebook pages. So we’ll move on from these into real cameras.
Point and shoot cameras have come a long way in the last few years both in quality, zoom length and durability. First thing to decide is do you want to take one of these in the water with you and shoot from there. If you do it could be worth combining one of these with owning a GoPro, or go for one of the many all weather cameras on the market. These are great options for the travelling surfer, they are tough, give really good image quality for a compact camera, all have sports modes so you can freeze fast action, and can be taken out in the surf. The cream of the crop here are the Olympus Tough TG-820 (RRP£199), the Panasonic Lumix DMC – FT5 (RRP £289), The Canon powers hot D20, The Nikon Coolpix Aw110 (RRP£199). All of these cameras from the major manufacturers do it all, take great lineup shots, great lifestyle and are all pretty good in the water. They are rugged, don’t mind being thrown in a sandy bag or being stuffed up the sleeve of a wetsuit. Where they aren’t amazing is for shooting action shots of you’re mates from the beach, they just do not have the length of zoom, but it’s not really what they are all about.
If you don’t want a waterproof camera, then there are a mass of point and shoots, and basically you pay for what you get. They range from £60-£300 and essentially the more you pay the better the lens, and especially the zoom you get and the better the image quality. Good to combine with a GoPro for the water angle.
One thing that is worth considering is just using your phone, it’s not ideal, as whilst the cameras are excellent in top of the range smart phones, they don’t really have great zooms and in anything but great light the sensors tend to be pretty sub optimal. You can shove one in a housing though and get OK results as you can see here
This is probably where the keen surfer traveller who wants to get serious surf shots will invest their hard earned cash. It’s a tough one though, as you start to move into much bulkier systems, but we’ll start small and move up.
First are the serious compacts, these deliver almost pro camera quality images, but fit into your bag easily and even a jacket pocket. The leaders here by far are the Canon G series compacts, The G1x with it’s large sensor size and the G12- G16 with a slightly smaller sensor size but no less capable. Sensor size makes a difference, as generally the bigger the sensor, the better the image quality. These are still fixed lens cameras, but are very versatile, and are good for shooting lineups, lifestyle and action if it is quite close to the beach. Unlike those rugged compacts they are not waterproof, but you can buy housings for all these for a few hundred pounds more. Nikon and Sony both do an equivalent camera but it’s hard to ignore the pedigree of this Canon range.
The next option is to step up into the interchangeable lens cameras, there is a mine field of choices here from mirror less to traditional DSLR’s but here is three that sit top of the pile.
The range of NEX cameras from Sony, are smaller than regular DSLRs but lose nothing on performance, they are jacket pocketable and come with a wide range of lenses. Plus with a simple adapter you can put Nikon or Canon lenses on them and have a really versatile and relatively compact camera system. Image quality is at a pro level, and the frames per second rate is fast enough to capture action. You can get water housings for these as well, but they are pricey, so it is probably better to combine these with a GoPro. These are good cameras to get though if you want to get a little more serious, and by adding lenses over time, you can end up with a semi pro set up. Price wise they range from as low as £300 up to £600 plus for a top of the range model, but you get what you pay for.
These are Canon’s and Nikon’s low end DSLR cameras, but despite their price tag of under £600 with lenses their performance levels are excellent. Image and video quality are very good, and with the benefit of the whole Canon and Nikon lens range behind them they are a great way of getting into photography and then building up to more professional cameras if thats the way you want to go. They are bigger and bulkier than the Sony system and the compacts, but you get years of R and D in there and if you’re going to take a lot of shots, they are ergonomically a lot easier to use than the smaller cameras. Like the Sony’s you can get water housings, but you have to double your budget to get decent one. If you plan on becoming a more serious photographer down the line, then this is a great place to start though.
Other camera to consider are the Micro Four Thirds Group, with the Panasonic GH series being the best.
This is where camera choice enters the realm of pro and semi pro cameras. It comes down to how serious you want to get. At the top of the pile are the full on pro setups of the Canon 1DX and Nikon 4d, but you’re not going to get much change out of £4K and then you have to buy lenses, and you’ve got a lot of gear to lug about as well.
A good compromise if you’re looking for a good pro camera but at a slightly more reasonable price is the Canon 7D or the 5d mark 2 or 3 cameras. Both are very capable, deliver pro level images and video and come in at £700-£2000 price tag, still not cheap. But if you’re moving up from a cheaper Canon DSLR and already have the lenses, then it’s not such a bad option. All of these cameras will do everything with the correct lenses, action and lifestyle, but come at a price of not only money but also bulk to carry around with you, so you have to weigh up the advantages of having a pro setup against the convenience of compact system. If you want to shoot in the water, there is then the issue of buying a water housing, which doubles your expense.
There is however another way in this price bracket and that comes in the form of the Nikon AW1. Coming in at just under £1k with two lenses, this compact, smaller sensor camera is 100% waterproof. It means you can use it anywhere and get stunning images with no worries what so ever.
To summarise if you are thinking of taking photography almost as seriously as your surfing, get an interchangeable lens set up from those mid range choices, they are not too big to travel with and are versatile and will allow you to grow into a pro system if you end up going that way.
If you’re not so bothered, then go for either the Canon G series for great all round performance, or get one of the rugged all round compacts.
The next big question on any budding surf photograher’s lips is, how do I get the best out of my camera, and if I have an interchangeable lens camera, what’s the best long lens for getting shots of action from the beach. Stay tuned to the Errant Surf blog because Tim is going to tell you.