In my experience, surf photography, especially that land-based is a pretty interesting field. Taking photographs of pro surfers gliding with the waves as the sun rays create a beautiful heavenly scene, is priceless.
However, when I first wanted to try it I didn’t have an idea of how things should be done. I just went to the coast and started taking photos with my good old DSLR, mind you, it was an entry-level Canon EOS 500D or as it later became known as the Rebel T1i. It was a good camera that taught me a lot and I have shot some great photographs with it. Yet, I saw that for this purpose it wasn’t nearly enough and it didn’t offer the qualities that were needed.
There I saw other photographers and I asked for some tips, they were talking about good lenses and speedy cameras. Now for those that do not want to make the same mistakes as me, I decided to write this buying guide for the best cameras for surf photography. We will check out the top picks in the market, and also I will show you some tips that will help you get a better camera for surf photography. Now without further ado, let’s take a closer look.
The Top 5 Best Cameras For Surf Photography
5. Canon EOS Rebel T6i
I am going to start this list with an entry-level model coming in from Canon, the EOS Rebel T6i. While this camera is replaced by the T7i by know it is still a great model for those that are just starting and want something that will ease them into the world of photography, while not sacrificing image quality and performance let’s check it out.
The Canon EOS Rebel T6i is packed with a nice 24.2MP APS-C sized CMOS sensor that has delivered some excellent images. It also has the trusted DIGIC 6 image-processing engine that delivers a good performance. I should state that this camera has simple controls that will teach you photography and the body itself is pretty light.
The autofocus system is pretty good as well as it uses the then-new Hybrid CMOS AF III focus system that worked in live view as well. It has 19 focus points of which all are accurate cross-type points. It is pretty sensitive as well and the burst shooting speed of this camera is a modest yet adequate 5 frames per second.
4. Sony Alpha a6000
Coming up next we have one of the most underrated cameras in the market that delivers great performance for those that look to get the most for their money, the Sony Alpha a6000. This camera was released as the successor of the NEX-6 but it has achieved so much more than it, a big fan of this mirrorless beast.
Let’s start by stating that this camera has a nice APS-C sized 24.3MP CMOS sensor that works rather well in tandem with the Bionz X image processor. The image quality and detail resolution are perfect overall. Also, the camera is pretty light even for a mirrorless model and it has a great lens range you can choose from.
One of the biggest selling points of the Sony Alpha a6000 is that it has a Hybrid autofocus system that utilizes 25 contrast-detect and 179 phase-detect points to deliver unmatched speed and accuracy, at its price point. On top of all that this camera can shoot 11 frames per second in continuous shooting mode, with subject tracking activated. Marvelous.
3. Sony Alpha a9 II
Next up we have a super high-end model coming I from Sony again, the Alpha a9 II. This camera might be very expensive and very complicated to use, but there is nothing quite like it in the mirrorless market for professionals. It delivers a speedy performance both in burst shooting and autofocus performance, also the sensor is unmatched.
Speaking of which it is a 24.2MP full-frame Exmor RS back-illuminated CMOS sensor that is one of the best in the market. The image processing engine is the brand new Bionz X. This beast will deliver you perfect images regardless of the conditions. I should mention that it has plenty of controls that will take you a little time to get used to.
The Sony Alpha a9 II is packed with a Hybrid autofocus system, that uses both contrasts detect and phase-detect points, that result in 693 focus points in total, that track subjects in real-time. On top of all this, the Sony Alpha a9 II can shoot 20 frames per second, in continuous drive mode, pretty much perfect overall.
2. Canon EOS-1DX Mark II
If you are a professional photographer, that still can’t trust these new mirrorless systems, you should probably check out the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II. This is the flagship Canon DSLR that has been used for a long time now, and it is going to be around for even longer. This camera can do it all, quality, speed and durability, you name it the 1DX has it.
Let’s start by talking about the 20.2MP CMOS full-frame sensor of the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II, that is packed with the Dual Pixel autofocus system. This camera also has the super powerful Dual DIGIC 6+ image processing engine that does its job to perfection. Well, this camera is a bit heavy and has some complicated controls, but nothing a pro can’t handle.
The biggest selling point of the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II is that it uses the Dual Pixel 61 point autofocus system with 41 cross-type points and five dual cross-type points that are super accurate. On top of that, it has the new AI Servo AF III+ system to help things out. In the end, I want to mention that this camera has a continuous drive speed of 16 frames per second.
1. Sony Alpha a6500
On top of the list, we have the camera that delivers a perfect performance for surf photography, while still keeping a competitive price, the Sony Alpha a6500. This is one of my favorite cameras since it delivers everything that the big boys do without asking for the same price, speed, quality, and creative prowess.
The Sony Alpha a6500 is packed with a 24.2MP APS-C sized CMOS sensor, that delivers great images with the improved image processing engine. I should also mention that this camera has a 5-axis in-body image stabilization system that works pretty well. The controls are plenty and you can find everything you need on the fly.
One of the most impressive things about the Sony Alpha a6500 is that it has an autofocus system with 425 phase detect and 169 contrast-detect points that are pretty speedy overall. The 4D focus system technology pays off here. Also without forgetting, I have to mention that this beast can shoot 11 frames per second in the continuous drive mode.
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Things You Should Know Before Buying a Camera for Surf Photography
There are not a lot of things you should be careful about before buying a camera for surf photography, but all of them are essential and you will need all of them to get good results. So let’s check them out.
First off you need to know which type of camera you need to choose for surf photography. For this kind of photography, you only need the best, so here compact point-and-shoots won’t do. Well, there are some photographers that use superzooms, drones, and even action cameras, but if you want to do the classic land-based surf photography you will need a DSLR or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.
These cameras have the best sensors, the quickest performance, sensitive autofocus and a lot more. These qualities will allow you to get the best photographs in those settings, but also those qualities will allow you to capture beautiful photographs in other circumstances.
The sensor of the camera is the most important quality of it. Some users just check the megapixel count of the sensor, which is important but not as much as the size of the sensor. Full-frame sensors are the very best in my opinion for most types of photography, due to their size they can catch more light and in turn deliver better results. Crop sensors are okay as well, just make sure to get a camera from a trusted manufacturer since most of them are pretty good and fail-safe.
Burst Shooting Speed
Burst shooting or continuous drive speed is a quality that will help you a lot in these scenarios, but just if it is in the higher numbers. Since you know that surfers always are on the move you have to catch the right moment for the right photograph. So if the camera has a high burst shooting speed say more than five, than you have more chances at capturing the perfect photograph. So look at the cameras that have a good burst shooting speed preferably more than five, the more the merrier.
To complement the good sensor and the high burst shooting speed you need a camera that can focus accurately and quickly. Most of the cameras that have a good sensor and high burst shooting speed have good autofocus systems but then again it is better to check it beforehand. Most newer cameras have hybrid autofocus systems that are super fast and accurate at delivering a perfect performance.
Other Gear You Will Need For Surf Photography
The camera body is not enough for surf photography, and other than that you will need some other pieces of gear.
The lens is usually the most important part of the camera for most photographers. I can confirm that the better the lens you use, the better the results that will come in the end. Especially for land-based surf photography. For this kind of photography, you will need a good telephoto lens that will allow you to take great photographs from the safety of the shore. There is a wide variety of telephoto lenses out there coming in from different manufacturers’ qualities, prices, and made purposes. I would suggest you to find the best one for your price, but also get a lot of value for it.
For surf photography, there are mainly two large categories of lenses you can choose from, zoom and primal lenses. You should know that primal lenses have a fixed focal length and are used for the best image quality overall, and they have just one downside their fixed focal length, a double-edged sword which doesn’t let any room for zooming.
On the other hand, zoom lenses allow you to adjust the focal length, so you can zoom properly on the subject that is located in the distance. However, these lenses don’t deliver the image quality that primal lenses deliver. But then again zoom lenses are a bit cheaper, well compared to primal lenses at least.
Land-based surf photography requires big lenses, and the camera gets a little too heavy to carry all day on your hands and neck, so you will need to invest in a good tripod. I think that it is simply not possible to practice this without a good tripod. There are tons of tripods out there in the market, coming in different prices and features. Some better than the rest, but the most important thing is to not go to the shore without one.
These accessories might not be as essential as the lens and the tripod, but it would be good if you had them on your camera bag. I suggest to every photographer that works outside the studio frequently to get a spare battery and a nice charger for them, it will make your job much easier if you ever forget to charge the batteries or the job turns out to be longer than you expected. Also don’t forget to bring out spare SD cards, high-quality ones so your files won’t get corrupted or destroyed in any way. In addition to all this don’t forget to bring sun cream and a hat, to stay protected from the sun.
There you have it your guide to the best cameras for surf photography. I think that if you follow the tips above you will get the best camera in the market for your needs. Also don’t forget to check out the top picks, as they are the fail-safe options for surf photography. You will see their options that fit into different budgets and I think everyone can find a camera for him/herself.