Why I Bought a Sony a6000 for Surf Photography

Although I started out searching for backup camera, this post is useful for people wanting to get into surf photography who want to maximise their budget, as well as offering you an alternative option if you already have a more traditional DSLR set up.

I wanted a spare camera which I could use for everyday photos and for surf photography if my Canon 70D was unavailable, I bought a Canon SL1 (100D) as a spare and enjoyed using it but I had to return it as it had a fault.

Instead of going for another SL1 I decided to do some research into the alternatives and came up with the criteria below for choosing the a good camera for sports, and specifically surf photography.

This photo was taken with the a6000 and Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens, I have adapted my Aquatech CR-60 housing to hold the smaller Sony camera, ISO 125, 30mm, f4, 1/1000.

This photo was taken with the Sony a6000 and Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens, I have adapted my Aquatech CR-60 housing to hold the smaller Sony camera, ISO 125, 30mm, f4, 1/1000.

What Do I Need For Surf Photography?

I made a list of the features and lenses that I use most often for surf photography, Adobe Lightroom’s catalogue filters helped when I was choosing the lenses I use most often, but it really just confirmed how much I enjoy using the three main lenses in my current kit. Here’s my list of important features to consider in the new system:

  • Price – naturally it’s a big concern, my budget didn’t usually stretch to the top end cameras in each manufacturers line-up, so I chose the model most suited to what I need as a surf photographer.
  • Normal Lens – my favourite lens for water photography was the 28mm Canon, so I wanted to get a good value equivalent length, relatively fast prime lens for the new camera too.
  • Tele-zoom – I use my Canon 70-200 all the time for shooting from the land so I know I’ll need something similar.
  • Fisheye – even with the improvements in stills modes on my new GoPro Hero 4 Silver edition and the KNEKT pistol grip making it easier to shoot with it I still love shooting fisheye surf photo’s with a proper camera.
  • FPS – the maximum burst mode is important to me, the faster the better for most surfing situations, buffer size doesn’t bother me but I need to be able to fire off a lot of shots at the peak of the action
  • Auto Focus – this is one of the main reasons sports photographers prefer to use big DSLR’s, the autofocus has been average on mirrorless cameras in the past, I gave each camera a rating from good to excellent in this category because there’s way too many stat’s to quote and each manufacturer makes claims about their system being the best.
  • 1080p video – they all shoot full HD 1080p video (my budget doesn’t stretch to 4K at the moment), but some do it at a faster frame rate, which helps when playing back in slow motion.
  • Size – the smaller the better, but it has to be smaller than my Canon 70D in every dimension so it will fit inside my current housing.
  • MP – the resolution in Mega Pixels, often photographers will say it doesn’t mater, but I’d still prefer to go for more if possible, it helps allow me to crop into a photo which is useful as I’m not likely to ever buy a really long lens.
  • Housing – the availability of a housing is pretty important, I already have a couple which I can adapt for the new camera so it;s not a huge concern for me, but if you’re starting from scratch it’s useful to be able to buy something off the shelf, even if it is only a dive housing and not a surf specific splash style housing.
  • Adapter – can I use my existing Canon EF lenses, this was originally going to be a back up camera so I wanted to be able to use my Canon glass on it.
  • Viewfinder – does it have a viewfinder built in? I like using the viewfinder and was annoyed that my Panasonic GF1 didn’t have one built in.
  • WiFi – so I can control the camera when it’s in the housing and transfer pic’s to a smart phone or tablet for easy upload.
  • Crop Factor – I would have put sensor size, but this made more sense for a comparison because the manufacturers give the sensor sizes different names, I can’t afford a full frame camera but I wanted as close to my 1.6 crop factor APS-C sensor as possible so I’m used to the focal lengths of lenses and I don’t have to put up with extra noise in my images.
  • Remote – does it have a port for a wired remote? this is pretty important when adapting a surf housing for a new camera as the pistol grip uses this port.
  • Total Price without housing – the price of the body and the three lenses I need to replace my full surf photography kit.

Here’s a table showing each camera and the relevant results in each category:

Camera Canon SL1/100D Fuji XM-1 Nikon AW 1 (with 11-27.5mm kit lens) Olympus E-PL7 Panasonic GM1 Samsung NX300 Sony a6000
Price New: $599
Used: $450
New: $499
Used: $315
New: $696
Used: $675
New: $599
Used: N/A
New: £497
Used: $375
New: $449
Used: N/A
New: $548
Used: $484
Normal Lens Canon 24mm f2.8 Pancake – $149 Fujifilm XF 27mm – $449 N/A (kit lens) Sigma 30mm f2.8 – $199 Sigma 30mm f2.8 – $199 Samsung 30mm f2 Pancake – $234 Sigma 30mm f2.8 – $199
Tele-Zoom Canon 70-200mm F4 L – $709 Fujinon XC 50-230mm – $398 Nikkor 30-110mm – $246 Panasonic 45-200mm – $269 Panasonic 45-200mm – $269 Samsung NX 50-200mm – $231 Sony 55-210mm – $348
Fisheye Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye – $599 Rokinon 8mm Fisheye – $329 None Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye – $249 Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye – $249 Samsung NX 10mm Fisheye – $337 Rokinon 8mm Fisheye – $294
FPS 4 5.6 15 8 5 8.6 11
Auto Focus Good Good Great Great Good Excellent Excellent
1080p Video 30fps 30fps 60fps i 30fps 60fps i 60fps 60fps
Size 117 x 91 x 69 mm 117 x 67 x 39 mm 114 x 72 x 37 mm 115 x 67 x 38 mm 99 x 55 x 30 mm 122 x 64 x 41 mm 120 x 67 x 45 mm
MP 18 16 14 16 16 20 24.3
Housing Dive EWA Bag N/A Dive Dive EWA Bag Dive
Adapter N/A Basic Only Basic Only Yes – $400 Yes – $400 Basic Only Yes – $110
Viewfinder Yes, optical No No No No No Yes, EVF
WiFi No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Crop Factor 1.6 1.6 2.7 2 2 1.6 1.6
Remote Yes Yes N/A Yes No Yes Yes
Total Price without housing $2050 $1675 $942 – no fisheye available, but no housing required $1315 $1215 $1250 $1390
Points 37 33 39 40 35 49 56

The Winner Is…

I’ve given them all a score out of 6 in each of the 11 categories, the maximum score is 66, as you can see the Sony a6000 came out on top with 56 with the Samsung NX300 coming in a fairly close second place with 49.

My new "backup" camera, a Sony a6000, which might end up being my primary camera...

My new “backup” camera, a Sony a6000, which might end up being my primary camera…

The NX300 has a lot going for it, including some excellent native mount lenses which would work well for surf photography, and a custom function button on the side of the lens which could be very useful if housing manufacturers ever decide to offer a surf housing for the NX range.

I managed to find a good deal on a refurbished Sony a6000 body from the Sony outlet so I snapped it up, since then I’ve bought the Sigma 30mm lens, the Samyang (aka Rokinon) 8mm fisheye and I’ve just ordered the Sony 55-210mm tele-zoom too to complete the set, I now have everything I need to use the Sony a6000 for surf photography.

A frame grab from my GoPro Hero 4 Silver Edition, mounted on a Grill Mount, showing my Sony a6000 in an Aquatech housing with a GoPro Hero mounted on top.

A frame grab from my GoPro Hero 4 Silver Edition, mounted on a Grill Mount, showing my Sony a6000 in an Aquatech housing with a GoPro Hero mounted on top.

In the next couple of weeks I will be writing more about my new set-up including my first impressions of using it for surf photography, how to convert an existing housing for use with the camera, the a6000 vs the Canon 70D, why you shouldn’t bother with an adapter and go for the native lenses every time, and anything else that comes to mind as I get used to it’s functionality.

If you’ve got any questions about the Sony a6000 or you’d like me to try and cover a particular aspect of how to use it for surf or sports photography let me know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Nice article! I just got the a6000 + 16-50 + 55-210, can’t wait to get out in the water. Glad to hear there’s someone else who thinks this is the right tool for the job. Any thoughts on off the shelf housings? Meikon seems OK for the price but restricted to using the kit 16-50. At $2-3k the nauticam and sea&sea are out of my price range. Would rather spend that kind of money on getting the FE 70-200 f4. Also was thinking of using the 55-210 from a jetski but I’m guessing housing it would be difficult due to the variation in length when zooming.

    1. Hi Clancy,
      I haven’t used a Meikon housing myself, but I’ve heard that they work OK but could be a lot better for shooting surf, it’s definitely going to be the best value option I expect though.

      I personally bought my a6000 as a body only, so I don’t have the kit 16-50mm, so there’s little use in me getting the Meikon housing at this point, I might end up getting the kit lens at some point but for now my Sigma 30mm is always on the camera.

      My 55-210mm has arrived now though, as it’s the only affordable tele-zoom at the moment it was the only option for me, I’ve tested it in my Aquatech housing with the 70-20mm port and I can shoot throughout the zoom length without any vignetting at 55mm and zoom all the way to 210mm too, I just need to get the focus gear adapted slightly and I should have zoom control too.

      I think the Nauticam and Sea&Sea would be no good for surf photography, although excellent for diving obviously, and I agree with the money being better spent on that nice 70-200 f4, it’s definitely on my wish list.

      Your best bet if you’re shooting with the 55-210mm from a jetski would be something like an Aquapac DSLR case, I’ve used one with my Canon and 70-200mm (before I had the port for my Aquatech) and it worked pretty well, as it’s flexible you’ve got full control of the camera and the lens tube will concertina to accommodate the lens at all focal lengths.

  2. Hey Ben, great post by the way. I’ve been interested in getting a secondhand Sony nex or alpha along with a MEIKON housing, similar to Clancy. I’ve found not having any possible consumer housings available for my nx300 a bit of pain as it can get a little boring shooting land and shots can get a bit repetative being from same general angles. The a6000 could very well be an option but seeing as im on a tight budget and i already have a decent camera i might opt for a cheaper nex5, 6 or 7 or maybe a5100 possibly. Atleast if the housing does fail at some point It won’t be that bad knowing I haven’t lost much. Im hoping i grab a good deal for the camera then the set up could possibly cost less than a new gopro. Although the new gopros look extremely tempting, i find them a little limiting with only small amount of manual control and letting the camera do all the work can take the fun out of it anyway. If you were on a limited budget would you choose say the gopro4 silver or the sony nex6 with a meikon housing? And does the new protune for photos work well?
    Oh and a little correction with the graph, the nx300 has 1080p at 60fps. Hopefully thatll get its points up a bit haha.

    1. Hey Andrew,
      Thanks for the correction on the NX300, I was surprised that it was so close to the top in my list, I started making the list quite a while ago and I was expecting Olympus and Panasonic to be up there with Sony for the top spot, but it really looks like Samsung have got some good features in the NX range.

      It’s a shame there’s not more options for water housings for them, although I’m sure you could adapt one somehow, I think your idea of going for a second hand Sony with an off the shelf housing would be sensible for getting into water photography.

      I’ll have to do a full post on the ProTune features of the GoPro, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the shots in good light, and a little happier with editing them but there’s still a night and day difference between a 12MP jpeg from a GoPro Hero 4 and a 20MP+ raw file from either my Canonn 70D or Sony a6000, especially in lower light.

      After a quick look on eBay you can get a used NEX 6 with kit lens and a housing for about £400 I think, and I’m sure you can get an NEX 5 for a lot less, so if you’re used to using a proper camera already I’d definitely recommend the Sony/housing combo over the GoPro for stills.

  3. Hey Ben, so I do have the A6000 and been looking around for housings. I can’t seem to find one and I love taking pictures of surf. Any recommendations ? I would love to take my a6000 out in the water if I find the right housing. Thank you for your help

    1. Hi Ekana,

      At the moment you’re really limited on your options for a housing for the a6000, if it’s primarily surf photography you will be using it for it does really help to have a pistol grip style trigger option, and interchangeable ports are a big benefit too.

      The option I chose was to adapt a DSLR surf housing (in my case the Aquatech CR-60) to use the Sony a6000 inside, you can watcvha video and read about the process here: https://www.learningsurfphotography.com/sony-a6000-water-housing/

      So if you can find a second hand DSLR surf housing you’re probably going to be able to convert it like I have, otherwise right now you’re going to have to go for something like the Meikon and make do with a shutter button on the top.

  4. Hey Ben,
    So I found a couple of housings here in Hawaii and I was wondering whether it can be compatible with the Sony A6000. I found a canon 20D, 40D, and a Sony a57 housing. Please help. Thank you

    1. Hi Ekana,

      As long as the housings have a pistol grip with a wired shutter release plug on them you should be able to get them working in at least a basic way with the a6000.

      Watch the video and read this post if you haven’t already to get the main ideas behind my conversion: https://www.learningsurfphotography.com/sony-a6000-water-housing/

      All the cameras you listed are bigger than the a6000 so they should fit inside, then you’ll need to either make an adapter yourself, or find one on line so the pistol grip will trigger your Sony camera, the post above explains your options.

      Good luck!

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