Recommended Surf Photography Gear

UPDATE: There is a new, improved page available here: Learningsurfphotography Recommended Surf Photography Gear

Choosing which gear to use for surf photography is an important step, no camera or lens is going to take a quality surf photo for you, but having the right tools will allow you to create the type of photo you want to more easily.

I’ve shot video and stills of the surf for over 20 years, I have used every kind of GoPro camera from the 35mm wrist mounted original to the latest Hero 4 range. I’ve shot with 35mm film and digital, both SLR’s and point and shoots in more types of water housings than anyone else I know.

Over the last couple of decades my gear has evolved, my current kit is the best possible combination of value and performance for me.

I am a hobbyist surf photographer, I don’t make my living from it, I do my best to cover the costs of this hobby with this website and if you buy anything from the links on this page you pay the same and I get a small commission which goes towards the running costs of the website.

My Surf Photography Gear

I use this exact equipment to shoot surf photos, there are other options which will do as well or better but I believe this offers the best versatility and value for a hobbyist surf photography like me.

My Surf Photography Cameras

Sony a6000NA – $450

a6000
I love this camera, it’s small, fast and relatively inexpensive, it does everything I need to do for my surf photography. I bought it as a backup camera for my Canon 70D DSLR, but I found myself using it more and more until I eventually sold the Canon and all my lenses and moved to Sony 100%.

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Sony NEX 5R – $350

NEX5R

I picked this up second hand with a kit lens after selling my Canon 70D, it’s my backup for the a6000 and also what I use to shoot the videos you see on the site.

You could certainly use it as a primary camera for surf photography, the resolution and burst rate are really good, the sensor is the same size as the a6000 and Canon 70D, and there are plenty of lenses available for it.

The main reasons I use it as a backup are the clunky menu system with lack of physical buttons for some controls and the lack of a wired shutter release port, combined these factors mean it’s harder to get it working well in a water housing.

Lenses for Surf Photography

Sony 55-210mm lens – $350

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A telephoto zoom has always been a part of my kit, this Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS is good value, the image quality is good but not on a par with the more expensive options from the major manufacturers.

This kind of lens is what I use to shoot surfing from the land, you can get longer lenses but they often don’t offer the same value as this mid-range zoom. Another benefit of not having a longer focal length is the size and weight, this lens fits in my small Lowepro camera bag easily and I even shoot with it in my housing.

If you shoot Canon I still recommend the excellent Canon 70-200mm F4 non IS lens as one of the best value lenses you can buy for surf photography.

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Samyang/Rokinon 8mm Fisheye – $280

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A Fisheye lens gives you the widest possible angle of view, it distorts the scene to squeeze in as much of the view as possible, it’s what you’ll need if you want to shoot in the barrel style shots like Clark Little.

This is a fully manual lens, you have to change the aperture and focus on the lens barrel itself, this isn’t such a big deal with a Fisheye lens and it’s something I’m used to after using my first Fisheye the Peleng 8mm on my Canon DSLR.
The image quality is great, its super wide and I’m really happy with the performance for surf photography.

You can get this same lens for Canon and other mounts, but when I was shooting with my APSC sensor Canon bodies I used the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, it’s got great image quality and it’s good value.

I’ve also shot on full frame Canon cameras with the Canon 15mm fisheye, it’s not as cheap but it’s a great quality lens for a full frame shooter.

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Sigma 19mm f2.8 – $199

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The 19mm focal length on an APSC sensor is wide enough that you can shoot surfing without looking through the viewfinder but isn’t an extreme wide angle, I really enjoy shooting with this lens in the water, it will also fit inside the Meikon housing for the Sony a6000.

Related post:

Sigma 30mm f2.8mm – $199

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30mm is what’s called a “normal” length lens on a cropped sensor, this means the angle of view is a fairly close match to the one you get with your eyes.

I really like shooting this focal length in the water, it gives you the feeling of being there in the action, it’s great for predictable reef breaks and slabs where you can position yourself in just the right place.

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Sigma 60mm f2.8mm – $209

60mm

One of the sharpest lenses available for the Sony e-mount, I like shooting with it in the water at shifty beach breaks or anywhere where positioning is quite hard, it’s also my favourite lens to shoot with on land when taking portraits.

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Aquatech CR-60 Housing

Cheat sheet taped in place in the back plate of my housing

Cheat sheet taped in place in the back plate of my housing

This discontinued housing has served me well since I bought it second hand a few years ago, I’ve had a Canon 60D, 70D and now my Sony a6000 inside it and I’ve been able to use all my lenses with the three ports.

Aquatech produce a new range of housings for most modern DSLR cameras, but there is no option for the Sony a6000.

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Ports For Your Water Housing

ports

I have three ports which let me shoot with all the lenses above, I use the now discontinued Aquatech LP range of ports, as long as you have a water housing system which has interchangeable ports you should be able to get hold of something equivalent to these.

Flat port, for small prime lenses –  Mine is the LP-5, it’s a basic flat port for the Aquatech housings, they have changed the diameter of the port thread for the latest generation of housings so the equivalent is now the P-65, I can use the 19, 30 and 60mm Sigma lenses in this port, and I’ve used the Canon 28mm f2.8, 40mm f2.8 STM and 50mm f1.8 in it myself too, basically you can use most prime lenses in a small flat port like this.

Dome Port, for fisheye and ultra wide angle lenses – I got my dome port with my housing, it’s the biggest dome port that Aquatech offer so it’s ideal for over/under style photos, I’ve used it with the Sigma 10-20mm, Canon 15mm fisheye, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye and the Samyang/Rokinon 8mm Fisheye and got great results with each of them

Telephoto Zoom Port – I have the LP-TZ4, designed for the Canon 70-200mm f4 L lens, this port has a zoom control on the side, I used it with the Canon 70-200 before I moved to Sony and now, with a little modification, I use it with the Sony 55-210mm lens too.

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GoPro Cameras And Accessories

GoPro Hero 4 Silver – $399

I love my GoPro, I use it nearly every time I go for a surf and it attaches to the top of my housing when I’m shooting photos, I went for the silver version over the black because it has the same stills capabilities and an extra LCD screen, it lacks the 4K 30fps mode and the super high frame rate modes of the GoPro Hero 4 black edition, but I haven’t missed them with the video I shoot.

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GoPro Hero – $129

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The budget friendly GoPro camera, I use it to shoot behind the scenes video, the stills are OK from it but I only use the video modes as I’ve got the Hero 4 Silver for stills.

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KNEKT GPLT trigger – $99

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Some sort of pistol grip style trigger is essential when shooting surf photos with a GoPro, it’s too small and awkward to shoot with just the original GoPro case, the GPLT is an amazing piece of engineering, being as small, strong and light as possible whilst performing it’s job perfectly.

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KNEKT KSD6 Dome – $299

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The only way to shoot over/under style photos and video with the GoPro is to get a dome port, and the KSD6 is the best one available, I’ve tried others and seen many attempts to make DIY versions, but this is one of the best accessories for a GoPro camera that a surf photographer can buy.

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Pro Standard Grill Mount – $29

grillMount

I use this most sessions these days, it’s a really well designed product, the soft rubber grips can be moulded to your teeth like a gum shield and the lightweight plastic is super strong.

The GoPro hangs below your mouth and feels so secure I haven’t even felt like I need a leash for it when I’m using it, even in heavy waves.

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Other GoPro Accessories

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GoPole Bobber – $22 – Useful floating handle for your GoPro

GoPro Floaty BackDoor – $11 – essential accessory, especially if you’re planning on using something like the Pro Standard Grill Mount

GoPro jaws flexible arm mount – $49 – I’ve used thi9s for surfing, kayaking and lots of other land based activities too, check out the link below to see how you can extend it cheaply with off the shelf parts too.

GoPro handlebar and seat post mount – $10 – Probably the most versatile mount I have for the GoPro, I’ve attached it to bikes, boats, cars, poles of all shapes and sizes and even egg timers to get unique angles, it’s a no brainer.

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Flash Photography

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Yongnuo YN 560 IV Speedlite – $71 – I would buy the YN560 if I was purchasing one now, but I’ve got the YN 460 II, I use this for my remote flash shots.

Yongnuo RF 603C II triggers – $30 for two – for remote flash use, although they’re designed to be used with Canon cameras I use these with my Sony a6000.

Neewer Flash – $14 – A small, cheap slave flash for shooting flash in the water with my Sony a6000.

Peli 1020 Micro case – $12 – to waterproof the Neewer Flash.

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Other Camera Accessories

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Sandisk Memory Cards – I’ve got several 16 and 32GB cards that are now back-ups and two 64GB cards which I use in the Sony a6000 and the GoPro, go for the fastest card you can get, mine are UHS1 and they can handle all the surf photography challenges I throw at them.

Manfrotto 294 Alumimium Tripod legs – $129 – These are sturdy and durable, as well as being good value, they provide a decent base for my budget video head

Velbon PH-368 video head – $43 – A great budget fluid head, you need a head like this to make smooth pans when shooting video of surfing, I don’t use my tripod that much but when I need it this set-up works well.

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Non Camera Related Surf Photography Essentials

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Dafin Kicks swim fins – light, comfortable and effective, I’ve used dozens of types of swim fins over the years and these are my favourite.

Xcel Wetsuits – I’ve got a few Xcel wetsuits, they’re warm and flexible, if you’re shooting in cold water you need a decent wetsuit to make sure you can concentrate on shooting without being distracted by the cold.

Casio WS10 HD Tide watch – $31 – the best budget tide watch you can buy, I’ve gone for the metal strap so it doesn’t wear out like my last one, I wear it every day and for every session, it’s got solar cells built in to make the battery last even longer and it shows the moon phase so you know if it’s a spring or neap tide at a glance.

860E GPS data logger – $52 – This makes up part of my DIY GoPro GPS BacPac, it’s not really essential but it does help me to surf more and keep track of the sessions I have, you can also geotag photos easily so you have a record of where your pictures were taken.

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That’s what I use personally right now, it allows me to capture every type of surf photo that I want to, there are many, many other set-ups that could do the same job but this represents the best combination of value and performance for my situation.

If you’ve got any suggestions for kit I should be using, or if you have any questions about this gear send me an e-mail at ben@learningsurfphotography.com and I’ll do my best to help.

Comments

  1. What do you use to carry your camera and housing kit? I’m thinking about having a pelicase for my three ports and then getting a new bag for the housing, back plate, camera and lenses, would get another pelicase but they aren’t cheap and are very bulky. Would be interested to know what you use? Cheers

    1. Hey Ed,
      I’ve used a peli case in the past, the 1510 roller, I bought it second hand, took it on a trip to New Zealand and Samoa and then sold it when I got back.
      I’ve got an underwater kinetics case now, same size and equally tough and waterproof but without wheels and a fair bit cheaper.

      I can get an aquatech housing with pistol grip, 8″ dome, small flat port, 70-200mm port, camera body, fisheye, small prime and 70-200mm lens plus some extra spare bits and a GoPro all in one case, with pick and pluck foam for padding.

      My last trip was a ferry/drive to France, I packed my dslr kit in the bulky case and my Sony a6000 with 4 lenses in one small camera bag, I had my a6000 housing and my knekt pistol grip in my surf bag with my wettie and my GoPro in the glove box.

      The cases are great if you’re based in one place but lugging them around is a pain, even the roller version, and they’re heavy. I had to carry most of my lenses through check in because the case takes up all your weight allowance on most flights on its own.

      I’d get a decent backpack with padded dividers, small enough to carry on, I’ve got a lowepro fastpack 250 that id recommend for travel, only downside is I have to take the pistol grip off the aquatech to fit it inside.
      It’s got easy access for a laptop and you can grab your camera easily without having to dig around.

      Hope that helps.

      1. Hey Ben, only just saw this as I’d not logged back into disqus when returning to the site, so hadn’t noticed your reply, going to turn on notifications, now.

        That’s really helpful. I’ve got the 1500 peli, which was just about fine for my Aquatech housing, 8″ dome and a shorter flat port for the 17-40 zoom, but I’ve just managed to track down an LP-Z4 which arrived from Aus today. So the peli case is now too small to take housing and all ports, esp as I’m looking to add an LP-5 in new year.

        Also, my lowepro AW150 is groaning under the added pressure of the 70-200f4, along with: 5d body, fish eye, 35mm f2, 50 f1.4, flash, chargers etc.

        I’m kind of committed to the 1500 peli as just invested in some new pick pluck foam, and having sized it up, I reckon it will take 4 ports, just.

        My question is, do you reckon I will get my 5d body, lenses and accessories mentioned above, and the housing in the fast pack 250? It’s an old bulky housing, picture attached.

        Many thanks for your help!
        Ed https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/51aefe2218541220d93e57dddee9cf0a81fdafcdad100cd705e3771c1c9f53ff.jpg

        1. hmmm, I’d have to give it a try.
          I’m hopefully going to have some spaer time this weekend so I might see if I can get all my ports in my fast pack 250, I think there’s a good chance it’ll fit in somehow, but there wouldn’t be much space left.

          I think if you plan well and don’t mind putting lenses inside ports (I used a neoprene sleeve around the lenses for padding) you could get it all in the Peli.

          I’ll get back to you when I get a chance to see what will fit in the backpack this weekend.
          Ben.

          P.S.
          You’ll love the 70-200 in the water, such an awesome set-up for shooting anywhere with a channel.

          1. Thanks Ben, sorry I wasn’t clear in my last message. What I my keen to know is, do you reckon just the housing and back plate will it in the top pocket on the 250?

            Can’t wait to get out in the water with it. Would you only tend to use the 70-200 when there is a channel to sit in?

            Cheers

          2. Hey,
            Sorry, misunderstood, I’ve attached a photo of my CR-60 housing
            in the top section, it fits in there pretty comfortably with the back
            plate and even the pistol grip in place.

            Your housing looks a
            little bigger, but not too much, the internal dimensions of the top
            section are: 29 x 22 x 15cm, so that should give you an idea.

            I mainly shot the 70-200 from a channel but I did shoo beach breaks occasionally too, I just found it much easier to shoot with two hands when I was sitting on a bodyboard, and it’s a nightmare using any floatation device with your camera if you have to duckdive often.

            You’ll get some really good shots however you use it though.

          3. Thanks Ben,

            Sounds good. Mine should just fit as it is about 26cm across, fingers crossed it does, as I’ve just bought one on ebay second hand!

            Thanks for all your help!

          4. Thanks for the pictures guys.
            With the housing up top, how are you organizing the main cavity to hold the dome port, extensions, and lenses?

          5. Hey Andrew,

            Not sure about Ed, but when I used this bag with my 60D here’s where everything went:

            Top section: 60D body in the housing with the 40mm pancake lens on it
            Bottom section: 70-200 with a home made neoprene sleeve around it, inside the 70-200mm port in the long centre section, small flat port, fisheye lens in one of the padded sections and the dome port and small flat port (with DIY neoprene covers) wedged in on top where ever they fit most naturally.

            There’s also a padded sleeve at the back for a laptop but I used that for travel documents, paper notebooks and stuff as I don’t have a laptop.

            There was space for some SD cards, rocket blower, charger, spare batteries and other stuff in the gaps too.

            I’ve got a bit of a more secure set-up with the Underwater Kinetics case I use now, but it’s heavier and bulkier than the bag, and less likely to slip through as hand luggage on a cheap airline without being weighed or measured.

            Basically just trial and error with plenty of padding, once you’re at the destination it all gets arranged more normally for quick access which the bags perfect for, but that seemed to be a good way to transport a lot of gear in a comfortable way.

          6. Hi Andrew, for me the fastpack 250 carries:
            Top compartment: housing (wrapped in a towel, spare cards, spare batteries.
            Main compartment: 5d body, 70-200f4, 35mmf2, 50mmf1.4 (this is under the 35mmf2 in pic), Tonika fish eye, 430exii flash, charger and cable.
            As Ben says, space for documents, laptop an other thin bits in the back of the bag, which is really useful.

            I have a 1500 peli case with pick and pluck foam that at the moment takes: LP-TZ4, 8″ dome, and LP-TWZ (think that’s what it’s called) ports. I think there is just enough space for the LP-T5, which is next on the list.
            Having read Ben’s packing description. I’m certain the bag could take more, if I packed it differently. However I had the Pelicase before I bought the bag, and a it was quite an investment I thought I’d make the most of it and incorporate it.

            Pics below.

            Hope that helps.

            Very best,

  2. Hey Ben,

    I’m a beginner in surf photography and don’t have any appropriate gear yet. (I took my profile picture with a Sony RX100 in a dry bag but I’m not really confident in swimming into waves with it…).

    What’s your thought on those waterproof compact cameras made by all big brands (Olympys Though, Nikon, etc.) and would you recommend them for a beginner in surf photography, as opposed to a GoPro. I’m not into video so I was wondering if the fisheye lens isn’t to much of a constraint (even though you can correct it later in Lightroom)? Wouldn’t a regular camera allow to test various focal lenghts and and not be limited by the fisheye style ? Just wondering, though, I haven’t any opinion on the question.

    Well, I had a lot of questions theses days !
    Thanks for answering and thanks again for this excellent blog ! Keep on posting !

    1. Hey,

      I haven’t used a modern waterproof point and shoot camera but as long as they’re able to withstand waves they’re going to give you more creative options than a GoPro for sure.

      The problem will be the relatively small sensor size. Compared to your RX100 or an interchangeable lens camera all the point and shoot cameras will have small sensors, which makes getting a shallow depth of field very difficult.

      But you do get a range of focal lengths and control over the settings, which is more than you get with a GoPro.

      I think they’re an OK option but if you’ve already got the RX100 I’d get a cheap housing for it so you can use a camera that you’re familiar with in the sea.

      This one’s $130 and is rated to 40m: http://amzn.to/2acsFBd

  3. Hello Ben, I just bought a sony a6000 but notice the battery life is very poor, after only a couple of days using it, perhaps I left it on, but was just two hours taking pictures. I’ve read that turning airplane mode On and disabling EVF improves it, do you notice good improvement doing that? I like its size and that there are cheap housings to start but I was thinking of a 70D as well which has better battery life

    1. Hi Jorge,

      The battery life is definitely not as good as a DSLR like the 70D.

      I’ve picked up some spare batteries for mine, just cheap off brand ones with a dual charger that’s powered through micro USB. I make sure I’ve got at least one fully charged battery in my bag when I head out for a days shooting, but usually I just make sure I’ve got 100% battery before going out for a surf.

      The airplane mode and EVF settings will help, I’d also set the power off to 10 seconds too, that should help.

      I’d definitely get an extra battery or 2 though, then you don’t have to worry about it.

      Ben.

  4. Are you mostly using your gopro or are you using your Sony most of the time and how do you decide which you are going to use? I am not a fan of the go pro fish eye but in the barrel it may be an advantage? Thank you.

    1. I use my Sony a6000 more and more now I have a decent surf housing for it. It’s the option I choose whenever I want to take surf photos.

      The GoPro is used when I’m shooting myself surfing, so the fisheye lens is really useful for the POV angle, or when I’m using a board cam or some other mount. I also mount it on top of my housing if I want to shoot video and stills at the same time.

      The ultra wide angle is definitely an advantage in the barrel, but I use my Sony a6000 and Samyang 8mm f2.8 fisheye for that type of shot, it gives me loads more creative freedom than the GoPro and now that I’ve got a small, well made housing it’s just as easy to use (although quite a bit bigger).

    1. Hi Ben,

      That kind of housing, manufactured by Meikon and sold under several different brand names, including Neewer, is a great way to get into water photography with the a6000.

      It’s currently cheaper on Amazon.com, $190: http://amzn.to/2glGpKG

      I’ve writtena lot about the Meikon housings, I’ve got one myself, you can defintely get shots in the barrel, the kit lens at 16mm is wide enough to get a pretty good barrel shot, but it’s not going to match up to a fisheye in a dome port.

      I’d recommend watching my housing comparison video here: https://www.learningsurfphotography.com/sony-a6000-a6300-surf-housing-comparison/

  5. Hi,Ben. Thinking on a Canon 40D with a SPL housing. From what I gathered from what you said that you’ve used with a Canon,a Tokina 10-17 mm fisheye and a Canon 70-200 mm F4 are what you are recommending? If so,should those two lenses give me all the range I should need to get started and figure out what works best from different positions in the water?Do you have some tips and advice for the 40D and other lenses that might be or good for me to goin?

    1. Hi,
      If you’re going to get a package with the 40D and housing for a good price then it sounds like a decent way to get into surf photography.

      The Tokina 10-17mm fisheye and Canon 70-200mm tele-zoom are both great lenses for shooting in the water, as long as you have the right ports for them.

      You’d be missing out on a “normal” focal length though, so I’d look into the Canon 24mm, 28mm or Sigma 30mm, that would give you the missing piece and with those lenses you could take nearly any surf photograph you could want.

      My only advice would be – look at alternatives – you can pick up a used Sony a6000 very cheap these days, and it’s much, much better than the Canon 40D for in the water surf photography. You can get reasonably priced surf housings for the a6000 and easily cover the same focal lengths as you have with the 40D options you listed.

    1. Hi Ben,
      I have a set that I use for snorkelling. I do use a mask when I’m taking underwater photos sometimes, but the snorkel doesn’t work well in the surf and the water clarity isn’t great very often near me.

      I can’t remember exactly which set I have but I’m pretty sure the brand is IST: http://amzn.to/2iyE3Ko

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