Surf Photography With The Canon 70D: First Impressions

I’ve had a Canon 60D for about 18 months and have really enjoyed using it for surf photography, nearly all the shots you’ve seen on this site up to this point have been shot using the 60D (with most water shots using the Aquatech CR-60 housing), but a couple of weeks ago I dropped and broke it.

I have pretty good house insurance with accidental damage cover and a new for old replacement policy, so it was pretty straightforward to claim for a new camera body, and as the 60D has been superseded I ended up being sent a Canon 70D (after paying my £200 excess).

The first one I received had a weird issue with the mode dial, so it had to go back, and the second one I got is working fine, I’ve had it for 4 or 5 days so far and used it for the first time to shoot surf photo’s yesterday.

Why The Canon 70D?

Well, I didn’t have a choice, but I have posted a couple of times on this particular camera before, when it was announced I said that I’d probably prefer to get a second hand 7D rather than the 70D, but more recently I got excited about the prospect of using the built in WiFi of the 70D to gain full manual control when it’s in my housing.

Now I’ve got it I’m instantly impressed with the faster frame rate for stills, and the auto focus in live view, although not something I use very much for surf photography, is as good as everyone’s said, the extra few mega pixels haven’t made much difference so far but they might in the future.

Water Housing options for the Canon 70D?

As I’ve noted in the past the Canon 70D is very similar in size and layout to the 60D, and it uses the same remote trigger release port, so I was hoping to slot it straight into the Aquatech CR-60 housing, as it turns out it’s not quite that simple, but it only took me about 15 minutes to get it sorted and working in there (I have now put up a post on the minor modifications you need to do to the housing).

Some of the current range of housings for the Canon 70D
Some of the current range of housings for the Canon 70D

If you want to buy an off the shelf housing for the 70D you’re pretty limited right now, the first one I found that’s ready to purchase now is from SPL, it’s an A-series aluminium housing, you can contact them for prices via their website, there are other more universal housing’s like Liquid Eye’s C1793 series, which support a wide range of Canon DSLR’s so the 70D will no doubt also fit in, although they might need tweaking a bit for the controls.

If you don’t mind waiting you can pre-order a Compac / Elite 70D housing from Aquatech for $1,495.00, bear in mind this is not like the basic CR-60 housing I’ve got, it’s got a two button pistol grip included with it (nice idea, to separate focus and shutter release that you might have seen on the Essex Slant X pistol grip too), it has a flash bulkhead, built in zoom control and it uses the four latch system for closure, rather than the bolts I use.

Your other option is to get a custom housing made, but due to the relatively recent release of the 70D you might end up having to send your camera in to have the custom housing made up if they haven’t already made one for that camera.

An image from the first shoot in the water with the Canon 70D. ISO 100, 28mm, f4.5, 1/1000
An image from the first shoot in the water with the Canon 70D. ISO 100, 28mm, f4.5, 1/1000

First Impressions

After only shooting surf for one session I’ve barely scratched the surface of the features of the camera, so these are the things I noticed, mostly compared to shooting with my 60D.

  • Faster frame rate – at 7 fps it’s noticeably faster for shooting sequences compared to my 60D, which is a good bonus, it’s still slower than the 7D’s 8 fps though.
  • Touch screen – it’s actually really good and I’ve found myself using it a lot to navigate menus and review photo’s.
  • WiFi – the Canon EOS app is a bit clunky but definitely works, I’ve been trying to get DSLR controller working wirelessly but it’s not as straight forward as the Canon app unfortunately, the good news is that I can change settings (currently only shutter speed, aperture and ISO) with my phone in a waterproof aquapac case when my camera is inside the housing.
  • Focus Point selection button – there’s a new button between the shutter and the top control dial, it’s for selecting the focus point and it works really well, selction is intuitive enough that I didn’t need to look anything up in the manual to work it out, I actually think it could be one of the better improvements over the 60D for my surf shooting.
  • View Finder overlay – this is really good, when you’re looking through the viewfinder there’s a transparent layer that pops up with focus points, electronic level and a bunch of other stuff directly on the image, it’s really good for shooting in the water with a longer lens as you don’t have to mess about looking at the LCD screen so much.
  • Mode dial improvements – There’s 15 icons on the 60D, and 10 on the 70D, and the new dial spins all the way around, this is how the mode dial should have been on the 60D.
  • Video/Stills switch – One of the icons that’s moved off the mode dial is the video mode, to activate video mode you rotate a dial around the pause/rec button, this does mean the control on my housing doesn’t match with the button any more, but also means I should be able to modify it a bit to allow me to activate the video mode from within the housing.
  • Autofocus in video mode – this works very well, the 60D was not very useful for video inside the housing, as I found out, but the 70D, especially if I can work out how to flip the switch with my housings limited controls, should be a big improvement.

I’ll put up more of a review once I’ve had some proper experience using this camera, the next test will include some video hopefully and I’m sure that I’ll be testing out the high ISO performance pretty soon too.

If you have any questions about the 70D and how it performs for surf photography let me know via e-mail or in the comments.

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  1. Hi there, thanks for the info. I have a question for you. Are you saying that when you received your 70D you ended up using the old 60D housings? Or did you buy new 70D housings? I am confused about this.

    I ask because there are some 60D housings available on Craigslist that I could purchase for my 70D if they worked instead of having to buy a new 70D housing. I live in San Diego and drove down to P.B. to talk to the guys at SPL, they quoted me $1,700.00 for a new housing.



    1. Hi Javier,
      Sorry for the confusion, I use my new 70D in the Aquatech CR-60 housing which is designed for the 60D, I can’t say for sure about any other housings but you can fit a 70D in a CR-60 and have access to all the same controls, but you do need to make a couple of modifications for it to work.

      I expect most 60D housings will work fine with the 70D, but you have to be happy to do some work to get it working properly, I have a couple of old housings that I have converted so that they work with the 70D too, one is an SPL (originally made for a Canon 10D) and one is an Aqua Lens (originally made for a 35mm Canon camera), they both work with my 70D but have limited controls and I have fewer port options than the CR-60. Basically as long as you can fit the camera inside you can usually make it work, but you compromise on controls and availability of ports and other accessories.

      The SPL housing I have feels very well made so if you are close by and you have the money I wouldn’t hesitate to get one, it’s an expensive investment but it will last as long as you look after it, the downside is that no housings really hold their value on the second hand market as camera bodies become obsolete pretty quickly.

      You can read about the exact modifications I had to make to my CR-60 housing here:

  2. Hi Ben,

    I have just purchased a 70D upgrading from gopro. Just wondering what lenses you would recommend I have purchased a Canon prime 50mm lens f/1.8 and was just wondering on what other lenses you would consider purchasing. What are your overall thoughts on the 70D shooting wise and versatility?

    1. Hi Ben,

      The 70D is a great choice for surf photography, it’s going to open up a whole new level of creativity over the GoPro you’ve been using, the 50mm 1.8 is a really good lens to start with too, I’ve been really happy with some of the water shots I’ve taken with that lens and it’s really good for portraits out of the water too.

      If you want to go for the same ultra wide field of view as the GoPro then I’d recommend the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, it works great with my 70D, and for land shots I almost exclusively use my Canon 70-200 f4 lens, I also use it in the water with a zoom port which is great for shooting more shifty breaks.

      Also consider a shorter prime, I love my current Canon 28mm f2.8 but I’ve pre-ordered the 24mm EF-S Pancake lens which I hope will replace the 28mm as my favourite “normal” length lens, read more about my lens choices for surf photography on the 70D here:

      Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye
      Canon 28mm f2.8
      Canon 70-200 f4
      Canon 24mm EF-S f2.8 Pancake

      Whichever lenses you end up with I’m sure you’ll appreciate the move from a GoPro to a DSLR and the freedom it will give you to take more creative shots.

      1. Yeah had a read of your lens that you would recommend and purchased yesterday the 70-200 next thing is a water housing. Then ill start collecting some lenses and getting a dome for the housing. Would you go any bigger then 200mm for shooting in water? I want to do some land shots aswell occasionally and was thinking of a 300-500 f4.5.

        1. Sounds good, I wouldn’t go any bigger than a 70-200 for shooting in the water, you can always swim closer if you need the extra reach, and it’s pretty bulky already so a bigger lens would be even more unwieldy.

          Land shooting is definitely different, other than a cheap manual focus 300mm which I got as an experiment I don’t use anything longer than my 70-200, but I don’t shoot too much from the land. I’ve shot once with a Canon 600mm which was fun but I don’t have the need for anything like that personally.

          I’ve heard good things about the Tamron 150-600mm though, which should give you decent results and a huge range, that’s what I’d be looking at if I needed a long lens.

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