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7 Best Cameras for Surf Photography in 2022 [Expert Suggestions]

There’s something almost intangibly wonderful and freeing about surfing on a warm summer day. However, capturing that freedom and wonder in a photograph is another matter entirely.

Without adequate protection and the right gear, salt, sand, and moisture can and will wreck your precious electronics. This includes exposed contacts, sand in AF motors, and damaged lens coatings. Finding the best camera for surf photography is going to take some effort.

To save you some trouble, I’ve compiled for you here a list of good, weather-sealed surf filming cameras that are compatible with a bunch of beach-ready accessories and cases. These recommendations come from some of the top surf photographers out there.

7 Best Cameras for Surf Photography in 2022

Photographing surfers is only a challenge because it requires some initial prep work to invest in the right photography equipment. This list aims to save you some time by recommending a set of reasonably priced but very capable surf photography cameras that will deliver stunning images while shrugging off surf and sand.

  • Sensor Resolution: 24.2MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K 30 FPS
  • Battery Life: 700 shots
  • Weight: 1.4 lbs

This old workhorse is one of the most popular and versatile full-frame mirrorless cameras that’s capable of taking the best surfing pictures. That age, and popularity, have their benefits, however. The Sony A7 III is compatible with a wide range of waterproof accessories, and the system is compatible with a huge range of lenses for surf photography.

Why is it suited for Surf Photography?

The 24.2MP BSI CMOS sensor here has a great dynamic range and renders excellent colors, especially in low light. Its 700-pt AF tracking system isn’t in the same league as modern Sony Alpha cameras, but it’s still very good compared to others in this price range.

Sony E mount compatibility is particularly useful here as there is a wide range of Sony and third-party lenses to choose from. Video quality is excellent, but there is a 30-minute limit to be aware of when shooting.

Connectivity

Despite its age, connectivity is still good. You get a 5Gbps Type-C port, an audio jack for monitoring, a line-in, and a micro HDMI output that can handle 8-bit video streams. Fast W-Fi and NFC pairing ensure quick and easy connectivity with a smartphone.

Design & Build

The camera is large but not too heavy and features a deep grip that you will require when trying to capture surfers from a bouncy boat or with a long zoom lens. The body itself isn’t as robust as newer Sony cameras, but you can use a waterproof case.

Battery Life

Battery life is the A7 III’s strong suit. You get 710 shots of charge per CIPA, but judicious use could easily stretch that to a couple of thousand shots per charge. This is important because you don’t want to be opening battery doors while getting sprayed with surf or sand.

Should you buy it?

Don’t let the A7 III’s age scare you away. This is the best surf camera you can get right now. It’s a favorite among pros, and now that newer cameras are out, its price has fallen considerably since launch. With a waterproof case, it’s perfect for surf photography from the beach.

Fun Fact: This camera is also featured in my list of top-rated cameras for live streaming.

Pros
  • A tried and tested workhorse
  • Excellent lens compatibility
  • Superb battery life
  • Good dynamic range
  • Value for money
Cons
  • No redundant storage
  • 30-minute record limit
  • Sensor Resolution: 24.2MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K 60 FPS
  • Battery Life: 460 shots
  • Weight: 1.6 lbs

The LUMIX S5 is among the most capable hybrid mirrorless cameras out there. The auto-focus system of Panasonic LUMIX S5 is unreliable for tracking surfers, but its image quality and video features aren’t easily matched. Also, you’re going to be relying on manual focus a lot anyway if you’re going to be shooting far-away surfers.

Why is it suited for Surf Photography?

Panasonic uses a depth-from-defocus system for its focussing needs. This is a slower system than PDAF and results in some hunting and breathing when keeping track of surfers. The 24.2 MP image sensor is superb, of course, and the quality of the images and video that this camera produces is enough to make shooting in MF worthwhile.

Connectivity

The S5 gets an HDMI port with 10-bit video output, dual 3.5 mm audio jacks for monitoring and recording, and Wi-Fi and NFC. The USB-C port is rated at 5 Gbps and can accept power banks. Since this is a more video-focused hybrid camera, you’ll be interested to hear that the S5 can deliver phantom power to a compatible mic.

Design & Build

This one’s the smallest of Panasonic’s full-frame bodies, but it’s still large than many competing cameras. At 1.57 lb, it’s also on the heavier side. That said, it’s comfortable to grip, and weight is always useful when you need stable, handheld shots.

Battery Life

The rated battery life of 460 shots is acceptable, but you’ll need an external battery grip or a power bank on long shoots. I’d recommend getting a grip and compatible waterproof case so you don’t need to keep unpacking this surf video camera every time the battery runs out.

Should you buy it?

The S5 is the surfing camera to get if you’re comfortable with manual focus and appreciate the powerful video features on offer. Stills are great, but I’d still recommend this more for surf videographers than photographers.

Pros
  • Video output is exceptional
  • Wide range of lenses to choose from
  • 180 FPS slo-mo shooting mode
  • Excellent dynamic range
Cons
  • AF system is slow and unreliable
  • Battery life could be better
  • Sensor Resolution: 30.3MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K 60 FPS
  • Battery Life: 370 shots
  • Weight: 1.45 lbs

Another camera that falls into the oldie-but-a-goodie category is Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, the Canon EOS R. Using the same sensor as the 5D Mark IV, this mirrorless beast also boasts of one of the most capable AF systems you can get, making it a perfect camera for shooting surfers at the beach.

Why is it suited for Surf Photography?

That 30.3 MP CMOS sensor is one of the highest resolution sensors you can get on a full-frame mirrorless camera, and with the right optics, you’ll have all the sharpness you could ever need. You also get one of the best IBIS systems around.

Canon’s signature Dual Pixel AF is included here and offers over 5000 AF points with real-time subject tracking. You can shoot 4K 60 FPS video with this camera but be warned that there’s a 1.8x crop when doing so.

Connectivity

The EOS R gets 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE 4.1, 6 Gbps USB-C, dual 3.5 mm audio jacks, and mini HDMI. Data is stored on a single UHS-II class card. You can use a smartphone as a remote control with the appropriate app.

Design & Build

Canon’s professional cameras are all built to withstand the abuse, and the EOS R is no different. It’s fully weather-sealed and not that heavy, given its size. The deep grip ensures great stability and control when shooting from a boat, say, and the buttons are well placed.

Battery Life

Battery life is poor at just 370 shots, but that’s to be expected from a first-gen full-frame mirrorless camera. Thankfully, battery grips that can triple the battery life are available, and you could also charge the device via a compatible USB-PD charger.

Should you buy it?

If all you’re shooting is stills, you don’t need anything more expensive than the Canon EOS R. With fantastic AF, a hi-res image sensor, and class-leading IBIS, there isn’t better surfing photography equipment out there at this price.

Pros
  • Dual Pixel AF is superb
  • Supports 10-bit video
  • Robust, weather-sealed body
  • Support for the more modern RF lens mount
Cons
  • Battery life is low
  • 1.8x crop in 4K
  • Sensor Resolution: 24.5MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K 30 FPS
  • Battery Life: 380 shots
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs

This is another first-gen FF mirrorless camera but for the Nikon fans this time. The AF system is a bit old, but the Nikon Z6 makes up for it with a fast burst rate and exceptional image quality and skin tone when shooting people. Plus, it supports Nikon’s newer Z mount lenses.

Why is it suited for Surf Photography?

A handy feature of the Z9 is its ability to shoot 12 FPS bursts using the entire 24 MP sensor. Image quality is excellent, especially when shooting RAW, and with great IBIS, you’re virtually guaranteed sharp shots.

The 273-pt PDAF system is great for quick shots, but its tracking system isn’t as robust as the 3D tracking one in older Nikon DSLRs. However, it’s good enough for surf photography, provided you’re handy with the MF wheel.

Connectivity

With fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi support and Bluetooth, wireless connectivity isn’t a problem. This is great as you won’t need to remove the camera from its waterproof case to preview shots. For the rest, you get 5 Gbps USB-C, dual 3.5 mm audio jacks, an HDMI output, and an MC-DC2 remote jack.

Design & Build

The Nikon Z6 is very well built and ranks among the best-designed mirrorless cameras out there. It also boasts one of the best EVFs in its class, a 3.7 M-dot unit, and is completely weather sealed. Surprisingly, it’s also incredibly light at a mere 1.29 lb.

Battery Life

Being a first-gen FF mirrorless camera, battery life is poor at a mere 380 shots per charge. However, this is a CIPA rating, so you could get away with 1000+ shots if you’re careful. I’d still recommend a battery grip for the beach, however. 

Should you buy it?

This is an excellent entry-point to full-frame systems for fans of Nikon’s camera system. The Z mount is the future, though shooters can still use older lenses while migrating to the new platform. AF tracking could be better, but it’s certainly good enough for taking cool surfing photos.

Pros
  • Ergonomic body design
  • Great skin tones
  • Superb dynamic range
  • AF is good for stills
  • 12 FPS burst
Cons
  • Battery life
  • Tracking AF isn’t as effective
  • Sensor Resolution: 24MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K 30 FPS
  • Battery Life: 810 shots
  • Weight: 1.1 lbs

The A6600 is essentially the A6400 with a larger battery and IBIS, which is exactly the upgrade you need when you’re off shooting surfers. A larger battery on the Sony A6600 ensures less time spent re-setting waterproof cages, and IBIS will ensure stable, cool surf pictures when shooting from the middle of the sea.

Why is it suited for Surf Photography?

The A6600 is as old as the A7 III, but this is still Sony’s flagship APS-C camera and still very capable. It shoots 24 MP stills at up to 11 FPS, but more importantly, it boasts of Sony’s fabulous real-time tracking AF that no other APS-C camera can match.

You’re also getting a great IBIS system and a 4K 30 FPS video mode (limited to 8-bit output). Images and video are clean even at high ISOs, and video performance is particularly good given that you’re getting downsampled 6K footage.

Connectivity

Images and video are stored on a single SDXC/Memory Stick Pro Duo card, and you’ll need a good card reader because data transfer speeds are limited to USB 2.0. There is a micro HDMI output to be found here, as well as two 3.5mm audio jacks and Wi-Fi 802.11n with NFC.

Design & Build

The A6600 has a deeper grip than the A6400, which is how it accommodates a larger battery, but it’s still a small camera overall. This makes it a bit harder to hold with larger lenses. The menu structure and button layout get the job done but could do with some refinement.

Battery Life

Battery life stands at an incredible 810 shots per charge. This is nearly twice what you’d get from any other camera, even full-frame ones, and should easily last you a full day of shooting. The camera uses the widely available NP-FZ100 batteries.

Should you buy it?

This is a great APS-C hybrid video camera that packs in some great features. It’s a little on the expensive side given its age, but that’s only because it offers features that few cameras, even newer ones, can offer. It’s a great option for surf photographers, especially if you use gimbals.

Pros
  • Good IBIS system
  • Class-leading AF performance
  • All-day battery life
  • Good, clean images
  • 11 FPS burst mode
Cons
  • USB 2.0 data transfer
  • Severe rolling shutter in video
  • Sensor Resolution: 26MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K 30 FPS
  • Battery Life: 325 shots
  • Weight: 1.03 lbs

The X-S10 brings with it the same stunning sharpness and image quality as the flagship X-T4, but in a cheaper, smaller, lighter body. The Fujifilm X-S10 compromises on video features while still offering a 10-bit 4K 30 output that even full-frame cameras will struggle to compete with.

Why is it suited for Surf Photography?

The 26 MP X-Trans CMOS sensor in here is to die for. It’s one of the sharpest, highest resolution image sensors around, and because of its unusual filter array, it lacks an AA filter that improves low-light performance.

Paired with an excellent IBIS system and Fuji’s ridiculously sharp, if expensive lenses, this is one camera you simply can’t ignore. And that 4K 30 video mode is no joke, either.

Connectivity

Connectivity is fairly limited, but Fuji gets the basics right. You’re getting 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a 5 Gbps USB-C port, micro HDMI with 10-bit output, and mic input. There’s also a single UHS-I class SD card for data.

Design & Build

This is a small camera, so don’t expect exceptional handling. However, it does incorporate a good grip, much like the X-T4, and features a plethora of buttons and dials that make setting it up a simple matter.

Battery Life

This camera packs in the larger battery from the X-T4, but battery life is still very poor at just 325 shots. It supports USB-C charging and doesn’t have a battery grip option, so think of it more as a lightweight hybrid than something you take out for long shoots.

Should you buy it?

Fujifilm’s cameras are still a niche breed. There is no upgrade path as such as the company’s entirely focused on APS-C and medium format designs. What that means, however, is that the X-S10 features one of the very best APS-C sensors on the market today, and when it comes to image quality, it will never let you down.

Pros
  • Ergonomic button layout
  • Image quality
  • IBIS is very good
  • 4K video quality
Cons
  • Battery life
  • Limited upgrade path
  • Sensor Resolution: 20.9MP
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K 30 FPS
  • Battery Life: 320 shots
  • Weight: 1 lbs

With a modern Z mount and the EXPEED 6 processing engine from the Nikon Z6, the Nikon Z50 is quite literally a baby Z6 or Z7. Given its smaller sensor, it ends up being more capable and versatile as well, while perhaps sacrificing a small amount of depth-of-field, which won’t matter at all for surf photography.

Why is it suited for Surf Photography?

The image quality you get from the 20.9 MP BSI CMOS sensor paired with the Z6 processor is quite impressive, especially in low light. AF performance is also better, perhaps because the processor has fewer pixels to push, making this a good camera for surf photography.

Connectivity

Strangely, Nikon opted to go for micro USB instead of USB-C, and speeds are restricted to the 480 Mbps USB 2.0 spec. A micro HDMI port provides video output, and there’s a mic input but no headphone jack. Wi-Fi is fast, however, as the camera supports 802.11ac and Bluetooth.

Design & Build

Nikon designs its cameras to be consistent across the board, and the Z50 feels and handles very much like the Z6. Its smaller size means that certain features like the top OLED and joystick had to be cut, but they’re not a big loss, and you get touch input.

Battery Life

The camera uses EN-EL25 batteries that, unfortunately, are not very powerful. The battery life rating is only 320 shots, and while USB charging is supported, you’re going to need several spares for long shoots.

Should you buy it?

The Z50 is a modern, fast APS-C mirrorless camera with a fast and reliable AF system and great image quality. It’s missing IBIS but supports the Nikon Z mount, making it a great entry point to Nikon’s mirrorless system. If you shoot surfers, this is a great choice. In addition to that, this is also one of my highly recommended cameras for teenagers.

Pros
  • Nikon Z mount support
  • Fast and reliable AF
  • Excellent low-light performance
  • Lightweight body
  • Fast Wi-Fi
Cons
  • Battery life
  • No IBIS

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of cameras do surf filmers use?

Most surf photographers use full-frame mirrorless cameras with long zooms. This is important because surfers are usually far out, and you will need to crop your image.

What features do you need in a camera for surf photography?

You can make do with any camera, but ideally, look for one with IBIS, a great tele lens, and maybe a fast burst mode if you’re trying to snap some action shots.

Should you buy a lens for surf photography?

Yes, and preferably a long telephoto with at least a 300 mm equivalent focal length. However, you needn’t spend a ton of money for a fast prime.

Do action cameras work for surf photography?

Action cameras for surf photography will work great if mounted to the surfer. These cameras are primarily meant for POV shots and not photography by a cameraman.

Verdict

If I had to choose a camera for surf photography, my choice would be the Canon EOS R. It’s not as feature-packed as newer cameras out there, but it has an impeccable AF system, great IBIS, and a beautiful sensor. No photographer needs more than that.

  • A more budget-friendly alternative would be the Nikon Z50. Its Z mount gives you a great upgrade path, and the body itself is a little more capable than the Z6.
  • If you’re in the Sony camp, you simply can’t go wrong with the Sony A7 III and its superb dynamic range and AF system.
  • Lastly, if you are in search of the best video camera for filming surfing from the beach, the Panasonic LUMIX S5 would be my go-to recommendation.

Whichever camera you pick, don’t take risks and make sure you get a good waterproof case that’s compatible with the lens you choose and the accessories you’ll be using. Happy shooting!

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