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Lens or Camera for Surf Pics

Stocktsi
Contributor

I have a Canon SL1 with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS that I'm using to take pictures and video of my son surfing.  I'm finding pictures and video of surfing hard to take in general even with a monopod (lots of waiting followed by 3 seconds of action that's easy to miss).  I've happy with the results so far but ready to take the next step.  The reach of the zoom isn't quite long enough so I'm doing a lot of cropping. and the pictures themselves aren't as sharp as I'd like.  I'm really happy with my 55-250 STM for general use, but need a lens or camera for this application.

 

I posted a similar question about a year ago that lead me to the 70-300 and wondering about other options.  My budget is a bit more than last year and could go up to around $1,000.  There was mention of the Sigma 150-400 or 150-600 as lens options as well as the Canon ultra zoom SX60 or SX70.

 

What's the current thinking on options?  Am I trying to get too much out of an SL1 with these lenses?  If so, are the SX60 or SX70 good options for taking these pics (which one?) or should I be looking at a new camera body in addition to a new lens which would of course really jack up the budget.  It not, what would be a good lens options to take it to the next level?  

 

Not doing this for professional pics, but would like something that gives good social media and smaller print pictures (up to 8x10). 

 

Thanks for help with all my questions.

39 REPLIES 39

Stocktsi
Contributor

... or there's a Canon 400 fixed focal length lens.  I've always shied away from fixed because I was the flexibility depending on far out into the water he is, but should I be considering that as well?


@Stocktsi wrote:

... or there's a Canon 400 fixed focal length lens.  I've always shied away from fixed because I was the flexibility depending on far out into the water he is, but should I be considering that as well?


Without seeing a sample photo of your issues, it is going to require a bit of guesswork to advise you.

 

The SL1 is a pretty good camera for general use.  Action photography may push its' performance limits, but a clever photographer can still get the job done with it.  It will just require that you "know your gear", perhaps a bit better than you do now.

 

The key to capturing good action photos is being in the best place at the right best time, which usually means being close to the action.  Unfortunately, getting closer is most often not an option when it comes to surfing.  And, getting closer to aalt water brings its' own set of highly undesireable risks.  I am going to agree that you would probably benefit from a longer lens with more focal length.

 

The Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM is a great lens for most action photography.  As good as it, I am not so sure how much of a difference the extra 100mm of focal length would make.  I think you should get sharper photos, but your subject will not fill the frame much more than it would at 300mm.

 

One of the Sigma or Tamron 150-600mm zoom lenses are probably your best option.  Be aware that these lenses are beasts.  They are long, big, and HEAVY.  You will almost certainly want to use your monopod with one of them.  Do not expect an instant improvement, though.  There is a learning curve associated with using a super telephoto lens.  You will have to get used to looking at the world through a straw.  How you hold the lens and aim it becomes crucial key to success.

 

Bottom line.  A 400mm lens will offer an improvement, but nowhere near as much as a 600mm lens could.  Just be ready for how big a 150-600mm will be compared to your Rebel SL.  

 

You may want to have a fully charged spare battery handy.  I have no idea how the Rebel SL would perform with such a big lens, though.  I do not expect it to be a disaster.  In fact, I expect that the combo is capable of great photos.  But, the 150-600mm is a big heavy lens, and the Rebel SL has relatively small battery.

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"The right mouse button is your friend."

ebiggs1
Legend
Legend

The correct answer for you is the lens. What you have is on the poor side of choices as you have seen.  I am OK with the SL1 but of course a 90D, etc, newer tech camera will always help. The lens of choice here is one of the 150-600mm super zooms.  They are not all that big and heavy but I guess that is an opinion. I regularly hand hold my truly big and heavy SIgma S 150-600mm super zoom on a 1DX. They will make a SL1 look tiny though.

 

I do recommend you get a good tripod. A monopod is not suitable for this purpose. It is not helping much as you have noted with your results. 

 

Here is what I would do get a 150-600mm and good tripod.  Use your SL1 and see if that combo works.  If it does great you'er golden.  If not look for a new 80D or 90D or perhaps a T7i or T8i Rebel. All better than the SL1, IMHO.

 

The choice between the Tamron or Sigma offerings in the 150-600mm zoom lens is a matter of choice. They are so similar it is a toss up.  The Tamron G2 series may be a tad bit sharper right now as it is the latest model. I'd look for the best price first.

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!


@ebiggs1 wrote:

The correct answer for you is the lens. .... They will make a SL1 look tiny though.

 

I do recommend you get a good tripod. A monopod is not suitable for this purpose. It is not helping much as you have noted with your results. 

 

 


I agree that a tripod will work better than a monopod with a 150-600mm.  How practical of a solution that is along a shoreline photographing surfers will really depend upon your shooting location.  A monopod is more flexible when it comes to getting set up.  But, a tripod will be a more stable platform, which is what you will need when shooting at 600mm!

Buy a quality tripod, too.  Avoid the plastic tripods sold at the local big box store.  You want one that can support at least 15-20 poiunds of weight.  My recommendation is at least 30 pounds of weight if you will be panning and tiliting the lens.  

Which brings us to the question of a tripod head.  The most common type of tripod head is a ball head.  It is also the least expensive.  I do not think a ball head would work out well for your shooting scenario.  I think a pan-tilt head, or perphaps even a video head make work out better for shooting surfers.

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"The right mouse button is your friend."

"Which brings us to the question of a tripod head."

 

Absolutely. Smiley Happy Lot's of choices out there.  In this case I would opt for a gimbal if the chosen lens is one of the 150-600mm zooms. A friend just bought the Oben GH-30 Gimbal Head.  Looks good but I have not used it yet.

 

"...perphaps even a video head make work out better for shooting surfers."

 

Love video heads for shooting stills.  I would also say that is a great choice. I have the Manfrotto 501HDV Pro Video Fluid Head on my big studio tripod. A little big and awkward to travel with to the beach though.

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

ebiggs1
Legend
Legend

"Not doing this for professional pics, ..."

 

Why not?  They do it and you can too.  You need two things. The will to do it and gear that doesn't let you down.  The gear problem is easy just go buy it.  The will to learn how to use such gear is not. You need to learn, to understand, how photography works. What does and what doesn't work. Until you do that the best camera and lens in the world will be of little consequence.

 

You will learn the sport in this case surfing.  You will know how to anticipate where the action is going.  Most importantly you will know where to shoot from.  Out of place and again the best camera and lens in the world will be of little consequence.

 

Now you have the task in front of you. What will you do?

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!


@ebiggs1 wrote:

 

You need to learn, to understand, how photography works. What does and what doesn't work. Until you do that the best camera and lens in the world will be of little consequence. 


I agree. Years ago my cousin went out and bought a Clapton Signature Strat from the Fender Custom Shop. He paid a lot of money for it. It didn't turn him into an Eric Clapton, or even into a good guitarist. Why? He didn't practice enough to get good. I say the same is true of photography. You can buy a top pro model camera, but if you don't practice and try to learn, you'll continue to suck. It is also important to be your own worst critic. YMMV. 

Thanks for all the feedback.  At this point it sounds like I should look for a Sigma or Tamron 150-600. I saw a used Sigma that I'll try to go take a look at for size. 

 

Yes, even with the Canon lens I always have an extra battery (or 2).  My son likes me to take video while I like taking stills, and the 70-300 in video mode seems to always be adjusting the focus and it kills the battery quickly.  Much worse than the 55-250.

 

I have a tripod but find it very hard to use for surfing because there's constant change both horizontal and vertical which is hard to do with the tripod, while the monopod makes it pretty easy to adjust around while keeping it fairly steady.  But I guess that's where the gimbal comes into play, just takes more $. 

 

There's always more to learn, and I'm definitely still going up the learning curve.  I've gotten pretty good with my daughter and soccer, but these surf pictures are a different beast that I'm having a much harder time with.

 

Here are a couple examples.  The light on the single surfer was challenging since the clouds were behind me and light out in the water was behind the surfer.  But I guess in looking at both of them they're kinda on the dark side if there's any recommendations.

 

Thanks for your help.

 

surf example.jpg

 

surf example 2.jpg

" But I guess that's where the gimbal comes into play, ..."

 

Yes, the gimbal will make all the difference.

 

BTW, you need a good post editor, too.  Smiley Happy

 

surf example.jpg

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!
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