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WILL THE BEST SURF PHOTOS BE TAKEN WITH A PHONE?

Godspeed to those of us who wish to become surf photographers.  Nevertheless, it appears that more and more men and women are getting into surf photography these days. It might have something to do with the fact that sharing images on Instagram and similar platforms is simpler than ever. Another possibility is that since everyone carries a smartphone-sized camera about with them these days, taking pictures of surfers is just a logical extension.

The only issue with starting a surf photography business, especially from the water, is the high cost of the equipment. You could spend at least a couple thousand dollars on a basic camera, lens, and housing setup.

Given the steadily rising quality of phone cameras, it can be preferable for you and your money to use your smartphone as the ideal surf photography setup.

Enter GDome. The company known for making light modular universal housings for GoPro Cameras recently launched a kit for smartphones that tops out at 149 bucks. And for the discerning phone photographer, there are a handful of other interesting mods you can add to fit your preferences – a extension port, flat lens, side grip, bluetooth remote, etc.

Really cool.

Over ten years have passed since Andrew Reid, a renowned journalist and professional photographer, published his earth-shattering essay "Consumer DSLRs 'dead in 5 years'."

There are still aftershocks to be felt.

For those of you who don't know, DSLR stands for digital single lens reflex, or, more colloquially, a "Big Boy" camera in the sense that you're most accustomed to it.

The professional photographic community responded strongly to Mr. Reid's online post because it seemed to confirm some grim calculations that many insiders had already made. There were rumblings that the steady, ten-year upward trend in digital camera sales had started to reverse itself pretty drastically, but the market for smartphones with their attractively promoted built-in cameras had continued to grow. For instance, consumer DSLR sales fell by a staggering 36% at one point in 2013.

Suddenly, it was difficult to predict the long-term viability of businesses like Nikon and Canon.

Mr. Reid identified four factors in his essay that contributed to the drop in DSLR camera sales, not the least of which was the improvement in smartphone camera quality, particularly that of the iPhone. Even Mr. Reid, a staunch supporter of traditional shooting methods, expressed his admiration for the iPhone 14 Pro's ability to capture smooth 10K panoramas.

And surf photographers have taken notice of this rise in quality. Zak Noyle, a member of SURFER, has been using an iPhone to make videos on the side for quite some time. When Zak realized that the files produced by his iPhone were the same size as those created by the Canon EOS camera he used to start his professional career, a figurative lightbulb went out in his head a few years ago. Since then, Zak has been experimenting with various water housing setups and his iPhone.

But more crucially, Zak's understanding that good photography isn't about the bells and whistles of a pricey camera, but rather more about a fundamental ability to accurately record a subject, is what motivated him to attempt professional-quality imaging using his iPhone.

The best camera is the one you carry with you, Zak added, referring to his father, a commercial photographer.

Zak adopted his father's advice to "enjoy the one you're with" and has been using his iPhone with notable impromptu success at locations like Pipeline and Sandy Beach. He is the first to confess that using it has drawbacks, not the least of which being shutter lag, but it also has benefits that make using it more than worthwhile. More importantly, Zak will be in advance of the curve when iPhone quality advances.


The restrictions that had previously prevented smartphones from being utilized for something as dynamic as professional surf photography appear to be under attack rather swiftly. For instance, after-market wide-angle and telephoto lens attachments created by firms like Moment can now help to overcome the admittedly monotonous fixed focal length iPhone lens.

Finally, "shutter lag," the annoying wait in the image being captured after pushing the button, also appears to be on track to be much reduced or even eliminated in the very near future.

While all of this information may be a little dismal for professional photographers who also enjoy "Big Boy" equipment, Andrew Reid's blog offers a bright spot. He believes that the public's propensity toward smartphone cameras, particularly that of the serious amateur, will push the major camera manufacturers to prioritize pleasing the high-end professionals, whom they have long been accused of neglecting. Smartphones, and the iPhone in particular, are likely to be used as additional tools for narrative and as a reliable fallback for a photographer, but they won't ultimately replace traditional cameras.

Even the most cynical, traditional photographers must concede that iPhoneography has a promising future in the face of images like these.

Imagine what the next generation will be able to accomplish.


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