One of the questions we get the most here at Whitelines is "What is the best snowboard camera?" If it's not immediately obvious, that's just as broad of a statement as "What snowboard should I buy?" - the answer depends on a myriad of factors such as ability, budget, intended use, style preference... So, in short, there is no one, easy answer.
However, there are definitely a few cameras out there on the market that are better than others when it comes to snowboarding. We've included a few different price points to help guide you, and as per most queries all the devices we've included can shoot both still photos and video, as snowboarders tend to be such versatile creatures.
"Don't be fooled into thinking that more expensive gear will equal better shots"
Buying a camera can be daunting, especially when you get a head for how much it's all going to cost. Spend some time researching different options and really think about what's best for your needs, not just what someone else is using or what online shops are flogging through your inbox.
Set yourself a budget and explore what's available (we'd recommend KenRockwell.com as the best source of unbiased reviews on the web), and don't be fooled into thinking that more expensive gear will equal better shots. Also, remember that cameras on the higher end of the spectrum often require pricey accessories, and we'll tell you now that it’s worth your while investing more in lenses than camera bodies…...
Of course, we've probably missed out your camera, so feel to tell us how useless we are in the comments below. We've also included a few models that now have newer versions available - this is a deliberate choice, don't be fooled into thinking for one second that we don't spend a significant amount of our work time drooling over the latest camera gear online.
Best Snowboard Camera On A Budget - Under £500
It's an old adage in photography that the best camera is the one you have with you, good thing then that most snowboarders these days come pre-loaded with a camera capable of capturing great videos and photos. Just take a look at Scott Steven's ten minute iPhone movie, or this shot below, taken on a device Apple has now listed as obsolete.
Both are great examples of how story, composition and/or lighting are way more important than fancy lenses, astronomically priced bodies or even good image quality. Having something lightweight that's always on you already is pretty amazing - no wonder then that for most professional photographers these days (definitely the WL staff) a phone is still the most used camera day-to-day. Eero Ettala shoots exclusively on phones all season long!
Lecture aside, we do understand that you're probably here to learn about kit you don't already own, so here goes...
GoPro - Starts at £179
Yeah yeah, we've waxed lyrical about GoPros plenty of times, but like a cup of tea brought to you in bed, what's not to love? They take great photos as well as video, and although they might seem pretty limited at first, their size and robustness begs you to get creative with them. Just check out this unique shot below from GoPro's official photographer Fischi:
Plus, in snowboard camera terms at least, they're as cheap as chips and don't take up any room in a backpack, something we'll get into later, but first...
Sony a6000 - £499 with 16-50mm lens
This is the camera we'd most likely recommend to someone wanting to graduate up from iPhoneography to something a bit more 'proper' - it's not gut-wrenchingly expensive, has fully manual controls and is the first on this list to have interchangeable lenses, but the best thing about it is the form-factor and weight - the body is only 345g. That's because unlike a standard DSLR there's no chunky, moving mirror in the middle of it, so it's known as a mirrorless camera. It's smaller and lighter, with the same to be said for the lenses.
There can be a real macho aspect to photography, who's got the heaviest body, the biggest lens... Some professionals even claim that having a physicaly smaller camera would make them less employable, but take it from us: lighter is better. If you can hike that extra mile to get the shot without burning shoulders and a fucked back, you're way more likely to get better shots than if you're carting a small toolshed around with you. Snowboard photographers are just starting to get it and make the move over and we'll cover a few of the higher end mirrorless bodies later on.
Back to the a6000: it's got a 24 megapixel sensor, more than enough unless you're shooting for billboards, and shoots up to 11 frames per second (though at a lower resolution) which is great for capturing action. The autofocus system is lightning fast and there's a great range of lenses to go with it, some priced quite reasonably. Sony's image stabilisation is great for video, so you can often go handheld rather than using a tripod unless you're zoomed right in, though it probably won't do for a follow cam.
There are two updated versions of this, the Sony a6300 and the a6500, with the latter shooting 4k video internally, but unless you're filming the next Red Bull epic you probably won't need that. The a6000 is everything you need to get started, and all at a very reasonable price point.
Best Mid-Range Snowboard Camera - £500 to £1000
Nikon D7100 - £799 with 18-105mm lens
Truth be told, no one at Whitelines Towers knows an awful lot about Nikon products, but it would seem unfair to leave them out based on our ignorance. Also, we're terrified of fanboys. However, our hero Ken Rockwell raved about his, and out of the Nikon line-up, it seems to be the best performing for its price range.
It features 24 megapixels, which again is many more than you need unless you love to crop in loads in post-production, and an autofocus system praised by seemingly everyone who's used it. There's a whole bunch of Nikon lenses as well, and this will take every one of them made since 1986, so if you need glass there's a ton or bargains to be found on eBay.
On the negative side, the cheaper Nikons can feel a bit 'plasticky', which does raise concerns about waterproofness, crucial for confidence in adverse weather conditions. However, the bang-for-buck factor on this is pretty spectacular.
Canon 60D - £899 with 18-135mm lens
Literally everyone at Whitelines HQ started off with some version of this snowboard camera and no wonder: it's a beast! The top end of Canon's 'prosumer' line is bang on the money for photography, and whilst the video quality is somewhat behind the standard today it's more than enough if you have the right story to tell. The flippy-out screen is perfect for standing by rails with a fisheye attached.
Sam McMahon - Whitelines Magazin
There are a couple of updated versions of this now, the 70D and the recent 80D, but for us the 'extra' features they've added like geo-tagging aren't worth the extra cost, and you can still pick these up for a bargain. The kit lens it comes with is staggeringly good as well, electronic focusing making it a doddle to track moving subjects, plus Canon's 'nifty fifty' is cheap as chips and even better.
Both this and the Nikon above have what are described as 'cropped sensor', basically slightly smaller than what comes in the top of the line 'full frame' cameras. Gear nerds tend to look down on these cameras, but for snowboarding they're actually pretty handy as they allow you to zoom in more from a distance!
Full disclosure: I used to own this setup, but I traded it 'up' to a Canon 5D mk II with some L lenses. For my eyes, I couldn't see any difference in the image quality I was getting, but I was lugging around way more weight and the autofocusing was so bad it was laughable. I regretted that decision to the tune of about a thousand quid and ended up thoroughly missing my original gear. Just goes to show, it's not always the 'best' gear that makes for the best shots.
Panasonic GH4 - £999, body only
Whilst it looks like a standard DSLR, the Panasonic GH4 is actually more of a video camera, sporting internal 4k recording, fancy picture profiles that make grading footage easier and on-screen zebras to show if you've over-exposed. These are great, but only if you have a pretty good idea of what you're doing already - it's probably not a good investment for a beginner. However, in the right hands it can do some great things, just check out the video below:
Although we've not tried one ourselves, it's allegedly pretty good for stills as well, though probably not if that's your primary focus. The micro 4/3 lens mount means there's a tonne of glass available, including some tasty Zeiss lenses, though do some thorough research before committing to anything.
It's also smaller and lighter than the above options from Canon and Nikon, so if you have a bit of serious budget and want something to focus on videos with, but still shoot the odd photo as well, you could do a lot worse than this.
Best High-End Snowboard Camera - £1000 And Above!
Fuji X-T2 - £1,459, body only
Want the cutting edge tech of mirrorless in an old school package? The X-T2 is for you. Fujifilm’s newest addition to its ‘X series’ continues a theme that’s seen it grow a loyal fan base. There are five key selling points:
- Excellent build quality, with the X-T2 featuring a weather-sealed body made in Japan – exactly what you want when you’re shooting powder!
- Manual dials – just like your dad’s old SLR – for controlling key functions including shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation. This makes for a more ‘involved’ user experience, with less fiddling in menus.
- Awesome lenses. While not as well-known as Canon and Nikon, Fuji have actually been making high end glass for decades (including lenses for TV cameras and NASA telescopes) so they know their onions.Image quality is tack sharp, while build quality is again top notch (generally all metal) with built-in aperture rings.
- Colour. Fujifilm were legendary in the analogue era for their range of films, each of which provided a unique feel to the image. With the X-T2, similar looks are achievable via carefully-crafted film silmulations that match the tone of classics like Provia and Velvia. The ‘X-Trans’ sensor also works differently to almost every other on the market – fans will tell you the colour and ‘grain’ is closer to analogue, though on the downside some RAW convertors (like Lightroom) are less adept at handling the files it puts out.
- Weight. The X Series is built around a cropped sensor, and like the other mirrorless cameras in this list it consequently has made itself tiny when compared to more tradition full frame DSLRs. In short: ideal for hiking!
Previous Fujifilm cameras suffered from poor focusing compared to Canon and Nikon SLRs, but the X-T2 has blown people away with its ability to focus rapidly and even track moving subjects in video mode, with various settings for different situations.
And speaking of video, the X-T2 is looking to challenge Sony’s current status as the mirrorless fave of videographers thanks to a tilting screen, 4k recording and a flat ‘LOG’ output for maximum flexibility in post (though note, you’ll need an external recorder for LOG - pending a rumoured firmware update). An optional battery grip also significantly improves battery life when filming, which is a common gripe with these small cameras.
All that, plus 24 megapixels, 11fps burst and dual card slots (for more storage and/or backup) makes this little beauty a contender for the best all-round camera on the market. No wonder Fujifilm couldn’t keep up with demand!
Sony A7s mk II - £2,899, body only
Another camera that's better suited to video, but will more than do for photos in a pinch. The original version blew minds for its low-light sensitivity, and whilst having too much light is usually the issue whilst filming snowboarding on bright, reflective hillsides, it means people have utilised it to create absolute gems like this:
It shoots 4k straight to a memory card and has some great picture profiles that allow you to shoot flat for better grading in post, as well as 120fps at 1080p for some pretty good slow motion, but the biggest technological game changer here is that it has internal stabilisation, meaning it reduces camera shake on every lens.
Just like with the a6000 above, the lens choices available are great, but what merits the extra two grand in price is that the picture quality you can get out of something this small and light is unbelievable. I use the first generation version as a B cam/splitboarding setup and it is almost as good as the beastly Sony FS700 I lug around for most of the season, and with only one lens it fits in a camera bag I can attach to my belt!
A word of warning though: the menu system on this, like in most Sony cameras, is total mince, requiring a lot of experience and a little bit of guesswork to figure out how to do pretty basic tasks. Plus for stills, going from a higher resolution camera to something that only shoots 12mp pictures (the same as an iPhone) is a bit of a shock the first time you try and crop in on something back home.
Canon 5D mk IV - £3,339, body only
The Canon 5D mk III quickly became the industry standard for both stills and a lot of video productions - our dear editor has only just swapped his out for the Fuji above - and now the mk IV version looks set to continue the model's dominance in the market.
It can shoot a rapid seven frames per second at full RAW 30 megapixel resolution, great for capturing just the right moment or long sequences, and on the video side of things it can shoot in 4k internally or up to 120fps at 1080p. It's fully weatherproof, great for peace of mind whilst shooting in a blizzard, and the Canon range of lenses is world class.
It's heavy, especially when compared to the mirrorless cameras in this selection and doubly so for the Canon glass you'll mount oon it, but for an all round, industry leading camera there's not a lot that can compete with this thing.
But again, before you reach for the chequebook/third mortgage, have a really good think about what it is you really want/need from a camera. Yes, if you're a professional shooting most days of the winter you probably could do with one of the pricier bits of kit, but if not it's worth reiterating that 99% of the time it's the person behind the lens that makes the shot, not the lump of plastic, glass and metal in their hands. Happy shooting!