Mixed Plate
Me and My Cameras


Goofy Neal and his Nikon EM, circa 1982

My Introduction Into Surf Photography

Way back when I was in the eighth grade (around 1978), I was foraging through some cabinets to check out some of my family's photo albums. It was then that I came across my dad's old SLR camera--very old (at least 20 years old) but still in decent working condition. My dad let me use camera, thinking that I might get interested in photography. Little did he know that this would spark in me a huge interest and love for the art of photography.

I was just starting to gain interest in bodyboarding, so it was a logical progression for me to start shooting surf.

I don't remember the model number, but I do remember that it was a simple, manual camera with built-in light meter to set exposure. My dad suggested that I first start shooting in black and white, so that's what I did.

In hindsight, it was good that the camera was manual. It gave me a good understanding about how to work exposure settings. It also really established mechanical skills on how to focus and zoom.

Surf photography was especially challenging to me because focusing on a moving target was so hard initially--seemingly a hit-or-miss effort. The first rolls of film had less than half the images in fair focus. Eventually, with a lot of practice, I slowly improved.

Also, I learned the subtle nuances of surf photography-when to shoot, what angles worked, exposure, etc. This is still a work in progress, continually trying to refine my timing and accuracy.

Although I'm mostly self-taught, gotta acknowledge Bernie Baker. His comments about my work along with some small suggestions and a better understanding of the publishing process has challenged me to improve.

Cameras That I've Loved

Here's a listing of cameras and gear that I've used. Each had its virtues. Click on the image to see a sample photograph.

Pentax SLR w/50 and 200 mm lens. (1978-1982) First SLR camera used, mostly manual, very sturdy. I really wanted a Canon AE-1, but in retrospect, it was a good way for me to learn the basics. Gave back to my dad in the end.


Ewa Marine bag. (1980-1982) Borrowed the bag from a friend and tried it out with the Pentax. Very very cumbersome to use and got spotty results. Still, this was my first attempt at water photography, and it fueled my desire to shoot from the water.

Nikon EM. (1982-1986) Built like a tank, the EM was a very compact and light SLR. After I bought it I found out that Nikon wanted to build a small camera for a women (if I knew that, I wouldn't have bought it). I actually dropped it in saltwater twice and it still ran. Film advance crank broke off, but the camera still was operational. Eventually got stolen.

Nikon N2000. (1986-present) Nikon's last new model that did not have autofocus capability (if you don't count the FM2), it was a replacement for the EM. Another solid camera. No DX film exposure sensing, and has a shutter speed up to only 1/1000th second. Still going strong. I don't think I ever changed the camera battery.

Nikon Action Touch. (1988-1990) A neat point-and-shoot camera that was waterproof. Had a flash, so could do some cool effects in the water. Worked well in snowy conditions too. Eventually deep-sixed it--I think I didn't close the camera well.

DNikon 500 mm mirror reflex lens. (1989-present) Obviously this is not a camera, but it did change my surf photography dramatically. I have had this lens for over 12 years now, on "permanent loan" from my friend. It's a manual focus lens that is short and stubby. Being out of focus brought out these "donuts" of light on the edges (from the mirrored optics). Aperture is set at F8.

Nikonos V. (1991-present) This is an absolute tank of a camera. Nice, big 35 mm lens. Fully manual with an LED readout for exposure. The mirror on my camera got jarred out of place, so I can't use the readout, but it doesn't matter--having film exposure calculations in my head makes it easy. (ASA 100, Bright sunlight, F8, 1/500--changing f-stop up one, will require changing shutter speed down one). I spit on my lens and rub it around to help sheet water droplets.

Minolta GX-4. (1997-1998) Used APS film, which has lousy film quality (small negative size) and a 7:4 aspect ratio. The actual camera lens was located on the bottom of the plastic clear lens, bad for water photography since the water dripped down right over the aperture. Plastic lens eventually hazed over, rendering the camera useless.

FujiColor QuickSnap Waterproof 800. (1998-present) Since the price has gone down (on sale for $7.49 for 27 exposures), this camera is a viable option for beginning water photography. I almost always surf with one. With good lighting and a steady hand, can provide surprisingly good results. Kodak has one too, but I prefer the Fuji.

Kodak DC-260 digital. (1998-2001) This was my first foray into digital camera technology. Really changed the way I took pictures. Bootup and trigger response was painfully slow. I loved having the ability to shoot and reshoot until satisfied. Photo quality was marginal (1.5 megapixels) and shooting action was difficult (slow lens and slow shutter response). It was recently stolen, just in time for a new technology refresh. Rechargeable batteries are essential.

Sony Cybershot DSC-S85. (2001-present) Our new 4.1 megapixel digital camera is good and bad. Have not played with it enough to provide a qualified review. Optical zoom is only 3x (not adequate for tight surf photography).