07 December 2009

Surf Camera Case Review

When I bought a full-featured waterproof digital camera, a Pentax Optio W80, to replace my disappointing GoPro Wrist Hero, I needed an on-the-water carrying solution. Googling was complicated by the plethora of plastic waterproof cases, when I was instead looking for someplace to safely stow the impervious camera and keep it attached to my person underwater and in the surf.

My search turned up only the Surf Camera Case, which looks pretty good on paper (or rather, on computer monitor). It mounts to the upper chest area of a wetsuit, secures the camera with both a lanyard and a float, and has an opening for the lens to allow recording of photos or video while surfing on a wave. My early reluctance was that attaching the case would require punching two holes through my wetsuit, but the product's website claimed this would not decrease water-tightness. Lacking other options, I plunked down $40 (rather steep, but at the moment there's no real competition).

Unfortunately, the Surf Camera Case has some big design flaws. Major ones can be seen in the photo. There is a spacer glued onto the front of the mounting plate (perhaps they didn't manufacture the mount to the right thickness) which debonded after I used the case maybe half a dozen times. Luckily the mount broke apart in the parking lot so i didn't lose the camera in the water. Another recurrent issue is that the retractable lanyard is not made for water applications and rusts after a few uses, seizing up and failing to respool into its case, despite post-surf freshwater rinses. To their credit, Surfer Shot quickly sent replacement components, but for the repeatedly rusting lanyards, I would need to be on a monthly re-issue plan. I can report, however, that the lanyard does its job; I once had to duck-dive with the camera out of the case, and the lanyard kept it with me.

But wait, there's more! Although I wear a rashguard underneath, the mounting plate bruises my chest. The orange float gets in the way while paddling. And remember those two holes I had to punch in my wetsuit to attach the case? Despite claims to the contrary, I think they do cause some leakage. Not to mention the mount must remain attached at all times to block the holes, and the case can't be transferred to another wetsuit without a screwdriver. The window is nice but inconveniently there is no access to camera controls such as "record" or "on/off" while it's in the case. And it takes some force to push the camera into the case and to pull it out again, best accomplished as a two-handed operation.

With the surge of affordable waterproof cameras, a well-designed case for surfing and other active water sports is an invention waiting to happen. Still waiting; the Surf Camera Case ain't it.


  1. I appreciate the review Cynthia.
    Did you use the mounting instructions?
    On step one it says to place it at your collarbone or a half inch below. By looking at your picture you have it way low on your chest. That maybe the reason you got a little bruised. On the chest zip wetsuits that would be above the zipper. That might seem too high but you will never notice it out surfing. Also those chest zip wetsuits are great place for those who are afraid to pin on the attachment (because the flap is already outside the wetsuit).
    On step 7 it speaks of keeping the landyard very short. This will keep it from getting in your way.
    You can easily press thru the surf camera case gusset to press the shutter while its in the case if videoing your wave is your thing. I personally like to pull it out and shoot still shots while surfers are coming at me as I'm paddling back out.
    As for the force of pulling it out you just need to grab the float handle and snap your wrist back very quickly. The camera will eject right out.
    The retractable cord does need tlc after every use for it to last and I do need to touch up on that better in the instructions. While your rinsing it make sure to slide your fingers back or forth on the string to get the salt grinds of it. After your wetsuit has dried dry run your fingers across the string a few time again. That will give it a long life.
    I checked out your video of you using it. That came out pretty cool!

  2. That's the only place I could attach the case on my chest zip wetsuit. It's not low; if I put it higher, it would hit me in the neck.
    The lanyard stopped retracting. Multiple times. I followed your instructions for "TLC," but the material rusts and then lanyard binds. Multiple times.
    Sorry, but count me disappointed. I really wish it worked better.

  3. Unfortunately there's nothing special about that retractable reel. It's basically the same two dollar thing you buy at an office store for office badges with the exception that the string is of thicker quality. You can't let it dry with any salt grinds in it.
    One other thing you'll notice is that the orange float handle is very buoyant and indestructible. You won't find anything like it anywhere.

  4. Right, since the retractable reel is not made for salt water applications, it rusts and corrodes, no matter how carefully you rinse the assembly free of salt grains.
    The orange float is very durable, but it also gets in the way. I often had to push it out from under my chest while paddling.
    Let's just agree to disagree. But if y'all improve the design, I'll surely give it another go.

  5. Very nice review!!!
    I just bought the pentax w80 too. Since I am living in Naples, in the mediterranian see, for the next 2 months I don't have much hope of surfing: in the month I have spent I could surf just one day, and now the summer is coming it is going to get smaller and smaller. However I need to find something to bring my camera surfing when I go back to Spain (I am from the basque country) and more than that for the trip I am doing this August to Sri Lanka!! I was thinking of straping the camera to my neck, and then putting on a lycra jersey, holding the camera tight to my body maybe between my back and the jersey. I have never done it, what do you think??
    PS: My English is not very good, but I hope I explained myself...

  6. Andy you might try this Olympus armband case. It's what I'm using now. I've also attached a floating wrist strap, and added redundancy by tying a shoe string between the case and the float (after my camera came out of the case during a wipeout and was floating away from me).

    Your English is much better than my Spanish (or any of the other languages I've learned a spattering of). Buena suerte! I hope you get some good waves.

  7. Thanks a lot surfergrrrl!!!!!
    For both, your compliment about my English and the advice about the camera. Sounds much better than my idea. As soon as I read your comment I bought the floating strap on e-bay and I am looking for the armband case to buy it as soon as possible. I have enough shoe strings in my closet too...
    Hope you get some good waves too!!!
    PS: As there are no waves and I need to feel the ocean, I am starting a diving course today. I can't wait to bring my camera!!!

  8. Andy, be sure to check the depth rating for the camera before you take it diving. It might work only to a few meters underwater.

  9. Yes the maximum depth is about 5m (15 feet or something like that) so I will be carefull, don't worry ;)
    Thanks a lot again!!!

  10. Hi surfergrrrl,
    Just wanted to show you some photos I took on my last dive in Naples. It was in an ancient roman village called "Baia" that is 5m underwater now after an earthquake 2000 years ago:
    The camera works so good!!!! I cannot wait to use it while surfing. I am returning to spain in a few days, so I hope there are some waves!!!!!!
    Still couldn't buy the armband case, but I already have the floating strap...

  11. Andy, nice photos on your blog. I have a better case for you: the Wrist Shot. I've been using it for a few weeks and it's a great way to keep a waterproof camera secure and accessible. I'll post a full review when I have time.

  12. thanks a lot, The case looks very good!!! As I read your suggestion I just ordered it. Can't wait to have it!!!!!!

  13. AWESOME REVIEW!!!!!!! This answered every one of my questions, including punching the two holes might cause leakage, the lanyard and bruising my chest. BTW, someone on the amazon review mentioned that the lens gets "waxed" from the wax on the board.

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