Choosing Lenses for Concert Photography


Given the shooting constraints of concert photography, from song limits to bad lighting, the last thing you want to do is show up for a gig lenses that aren't cut out for the job.

If you're just starting out with shooting live music, here are a few suggestions for lenses that are up to the low-light challenge of concert photography, including f/2.8 zooms and fast primes.

Lens Upgrade Path:

Maybe you've shot a few shows with the kit lens or perhaps you've stuck it out for years and you're looking for some new glass. Assuming your current lenses don't cut it, here are a few standard lenses available in the most popular mounts, including Nikon and Canon, that are up to the task.

nikon50.jpg50mm f/1.4 – The Fast Prime:

The ubiquitous 50mm lens gets around for a few reasons, not the least of which is its fast aperture. At f/1.4, this lens is a full two-stops faster than the zooms in this list, an attribute that which can help open up even the darkest venues. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and Canon 50mm f/1.4 are staple lenses.

I recommend the f/1.4 lenses over the slower and less expensive f/1.8 lenses for a few reasons, including better wide open performance, more light gathering ability, and better build quality. Even with all these improvements, these 50mm lenses are still the cheapest f/1.4 glass you'll buy.

If your shooting conditions require something a little wider, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is also a great low-light solution.

canon1755.jpg17-55 mm f/2.8 – The Midrange Zoom:

The 17-55mm range is my favorite zoom range for cropped-sensor (APS) cameras, as it gives you everything from wide-angle to short telephoto in a convenient package. If you're photographing bands up close at the front of the stage, this lens may just have all the range you need.

Tamron makes a great little 17-50mm f/2.8 lens that gives the OEM lenses from Nikon 17-55mm and Canon 17-55mm a run for their money. Sigma makes a well-regarded 18-50mm f/2.8 lens, and Tokina produces a very solid 16-50mm f/2.8 lens as well, which offers the widest end of the bunch.

24-70mm f/2.8 – The Other Midrange Zoom:

For APS and full-frame sensors alike, the old standby range of the ~24-70mm f/2.8 is a solid bet. Like the newer APS-only 17-55mm range, this lens was designed as the go-to midrange zoom for film. On APS-sensors, this range provides a little more reach than the shorter 17-55mm range, at the expense of the wide-angle.

All the major players produce a lens in this speed and range, with the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 and the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 being popular third-party options. However, if you have the money, I always recommend going for the standard Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 or Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 – you can't go wrong.

nikon70-200.jpg70-200mm f/2.8 – The telephoto Zoom:

One of the more expensive options in this short list, the 70-200mm range is a staple for telephoto shooting. I find this range particularly useful for large or high stages, picking up the drummer, and for tight shots of individual performers.

The first choices in this range are the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. Canon also offers a slower, more compact 70-200mm f/4 lens as well.

All the major OEM brands produce lenses in this range, and third-party manufacturers like Tamron, Tokina, and Sigma also produce more cost-effective versions of this popular range, with the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 being particularly popular as a third-party choice.

For those who want a little more reach without the size and weight of a telephoto zoom, an 85mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 can help fill out a kit to act as a short telephoto.

End Notes:

Whatever the focal length and application, I would highly recommend going with the fastest lenses you can afford for concert photography. With such demanding conditions as live music, f/2.8 zooms are often a necessity, if not f/1.8 or f/1.4 primes.

Also, overall, I highly advocate buying lenses from the original manufacturer of the system you use, be it Nikon, Canon, Pentax, or Sony. While these lenses are often more expensive than third-party options, you only have to buy it once. Also, these lenses often provide the most reliable performance cameras of the same manufacturer.

That said, there's also great glass to be found from Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina. Often, it's a case of diminishing returns with brand-name products, so you should weigh your needs and preferences against cost.

For more information on the above lenses and more, please visit the Gear Guide, where I discuss some more detailed applications for these events.

What do you say?

What was your upgrade path once you ditched the kit lens? What's your most-used lens? Please feel to have your say in the comments section!

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
More Gear Recommendations

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There are 218 comments

Add yours
  1. Keith

    Well, no matter what you buy, you’re gonna want more. I started with the Nikon d70s and the 18-70 3.-4.5. I picked up the 50 mm 1.8.

    After a year and a half, I now have the 17-55 2.8 and 80-200 2.8 on the Nikon d300. The upgrades across the board…faster / sharper glass, better autofocus, better hi iso quality, are starting to make a real difference.

    My biggest comment would be to test as much as you can to really have an idea of the shots you want to create. Then shoot for the best glass / body you can afford!

  2. Ignasi

    I don’t take to much concert photos, but when I did it, I did it with a Leica 80mm f1.4 Summilux in Canon eos 5d body. I bought it for a good price in eBay.
    I appreciate too much your work and your advices, and I dream a day when I can take photos like yours. But in some cases it’s impossible to take photos with f2.8 and iso 800 (higher iso value have some noise in my camera), that’s because I use this kind of lenses.
    You can see my work here.

  3. Joel

    Scarily Todd you’ve just described my path of lens purchases (with only a couple of additions).

    Canon EOS300 (film!!!) kit -> Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime -> Canon EOS 20D -> Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 -> Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L -> Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L -> Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L

    Just waiting to grab a 50mm prime when the 5D replacement hits the shelves ;)

  4. Jonas

    I started out with the Nikon D70 and a 18-55 kit zoom. Needing a budget low-light option I bought the Nikon 50/1.8D. The next purchase was the Nikon 55-200/4-5.6 which hasn’t seen much concert use (one exception being a festival where I used it a couple of times during daytime concerts).

    Feeling that I needed faster zooms I bought the Tamron 17-50/2.8 a while ago and just a couple of days ago I sold the two slower zooms and added the Sigma 50-150/2.8 to my collection of lenses instead. I will probably take it out for a first shoot at a concert later today.

    Considering photography is just a hobby so far and that I’m living on a student budget, fast Nikon glass is just too expensive for me at the moment. I haven’t been disappointed by the third party lenses yet though.

  5. Terry Lee

    I’m completely missing the midrange lenses. I bought a fisheye lens thinking I would use that more, but I mis-timed that purchase. I should have invested in the 17-55mm. Oh well, if only I had read your article before I bought it! :-)

  6. Robert Daniels

    Hey Todd, for years I used a D70. But for many starting out like I did, the one thing you should invest in is FAST GLASS. The reason being, you will never ever regret it!! You just won’t. Get the best glass you can if you using a certain manufacturers camera and stick to their lenses if you can. I for instance 10 years sacrificed and bout a 28-70 afs, 80-200mm/ 2.8 a 50mm/1.8 and a sigma 28-105mm 2.8-4. Now I use a D300 and I am still using these lenses which are over 10 years old. One thing I must say is now I’ve ditched my monopod for exchange of faster shutter speeds and higher ISO’s. Everything turning out pretty sweet! Now All i need is is that elusive 14-24mm/2.8 before the Bermuda Music Festival in October featuring Beyonce and Alicia Keys. Oh my some great times ahead!
    Wissh I had lighting like you guys in states though WWOW! Here is my contribution of a recent show.

  7. andy stenz

    Since I do a lot more portraits than concerts, I picked up the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 which has worked out nicely in concerts as far as primes go. Since I had the 85mm, I went with Sigma’s 30mm f/1.4 because it was cheaper and wider than the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 and have been happy (although I’ve heard rumors about Nikon releasing some wide f/1.4’s in Sept.

    I look forward to the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR. I’ve played with VR and non VR versions and I’m thinking that the Nikon VR is worth the extra $900 over the off-brand zoom – especially in low light (which is why I’m buying that thing in the first place).

  8. Olivier

    The Tamron 28-75 2.8 XR Di is also a really good lens.
    Sharp and fast.
    I do have enough lens I think (Tamron 28-75 2.8 + Nikon 1.8 + Nikon 85 1.8 + Nikon 80-200 2.8)! but the missing piece is a wide. Still doubting if I would take a Tokina 11-16 or something else. Camera is DX format not FX so I think the 11-16 wil help a lot !

  9. Celso

    Well I’m dumb as hell, as I’m a sucker for a good deal… Let me explain. I had a Nikon D40 with the kit lenses bought this April, I also bought the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 in May and then I sold it all…

    I saw a sweet deal on a Canon 400d with the kit lens from the 450d, the IS version and I bought it and a couple of extra accessories like batteries, a grip, backpack…

    So I was decided to save some money to buy a Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 now, I really need to stop wasting money and putting it into fast lens… So as I was saying, I was saving money for the sigma, when I get this e-mail about this “festival” in the area…

    The artists are very well known, some nation wide and others internationally… So now I have till August 1st to get tho money for a fast prime as I can’t get the money for that sigma in two weeks… I think :/

    My advice is, don’t spend your money on lower grade lens just because you get the urge to photograph a new kind of situation… You’re far better of if you gather money for a couple of months for a better lens, and you’ll have more “decision” time.

    As I told you I’m not going to follow my advice as I need a f/1.8 for Canon (at the least) for those gigs, and I was saving for the Sigma…

  10. Jason Sheesley

    I bought body-only.

    However, I’m planing to upgrade all of my kit in about three months, and the next lens purchase is the last remaining sticking point.

    As much as I love Todd’s wide shots, I’m leaning more toward longer focal lengths. All of my shooting is on small stages and I prefer a tighter angle of view. A 4-5 piece group on a 30 foot wide stage is way too cluttered for wide stuff IMO. Too many mic stands and other crap clogging up the shot.

    I’m shooting with the 50mm 1.8 at the moment, but I continually find myself wanting a bit more focal length. Seeing as I’m not shooting in a pit, I find that I can always back up a bit (with due respect to Robert Capa). Plus, that lets the fans get to the front of the stage and helps me be less annoying.

    I also want to switch to full frame, so I have to take that into consideration.

    I’ll probably just spring for the 70-200 and be done with it for now. As much as I’m leaning toward the fast primes, I’m just not sure I want to invest in a normal lens when the zooms nowadays are so good. Of course, it’s always nice to have the 1.4 and 1.8 lenses to make absolutely sure I can get the extra light if I need it. I’m just not sure I need to pay for the flexibility of a zoom if I don’t think I need it.

    Anyway, no sense in stressing about it before Photokina at least.

    Anybody shoot shows with that 105mm 2.8 macro?

  11. Todd

    Hey all,

    Thanks so much for adding your thoughts to this post, you’ve turned it into a great read. It’s especially interesting to see what choices everyone has made in their purchases.

  12. Tony siciliano

    The first lens I bought was the nikon 18-70, which is great for photojournalism, but at f/4.5 is un-useable for concerts. Next I got a 105mm f/2.8 macro, which is great for close portraits during concerts, usually of the people in the front, and good for drummers in the back. Next I got a 50 f/1.8 (garage sale, 12 bucks lol). Best one so far. Next the 70-200 f/2.8 which is a dream machine and blows my other lenses out of the water, if not for its heaviness. Next a manual 28mm f/2.8 which is decent for shots of more than one performer. More recently, I picked up the AF 50mm f/1.4 and its a dream to use. 1.4 is a great number lol. I havn’t got a chance to use it at a concert yet, but coming this sat/sun I will! Hoping to get the 24-70 next, to replace the 18-70 i use now.

  13. Todd

    In the words of a guitarist for a band I befriended when I first started shooting gigs:

    Don’t forget the drummer.

    This has always stuck with me, so I always try to get at least a few shots of the drummer during a set. Which is often when the 70-200mm comes into play.

  14. Tony siciliano

    Ya like didja ever notice how they don’t light the drummer as well? he’s all the way stuck in the back but they completely exclude him from sweet colored light lol

  15. Daniel

    Well, I’ve been dying to get something other than my 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, which will allow me to finally start taking some decent concert shots.

    I thought for a long time, if I should buy something right now, or gather some decent money and go a few steps higher (this means, buying the Canon 50mm f/1.8, or save to buy the tamron 17-50 f/2.8).
    Well, I’ve decided to buy the prime mainly because I didn’t want to get stuck with the kit lens. This way, I might be spending money that I could save for the tamron, but at least I’ll have a decent lens to start taking some shots, while I save some more.

    This is like a commitment: either you don’t mind not doing concerts while you save, or you don’t mind taking a little longer to get a better lens, and buy an decent entry-liner (like a 50mm prime) which allows you to start shooting sooner, and gaining experience.

    Don’t know if it makes any sense at all, but that’s the road I took.

  16. Celso

    The way I see it, you can always see what angles you like the most for the closeups with some crops, trying to mimic closer lens that you can buy afterwards… I guess you will use more those lens with more focal length than the wider ones… That’s why I’m aiming at the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8

  17. Joel

    @todd: totally agree with you regarding the drummer – often forgotten are they! Though I would love to see the bands somehow bring them more front + center!

  18. Craig Norris

    I’ve been shooting shows on the east coast of Canada like a mad man for about 6 months. I’ve been rockin a 50mm 1.4 USM. Awesome glass but it’s a little long on a 30D, especially in small bars. At the moment I’m gitty with excitement because I’ll be picking up a brand new 35mm 1.4L, and a 16-35mm 2.8L… My first L glass – Good bye RRSPs! I’m also a little gitty because I have my first paid gig tomorrow night with Hey Rosetta… And I’ve scored a press pass for a big show in Halifax with the Black Keys, City in Colour, and Stars. First time in a proper pit! Just wanted to share the excitment with the rest of you camera geeks!!! Love the site Todd!

  19. Todd

    This discussion is great, everyone. I’m loving it.

    Joel: I would also not mind one bit if drummers were moved up to the front of the stage more often. The Roots did this with ?uestlove recently and it made for great shooting.

    Craig: Congrats on the paid gig, and also for the press pass. Feels good, doesn’t it? I respect that you’ve been sweating it out without a barricade for months, too – street cred, my friend.

  20. Mike C

    Been following your site for a while now and I am always amazed at the sharpness of your pictures. I shoot concerts and band promos mostly. So far my go to lens was the 50mm f1.8 and the 150mm f2.8 for the drummer shots. Drummers are always a challenge since they sit far in the back and move a hell of a lot. Also they always seem to be obstructed by something or other, hard to get a clear shot. I just got a 24-70mm f2.8 from Sigma. Love the lens, will be using it for gig tomorrow night for the first time.

  21. Celso

    The drummer shots are complicated in it self by the instrument itself, the size and display of the drums make it difficult to capture that shot, and in high stages it’s really hard to have a clean line of sight to the drummer…

    At least from my experience as being one among the crowd… AS a photographer I only have a 4 day experience with very few resources so the problem there was to get enough light for the shot, If I had the 50mm f/1.8 then I would be in the clear…

    Wish I had more money for the f/1.4 version now or something more usable like a fast zoom… It think I’ll just have to pace myself down… I’m thinking of lens and concerts and lots of stuff and I really should slow down and stick to my possibilities at the present time…

  22. Olivier

    I agree with Celso: complicated due to the instrument.
    I don’t see myself getting on stage for taking him in picture at a festival :-)
    The only times I di try, the picture turned horrible. Really painful for the eyes.
    The only descent picture I could ever take was some weeks ago at The Main Square Festival in Arras (FR). It’s the drummer of Sigur Ros. Did it with my 80-200 (I love this lens but already to deep when close from the stage).

    About the Tamron, I did find that on a D200/D300, under 1/100 or 1/125, the pictures are not sharp sharp. At or above these S speed, great lens. But nothing would ever beat a Nikon 24-70. But really too expensive for an amateur like me..

  23. Craig Norris

    With regards to drummers… For anyone that’s shooting in smaller venues with less known bands no doubt lighting, especially on the kit, has been a tough issue. To combat this I purchased 5 125 watt indoor flood lights. I duck tape em to the stands, and shine them up through the drum skins. I really dig the effect… it makes the whole kit glow. Obviously it’s not something you can do for every show, you have to work it out with the band well before hand, but it has been my experiance that the smaller bands are generally open to experimentation. It has allowed me to spend a lot more time practicing drummer composition.

  24. Todd

    Hey all, I’ll definitely be making a post on drummers soon, so save some discussion for that post, too!

    Martin: Nice examples with great lighting!

  25. maryelle

    My lens-buying upgrade path:

    I started with the 50mm 1.8 and the kit (Nikon) 18-55. Then I got the 55-200. Then I bought a D300 and knew the kit and the 55-200 weren’t going to cut it for most venues (although they are pretty darn good during daylight), and the 50mm was too short for some. So from there I went:

    85mm 1.8
    20mm 2.8
    24-70 2.8 (rented)
    24-70 2.8 (bought)
    17-55 2.8 (bought, hasn’t arrived yet)
    70-200 VR 2.8 (bought, hasn’t arrived yet)

    I used the rented 24-70 the other night and it was worth every last cent although still slightly short because of where the venue made me stand. I bought one two days later, and ordered the 70-200. I may end up selling the 20mm once the 17-55 arrives, but I’ll keep the 50 and 85 because of the larger aperture and I love primes anyway.

  26. Todd

    Hey Maryelle,

    Thanks for input on this discussion. I see you’ve picked up some great glass that will be fitting to the excellent D300.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I really love the range of the 17-55mm on the DX frame, I think you’ll like it.

    • Jon

      I have the Nikon 18-55mm . Should I get the Tamron 28-75 2.8 or the 17-50 2.8. Both Tamron and non-VC. I don’t want my 18-55 to “go to waste” though.

      • Todd

        Jon, I wouldn’t worry about the 18-55mm going to waste. The fact is, either the Tamron 28-75mm or the Tamron 17-50mm are going to offer better image quality and more flexibility due to the wider, constant f/2.8 aperture. If you’re going to be shooting DX, I say go for the Tamron 17-50mm, the range is a better fit unless you shoot tighter.

  27. kathryn

    Just though I’d point out that the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is optimized for cropped sensor cameras. If you have a full frame camera, you’ll get vignetting in the corners, so it’s up to you whether or not it works for you.

    Also, a lot of people don’t realize that f/1.4 is actually 2/3rds of a stop faster than f/1.8. If you are deciding between two prime lenses and have the cash, get the f/1.4 version! It will save you headache over the long run.

  28. George K.

    I’ve been shooting concert photography for years and while I rely on my Canon L lenses for most of my work, it’s only because I’m making money from shooting photos. For everyone else, I can’t talk up Tamron lenses enough.

    The Tamron 17-50mm 2.8 is a fantastic low light lens that is only a little slower at autofocusing than the Canon equivalents and cost a ton less. It also weighs a lot less, which can be a big help when you’re lugging around gear at a show.

    They just released a new 70-200mm 2.8 that got great reviews in the mags and might give the Canon L version a run for the money. The Tamron model doesn’t feature image stablization, but that isn’t always necessary when your photographing a fast moving concert.

    Again, you get what you pay for with lenses, but with Tamron you do get a lot of bang for your buck. Just my two cents.

  29. Todd recently posted reviews of all the major 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses.

    The Tamron 70-200mm actually stacks up quite well to the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, third-party lens or not. On the 5D, according to DPR’s test data, the Tamron actually out-performs the Canon lens at f/2.8 and f/4.

    Here’s a link to a comparison:
    Tamron vs Canon: 70-200mm f/2.8s

  30. Celso

    If you read the full review of the Tamron you will see that it’s focusing motor is quite slow and VERY noisy… Plus this part:

    It’s important to emphasize that we only have the Canon mount lens available to test, and the lens may well behave better on other makes of camera body (indeed this may even be a defect specific to our individual sample). But unfortunately it does seem unreliable on all of the bodies used during this review (i.e. EOS 450D, EOS 40D, EOS 5D, EOS-1D Mark III), so Canon users seeking absolute focus reliability wide open may well need to look elsewhere.

    written about a test of focusing accuracy wide open…

  31. Todd

    I would be very curious to see how the new Tamron 70-200mm works with Nikon.

    Tamron was touting the new in-lens focusing motor for Nikon-mount, which may be different than whatever in-lens AF motor is used for the Canon version.

  32. Kylie

    I currently use two Canon 30D’s mainly because I know my way around them and once I get the money I’ll upgrade to something more flash, I am still crossing my fingers for Canon to get a nice 6200ISO as I’m not that good on a Nikon and my lenses are all Canon brand.

    50mm f/1.8
    24-70mm f/2.8
    70-200mm f/2.8

    I am wanting something wide, I was thinking a 15mm f/2.8 fisheye but also tossing up a 16-35mm f/2.8 or 17-55f/2.8.. price ranges between both are quite a bit so I need to make the correct decision

  33. Jacinta

    Spot on as usual Todd. My upgrade from my kit lenses involved the two Tamron mid-range zooms you mention there, as well as the Canon 70-200 2.8L, and when I went full-frame I upgraded once again to add a 24-70 2.8L and a 17-40 4L. I like to keep my kit very minimal. Three lenses to do just about everything! :)

  34. Tim

    Todd…thanks for this great website.
    I work for a company that makes cymbals and have been going to several shows to get shots for our websites and man…the folks here are right. Drummers are leftt in the dark way too often.
    Here is my stuff:
    Started with a D40 and bought a 50mm 1.8 (lots of fun, but manual focus was tough)
    Upgraded to a D300 and purchased a Sigma 28-70 2.8 and generally love it but i wonder how much faster the focus would be on the Nikon version.
    I am hoping to get a 70-200 2.8 or 17-55 2.8 in the future.
    Thanks again for the great site and I’m looking forward to your drummer talk!

  35. Janice

    I’m a photographer for an entertainment news paper called fresh!nk.
    I’m only 17 and I don’t have the money for any new lenses, I’m still paying payments on my Nikon D80 I bought over a year ago.
    I shot Coachella a few months back and as soon as the sun went down so did the quality of my pictures. (I try to never use flash when shooting shows.)
    so I’m kind of panicked because I’m driving to LA tomorrow to shoot warped tour and still all I have to work with is my silly kit lens. (18-135mm f/3.5) ) :

    so anyways I have a couple of questions for you:
    how do I make the best use of my kit lenses? any advise?
    should I consider buying a used lens from like a pawn shop? eBay?

    Love the site by the way, creepy as it may sound, you’re an inspiration.

  36. robert daniels

    Janice if its anything you can do purchase a Nikon 50mm/ 1.8 this will get you through the rough times. Punch that iso up to 1600 and blast away. I also use a D80 and D300.

  37. m0n5t3r

    my upgrade path was a little different:

    I bought the Nikon D60 a few months ago, together with the 18-55 non-VR kit lens;

    then I got the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, and, soon after, I managed to get a photo pass to a festival around here, and I got around reasonably with the Sigma and a borrowed 55-200 mm (I was still exploring the camera, anyway);

    based on that experience, my next lens was the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, which works just fine if you are reasonably close (front/2nd row too)

    finally, 2 weeks ago I got the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8; I tested it in concert conditions a few days ago (public square concert, all shooting allowed), and I can say I’m satisfied with it; now, all I have left is to improve what’s behind the camera :D

  38. andrew bird

    More questions!
    Any mention of using on camera flash or is it simply waiting for the right timing with the front lights? Obvously balance for tungsten but i’ve found even that doesn’t adjust for the red hue. Do you do a manual white bal adjust?


  39. Doreen

    I started with my Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 and a few weeks ago I bought a Nikkor 50 f/1.4.
    When I have enough money I will buy also the Nikkor 70-200, but I ussually shoot small concerts, so it’s not worth it yet. And the next thing I will buy is the Nikon D90 :). After that some other glass like the 70-200 and the 85 mm and 35 mm.

  40. Tracy Ellen Photography

    Hi! This article really helped me on choosing what lens to get next, but I’ve been getting on advice on buying the 50mm f/1.8 I shoot shows too and I have a Canon rebel xTi. Your photography really blew me away, I enjoy your photos! If you could please help me on lens and deciding, I would appreciate it! Thank you.

    -Tracy Ellen
    Feel free to contact me.

  41. Todd

    Hey Tracy,

    Did you ever get your lens upgrade sorted out? I think a 50mm f/1.8 lens is a great option, but I prefer the faster f/1.4 lens. It’s a little more, but you gain 2/3 stop and the performance of the f/1.4 is generally getter at wide apertures.

  42. Todd

    Nikon only makes one 70-200mm f/2.8, which has VR. Do you have the 80-200mm f/2.8?

    Yes, using a faster shutter speed will negate the need for in-lens stabilization. At a certain point, a faster shutter speed with counteract camera shake, just as it will freeze motion blur in the subject.

    Hope this helps, glad to hear you enjoy the site.

  43. Todd

    VR is most useful in situations where the subject motion (or lack of it) allows one to use shutter speeds that are slower than “normal.”

    For example, a motionless singer at a microphone would allow one to use much slower shutter speeds than a singer thrashing around with a guitar if the goal is to freeze motion.

    VR allows one to counteract the camera shake that becomes more evident at slower speeds. You’re not really getting “more light,” but you will be empowered to shoot in worse light without having to worry as much about camera shake for certain subjects.

    Hope this helps.

  44. Justin

    Hi Todd, everyone,

    Having just entered into the world of concert photography, I’m shooting mostly with a Canon 400D and Tamron 17-50 f/2.8. I’m actually planning on upgrading my body to a 50D first, but I’m wondering, price considerations aside, if the Canon 17-55 f/2.8 IS lens is worth the upgrade? Anybody have experience with both the Tamron 17-50 and Canon 17-55 lenses?

    If it’s not worth it, I’m going to take that money and put it towards a 50mm f/1.4 (already have the f/1.8) or possibly a 70-200 f/2.8 IS.

    Thanks! (And thanks for the awesome site and work Todd!)


  45. Todd

    Hey Justin,

    I think that in the case of brand name (Canon 17-55) vs third-party (Tamron 17-50), it’s going to be a case of diminishing returns when you go for the more expensive lens. For some, the upgrade is worth it for the details.

    To that end, I’d ask: what isn’t the Tamron doing for you? Optical performance aside, one thing I suspect is that the Canon lens (being USM) would focus more quickly and more precisely under difficult conditions.

  46. Justin


    What isn’t it doing? Truthfully, I can’t rag on it — it’s been a solid performer. I’m mainly interested in how much better the Canon lens is compared to the Tamron (if any), especially when fitted to the 50D.

  47. Todd

    Hey Justin,

    I’d recommend renting or otherwise trying to borrow the Canon lens. Even just going to the store to try it out (along side your Tamron) might give you an idea as to the AF speed and such.

    Hopefully someone can chime in here, but good luck.

  48. Sean Molin

    I shoot local concert photography with a D700, and I use EXCLUSIVELY:

    14-24mm f/2.8
    50mm f/1.8
    85mm f/1.8

    I’m fortunate enough to be able to get ON stage (sometimes laying on the ground at the feet of a guitar player in a show where he can step on me) most of the time, so I let me feet do the zooming.

  49. Zach Armstrong

    Just purchased the Tamron 17-50 mm f/2.8, since the Nikon is a bit out of my price range and most reviews I’ve read have been nothing but glowing. Should arrive mid-week! Can’t wait to give her a try.

    Thanks for the tip!
    Zach Armstrong

    • Todd

      Hi Tracy,

      The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 is about $1,900 right now after the recent price raises. I generally buy my gear from B&H in New York.

  50. andrew bird

    70-200mm Is quite a slow lens for concert photography, the IS gives at least another stop though: i’ve used it on the 5DII as his camera has very low noise at 1600iso. It’s around £1500 to £1650.

    Calumet Photographic seem to be the most expensive, B&H in New York are cheaper if you just want to get in and get out. If you prefer friendly people who are interested in you, are awesome.

  51. Chad

    Started with my Canon 20D about 24 months ago. 17-85 4-5.6 IS – kit with a 75-300 4-5.6. I was just dabbling a little in concert photography and realized this just wouldn’t work.. Purchased the cheap $100 Canon 50 1.8, and a sigma 30 1.4 (great lens!). Both of these primes opened me up to a new world of what I could shoot. A couple months later purchased the 10-22 3.5-4.5 to go wide. I realized that even @ 3.5 when focusing @ 10mm I was able to gather a lot of light.
    About 16 months ago, I upgraded to a 40D with a 24-105 4L IS and 70-200 2.8L IS.
    My bag then consisted of the Sigma 30 1.4, Canon 50 1.8 (upgraded to the 1.4), 70-200 2.8L IS, and 17-85 4-5.6 IS.
    About 10 months ago, I went full frame, I couldn’t wait and added a 5D and a 16-35 2.8L to my bag. Music festival season approached and I was looking for a way to lighten the load so I added a 28-300 3.5-5.6L IS ( dont listen to all the bad press on this lens, it is extremely versatile, well built, and relatively sharp between 35-270 5.6. . During the day my festival bag consisted of the 28-300, 16-35(current) or the 10-22(past), and 15mm fish. At night it was a different story.
    My current bag (Crumpler’s Brazillion Dollar home), when packed full for a night of prepared for anything, 2x 5D MKII’s, 70-200 2.8, 16-35 2.8, 15 2.8 Fish, 35 1.4L, 50 1.4, 85 1.2L, 28-70 2.8L(got a great deal used- It is softer than the new 24-70, but better contrast. The AF is a bit slow in low light, but the 24 1.4L was a greater necessity for me vs. a new 24-70..I am renting a Sigma 24-70 to try for a week), and soon to add the 24 1.4L II (currently on order), and a 1.4x tele. (All Canon Glass). There is a lot of stuff in here and it gets heavy when loaded with Speedlights and accessories, but if I am shooting a new band in a new venue, I am prepared for just about anything. If I am familiar with the band and the venue and only carrying 1 body, I usually pack the 70-200, 35 1.4, 50 1.4, 16-35, and either the 28-70 or 85 1.2 ( depending on the venue and band). The combination of primes gives me the same coverage as a mid range zoom.

    Regarding, where to buy- I have purchased several lenses from B&H, and shop @ Calumet. B&H is great when you know what you want and want a competitive price. The sales people are generally pretty helpful. Calumet is 99% of the time @ list price, however the level of knowledge and customer service that their staff has is outstanding and at times worth the extra $.

    The smallest amount of gear I will carry with the 5D MKII’s is typically the 70-200 ,28-70 and 16-35. Primes arent as much of a necessity now with the higher ISO, however I still like shooting with them whenever possible.

  52. Paul

    What i find difficult to understand coming over from a digital pint and shoot is what length lens I need. I always sit ini the 8th row or closer or I genrally dont go. I figure from the 8th row of most smaller venues its about 25-35 feet (just a guess).When I sit closer the choices are easier but from 30-40 feet it is hard to tell. I want to be able to get close enough with my Canon XSI to get good photos, closeups when I can either with the lens or with photo shop.
    A 70-200 is a big lens, if I knew I could do a good job with a 150mm I could save some time and weight. The low F stop is a given. Any advice??

    • Todd

      Hey Jenn,

      It all depends on the lens that comes with the camera, but if you’re talking about standard kits (often a ~18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 for cameras with 1.5x crop sensors), then I certainly don’t recommend those packages.

      If you have the choice, I’d suggest going with the camera body you want and then purchasing the lenses most suited to concert photography a la carte.

  53. david

    Hi All,
    is anyone shooting shows with the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG Macro HSM II?
    I have gotten photo passes to a music festival in late June and was thinking about buying this lens.
    Currently my rig is: Nikon D80, a 50mm 1.8 and a kit lens 18-135 f3.5-4 and SB-800 flash.
    No way can I afford the Nikon VR lens and so I’ll just be working with the gear that I have.. which so far has kinda worked ..with the help of noise ninja, I’ve been able to produce some fairly descent work.
    So if anyone has any actual experience with this lens shooting shows I’d love to hear it.

  54. david

    Follow up to my sigma post … I just discovered for the same price as the Sigma I could get a used Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 ED AF-D …
    Would that be a better buy then the sigma?

  55. Leslie

    Hi Todd, I’m an amateur concert photographer in New York. I’ve been using a point and shoot digital camera for a couple of years and I’m about to invest in a Canon Rebel XS or XSi with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. I can’t really afford to shell out $1500 for a good lense, so I’m currently deciding between the 50 f/1.8 or 1.4, the 28-70 f/2.8-4 or something similarly priced. What would you suggest? Occasionally I do outdoor shows or huge venues, but usually I’m very close to the stage at smaller venues with either extremely low light or flashing lights/strobe lighting.

    I’d really appreciate your advice, thanks!

  56. Yalcin

    I started with XTI+Ef 28+135/3.5-5.6 IS USM, very good lens but not for concerts, I liked to use long exposure shot, especially the drummers as they are my favourite subjects.

    Then I discovered the MF world and swithed there with 5D. Used Rolleinar 135/2.8 and Zeiss Sonnar 2.8/85 there with nice performance but focusing in those low light environbments are not easy and if you have the time limit then AF is the lifesaver. Now after trying a lot of different MF lenses and trying them, was shooting macros and fall in love with Leica Elmarit-R 2.8/35 I again changed path due to my new work and now swithing back to AF lenses. I still love to shoot concerts as a hobby so can’t afford to buy expensive gadget for now. But I can easily say that the way to go for is the fast zooms as primes limits your composition. I used Canon EF 70-200/4 L IS USM and got very good results with it but at ISO3200 (NR off) and NR software usage you loose some detail so faster is allways better.

    I’ve traded my MF Zeiss 2.8/20 with a Sigma 24-70/2.8 EX DG Macro which a decent performancer and not a wrong choice (also compatible with 5D MkII). The next aim is the 70-200/2.8 lens, optical wise Tamron is a safe choice but AF speed is scary. Canon is a decent performer but with a lot more USD, EF IS USM is the best but too pricey if you are not earning your life from this but it will my definite lens :)

    So if you say cut the crap here is my Canon FF suggestion:
    – Sigma 24-70/2.8 EX DG Macro for Budget, Canon EF 24-70/2.8 L for the money is no problem guy
    – Sigma 70-200/2.8 for the budget (better AF performance than Tamron), Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L IS USM for the money is no problem buy.
    – For small dark venues you can even feel desperate with your f:1.8 (I got 1/10 in one venue, f:1.8, ISO1600 on XTI) so faster is allways better, my choice is EF 85/1.2 L II, I know it is pretty expensive but it is a special lens. For the whole group shots I would choose the Sigma 20/1.8
    – as a body 5D MkII is the dream but if you are tight in budget original 5D is still a good performer. If you need the speed than you can think 40D.

  57. Shon

    This is the greatest page ever. Thanks, Todd, and everyone for all your expertise!

    I’ve been a videographer/editor for the last seven years, but I loved my Sony point and shoot. Recently, some friends of mine in a national act hooked me up with a photo pass at a pretty nice venue, so I went out and bought the Canon XSi with the 18-55 f3.5-5.6 lens bundle.

    I took the camera out for a test drive at a local pub and was horrified at the results.

    I just picked up the 50 mm f1.8 II, but haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. The show’s three days away. I’m getting nervous.

    Stoked to discover this site, though. Great stuff, Todd!

  58. Shaun

    Hi Todd,

    Firstly, great site, I’ve found all the comments, photos and tips hugely interesting and helpful. I’m currently shooting live bands with a Nikon D90 and a Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens. I’m thinking about adding a zoom lens and a flashgun to my gear to provide more flexibility and ensure I don’t wind up at a show at some stage in the future were I can’t get close to the action and my 50mm won’t cut it. Currently I’m just approaching bands and shooting a few pics for them to use online, but ultimately I’d like to be working for a publication of some sort and getting photos published.

    The Nikon 70-200 2.8 lens looks brilliant, but of course pricey – £1500!. I’m not sure weather I’d be best to simply go for this or something with smaller range. Also what would you recommend flashgun wise for my D90? I’ve had a look at the three Nikon have in the range but would be interested in your views on which one is best suited for live band photos.

    A few recent photos I’ve taken are here if you get a moment to look:

    Thanks in advance.

    Cheers, Shaun.

  59. rigo

    hi there,

    before I shot my first concert, almost a year ago I looked online to get an idea of what to do, and well I found your site!

    Since then I’ve only gotten a few big time artists, but at least i’ve got everything from country to alternative to latin.

    …and it is always getting better!

    thanks for the initial kick!

  60. Jason

    Hey Todd, great site and great advice. I did my first gig last week and if i didn’t have the 50mm 1.8 i dont think i would have got any decent shots. The other lenses i have are 3.5-4.0 range aperture.

    The low light movement and so on was a real challenge but one i really enjoyed. It was a small gig so had the room to move around but still had to be mindful of the crowd and trying to get the shots whilst not being an eyesore to the fans.

    The band intend to use some of the shots for their new website, off the back of this i have been asked to do some more gigs – so your advice on lens upgrade path might just come in useful, well I hope.

  61. Eric

    As a serious amateur interested in professional results and looking to upgrade gear, do you feel it positive, negative or neutral if multiple brands/systems are used? Will the differences in file characteristics overpower a collection of otherwise strong images?

  62. Jeff Dykhuis

    I almost entirely rely on my Tokina 80-200 f2.8 ATX PRO lens and have been amazed by the results, the sharpness and detail rivals that of Nikon and since the company was started by ex Nikon engineers using Hoya glass i am not surprised. I picked this lens up used off Ebay through the country of Portugal for $452.00 and i will buy Tokina again for sure.

  63. Rich


    Great site, a friend just introduced this to me. I did my first concert last week, Stryper at a mid-size theater near me. I used a D80 with my new 35mm 1.8 and I think it was pretty good. Do you still feel the 1.4 has an advantage over the 1.8 or is it a fair trade considering one is 50mm and one is 35mm? the 35 was perfect given the tiny space I had to work in.

    Now, off to read more of the site!

  64. Paul

    Hello Todd and readers, great site. I have been reading this string of comments for a while now.
    My wife and I go to see a 1980s performer and his band and I enjoy taking photos at the concerts. They have never had a photo pit at any concert we have gone to but we do well with our seat locations. We generally get anywhere from the front row to the 7th row in smaller venues that hold 1000-2000 people. Most venues the front row is within a very short distance of the stage so even the 7th row or closer is a reasonably short distance.
    I had been using my Lumix point and shoot with 12x optical zoom. Great zoom but so many shots were blurry. I decided to make the jump to DLSR with a Canon XSI. I did allot of reading on this camera but I dont think you can really grasp the lens issues until you buy it and try it. Obviously the silly kit lens is worthless. So I have been really looking for an answer that works for me.
    I rented a Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 but ended up sitting too far away. It was a concert that was free with a State Fair admission. The lens got some good shots but I did not rent it for that great of a distance.
    We went to a concert this month but I forgot to rent the lens however I really think the 50-150 may just be the lens for my normal seat locations. In November we are going to two more concerts and we are in 6th row or closer so I was going to rent the 50-150 again and test it out.
    Most of the venues are very cool about pictures, its an 80s band for Gods sake. Still some venues are cool unless you bring a giant white bazooka of a lens. So I felt like the Sigma 50-150 was a good compromise. Its 2.5 inches shorter and lighter than the 70-200. The Canon version only comes in white so its size stands out even more. I also thought I would use the 50-150 as a walk around lenses until I can add some other options as funds become available.
    My main goal are decent concert photos that I keep for myself or print for my wife and her friends or post on web pages. I only worry because I have read some great comments on this lense and some less than good things also. What are your thoughts on the Sigma 50-150 for my telephoto lens? I realize the 70-200 gives me more reach but it is so big and so expensive especially for someone who has only owned the camera for 7 months. I still have so much to learn.
    thanks for your thoughts or the thoughts of any readers.

  65. Jeff

    im using a canon 30d and a sigma 30mm f1.4 that route with all primes eventually spanning from 10mm fisheye to 200mm telephoto. but i have been reading up on this website about the lens selection

  66. Christi

    I’ve recently gotten into concert photography. The only lens I use for concerts right now is my 50mm f1.8. However, most of the shows I shoot tend to be smaller venues where I’m very close to the band and am unable to move around a lot. I’m looking for something a little bit wider but I have no idea what to pick. I’m really horrible at making decisions.
    I’m going to try to get a photo pass for a show coming up on December 4th, and a new lens would be an awesome thing to have for this.
    I’ve been looking at the Nikon 35mm f1.8, the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8, Tamron 28-75mm f2.8, and the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8.
    I’ve heard good things about each lens, but am really unsure of which one to get, so I was thinking maybe one of you could help me out.

    If you’d like to view some of my photos you can do so here: (feedback would be awesome, I’m still very much new to this)
    Also, do you think that I would be able to get a photo pass? I don’t work for anyone, so it would just be for myself and I would send the link to my flickr to the band’s manager.

    I’ve really enjoyed this thread, any help would be greatly appreciated.

  67. Jeff Dykhuis

    I am not so great at choosing lenses myself and tend to stick with my 80-200mm f2.8 Tokina ATX pro. but i looked at your Flickr photos and like you said its a small venue. I din’t know what you camera is your shooting with but if its anything like mine which is a 40d which means it has a 1.6x crop factor then i would go for the 17-50 f2.8 since the shots you have shown are already pretty close this will give you more of a range to work with. Sometimes shooting wide is good because if needed you can crop, shooting close does not allow much of that. Shooting with a full frame camera will not make any difference on focal length. So the difference between a 35mm and the 17-50, f2.8 al depends on if you shoot with a full frame or not. you need to tell us if you do. Also, Flickr, i would not use that. Anyone could, not good enough, i started out just using a blog site, still free but it has its own URL and just looks better. Record labels and publicist like it when you write something before and after the show too if you can, it helps., check out my site here by clicking on my name, its really helped me.

  68. Christi

    Thanks for responding. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time so I already sent the e-mail to the band’s manager with the link to my flickr in it. I didn’t see that you had commented back because the e-mail saying someone else had commented went to my spam folder. I wanted to send it because I don’t know how long it will take to get a response, and if I don’t get the pass I need to get tickets before the show sells out.
    I have a friend who has gotten passes by using her flickr, so I suppose there is a chance for me. I’m not really expecting to get it, but it would just be really awesome if I did. Hopefully I’ll have a website by the time I get to go to another show. I’ll definitely start on a blog though, thanks for that tip.

    Anyway, I shoot with a Nikon D80. Not full frame. The 17-50 was where I was leaning, but on Amazon it only has 3 and a half stars, while the 28-75 has 4 and a half. I’ve been reading reviews of them online at other places, but nothing has a definite answer that can help me make up my mind. Like I said, I’m really terrible at making decisions. I just mainly would like to know if it’s a decent lens and if I’ll be happy with it.
    I do mainly shoot at this one incredibly small venue, but I’m hoping to get into concert photography more soon, and there’s another venue about an hour or so away from me that is bigger, so I’m thinking the 28-75 might be better. Then again, shooting with my 50mm at that venue was still pretty close for some of the shots. The extra on the 28-75 would be nice for the drummer though. Honestly, I don’t know what to do, haha. I’ll just read some more reviews and just make up my mind. Hopefully I don’t have to resort to “eenie meenie miny moe”! lol

    If anyone has experience with either one of these lenses (Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 and Tamron 28-75mm f2.8), your opinion of them would be greatly appreciated.

  69. Christi

    I checked reviews, and many people said both Tamron lenses were had slow AF in low light. Normally I use manual focus, but my eyesight isn’t that great, and every now and then the AF really saves my tail.
    Unless I find something better, I might just get the Nikon 35mm f1.8 since I’m on a budget.
    I’m going to look into the sigma 28-75mm f2.8.

  70. Jeff Dykhuis

    I find that with Tamron, you get what you pay for, i would check out Tokina lenses, better build quality and much sharper at least the ATX pro series. I got my 80-200 f2.8 for $450 on ebay. Some reviews claim its sharper than a Canon L lens. The New Sigma 50mm 1.4 has AF that you can over ride just by turning the focus ring like you normally would.

  71. Paul

    OK so I had 4th row seats in a small theater to see our favorite 80s band. The lighting was not bad, sometimes,and I was alsmost dead center of the lead singer. I AM A ROOKIE!!
    I used a Sigma 50-150 f2.8
    First there was the microphone. I was using spot AF and still had some pics with the mic in focus and the performer blurry.
    I am still learning so I tried lots of settings and different auto settings, white balance, manaul settings and manual focus.
    I have a Canon Rebel DSLR and I am still getting pictures with beter flesh tones and overall focus from my old Panasonic point and shoot. I get just as many blurry photos with no flash and the 2.8 lense as I did with the point and shoot. I know you only get so many good pictures from a concert but people with Nikon and Canon high end point and shoot digital cameras were getting better pictures then I did in auto mode or manual mode. I know it is user error but now what??
    I spent time practicing with the camera but it still seems like greek to to me. So its back to the drawing board, reset all settings on the camera, start reading and practicing again.
    Any clues, your favorite settings ( i had too many blue hue pictures), tips, direction, i am open to hearing them. I am not ready to give up the fight yet>

  72. Christi

    What were your ISO and shutter speed settings on the camera?
    I typically use ISO 800 and a shutter speed of 1/80. If the light is good I can go up to 1/100, if it’s bad I go down to 1/60, but sometimes that isn’t enough so I either go up to ISO 1600 (which I typically don’t like to do) or use a slower shutter speed and just get blurry hands from strumming guitars/drumming and whatnot. I try to focus manually as much as I can. If the microphone is not in the way, I use autofocus sometimes because sometimes I just can’t get it in focus myself. I’m still very much learning.

  73. Jeff Dykhuis

    When i was shooting with a rebel, i had the white balance on custom or whatever that setting is called and then went in and adjusted the graph in the color menu over to the left nearly all the way, (hard to explain without having the camera) anyway that helps with the red lights. even with my 40d i still adjust the color in post processing. On the rebel i always shot on the TV (time value) setting, keeping the shutter speed above 60 but usually in the 80 to 125 range. Shoot RAW and bump up the exposure in your program leter if you need too, but if you have a 2.8 lens you should be ok.
    Focusing, i would try to use different focus points if you can designate one or a few on the rebel i dont remember, otherwise if its dark in there, AF wont work good even with a 2.8 so you might have to manual focus.

  74. Rich


    as I said in my post, I used the 35mm 1.8 on my first shoot and it worked wonders. Only downside was I was right up on the stage so I had to contort in ways my body shouldn’t be contorting to get some wide shots.

  75. Alan

    I have to say that your work is incredible.
    I feel this is probably going to be the best place to ask for advice!!!
    Ok….I own a Nikon D70 and off the back of reading up on a lens for gigs, I decided to go with the 50mm 1.8d lens.
    I tried it out for the 1st time last week and I was really not happy with the results.
    They were noisy, out of focus and rally lacking brightness and crispness.
    I would really appreciate a list of settings that I should try next time.
    I did have the ISO up and the lens wide open with a shutter of about 100/sec.
    I used AF-S and I shot in Manual with auto WB.
    Is the D70 and the 50mm 1.8d up to this task?
    It just seems that all the shots are way too dark and fuzzy!
    Thanks in advance and for a great blog!

  76. Christi

    I already have the 50mm f1.8… Do you think would the 35mm be wide enough? I’m always close to the stage too, so I feel your pain about contorting your body in ways it shouldn’t be contorted! lol

  77. Rich


    Try your shutter at about 1/60 or so.


    If you’re close and you don’t have an 18mm I’d try the 35 out. I did a show over the weekend and it helped somewhat. They wouldn’t let me in early (what the eff is the point of a press pass!!!) so I had to fight my way up there. Being this is the only one I have I can’t really say if the 50 would be better or not. I do want to upgrade to a 17-55 or 24-70 2.8 at some point. Those would have come in handy when I was stuck by the sound board.

  78. Alan

    I think I may have meeded around with my camera settings too much trying to get the thing set up!
    If I re-set it what settings would you suggest as a starting point for the gig shoots?
    I have another one in a weeks time and really cant afford to mess up!

    • Todd


      Thanks for jumping in here with your thoughts and answering some of these questions.


      The exposure settings are going to change for every gig, so it’s recommend anything there. That said, the D70’s sensor is fairly forgiving, so I think that shooting wide open with the 50mm is fine. ISO 1000 is going to be OK with the D70 and 1600 will be OK in a pinch, but that camera isn’t a stellar high ISO performer, so you’re going to have to be careful.

      If the lighting is very dim, I wouldn’t be afraid to drop the shutter speed. Light being unavailable, you’re going to have to pick motion blur or noise as your evil.

  79. Rich

    Well I would defer to Todd, but on Saturday I went in with 1.8 and 1/50, ISO at 800. I really only changed from the 1.8 to maybe 2.5 and the shutter for the most part stayed in the 1/50-1/80 range. The only time I went higher was 1/200 on the drummer when he had some great light on him.

  80. Doreen

    Hi Alan,
    I started with a D50 and Sigma 18-50/2.8 + 50 mm/1.4 for concerts. I have to say that it’s nearly impossible to get good results in small clubs with a camera like the D50 or D70 (same sensor). The camera is noisy at ISO 400 and above. So I rarely used ISO 800. And tried longer shutter speeds like 1/60 or 1/80 and waited for moments when the artist didn’t move so much ;). The other settings were the same like yours.

    I just got better results in larger clubs with better lightning (and not the dimmed red from the smaller ones) or when I bought my D90 :). Now I’m confident. You can see my pictures here: Sorry, it’s in German. or at flickr:

    for comparision, this is a photo which I took with my D90 at ISO 2000:

    unfortunately I don’t have a picture online from the D50 at the same club, but it would be dark and noisy …

    So my recommendation: try a better camera (the D80 is also way noisy …)!

  81. Christi

    I have the kit lens 18-55mm, but seeing that its widest is f3.5 I don’t think it would work very well. I am going to a larger venue this Friday than I normally shoot at and they have much better lighting. Should I bring it along or go ahead and get the 35mm f1.8?
    Yeah, the 17-55 or 24-70 is what I’d love to have as well, I just don’t see that happening for a few years. I’m a broke college student.

    Doreen, I wish I would have known the D80 is noisy when before I bought it, lol! I don’t think I’ll be able to get a new body for 5+ years.

  82. Christi

    Lots of my pictures end up being fairly noisy because at the local venue the lighting is pretty terrible most of the time. I always use ISO 800 and the shutter speed between 1/50 and 1/80. I’m too scared to do ISO 1000, haha.
    Your pictures are really good. Were you right up close to the stage? Do you use manual or auto focus? I think I’m going to go ahead and get the 35mm. It’s about the only thing I can afford right now, and I think I will benefit from it. I can’t wait until the concert on Friday.

    Now I need to figure out this RAW stuff…

  83. Rich

    Thanks :)

    Yeah, I was right up on the stage. It was a good and bad thing though as I had to contort myself all sorts of wrong to get some shots when the guys came to the very front but I think it worked out okay. ISO 1000 on the D80 might be asking a bit much, especially if the place you’re shooting as crappy lighting. I just did They Might Be Giants and the club had bad lighting so maybe, and I mean maybe 20 shots are usable. Now if I had my dream D700 I coulda done better, but oh well.

    As for my settings I uses auto focus, and started out with AP priority but was unhappy with what it picked so I switched to manual and set it at about 1/40, 1/60. If you mouse over the images you’ll see an ‘i’ and that’ll tell you my settings.

    RAW, I’m too afraid to try it!

  84. Benners

    hi Todd… fantastic website you have, it’s been invaluable! I have a Nikon D60 and a 35mm f/1.8 lens I use for shooting shows. But this doesn’t give me much range and fast telephoto lenses are very pricey!

    However I am considering getting the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 as it is ‘relatively’ affordable compared to any f/2.8 Nikon! Would this be a good addition… does anyone else have this lens?

    • Todd

      Hi Benners,

      I think the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 is going to provide you with the right range, though if you need reach, I wouldn’t hesitate to look at the standard 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses from third-party manufacturers as well.

  85. Christi

    I got the 35mm f1.8.
    I used that lens and my 50mm for the show I went to last friday. You can view pictures on my flickr.
    They’re not that good, but I’m happy with them. I know I uploaded way to many, but I couldn’t bear to delete any of them. I love that band. Haha.
    I need to figure out what to do with the red washed photos. I usually just leave them as shot because I never know what to do with them. But that’s for another discussion. Heh, I’m terrible at photoshop.

    The 35mm didn’t seem to work as well as the 50mm, but I’m taking it to a show tonight at the tiny venue I usually go to and I’ll see how it does there.

  86. Chelsea

    I have a Canon EOS 40D. Ive been looking for a lense so I can start doing some concert photography. The lense that I have at the moment is a Sigma 28-70mm F2.8-4, is this a good lense for concert photography? If not whats should I get(without trying to break the bank)?

    • Todd

      Thanks for adding your feedback here, Christi, I really appreciate it.

      Chelsea, I think that your Sigma will work as a start for concert photography. The f/4 aperture at the 70mm end is going to slow you down a little, but if you’re just starting out, it’s going to do in a pinch. If you’re starting to shoot very dim shows, even f/2.8 might not be good enough and you may have to invest in some primes.

      The 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 is always a safe bet for speed.

  87. Benners

    that’s great, thank you Todd :)
    I’ve been trying to work out my next move on Flickr and it’s been suggested that a f/2.8 lens would benefit from a body that is more competent at higher ISO than the D60… maybe the D90. I think I could only afford either the lens or a body at the moment!

  88. Benners

    thanks Rich :)
    but then you could argue there’s no point having a great lens if the body isn’t going to get the best out of it. Even an f/2.8 might struggle a bit in lowlight, so then you would need a body which performs well at high ISO… which the D60 doesn’t particularly, and the D90 would. And so it goes on! ;-)

  89. Christi

    I think that depends on the lighting. I have a hard time at ISO 800 and f1.8 sometimes because of the lighting at my (tiny) local venue.
    But I’m not sure if that would justify buying a new camera body.

  90. Todd

    There’s always going to be compromise with live music photography. With the exception of daytime festivals and big arena/amphitheater shows, most of the time we have to choose between noise/grain or motion blur.

    And then sometimes there isn’t even a choice!

  91. Chantelle

    Todd, this has been the most helpful review I have found on the internet yet! I can’t describe my satisfaction with the information on lenses you’ve provided. After months of trying to find worthy reviews, right f stops and all the prime versus zoom opinions I came upon this.
    I’m looking into concert photography as a serious thing and I’m on my way to my first lens specifically for show photography. And I had narrowed it down to about 10 lenses :/ but you’ve narrowed it even more, so thank you so much!
    And I just LOVE your photos of band shows and their promos. By far my favorite out of many other photographers I have seen.
    Great post.

  92. Jonathan


    Thanks for quite an informative review and article.
    I am considering getting a Canon 7D due to it’s highly improved noise settings at ISO 1600 and up, and I wanted to see your thoughts on a kit lens for such a camera in a concert setting. The kit lens is a f3.5/5.5 28-135mm. Pretty decent for a crop body, not as wide as I’d like (I like to get pretty close), but it’s a good starting point.

    Do you think that it would be better for me to invest in a less powerful body (50D or so), and get some faster glass? Personally, I feel that the flexibility I would get from the 7D’s low noise and RAW settings would be sufficent for general purpose (and some concert) work with the kit lens. I dont currently do a lot of concert photography, but I do think I will start once I get my DSLR.

    I also have an assortment of vintage primes from the 80s that I am considering using… I’d have to go through an Olympus to EF converter, but already having some 1.8 glass is pretty nice. (although no auto focus, and metering i’d have to do manually…)

    What do you think?

  93. zepouet

    Hello Todd,

    I have a simple question about 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8.
    I am dreaming to buy one of these two jewels. Therefore the 70-200 is too expensive for the moment and I wonder if 24-70 is good for portrait.
    I imagine it is really good for full portrait (from foot to head) but for rear portrait ? Can we have a good bokeh with a focale about 70 ?

    My beauty dish is ready. I am waiting to receive external flash (YN-460) to complete my local studio :-) Thanks for the tutorial !

    Best regards, Nicolas

  94. Kal

    I’m still using crop-sensors so the 50mm f1.4 really is my favourite lens. I’m also still sneaking my camera into shows and shooting from the crowd so with the 50mm effectively giving me 75mm in a compact enough size to be gig-sneakable while giving me enough reach to pick out features of the individuals on stage, it’s absolutely perfect.


  95. jewelie

    Hey Todd,
    Your website has been immensely helpful to me. I recently bought a Canon EOS 50D D-SLR and have an chance (and the photo pass) to shoot an opening act for a HUGE band. It is in a large ampitheater, but since they are the opening act, they won’t have all of the crazy lighting. I am under a tight budget unfortunately, but this is a big opportunity for me. I need to know what kind of lens will really do the job to get all the shots I need. I only have the one camera and I won’t have time to be switching lenses since they are only playing 4-5 songs. I just felt I needed really specific guidance so I get this right!!! Thanks.

    • Todd

      Hi Jewelie,

      It really depends on how close the band is going to be to the stage, but something like a 17-55mm for your 50D would most likely be good for front-of-stage performers.

      4-5 songs (or even 3 songs) is fine for switching lenses – you just have to practice. If you have your lenses ready (caps off, in an easy place to grab in the bag), you can change lenses in just a few seconds.

  96. Vincent

    I use the Nikon D3000 and I like it a lot but the pictures come out way too grainy. I am saving up for a lense as I typoe this but it’s not an easy task. I mostly take pictures for a zine that I put out and really enjoy this. I see other photographers using flashes that extend out ward and don’t flash the light directly onto the performers. Can you explain the reason or point me to a site that can. I have no idea what these do or why. How much would a set up like this cost.
    Thanks for your time

  97. Crystal Rolfe

    WOW….soooo glad to have found your site!!! I love to shoot the local musicians in my town and have started to slightly branch out to larger venues, but need LOTS more practice that’s for sure.

    I will soon be getting new equipment and have decided on the Canon 7D
    and the 17-55mm. I hope to also someday get the 70-200mm…but that’s not in my budget at the moment.

    I too was told by a manager to “Not forget the drummer” and try to do this at every show…not an easy tast with my equipment and the fact that I’m barely over 5 feet tall…sigh.

    Favorite drummer shot

    Do you often use your Speedlite? I really need to learn to try turning that thing off more often….but I really love mine.

    Thanks so much for this site!

  98. Kristi

    Okay…been frequenting the local camera shop. I am just a starting out in this field as far shooting for a career goes (though shooting for fun for a long time.) and they are hyped up on the D7000. Any thoughts on this brand new Nikon? If I start with the D7000 ($1200 body only) I am wondering what should be my top 3 lens picks. Any thoughts on first lenses?
    Thanks and LOVE your work!

  99. Bart

    I first bought myself the D3000 + the kit lens. I didn’t really now which way I wanted to go. After a few months , I bought a 70-300 F/4.5-5.6 and a 1.8 50mm. When I figured out that life-style and concert photography are my favorites , I went for the D700 with the 24-70 F/2.8. I know , a HUGE step-up from the D3000. And at the moment i’m looking into a 70-200 F/2.8 VR I or II , don’t know that one yet. Next on the list : fish-eye , 14-24 F/2.8 , 85mm F/1.4… That is going to take me more than a few years. :)

  100. Audrey Alexandrescu

    Hey Todd,

    I’m just starting to get more involved in concert photography, and have been following your work for quite some time. I’ve decided to save up some money for a new lens that would be better for concerts, because I’m not sure if the lenses I have now are appropriate. I haven’t done any formal work, and the concerts I have been to were all outdoors (except for one which wasn’t very successful), so the lenses I have, performed reasonably well. Right now I have a Nikon D5000 with a 18-55mm f/3.5 and a 55-200mm f/4.5. Looking at the lenses that you have mentioned, I’ve noticed that mine are obviously not the best for low light situations, especially concerts. I got a good deal, and the body plus the two lenses were about $1,200. I’ve noticed that the lenses you recommend are much more expensive, but I’m sure it’s all worth it. So, my question to you is what do you recommend for a first lens, that will be enough to get me started considering that I am on a tight budget?

    Thank you, Audrey

  101. Kevin

    I’ve been shooting for fun for a few months now. Instead of picking up a kit lens I went with a 35 1.8 and 50 1.4D for my D90.

    I shoot other things too and I looked at the tamron 17-50 2.8 for wide angles but the out of focus backgrounds are too harsh for my liking. The Nikon 17-55 has smoother bokeh but i highly doubt it can replace both my primes (will need to sell)

    The 11-16 2.8 is nice, but the range (17-24 FX) is way too short.

    hmmm…I’m considering a nikon 12-24 f/4 for $500. is f/4 be too slow?

    • Todd

      I do think the Nikon 12-24mm f/4 would be too slow. Honestly, I wouldn’t really worry about how the Tamron 17-50mm handles defocused elements. The Nikon 17-55mm might be a little smoother, but it itself isn’t all that smooth. Almost no zooms are except for expensive lenses like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II.

  102. TJ McDowell

    With the 50mm 1.4 at weddings, we’ve found that you have to be REALLY careful wide open at 1.4 that your subject is in focus. Have you had to take extra care with this lens at concerts too? I would think that you’d be further away from your subject matter, so that should increase the depth of field you’re playing with, but I have seen shots where it looks like you’re pretty close to your subject. What are your thoughts on when to take the lens all the way down to 1.4?

  103. Moocher

    Hello Todd

    Best wishes for 2011

    What do you think about the new Tokina 16-28 F2,8 FX ?

    I think i’ll buy this lense instead of the Nikkor 14-24 which is too expensive for me.

    Thanks a lot for this site :)

  104. lindsay

    I’m shooting my first show in February, and I was wondering if you had any tips or advice?

    Also i had a few questions about photopasses, such as how early should i be, where do i go once inside, and do i pick it up at the box office or where i should pick it up?

    Any help would be much appreciated!

  105. Jason

    Just got hold of the Nikon 85mm 1.8D and 50mm 1.8D for low-light concerts (D7000); do people find that they get better results wide-open or something more like 2.8? (say at ISO1600)

  106. Ken Lackner

    Hi Todd, great site here! I use the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 for local shows where I can be right up front and stages are usually small. I notice you recommend the f/1.4. Is there that great a difference between the two? I haven’t been able to afford a telephoto or a mid range zoom, so even when I shoot large tours I usually use the 50mm (unlike the photographers all around me!), and results are usually pretty great.

  107. Antoine

    Hi Todd,

    First of all I would like to state that I am a huge fan and I love your work!

    I have recently started taking an interest in music photography and currently have a Nikon 35mm F/1.8 lens. Personally, I think it is a great lens for music photography (but is the only lens I have ever tried).

    I am thinking about getting one or two more lenses, either the 28mm, 50mm, or 85mm (all Nikon F/1.8). Unfortunately I can’t get the 24-70mm F/2.8 lens as I am a student and it is not in my budget. I think the 28mm and 50mm are too close to my 35mm, but I realize that they would produce completely different pictures from what I am taking now. Do you have any help for me or suggestions?

    Thank you very much and keep on taking great photos!

    • Todd

      Hi Antoine,

      I think that the 50mm f/1.8 might be the best option for you – That or possibly the 28mm lens. It really depends on the style of shooting you do.

      The 50mm is going to give you a nice short telephoto option. I think that the 85mm would be a bit too tight for smaller clubs, but this wouldn’t be a bad thing if you’re not right up at the front of the stage.

  108. teaboneski

    Great page with some really important information! I am in the midst of purchasing a 7D with plans to shoot a lot of shows. Hopefully some from the pits, and many others from the crowds of smaller Boston clubs. I am purchasing the 7D body-only and am considering getting 2 lenses to accompany it. I’ve been reading countless reviews and forums trying to figure out what may be best setup (for me), with a special consideration for future concert shooting. At the same time, since my camera won’t be collecting dust when not at a show, I want to make sure I’m not limiting myself. Here are the lenses I am most strongly considering:

    Canon EFS 17-55mm 2.8 – This lens may be leading my pack at the moment because it is made specifically for crop sensors like the 7D. On the other hand, I am concerned that I may not have enough focal length at 55mm and would likely need to be perpetually right up front.

    Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8 – The thing that most concerns me about this lens is losing out on any type of wide angle. Since I won’t be purchasing a wide-angle for some time (unless, of course, I end up with the 17-55). On the up-side, I will have plenty of zoom giving me a lot more flexibility when navigating a crowd. I am also concerned that this lens lacks the IS seen in the 17-55. I have a pretty steady hand, but this could be a major concern in low-light.

    Canon EF 50mm 1.4 USM – I will likely be purchasing this lens either way (or a similar one). I love the narrow DOF and I will be getting a bit more than 50mm with the 7D’s crop. I figure this lens would compliment the 17-55mm quite nicely as I would now cover a decent focal range.

    I am also considering the canon 35mm 1.4L just because I’ve seen so many awesome shots taken with it. I figure it would be good on the crop-sensored 7D if I were to be in the front. Any insight anyone could offer would be greatly appreciated. Sorry for the long-windedness. Thanks again for all the valuable insight. Peace and love.

    • Todd

      Hi teabonski,

      With a camera like the 7D, I’d go for the 17-55mm for sure. It’s range is great on an APS camera like the 7D and it’s going to offer a really nice range. The 50mm f/1.4 is going to be solid as a fast, short telephoto as well.

      As for the shorter range of the 17-55mm, your best angles will come from being up front, so to me this is a non-issue. It’s just going to require a little more work.

      Hope this helps – if you’re not buying locally, you can help support this site:

      • teaboneski


        Sincere thanks for the timely reply. I’ve been teetering on the fanciful fence for some time now, and you gave me the little push I needed. Since I was leaning that way in the first place, the decision suddenly seems much easier. I’ll start saving for the 70-200 f/2.8L….. now.

  109. Pads

    Hey Todd,

    First off, this site really rocks hard!

    Have you gone through the new 16-35mm f/4 offering from Nikon? What do you think about it?

    Outside the concert scene (say travel, landscape, street), would you think it will be a significantly usable lens as well?

  110. Victor

    Little by little throughout 3 years of practice, I finally got some awesome gear.
    I got my confidence from your reviews and better yet, your results.

    Nikon 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 2 D300s

    Great results and thanks much for the help :)

    Hopefully I can shoot bigger events as you are.

  111. MM

    I have recently got a D700 and a Sigma 24-70mm/f2.8. I’ve shot a few shows with this set and I should say that I am not very happy. I certainly expected more. I am thinking that the Sigma lens it to blame for the lack of resolution, sharpness and some colour issues in low light conditions. Will probably be trying Nikkor lens soon…

  112. Antoine

    I recently got a D7000 and I got to use it at my first concert on June 4th. The kit lens I got with it is a 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6. Since the concert started at 6:30, and the venue has a wall made up on windows, I decided to shoot with this lens until it got dark. I was loving it so much, that even when it got dark, I kept using it. Although I did have to raise my ISO to 2-3000, it still produced great pictures. I would still recommend eventually getting a zoom lens that goes down to f/2.8, but for concert photographers on a low budget, I would really recommend using a lens like this (as well as prime lenses with higher max apertures, just in case) to get a wide variety of shots.

    You can check out some of the pictures on my Flickr:

    P.S. I really loved getting the drummer shots

  113. S.Lazarov

    I’m looking for some new lens in order to begin shooting concerts and I’m thinking about Canon 50mm f/1.8 and Sigma 28-70 f/2.8 My camera is Canon EOS 40D. Is this a good choice and what better I can get for this price?
    Thanks in advance!

  114. Renai


    Was going back and forth between the Canon 5D Mark II and the Nikon D700. While I personally find Nikon does better in low light situations I decided to go with Canon because I want the option to film as well.

    I’m ready to purchase a Canon 5D and am seeking to specialize in portrait and concert photography but I’m not sure which one lens fits the bill.

    I am open to your suggestions. What do YOU recommend?

    Thank you in advance for sharing your expertise.

    • Todd

      I would say a 24-70mm f/2.8 is your best all around lens. It’s not going to be ideal for portrait photography – I’d prefer something like a 105mm lens for that – but it will be best for event coverage.

  115. andrew bird

    Tis an easy one. We have many lenses but only use three for photography and video; a sigma20mm, Canon 50mm ƒ1.4 and 85mm ƒ1.2 we call “Bessy”.

    For a concert lens on a full frame 35mm, if your’e shooting from front of stage you can not go much better than the 85mm ƒ1.2 L as your main lens to get mid to CU of the main artists. I get on stage to get the rest of the performers:

    That prime and the following are also our video workhorses when doing interviews.

    For Portrait on a full frame, everyone here will advise the 50mm ƒ1.4.
    NOT the ƒ1.8 version, although you’ll save around £180 quid it is clearly not as contrasty around as the ƒ1.4 or the ƒ1.2.

    Smiles everyone! yeeeea, boootiful!

  116. Arnaud

    Hi Todd,

    I remember reading this page a few months ago and dreaming about all of this.. Nowadays I got nearly all of them and shoot nearly two shows a week. Love this, even if I can’t live of this passion (never sold any picture at this day).

    I’m surprised you never talk about the 300 2.8 lens. Since I got it, I nearly use it about 50% of my live shooting session for the angle and the render : it’s a dream staying at about 10m on a small stool (an example : or or for very close portrait without angle : ) . Rest of 50% for 70/200, 14/24 ot 70/200 depending of various things that made the decision.

    Have you ever tried this lens ?

  117. Dee Hatton

    To Todd,

    I’m Deepika Hatton I’m currently in my final year at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. And currently investigating a number of careers in the Creative Industries for a case study. The case study is intended to provide me with clearer understanding into the photography industry and what it takes to break into this field of work.

    I fully understand you are very busy with your work however, it would be greatly appciated if you were able to take a few minutes and fill out a few questions, please do not hestitate to ask me any questions I will be glad to assist in any way.

    Thank you for your time
    Deepika Hatton

    1) What education did you take before getting into this industry?
    2) What did you do to find work in the industry?
    3) pre requisites for the career : Passion, deidcation, equipment, time management?
    4) day to day activities and monthly activties that occur?
    5) After graduating University/ Colledge/ Tafe did you find it esasy to get a job yes or no? and why?
    6) What advice would you give to someone starting up a portfolio : online, facebook, hardcopy? and what makes a good portoflio and why?
    7) Whats the biggest learning experience you have faced / dealt with in this industry example: travelling, money, changing jobs?
    8) Do you take on interns / trainees? if so, what jobs are they given?
    9) How long have you been a phographer for / where did you first start out?
    10) Do you think the photography industry is dying out because of armature photographers? yes or no and why?

  118. Henrik Jansberg

    I have the nikon 50mm1.8 and the nikon 135mm2dc lenses I love and use extensively on my D7000.
    I would like a wide or ultra wide and have been looking at the tokina 11-16mm 2.8 – have you tried that lens do you have other recommendations for a wide ?

  119. Ernest Gregory

    There are some fabulous info regarding various lens and success from using them, however if those find price a little hindering for the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8, please do not ignore the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 mm, it may be a little heavier but more affordable and it’s a very good telephoto, seriously….

  120. robert

    Awesome articles, Todd. Yesterday I bought the Canon 17-55mm 2.8. I love it. My question is, when buying lenses, do you buy the insurance for them that the store offers? I didn’t, but I’m wondering if I should. Especially because concert photography can be a little like going into a war zone. The other option that I’m considering more is getting a Personal Article’s policy on my rental insurance.

    Your thoughts? Love the blog and your photos!

  121. Taylor

    I’m just a starting photographer, and I’m going to a concert for a friend who wants me to shoot for him. But the problem is that I only have a standar 18-55 mm lens for a nikon d40x. I’m still kind of unfamiliar with it yet because I haven’t had a lot of experience and I don’t have money to go buy a new lens. any tips?

    all your pictures are awesome by the way!!

  122. Paul Crutchley

    Hi Todd, can a Tamron 28-300mm 3.5-5.6L be used succesfully for live music photography? I know it has had some bad press, but would welcome your opinion. Thank you.

    • Todd

      Hi Paul,

      I think that, given the right conditions, almost any lens could be used successfully for music photography. The Tamron 28-300mm might be suitable for bright, daylight concerts. I don’t think it would be ideal for indoor venues with stage lighting, however.

  123. Manuel Casanova

    Hey Todd, so here goes my own lenses history:
    So when I got my camera it came with an awful 18-55. I also had a 50mm 1.8, a 28mm 2.8 and a 135mm 2.8 lying around (all manual focus lenses) and I started shooting shows with them (pretty hard to manual focus on a D5000). After a while I got a 55-200 for something like 30bucks but not for concert photography. Then I got a Tamron 17-50 which is awesome and a samyang 8mm fisheye for my tiny clubs/no restrictions/flash allowded punk hardcore gigs (im always getting my face kicked by some stagedivers and headwalkers… but its worth it). Right now i’m deciding if I should go with a 35mm 1.8 or a 30mm 1.4 (the Sigma one… I’m not sure because I was told it is really soft and hard to focus) for my lightless venues since the 50mm is a little short and it is MF… Then I’ll invest on a Nikon 80-200 or a sigma 70-200 (or a new body but since the D400 or D7100 might come out during 2012/13 I can wait).
    Well thats it

    • Gerry Toews

      Hey Manuel :)

      I’ve probably shot a lot of similar bands to yours, Pointed Sticks, OFF!, The Jolts, etc, and in similar types of venues where there is some stage lighting, and a narrow (or NO) photo pit. I can’t offer an advice for the 30mm HSM 1.4 from Sigma, but I’ve done plenty of shooting with the 35mm AF-S DX 1.8 Nikon.

      I think the issue we’d both face in making this decision is that neither lens provides the option to capture the entire subject in the frame. The Sigma 30mm mostly isn’t wide enough when up close, is reported to be a little soft, but it has the benefit of better light in case you absolutely need it. The 35mm Nikon seems to have trouble focusing very close in low light, is tighter to the subject, but has the benefit of having very accurate and nimble auto-focus where focus is possible.

      Since I own the Nikon 35mm, I haven’t ever needed to look at the 30mm- even with the added light value available in the Sigma.

      However, I recently bought a 24mm 1.8 Sigma, and brought it to a show for a few shots, but I returned it to the store because when the stage lighting was active, the flaring was terrible (and I mean out of control, light source out of the frame but still making huge marks, terrible), the highlights were blown out, and the fringing was beyond Adobe RAW fixing. I am positive that this is mostly related to the build of the 28, 24, and 20mm lenses and not a mark against ALL Sigma lenses, but I thought it worth mentioning.

      For everyone, here’s some of my field notes (estimates only) on the 35mm Lens when shooting venues:

      1. To shoot someone about 6 feet tall standing up, in a vertical format, from head to toe standing on the same surface as you, you will need to be comfortably 9-10 feet away, and roughly double that for any horizontal framed shots.

      2.If the subject is on a stage, the angle work to shorten them, so you could be 8-9 feet away from the 6 foot upright subject and get complete head to toe shots.

      3. The lens shoots fine (sometimes spectacularly) at the maximum 1.8 aperture ISO 1600 1/160 shutter, but is improved at a narrower 2.2 with a little bump in the exposure and a slightly slower 1/100 shutter.

      4. Most Rock compositions with this lens will look great in a horizontal format with the subject presented from the waist up and this is the bread and butter use of this lens. In a conventional stage setting where the drummer is in the back, you will also be able to capture the entire drummer and kit and perhaps some background with this lens.

      Anyway, this reply turned into quite a ramble. Happy shooting with whatever gear you have. :)

    • Fil

      What is your experience with the Samyang 8mm? It’s manual focus only, right? Do you just set the focus to infinity and that’s it? I tried that once and it worked. What about the Tamron 17-50?

      • Todd Owyoung

        I have not used the Samyang 8mm. But I have used a fisheye shooting manual, and it depends on the shooting distance. If you’re shooting at roughly the same distance or at least not super closer, it is fine. If you need to change from closer focus, manual focus might not be ideal, but it is workable. I haven’t used the Tamron 17-50mm specifically, but it’s a great range overall for DX/APS cameras. Extremely useful, I used to shoot with the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 and the range was excellent.

  124. Pauline

    Hi Todd! I currently have a Nikon D3100, its 18-55 kit lens and a 35 f/1.8G. I’ve been saving up for a 50 f/1.4G, but recently, a concert photographer told me that a 50 would be useless on my D3100 since it’s not full-frame. I’d really like to invest in a midrange, like the 24-70 f/2.8, but it’s out of my budget and the Sigma version has been discontinued. I also do not think I will be upgrading my camera for another year or so, but right now, I’m not sure as to what my next lens will be.

    I shoot mostly small venue and club shows in Toronto where my 35 does the job, but I’m looking forward to shooting Warped for the first time this year. Should I just stick it out with my kit lens for Warped until I can afford a 24-70?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Todd

      Hey Pauline,

      You know, the thing about Warped Tour is that you’ll be totally fine with the kit lens for the most part, since so much is during the day time.

      Search this site for Warped Tour and check out the write-ups I’ve done, I believe there are two tutorials.

  125. Kelly

    Thank you for all of your great advice. I have a wonderful opportunity to photograph the Red Hot Chili Peppers in an arena tomorrow and needed some advice on which lenses are best. Your website has really helped me! Thanks a bunch!

  126. Sharon Sirvent

    Thanks for the post! I am very new in photography and having advice on what lenses to try out is very helpful! Going to use your link to rent a lens and see what happens at my first concert! Wish me luck :)

  127. Alex

    Hi Todd! What do you think about the Nikkor 35mm 1.8 for crop sensor? I just attended a concert photography workshop trying to nail it with my kitlens.

  128. Crystin

    I shoot with a Micro 4/3, so using a f/1.4 or 1.8 is absolutely key. I mainly use a 25mm (50mm equiv) f/1.4, but pull out my 45mm (90mm equiv) f/1.8 for tight shots of individual band members when lighting allows.

  129. Leonardo Treviño

    Hey man, I’m a photographer here in Mexico, been doing this for a couple of years and have been working with Universal and Schecter to shoot their artists, as anyone could believe my main lens is a 70-200 2.8, usually i shoot stadium like places or big arenas, it’s funny how it’s not usual for me to shoot in small venues. Love your recommendations but you have stopped at the 70-200 and sometimes you have to consider the extra mile, artists who don’t like you to be in the pit or up close with them (Motley Crue, Demi Lovato, etc, etc, etc) in this cases you need to consider a big telephoto, I’ve used 300, 400, and even a 600 once, although they are not part of my everyday gear, and always I have borrowed them in the moment.

    Which one would you consider to be the lens you should have in this kind of configurations when you have to be far away? the 600, and 500 are of course out of the question since they are so expensive, which one would you think will cut it for example a 300mm f/4 with the Image Stabilizer or a 400mm f/5.6 ? I’m thinking about this ones also since they are not extra pricey and as heavy as the 2.8, you know sometimes that extra space and weight is something you just can’t have.

    Let me know what you think man.

  130. Jeff Smith

    Hi Todd;
    A few questions for concert photography.
    I WANT to get the Nikon 14-24 2.8, but lack the $.

    Already have the 24-70, 70-200, but need a wide angle lens zoom lens, with low aperture at 2.8.
    Whats a price alternative to the Nikon 14-24 2.8 lens. What about the Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX Wide Angle Zoom AF 11-16mm f/2.8 ?

    I’m using a Nikon D5100, but plan very soon on upgrading to the D5200 and the D600.
    I rented the D600 for the recent Mercedes-Benz NYC Fashion week, and loved it.
    Btw, since the D700 is being discontinued, would you recommend the D600 and the D5200 as a backup?

    • Todd

      Hey Jeff,

      Yes, the new D600 is a solid camera. The only real knock against it is the weak AF spread over the frame, but image quality is excellent.

      As for lens, I would stay away from DX lenses if you are planning on a full frame camera in your future. My advice would be to save up for the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 if you can wait, it’s worth it.

  131. Chris

    Hi Todd, This is a great list!

    I’ve had Sigma’s 18-50 2.8 for a few years and that has been my most used lens for shooting bands. It’s kinda old and doesn’t have the IS features like the newer one, but I still love it. Focuses really fast from inches away, if needed. Love. True love.

    But there’s one lens that didn’t make the list. I used it on every shoot — and my customers always enjoyed it — and that was my Canon 15mm fisheye 2.8. It’s not the most practical lens for pros shooting at larger venues, but for noobs shooting local rock bands, it’s an excellent choice.

    I shot a lot of underground punk and metal bands here in Hawaii a couple years back, and many of them were cool with me being right up on stage with them for part of the show. With their permission…I’d park myself right up there by the drummer during the soundcheck and maybe the 1st song, stick my fisheye in under the hi-hat, right above the snare…add a little bounce flash, and I got some really fun shots.

    Drummers loved me.

    Most photographers are too shy or “idealistic” to get right up on the musicians like that — especially on the drummer — but I took the time to build a relationship with those bands and did my best to make them all look like total rock stars.

    Without exception, they all loved my fisheye shots.

    Since I used a 50d w/ cropped sensor, the bubble effect was subtle, and that made those shots pretty unique.

    There’s no way I could have done that shooting big name acts at large venues, but shooting local bands at small clubs (where there wasn’t even a stage half the time)…it worked out pretty good, and I think that a lot of amateur/semi-pro photographers shooting the local scene could get a lot of mileage out of a fisheye.

    I’m loving your site. Makes me want to go back to shooting bands =)

    Aloha, Chris

    • Steve

      Hi Chris, this is a question for both you and Todd.

      I’ve recently got back into shooting local shows. Considering I live in South Africa, the majority of our venues are tight. Really tight.

      I did my research, got my settings right, showed up with my 50mm 1.4 and began firing away. To my surprise, no matter how far back I went, I was way too close.

      I am looking at picking up a new piece of glass and I know Chris suggests a Fisheye, but some of the other local photographers use Fisheyes and I feel like it’s a bit over done this side.

      What would be an alternative?

      I was thinking something like a 10-20mm 3.5…or am I completely off track?

      • Chris

        Hey Steve,

        It definitely sounds like you’re using a digital camera with a cropped sensor, so for that a 10-20mm would be an ideal range. F/3.5 is a bit slow for most concert work without flash, but it depends on what fits your budget. That focal range would work well for shooting close-up.

        A 15mm fisheye would actually work very well for you, though. I’d be willing to bet money that the other local photographers whose lenses you saw are using fisheyes that were made for cropped sensor cameras and have a focal length of 10mm or less…something like that. That’s why they look too extreme.

        The 15mm fisheye would give the same kind of bubble look on a full-frame sensor (which you DO NOT have), because it was designed for the old 35mm cameras (equivalent to the full-frame digital bodies today).

        But…if you use a 15mm fisheye on a cropped sensor DSLR (which is the kind of camera you DO have, I think), then it won’t actually be so extreme. The fisheye effect will actually be very subtle…more like a wide angle lens.

        If you want to see what I mean, take a look at the 2nd and 3rd pics on this post on my blog: What Is The Best Lens For Concert Photography?

        The 2nd and 3rd shots on there (the drummer and then the guitarist) were both shot using a Canon f/2.8 15mm fisheye lens on a Canon 50D (which has a cropped sensor). The bubble effect is so subtle that you wouldn’t even guess that it’s a fisheye lens.

        So either go with a wide angle zoom like the 10-20mm, a prime wide angle zoom like a 20mm or wider, or a 15mm fisheye. Don’t get the 8mm or 10mm fisheyes unless you want a true fisheye look to the images.

        I should have asked already…what kind of camera do you use, and do you know if it’s a cropped sensor or a full size sensor?

        Good luck!

  132. Carrie

    Hey Todd,

    Thanks for all the advice on here! I sort of fell into concert photography in the past year and I’ve been making it work with my Nikon D3100 and 35mm f/1.8.
    I’m shooting bigger shows and ready to upgrade. I’ve nearly saved up enough for a Sigma 24-70 f/1.8, but with news of the 18-35mm f/1.8 coming out in July would you still recommend the 24-70 lens?

    Many thanks!


  133. Chris

    Hey Carrie,

    If you’re shooting larger venues now, then you’ll probably want the extra reach that the 24-70mm can give you. If you get the 18-35mm, you can grab some good wide angle shots of the whole stage, but you won’t be able to get in any closer than you are currently with your 35mm.

    I’d say to just look at the shots you’re normally getting with your prime 35mm. How do feel about those shots?

    If you find yourself thinking, “Man, I wish I could zoom in closer on these guys,” then you should go with the 24-70.

    But if you look at your current pics and keep thinking, “I wish I had room behind me so I could move back and take in more of the stage,” then you need a wider angle and should go for the 18-35.

    Hope that helps! Aloha, Chris

  134. Mark F.

    I have the Nikon D7000 that I purchased with the 18-300mm DX f3.5-5.6. Love having that range and not have to be constantly switching lenses. After having it for about 1 year I bought the Nikkor 50mm 1.8g lense. Cool to have a prime that’s fast, but I miss the range of the 18-300. Had the 50mm on my camera for a long time, but then switched it back to the 18-300mm. Recently bought the Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 — just love it. At least it has SOME zoom. Looking forwarding to buying the 70-200mm Tamron f2.8 in the next few months. Don’t want to buy them all at once and piss off my wife too much. Looking at buying the Nikon d800e within the next year. Have to space it all out because of my frau. I’ve very happy with the Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 — why pay the extra hundreds for the Nikon or Canon when this lens is so excellent?

  135. Lara

    I own a Canon 60D and I recently got a press pass for a show at House of Blues in Chicago.
    I’ve been looking at buying the canon 50mm f1.4 but i’m scared since its not a full frame camera the 50mm would be too close.
    This is going to be my first time with an actual press pass shooting a show.

    any suggestions?

    • Todd

      50mm on a 1.6x crop might be a little limiting at a smaller club. That said, the wide aperture will be very useful for the lighting at a club like that.

      I think that the tight framing a 50mm gives on a crop makes you work a little more, but it’s certainly workable — I shot my first show w/ an APS DSLR and a 50mm. The 50mm will also be a lens you can always use if/when you upgrade to a full-frame camera, too.

  136. ori

    hello todd! i’ve got pair of d700’s and i need the best af 50mm lens 1.4 for nikon – some users told me to take the sigma 50 1.4 over the nikon 50 1.4G – what do you think?did you ever tried the sigma 50 1.4? thanks!

  137. ori

    hello todd ! i’m looking for the best 50mm 1.4 lens for nikon FX camers – some users said the sigma 50 1.4 is better then the nikon 50 1.4G – what do you think from your experince? thanks!

    • Todd

      Hi Ori, I haven’t personally used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4, but I have also heard good things about it and the Sigma 85mm f/1.4. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 I did use briefly and it was quite sharp.

  138. Fiona

    Hi Todd, I absolutely love this site – so glad i found it! I’m a newbie so all this information is really useful.
    I have a Canon 450D, and shot my first couple of shows with my kit lens with depressing results! Having read through your site i decided to hire a 50mm 1.4 lens and have done a couple more and its getting better :) However I missed my zoom, so i was thinking of hiring something like a 24-70 2.8. My question is this: bearing in mind the venues i shoot at are teeny tiny with no pit and hit and miss lighting (LOVE these venues best :)), plus my elderly camera has a noisy max ISO of 1600, am i better sticking to the 1.4 prime? Am i going to get results with a 2.8? Any thoughts / comments gratefully received, as i said i’m new and its a steep learning curve!

  139. Deborah

    I have a Canon Rebel EOS with a 70-300 mm lens. However that has not been adequate for taking clear photos on the stage from where I am sitting. What would the next lens that I could go up to for sharper photos???

  140. Big Dave

    Thanks for this post. Its the first one I’ve found that is specific to low light video of live music. Your spot on as I use the 30mm Sigma in place of the kit lens and find it is much sharper. I also use a Sony e-mount 50mm f1.8 the only problem being the fact that it can change focus based on the lighting. (E-mount? Always been a Canon guy but neither my wallet or me is big enough to afford and lug around a 5D Mk lll. Sony mirrorless with APS-C sensor does a great job. NEX 6 and NEX 5T.)

    Also, I have been able to extend my senior citizen fixed income by buying two Roxson (Zhong) speed boosters for use with a Minolta Rokkor-X 28mm f2.8 and a Minolta Rokkor -X 50mm f1.4. They do a great job with the low light and the ability to set a stationary focus.Poor man’s cinema lenses.

    In honor of your post, I’m going to buy the $23,900 cinema lens from my regular supplier, B&H. OK….maybe not so much. Guess it’s the left over side effects of the party I went to in 1968. (Didn’t come home till 1986).

  141. Kimberly Ann

    I started with an 18-55 kit lens for my Canon Rebel. It has a 3.5 apeture so I just upgraded to a 17-55mm Singma lens. I also have a 55-250mm lens that is an f/4. It’s not very good for concert photos while shooting indoors. This lens is better for outdoors. I’m looking to invest in a 85mm 2.8 lens for shooting my close ups at concerts.

  142. marcelo

    I went from a Rebel to a used 50D to a 5D Mark III, and from a kit lens to a used Canon 70-200/2.8 white lens (thanks ebay!). The white lens and Mark III were essential for dark/far dance competitions/gymnastics meets, which was my interest then. I also have a 50mm/1.4 Canon, a 24-70 f/2.8 Sigma, and a 24-105 f/4L Canon. All good lenses, but I shoot with the white lens almost exclusively due to distances, at f/2.8, 3200 ISO, 250+ speed, but it is intrusive. The Sigma is next, when I can get close (like at Livid and Nothing More concerts), and the 50mm next next (in very dark conditions). I use a single focal point (out of 64 in the Mark III) due to the large aperture setting, to make sure faces are in focus. I can go to 6400 but believe, subjectively, that above 3200 I can see degradation.

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