For anyone interested in pursuing live music photography, AKA “low-light environmental action portraiture,” the issue of the most appropriate equipment is an inevitable question. Below are my recommendations for the best cameras and equipment for music photography.
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What's in My Bag — Cameras for Concert and Music Photography
I shoot with two cameras for my music photography work. The reason is that it cuts down on lens changes immensely and this efficiency allows me to focus more on capturing the moments I want to. I almost always prefer to use two identical cameras at the same time, this is simply to have identical platforms — the controls are the same, the image quality is identical, and I can set up the cameras exactly the same as far as customization.
My current setup includes a mix of mirrorless and DSLRs. I have two Nikon Z 7 that I use as my main bodies, and I have two Nikon D850 to supplement and to use in different situations as I need them. The nice thing about using a mix of the Z 7 and the D850, mirrorless and DSLR, is that both have basically identical image quality and I can use them interchangeably.
Nikon Z 7
For my main cameras for concert photography, I'm using the Nikon Z 7. I love the balance of high ISO performance and the fantastic resolution of this camera. The combination of a maximum 9 FPS gives me a great option for speed when I need it. Like the D850, this camera gives me both speed and resolution, which is ideal for the kind of large scale events I shoot for my music photography clients.
In addition to my Z 7, I have the D850 in my kit, which is just a fantastic workhorse camera. If you shoot DSLRs, this camera is just about as perfect as they come. The 7 FPS continuous shooting, high ISO performance and the 45.7 megapixel resolution are all fantastic in what feels like a truly do-it-all camera. Prior to the Z 7, I was using the D850 as my main DSLR cameras. Now, I most often use the D850 as a third body for shooting events.
Nikon Z 50
The Nikon Z 50 is the newest camera in my bag, which is a fantastic walk-around option for me or for grabbing video on the go. I love the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens for an ultra-compact camera that has a great 20mp sensor and 4k video capability. This camera packs a lot of features into an ultra small form factor, which I love.
Zoom Lenses for Music Photography
I use three zooms as my main lenses for music photography: the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. These lenses cover 14-200mm in a highly effective manner, all in a fast f/2.8 aperture. For concert photography, the constant aperture is a tremendous boon. These lenses rule the arena, amphitheater, and larger club shows.
With all of these three zooms, I never hesitate to shoot wide open if the situations calls for it; they offer excellent image quality at f/2.8 with no exception.
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8
The Nikon 14-24mm is a lens that makes other photographers cry. Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal for maximum effect. This is a great lens for wide venue shots and atmosphere as well.
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 S
The 24-70mm range is my bread and butter lens, and the newest S line lens for the Nikon Z mount is the best midrange zoom I've ever used. I shoot this lens wide open without hesitation. The sharpness and contrast of this new Z lens is phenomenal and reason enough to use the Z 7 in my opinion .
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E VR
Right after a midrange zoom, I consider a good 70-200mm an essential piece of kit for live music photography. A must-have for close-ups and drummer shots at larger arena & amphitheater shows. Again, I use the latest E version, the best version of this model yet.
Prime Lenses for Music Photography
Even with the jaw-dropping performance from top of the line cameras like the Nikon D3s and D700, there are just some situations that still call for fast primes. These three lenses get the job done in light that makes f/2.8 lenses weep. In my kit, I use the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 extensively at club shows.
Nikon 35mm f/1.8S
The 35mm perspective is a great general lens for live music photography in smaller venues. This lens is fantastically sharp and beautiful in low light with the Nikon Z 7.
Nikon 50mm f/1.8S
This new 50mm f/1.8S for the the Nikon Z system is a tremendous lens. The sharpness and contrast wide open even at the very corners of the frame make this lens a monster in dim lighting. A must have for the Nikon Z system in my book.
Nikon 85mm f/1.8S
If you're building out your prime kit, an 85mm f/1.8 is a great addition as it can be used as a short telephoto for stage photography and a portrait lens for artist portraits.
Here are a few of the accessories that are indispensable in my camera bag.
XQD Memory Cards
My custom earplugs go with me everywhere my camera goes. As a professional music photographer, I take my hearing protection very seriously, and you should, too!
Black Rapid Double Strap
I almost always shoot with two cameras at the same time for the concerts I photograph. The Black Rapid Double Strap is the best option for carrying two cameras with ease.
Just starting out? Please see my article Choosing Lenses for Concert Photography first. Considering the ubiquitous low light of indoor venues, song limits, energetic performances, and the generally frenetic pace of rock shows, the proper gear can ease some of the intimidating constraints of concert photography.
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