Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

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If you’ve ever wondered how to become a concert photographer, one of the very first steps is to acquire the right gear. You’ve probably been to a concert or festival and seen music photographers hauling tons of equipment such as two camera bodies and enormous lenses. While it’s certainly ideal for a professional to have this much stuff (and then some), most beginners or amateurs absolutely don’t need this much gear to get started. Read on for some of my suggestions on how to gear up as a beginning doing concert photography.

Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

Concert photography rules

Before we get into gear, let’s discuss your typical concert photography setting. Whether you’re shooting a big arena show or a small, casual performance in a bar, concert photography rules are more or less the same. You get to shoot for the first three songs only, and cannot use a flash or strobe of any sort. With these two rules in mind, this means that you need gear that allows you to adjust and shoot quickly and pull off shots in a low lighting setting.

What kind of camera do you need?

First off, invest in a solid DSLR camera. While there are point and shoot cameras that could arguably get the job done, you need the lens choices that come with DSLRs. It doesn’t really matter what brand you choose. What does matter is being comfortable using it and knowing that you have a wide variety of lenses to pair with it. Canon and Nikon are two of the biggest camera brands that are among the most popular for concert photographers.

Crop Sensor or Full Frame?

When researching DSLR camera options, you’ll have a choice between investing in a crop sensor or full frame camera. The differences between the two types of DSLR cameras is best explained in this article.

To quickly summarize, crop sensor cameras are typically smaller in size and much cheaper than full frame cameras. The main disadvantage to crop sensor cameras has to do with their smaller sensor sizes that will impact available ISO options, thus resulting in slightly noisier or grainy photos than full frame cameras. In short, start out with a crop sensor camera if you’re on a budget, and aim to upgrade to a full frame camera the further you get in your concert photography career.

Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

Canon 5D Mark III (full frame) on the left and a 6D on the right.

Suggested concert photography cameras

Full Frame

Crop Sensor

What are the best concert photography lenses?

After you’ve invested in a DSLR, be sure to budget for the purchase of accompanying lenses, which can end up being just as expensive as the camera body. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t use the kit lens that automatically comes with your DSLR camera.

Most of these kit lenses are fine for shooting in ample lighting conditions, but they won’t perform well in the low light settings of concerts. Instead, what you want is a fast lens with a wide aperture (or f-stop) of between f/1.2-f/2.8. This will help you capture moving subjects in dark settings.

Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8.

Start with prime lenses

For beginning concert photographers on a budget, prime lenses are your best bet. While these lenses have fixed focal lengths, meaning you can’t zoom with them, their low f-stops mean they will shoot better in low light. Prices and exact lens models will vary according to which camera brand you’ve chosen. Since I’m a Canon shooter, these lenses are geared toward Canon.

Put these lenses on your wish list

Pretty much every professional concert photographer will have two go-to lenses on hand: a 24-70mm f/2.8 midrange zoom lens, and a 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens. Neither of these lenses is cheap and should definitely be considered a long-term investment. But if you can afford one or both, don’t hesitate to add these lenses to your concert photography kit.

Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

Keep an eye on third party brands

While it’s certainly ideal to purchase lenses in the same brand as your DSLR camera manufacturer, there are many third party companies producing cheaper and sometimes even better options. Great lens options exist from Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina, to name a few. Again, the specific options will depend on the DSLR camera body you’ve chosen, but here are a few possible options for Canon shooters:

If you’re on a budget

It’s a reality that concert photography equipment isn’t cheap. But there are some ways to score more affordable camera gear. First, look into used or refurbished camera bodies and/or lenses. As long as you purchase from an accredited source, you can save hundreds of dollars on gear.

On the flip side, keep in mind that camera gear retains its value as long as you take care of it. So if you buy a lower-end camera or lens and want to upgrade later on, it’s pretty easy to sell off your old gear to help you invest in newer options.

Finally, look for older models or previous versions of gear. For example, you could spring for the brand new Canon 5D Mark IV camera body, or you can save over $1,000 by investing in the older yet still very functional Canon 5D Mark III. The same is true for many other camera bodies and lenses on the market. It all depends on your budget and what kind of features you absolutely need to have.

Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

In Conclusion

Consistently pulling off pro-quality concert photos often requires investing in pro-grade camera gear. But it’s best to start small and to upgrade over time as your skills and budget increase. What are your go-to concert photography cameras and lenses? Let me know in the comments below!

Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a prolific blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

  • VincentR

    “First off, invest in a solid DSLR camera” … *Roll Eyes* Your article may be very well written and have decent information, but not even considering mirrorless cameras (OMD EM1, A9) just killed all of your credibility.

  • PDL

    Your comment about 135 format cameras is just wrong, look at the images produced with medium format cameras in the past and present. I shoot for non-profit groups, music, dance, choral work using an APS-C and I have never ever had someone say they did not like my images because they were not “full frame” that argument is dead. I still find that I am cropping images, using a so-called full frame camera means that I would have to crop more.

    Another thing to remember about shooting concerts, TURN OFF INSTANT PREVIEW. Your job is to take pictures, not blind the people standing behind you – by the way, they paid to get into the concert tool. First rule of concert photography, don’t disturb or interrupt the paying customers, it is not about you and your supposed “talent” it is getting the best images of the performers..

  • Akay

    mistake

  • Allen Douglas

    The best advice I got from a pro photographer when I first started out was, “Don’t try to get the shots I can get with my gear, shoot YOUR gear to it’s maximum advantage. Your shots won’t be the same as mine, but they may well be better.” I followed that advice in concert and sports photography. I am now a known concert photographer & regularly shoot pro hockey, football and more.

  • Allen Douglas

    Not for professionals. Some day mirrorless will do that – perhaps soon, but for now the choice of lenses, and for shooters like me (not fast enough and not enough varioety) and the service support just isn’t there for pros.

    I recently had my 1DS Mark II in the shop for 7 weeks – and the whole time I was using a Canon Pro Service’s loaner. They shipped it to me for free, I shipped my body to them for free, they shipped mine back for free, and I shipped their loaner back to them for free – all overnight courier. If Sony or any mirrorless maker wants to break into the pro market, they have to meet my need to keep me working while my camera is “down”.

  • VincentR

    Title of the article: Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners. Keyword here is “Beginner”. I honestly doubt that any beginner will drop $5k on equipment as their first cameras… but maybe that’s just me.

  • Sorry which comment about 135 format cameras do you mean?

  • PDL

    Right here:
    “In short, start out with a crop sensor camera if you’re on a budget, and aim to upgrade to a full frame camera the further you get in your concert photography career.”
    Check out the comment by VincentR below – same sentiment. 135 format implies “full frame” which is a marketing ploy. 135 format is the numbers that Kodak, Illford, Agfa and other film makers of the past and present used for 35mm film.
    As I said, I shoot with an APS-C format sensor and I find my self cropping to get the image as I want it, a larger sensor with a wider field of view would mean that I crop MORE in order to get the image I want.

  • Sorry not sure I follow or agree. I don’t see anywhere in the article where the author mentioned “135 format” only the commenters and yourself. She also says to start with APS-C and if you want to do it as a career upgrade later. We gave several options for camera and lens choices in both ranges. I just do not see the issue here, sorry.

    I say let’s just agree to disagree and move on.

  • PDL

    Ah – there is the problem – the implication that in order to be a pro-you need to have “Full Frame” kit.
    “She also says to start with APS-C and if you want to do it as a career upgrade later.”
    This sentiment is wrong – it implies that non-full frame is equated with amateur, this is just wrong.
    Oh – and the term “full frame” is a marketing term meaning a 35x24mm sensor format. In my days as a seller of film, we did not order full frame film we ordered 110, 120, 135, 620 film. The term full frame is a marketing term and the use of 135 format cameras will not make your images automatically a “Pro”.

  • Ronald Palmer

    Having shot Concerts for more than 10 years in Canada and having started shooting with a Canon XTI and a Sigma 70-300 3.5-5.6 lens, I learned quickly what my camera could and could not do. Now I use a 7d MKII and a 1D mark III one with a 24-70 f4 and a Tamron 70-200 f2.8. Yes, there is a major difference between where I started and what I do now, but learning the basics was the biggest thing. I now shoot major events, and Concerts around Edmonton and across Canada, having gained experience from various camera and lens combinations, and also learning how to shoot which in most cases is actually as important or more important than what camera and lens is used. Best beginner information I can give, first get a DSLR doesn’t have to be expensive, get the best glass you can afford, learn your camera. One thing you never hear and I see so many taking photographs at concerts not doing this – Artist move around and so should you and be ready, an artist will generally do similar things at each show but it’s when they don’t that you get THE photo. lastly learn to edit those images. Am I the best not even close, but I can tell you that compared to when I started I get a lot more gigs now than I did then. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2bb6b0bfcc167bb6841692cb0bf9e6371aacd5354381ef75756b5e8e9ef809bc.jpg This is one of my first concerts https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f5196686b7492682c1a5cbde4e739f4e63aa26394fd9a782132df65f6f7a6c4b.jpg This was last year https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4bace4a6d0fdf5d03d9993213759df920677626890cda10872bd7f97c750aa32.jpg this was last week So it takes time to learn and you will continuously be learning.

  • maxii123

    Full frame does not mean you have to crop more.

  • PDL

    In my case, yes I would have to crop more with a 135 format image.
    I have a old late 1970’s 300mm lens that I use on my APS-C camera giving me a FOV of a 450mm lens on 135 format. Please Note: I do not own a 450mm lens. Shooting with a 135 format camera using this 300mm lens, I bought for my 35mm SLR’s, I would have a wider field of view and in order to get image I would want, I would have to crop.

    Now here is the point. I currently crop the image using my APS-C camera to get the image I want. If I had a 135 format camera, using the same lens from the same location to get the same image, I would have to crop down a larger proportion i.e. “crop more”.

    There are times when you can not change the known variables, lens (meaning focal length), distance (point of view, location at a given venue) and your existing camera bodies format. In my case I am shooting with a 300mm lens, from the balcony using a APS-C body. I crop that image to get the one I want. If I were to use a 135 format camera body, I would have to crop away a significantly larger portion of the image to get the final Image I want.

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