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Concert Photography 101: Cameras and Lenses for Beginners

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

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Suzi Pratt
Suzi Pratt

is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. When she’s not taking photos, she’s making travel photography and camera gear videos for her YouTube channel.

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