Going to see Neko Case and Ani DiFranco at Bluesfest reminded me how, these days, 1/3 of the audience will be trying to capture everything on their cell phone cameras, while another 1/3 will be trying to do so with low-cost digital SLRs and cheap zoom lenses. It is only fair to point out that neither will produce photos of remotely comparable quality to concert images of the artist you could find using Google or Wikipedia in a couple of minutes.
Say you want to engage with the experience using hardware that will produce output of good optical quality. There are at least two routes open to you:
1) Still camera:
- Buy a crazy lens. Two options to consider are the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM (US$1,575) and the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM (US$$7,650).
- Buy a good quality filter to protect the expensive front element ($60-80).
- Buy a camera body that produces good images at high ISO. An excellent option would be the Canon 5D Mark II (US$3,900).
- Attach your 1.4kg lens to your 820g body.
- Get both past security people wary of commercial photographers.
- Worry a lot about the $5,000 to $10,000 worth of gear around your neck, as well as spinal damage from the 2kg weight.
- Get fairly close to the stage, and spend the concert concerned about AE correction for changing backdrops, flare from stage lights, etc. Worry also about the limited dynamic range of your digital sensor, white balance issues, and the fact that most photos of people singing come out looking awkward.
In short, unless you are being paid to document the concert, or happen to already own the appropriate gear, this isn’t a terribly appealing option.
- Buy some moderately priced binoculars. Good options include Bushnell 8×25 Binoculars (C$50) or, even better, Pentax 8×21 UCF-R Mini Binoculars (C$58).
- Carry your 200g binoculars through security.
- Find a spot about a bus-length from the performer.
- Enjoy watching them in high resolution, full frame, full motion video.
- Note, also, that they will be in three dimensions, with an even more flattering depth of field effect than the monocular version offered by the best zoom lenses.
For less than the cost of a filter to protect a crazy lens, you can buy an optical instrument that can contribute more to engagement and enjoyment than the whole photo setup. Concert lighting is set up to look good to human eyes (the relevant sensor when using binoculars), not digital sensors (the ultimate target of photos flying through your expensive photo rig). Wearing your crazy photo rig, you will feel like part of the paparazzi. With good binoculars, you will feel like a falcon.
While you will probably never be able to take a better photo of a performer than you can readily find online, you can quite easily watch them with your own wonderful eyes at a much higher quality level.
P.S. Neko Case is a very strong live performer. Her on-stage renditions of songs are remarkably similar to her studio albums. I found that Ani DiFranco is really amazing on stage, even though I am less familiar with her music. She has wonderful spirit, lots of technical skill, and a notable ability to engage with the crowd.