Concert Photography 50mm 1.8 lens

concert photography 50mm 1.8

Ask many professional concert photographers and they’ll tell you they started out with the Nifty Fifty or Plastic Fantastic lens.  These names refer to the 50mm 1.8 lens, a cheap and great lens to start your concert photography career.

Here’s why.

Concert Photography 50mm 1.8: Starting out

  • It’s cheap!
    Camera gear is notoriously expensive, but your first lens doesn’t have to bankrupt you. A new 50mm f1.8 lens (available for all brands) cost $125-200, used and refurbished 50mm lenses from reputable dealers go for $100 or less.
  • Capture what you see
    The eye’s “focal length” (caveats included) is close to 50mm, making it a natural transition for those new to photography, and it’s a great compromise between wide-angle and telephoto lenses.
  • Focus on composition
    Many beginners to concert photography take photos that mimic the approach of everyone else with a cameraphone: they are documenting what at the show occurred, but don’t put enough consideration into the image as a standalone work of art. By eliminating focal length as a variable, you are freer to focus on composition, a key distinction between professional and amateur photographs.
  • High apertures are a necessity for low-lit venues
    Small bars and clubs often don’t require photo passes, and are therefore great for practicing and building a portfolio for later on, yet are normally much darker than dedicated venues. f/1.8 lets in enough light to still take great photos. Read here how you get started as concert photographer.
  • It’s small and discrete
    If you start off in small venues without photography pits, it’s worth trying to make your camera as unobtrusive as possible, for the rest of the audience around you and to avoid getting your equipment knocked around.

Concert Photography 50mm 1.8: Moving forward

  • Zoom lenses compromise aperture
    Complicated mechanics mean it’s hard to make zoom lenses with consistent maximum apertures across all focal lengths. And when they do exist, they can be very expensive.
  • Sharper and deeper
    Better lighting will mean you won’t always need to shoot at f/1.8, and you’ll benefit from not only a greater depth of field but a sharper image, as lenses tend to perform best when not pushed to their limits (the best sharpness performance of a lens is when closing down 2f stops).
  • Become a prime addict
    Remember what was said earlier about composition? When you’ve used one focal length enough you’ll learn to pre-compose images within the frame before you even raise the camera to your eye. You may want to keep using primes so you can always know what to expect in the beginning.
  • Expand your set
    The 50mm focal length complements wide-angle and telephoto lenses well. Sticking with primes? Add a 24mm or wider, and a telephoto beyond 100mm will help you shoot the drummer or get a face close-up. Wanting the flexibility of zooms? Try 18-35mm and 70-200mm. See the exact tools I am using here.

Finally, tried it but want to switch? Fine!

Used 50mm f/1.8 lenses maintain their value if bought second-hand, leaving you free to choose the classic 24-70mm and 70-200mm combo, or you could keep it to use as a portraiture lens.

By the time you make your decision, you will have learnt a lot about your preferences as a concert photographer.

Let me know your experiences with a 50mm f1.8 lens in the comments below

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  • Val

    Hi Matthias, thanks so much for your blog! I’ve taken pictures in a few concerts some time ago, and now that I might have the opportunity to do the same thing again, I wanted to ask you what you would suggest me buying. I have an old Canon Rebel T1i with a Tamron 18-270 f3.5-6.3 -to slow & noisy. If I want to buy a full frame camera, my only option would be an old second-hand Canon EOS Mark II. I would buy a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM (this is fairly new, right?) and hopefully can get some second-hand zoom lens. So my question is: do you thinks it’s worth buying a full frame camera even if it’s that old (2009)? And if I choose a 70-200 zoom, then I wouldn’t have any wide angle… do you think I will miss it if shooting in festivals with big stages? Hope you’ll have some time to enlighten me on this matter! Thanks a lot! Cheers!

    • Hi Val, thanks for your comment. I would say it depends. If you take concert photography serious than a full frame camera make sense. When I started out everyone had a Canon 5D Mark II, so this camera will absolutely do the job. Regarding the lenses it´ll get a bit more expensive. If you’re shooting with a full frame camera, you’ll need full frame lenses. The 50mm f1.8 is a great choice when you start out. If you want to flexibility of a zoom than the 24-70mm f2.8 is your best choice, since you’ll also cover the wide angle focal range. The 70-200mm f2.8 is a great choice if you shoot big stages, but if I have to choose only 1 lens than the 24-70 f2.8 would be the one for full frame cameras. There are also 3rd party manufacturers such as Tamron, Sigma or Tokina which offers lower priced lenses. Hope that helps and let me know what you decide to get

      • Val

        Thanks a lot for your reply – I noticed it only now. I’m still considering the options!

  • Gogo Theophanopoulou

    Thanks to Matthias, I tried the Nifty-Fifty settings on Canon 60D and I had very good results. I shoot the gigs of a group called Red House. They play in small venues with very bad lighting conditions. I improved my shots very much.

    • Great to here Gogo and thanks for sharing your experience with the nifty fifty!

  • Franklin Hoenikker

    I’m having trouble getting focus with this lens (50mm f1.8)unless I use the live view on the camera (D3100) any tips?