The Nikon D5100 is a great entry level camera for concert photography. Here’s how to bring the most out of your Nikon D5100 when shooting shows.
Concert Photography Nikon D5100: The Basics
Nikon’s D5100 is a low to mid-range DSLR, released in 2011. At the time it was innovative particularly for its flip-out screen and high video quality. While there are many better cameras for low-light photography, at its price point it performs impressively well. You can pick up a refurbished body (no lens) at reputable dealers for around $280.
First, let’s have a brief overview of some features. The fairly light body comes with a kit lens – 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. However, while producing excellent images, this lens has too low a maximum aperture (3.5) to function properly in concerts. Read here what lens you should get instead.
The Nikon is compatible with a wide range of lenses back to pre-Ai from 1959. But it will not meter with pre-Ai or Ai, meaning it won’t read the light for you. And it does not have an autofocus motor, meaning it will only autofocus with lenses that have their own motor.
The Nikon D5100 has a native ISO range of 100 to 6400, pushed to 25600 expanded, with usable noise up to around ISO 2500-3200. Shutter speed is excellent, ranging from 1/4000 at the fastest to 30sec and bulb mode. Learn about the basics of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO here.
The Nikon D5100 has built-in flash and a live view mode that allows you to zoom in to focus on your subject. It has the ability to record videos, and just one SD card slot.
Accessing Key Modes And Settings
Here’s how to access some modes and settings that are likely to be of use to you as a concert photographer. Customisable buttons can jump to some of these quickly, to which we’ll return later.
- Mode wheel: select between manual exposure, aperture priority, shutter priority, and the array of non-professional modes.
- Display screen: pressing <i> brings up options for: image quality, white balance, ISO, release mode, focus mode, AF-area mode, metering, exposure compensation, flash compensation, flash mode.
- Menu: pressing the menu button brings up full controls for all this and more, including playback and shooting menus, custom button settings, and setup for formatting the memory card.
- Flash: the flash button to the left of the lens pops up the internal flash.
- Control wheel and directional buttons: control wheel is used for most alterations when photographing, while directional buttons let you navigate the display screen and menu.
Useful Modes For Concert Photography
- Shooting mode
This is accessed by the mode wheel. In manual exposure (M) mode, the control wheel controls the shutter speed while +- and the wheel together control aperture. In the priority modes (aperture/shutter speed), the control wheel just turns the priority variable.
If you look through the viewfinder of the camera you’ll see your shutter speed and aperture as well as an exposure guide. In manual, exposure compensation is set by pressing <i> and scrolling down to it, while it’s easier in the priority modes: just +- and a turn of the control wheel.
- Auto-focus modes
Auto-focus gives you two very useful options: single-servo and continuous-servo. Single-servo focuses just once per pressing the shutter halfway down, making it easier to take burst shots. Continuous-servo constantly refocuses as your subject moves, which can make tracking an active performer much easier.
- Live view focus
Switch to ‘LV’ next to the mode wheel to bring up live view, which projects a preview onto the LCD screen. From here you can zoom with the magnifying buttons, letting you check for noise detail but also letting you manually focus with more accuracy.
You get a few options here, including spot metering and matrix metering. If spot metering is selected, the one point in use (of 11 possible – it is also the auto-focus point) is controlled by the directional buttons and lights up as a red rectangle in the viewfinder and LCD screen.
- Release mode
A few settings here will be of use at different times. Burst mode lets you hold down the shutter to take a stream of shots. The number of shots you can take before running into the queue is labeled ‘r’ and displayed in the viewfinder and LCD screen. Single shot is self-explanatory, and quiet mode comes in handy if you want to shoot at a quiet concert, although the difference in noise isn’t huge and the sound lag in this mode is somewhat distracting. Button noise options can be set in the menu.
Read here my proven concert photography settings that work every single time.
These are an overlooked but incredibly useful feature of the Nikon D5100. These can be set by going to Menu -> Custom setting menu -> Controls -> f1 Assign Fn button/f2 Assign AE-L/AF-L button.
‘f1’ is on the front left, next to the lens and beneath the flash button. You can set this to a variety of settings but most useful for our purposes are ISO sensitivity (hold it down and rotate the control wheel) and release mode (to change between burst and quiet mode, for example).
‘f2’ is above and to the right of the screen, accessible to the shutter hand. This lets you lock (turn off the automation of) a combination of exposure (AE) and focus (AF) or just one of them, or alternatively to turn auto-focus ON only when pressed. Locking these settings momentarily is great for when lights are wreaking havoc with auto-exposure, or if pre-focusing.
If you are in manual exposure mode, AE is therefore redundant so this button should be set to one of the AF modes. An auto-focus/manual-focus switch is common on lenses too, but this is much easier to operate.
Flash and Image Settings
- Flash compensation and mode.
You can choose between front and rear modes, depending on whether you want the flash to occur at the beginning or end of the exposure ñ two different and versatile effects for your arsenal.
- Image quality
RAW is undoubtedly the best option for concert photography. In addition you can also choose to take both RAW and a low, medium or high quality JPEG for easy review of your images later. Bear in mind that the Nikon D5100 will take longer to write both a RAW and a high quality JPEG, reducing the number of shots you can take in burst mode. Read more about RAW vs. JPEG here.
- Image review
This can be changed by going to Menu -> Playback -> Image review. Most photographers like to be able to check their images occasionally mid-shoot. However the brightness of the LCD screen can be distracting. So you may want to turn this off, or dim the LCD screen.
Summery Nikon D5100
If you´re looking for an affordable entry-level camera for concert photography the Nikon D5100 might be the one. The ability to shoot at relatively high ISO settings (3200-6400) paired with a 50mm f1.8 lens make the Nikon D5100 a great choice for those who are on a budget.
Do you own a Nikon D5100? Let me know in the comments how you like it!
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