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07-15-2011, 03:10 PM   #1
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Lens advice for theater/stage

My daughter is in a lot of dance and high school musical activities. I've been trying to figure out what kind of lens I need to get good shots under the challenging conditions of ambient darkness and stage lighting. (I'm also trying to figure out how to take a good shot...) I got the K-x less than a year ago and love it, so it really helps to be able to up the ISO. It's my first DSLR, so I'm still a beginner. I've tried sitting in different spots in the theater, so there are some differences there, but here's what I've learned so far:
  • I have the DA 16-45, and it works well for full stage when there is a fair amount of light.
  • I have a Pentax F 35-70 1:3.5-4.5, and I could get some decent shots, but it just doesn't seem to do the job.
  • I have a M 50 1.7 that I tried figuring that its 1.7 would enable me to shoot at a faster speed. Again, some decent shots, but less satisfactory than I hoped. Partly it's the manual focus when I am trying to catch something quickly (especially dance). Partly the focal length was just not right. Not close enough to catch a fully lighted person on stage and too short so that lighting was always an issue. (Again, I'm still trying to learning to shoot quickly w/ a M lens...)
  • I have had best luck w/ my DAL 55-300, especially for spotlighted moments where person/s are not moving. At 1:4-5.8, it's hard to capture a motion shot.
SO, I'm thinking that I want something in the 70-135mm range that is fairly fast. Money is an object, so I'm probably going to have to wait around for something used to show up, but I'd like to be prepared. Some of the lens that have shown up that might be available used for under $200 include:
  • Sigma 70 2.8
  • Tamron 90 2.8
  • Pentax 135 3.5 (quite a bit cheaper and more often available)
Will the Pentax 135 do the job? The Sigma and Tamron lens are Macro lens, but will they still work for the theater setting I'm wanting to use them for? Are there others I should consider?

Thanks for any and all help!

07-15-2011, 04:01 PM - 1 Like   #2
hcc
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It is not simple to asnwer because the best lens options are linked with the lighting conditions. Generally, the indoor school halls are not well lighted. This means that you must consider a fast lens: a lens with a large aperture and low f. Typically f2.8 and smaller f like f1.8, f1.4.

Next you will need to find the suitable focal length depending how close you can get. 30 to 50mm if you can get close, 70 to 100 mm (or more) if you are further back.

With large apertures, it is best-value to consider a prime lens: e.g 50mm f1.4, 30mm f1.8, ...

In my own experience, I found that I cannot get very close in a school hall, because all the parents want to be close. At the end, I like to use a focal length about 90 mm. I got good success with the Tamron 90mm f2.8 (AF) when the lighting is Ok. In low light, the AF has trouble to focus and I prefer to use a MF fast prime lens (Zeiss 85mm f1.4 in my case).

Hope that the comment will help.
07-15-2011, 04:22 PM   #3
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Unfortunately the best solution is not cheap... I would say DA* 50-135mm 2.8 (cheap only compared to Canikon solution), although the Tamron 90mm 2.8 will likely be a cheaper alternative. Otherwise, if you can use manual focus, there are MF lens such as the k-135/3.5 which would also be a good choice as well.
07-15-2011, 05:20 PM - 1 Like   #4
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I have a vivitar 135mm f2.8 that I purchased very reasonably priced online and you may want to consider a 3rd party lens as well. In the conditions you describe it would be a cheap and useful option. When you are using it wide open, you can use in Av mode. Also, in those conditions, you want to make use of spot metering and AE lock fairly regularly for optimum exposures, so why not just use spot with stop down meter instead? With that kind of thinking, you could easily find an old PK mount that will take shots you are happy with.

I have not used it at a school play, but have used it extensviely indoors with my little boy using catch-in-focus, which hits generally 2-4 times out of 5 shots.

I'm interested to hear your solution and what kind of success you have. My kid is only a year away from school and I've already been thinking about how to take his pictures.


Last edited by Gareth.Ig; 07-15-2011 at 05:32 PM. Reason: grammar
07-15-2011, 05:23 PM - 1 Like   #5
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Try to find an M 85mm f2 lens. They aren't so expensive.

Pentax-M 85mm F2 Reviews - M Series Primes - Pentax Lens Reviews & Comprehensive Database

It's on my list, but I have a M42 mount CZJ 80mm f2.8 I need to try out first (gotta get me one of those adaptors!)
07-15-2011, 06:07 PM - 1 Like   #6
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Mate... f2,8 is just a step away from f 4 so i doubt you will find your solution there....you can of course try.. but gotta say from my own experience that i've used my Tammy 28-75 f2,8 in all sorts of lighting conditions and usually in normal lit indoors ISO tends to go up while i find myself shooting f2,8 mostly....
In a theater type of lighting you'll be forced to use high ISO, medium shutter speed (like 1/40 or so, wich for dance isn't optimum) and f2,8...
The only solution that'll let you freeze movement in dance and that'll let you control the lighting instead of coping with it is one or several flashes.
I would try to poke around to see if they'll let you put some lighting on stage (off camera lighting with radio triggers)...for the price of a 50-135 (as recomended above) you can get yourself some studio strobes with modifyers (mmm maybe a 3 strobe kit of elinchrome Bx 500ri with some modifyers...they have here almost the same price as the lens...or you can get 4 Dlite it 4 to go, or 3 with some extra cool modifyers). Or you can go the cheaper way of getting some second hand speedlites and modifyers (the nikon sb 28 can be bought at a reasonable price and they are feature packed).
Then just practice, practice, get some lighting DVDs (lighting in layers, the strobist seminars or Zach Arias' one light workshop are great sources of knowledge).
If you get to convince the school that you'll share with them the best shots for them to use as they see fit you can get yourself a wonderfull oportunity (and you can always figure out a lighting that will not bother so much the dancers and create some dramatic and theatrical images.)

Good luck...and if you decide to go with the faster lenses bear in mind that the more luminous the shallower the depth of field will be, wich will create some focusing issues (and the lack of microadjustment on your kx can turn a pain in the ass the finding of a precise copy of a fast autofocus lens).
Oh and 3,5 will definitely not be enough if your f4 lens is already struggling there.

(And catch in focus as stated above is a good recomendation...for me it hasn't worked probably because of my own inability and impacience, lots of lost shots, but there's people who use it succesfully ).
07-15-2011, 07:08 PM - 1 Like   #7
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I recently acquired the tamron and it has fast become one of my favorite lenses! Its fast and has great image quality. I've used it for both macro and tele applications.

And I wonder if you look hard enough you might find the tamron 70-200 f2.8 used. Its the least expensive f2.8 telephoto zoom for the k mount. Sigma has a 105mm f2.8 macro lens that could work?
07-15-2011, 08:28 PM - 1 Like   #8
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It doesn't do a lot of good to get a lens much faster than f:1.8 or so because the depth of field will limit what you can do.

For performances you'll almost always need a long focal length when shooting an individual from audience seating. You'll probably also like auto focus - putting these requirements together suggests one of the 70-200mm 2.8 zooms.

There are some manual lenses that might work for you like the Takumar 135:2.5 (the non-bayonet one is best) or a 135:1.8.

The most valuable advice I can give for theater work is to ask the director to let you photograph at both tech and dress rehearsals. He or she will welcome you if you promise to share the shots & stay out of the way; there won't be an audience so you'll likely be free to walk up & lean on the stage if you like. Then your shorter lenses will come in handy!

Tech rehearsals are particularly good to work at as they will be working on & refining lighting cues so there'll be many re-dos of scenes that'll give you time to shoot the same important scene more than once - you can't ask for more!

07-15-2011, 08:47 PM - 1 Like   #9
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I use the DA* 50-135 for high school plays and it works very well. You really need the fastest lens you can afford. Even if you push up the ISO the larger maximum aperture will give your camera more light to AF.
Before I got the DA* I used the M 50 f/1/7 and Takumar 135 f/2.5 and they did very well. I did have a split image focus screen so I could nail the focus with more accuracy.
I also was the official photographer at the dress rehearsals which meant I could roam around and even stand on the stage. Then also shoot during the performance to get what I missed during rehearsal.
07-15-2011, 09:41 PM   #10
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Thank you all so far!
I'm not able to use flash or lighting, but it's a great idea to ask if I can shoot at the tech rehearsal.
Some of the lenses recommended (eg the DA 50-135) are pretty expensive, so I'm keeping my eye open for some of the other options. A 135 2.5 or 2.8 sounds like it might work....
I also came across a Vivitar/Samyang... 85 1.4 that might do the job as well.
I am a bit hesitant about manual focus using the K-x, but then I should be able to get about an 8' DOF in most situations, so that should work most times once I get the focus in the general ballpark...
Thanks again. I'll report back once I find a lens and have some good results to show for it.
07-15-2011, 10:15 PM - 1 Like   #11
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I've found the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 to work well. The attached 2 samples are used with a K-7, and the last couple are from a graduation with the K-5







07-15-2011, 10:52 PM - 1 Like   #12
hcc
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgvh Quote
I am a bit hesitant about manual focus using the K-x...
Don't.

The K-x has a nice function called Catch in Focus (CIF). Do try it and you will find very easy the use of MF lenses.

I also encourage you to read the PF thread:
"Manual Focus. Why are we afraid?" https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-beginners-corner-q/146443-manual-f...we-afraid.html
which contains many valuable advice from experienced Pentaxians on using MF lenses.

Like you, I was initially afraid to use MF lenses, but I now really enjoyed these. A good MF lens with excellent focus ring is a pleasure to use.


QuoteOriginally posted by mgvh Quote
I also came across a Vivitar/Samyang... 85 1.4 that might do the job as well.
I recommend you to read these recent in-depth reviews at PF:
https://www.pentaxforums.com/reviews/sigma_85mm_f14_review.php
https://www.pentaxforums.com/reviews/vivitar_85mm_f14_review.php

Note that the Vivitar is also sold Ras Bower, okinon or Samyang. If you buy this lens, do ensure that it is the Pentax bayonnet K-mount and it has automatic aperture (A on the aperture ring).


Hope that the comments will assist....

Last edited by hcc; 07-15-2011 at 11:34 PM.
07-16-2011, 11:36 AM - 1 Like   #13
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There is not a lens for under $200.00 that I could recommend. MF on K-X VF is not going to be a great option. F/2 is as slow as I would recommend. The DA 70mm f/2.4 is about the closest and cheapest, but a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 would be my first budget choice. It is a very good price for the quality, and the results will be significantly better than anything else you are looking at. Spending $200.00 on the other lenses you list is not going to improve you results.
07-16-2011, 03:25 PM - 1 Like   #14
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I've been doing this for about 3 years myself with a K10D and a Tamron 70-200mm. Results aren't bad, but a camera that could give me an extra 2-3 stops of ISO would seal the deal. Given that you have a camera that can, an f/2.8 lens with good IQ will more than suffice. I've been able to get front row seats every year, and the 70-200mm is the perfect focal range. 70mm will get you all but a full stage shot (but wide enough to get the main performers) and 200mm is perfect for individual on stage portraits. Not being a prime lens user, if I were to go that route with my camera, it would be a fast 85mm to get as much speed as possible. With your camera and being able to get away with f/2.8, it would depend on what you want. 70-90mm for group shots, or 135mm for 1 or 2 people close together, head to toe. But I really recommend going with the versatility of the 70-200. If your budget really doesn't permit buying such a lens, you can always rent, which will run you about $100 for 3-5 days, and is an option you really should consider.
07-16-2011, 03:32 PM - 1 Like   #15
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A fast 85 would be my choice for rehearsals (I have the Rokinon version of the Samyang 85:1.4 & like it a lot).

For performances I doubt it would be my first choice even from the front row (because I like tight shots).

Last edited by newarts; 07-16-2011 at 03:57 PM.
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