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09-03-2009, 06:23 AM   #1
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Manual Focus for Live Concert?

Every year I shoot a live concert for free for experience ( yeah, this will be the last year ), but long story short I have always shot with Nikon/Canon using an expensive or relatively expensive zoom. The 70-200 range is perfect for closeups of this outdoor event.

last year I used a Nikon D200 with the Tamron 70-200 2.8, and honestly that lens didn't cut it with it's slow out focus.

So, this year I will be trying out my new K20D. Anyone have success using a manual focus zoom for live concerts such as the SMC-A 70-210? Because this event is just a once a year, non-paid shoot, I am not so worried about having less keepers. My idea was to get a Katzeye focus screen and pair it with a good optical quality prime or zoom around that range.....

I would like to hear others opinions of low cost options that would get my close to the range without spending $700-$800 for The sigma, Tamron, 70-200.

I picked up a rather rough shape smc-a 70-210 F4, but the barrel is slightly bent making for a rough rotation, and the focus throw seems very large and that combo would probably be an issues with manual focus speed. Perhaps a better quality one or a prime manual focus would be ok.

Or am I really reaching here?.. is the idea of shooting a live concert using manual focus zoom paired with a katzeye a bad idea?

09-03-2009, 06:56 AM   #2
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I've done a few concerts and have never had trouble using AF on my 16-50, 77 ltd, 100/2.8 macro and Tamron 70-200. As long as my focus point is pointing at a well-lit subject, which is usually the idea, it focuses fast and accurately. Once in focus, I can recompose and shoot, and I get the results I want.

Manual focus? I haven't tried it in that setting, but you'd need to get some practice doing it under pressure - it's not as easy as it seems, but is very effective once you've got the knack.
09-03-2009, 07:25 AM   #3
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Are you pairing the Tamron 70-200 up with a K20D or K7? I found the Tamron to be much slower on my old Nikon D200 compared to the Sigma/Canon versions I had on my Canon.

Maybe I will give it a shot on my K20D...

QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
I've done a few concerts and have never had trouble using AF on my 16-50, 77 ltd, 100/2.8 macro and Tamron 70-200. As long as my focus point is pointing at a well-lit subject, which is usually the idea, it focuses fast and accurately. Once in focus, I can recompose and shoot, and I get the results I want.

Manual focus? I haven't tried it in that setting, but you'd need to get some practice doing it under pressure - it's not as easy as it seems, but is very effective once you've got the knack.
09-03-2009, 07:32 AM   #4
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In low light situations, which concerts usually are, a Katzeye my hurt more than it helps. Your best bet is to listen to Ash's advice and find a bright spot on the subject to focus (auto or MF). Otherwise, it is too dark to see enough detail to know whether your focus is on or off.

09-03-2009, 08:05 AM   #5
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For gig/music events, I use two bodies (K20D's with differing lenses) set up the same, shooting RAW, manual exposure, manual WB (dependant on light set ups) with no flash (as not allowed at most venues).

IMHO there is no substitute for good fast prime glass and by that I mean in the range of f1.2 to f2.8. Always manual focus aided by katzeye screens and usually at ISO 1600 or more.

Focal length depending on your access rights, side stage and stage pit, anywhere from 50mm to 200mm works well.

For a once a year freebie, the above set up would be cost prohibitive, for me it's a few nights a week and has therefore become an essential requirement.

Do also remember to enjoy the event.
09-03-2009, 08:10 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by designinme_1976 Quote
...am I really reaching here?.. is the idea of shooting a live concert using manual focus zoom paired with a katzeye a bad idea?
You know, it used to be a time when AF did not exist and that didn't stop anyone from shooting concerts ! There's nothing wrong with that idea, and while you're at it, why don't you work in full manual mode ? If you are a distance away, chances are that you won't have to touch either the focus nor the camera settings all night !
09-03-2009, 08:37 AM   #7
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My best friend for this kind of shooting is my Vivitar 85mm f1.4. This with a katzeye on my K10 at 800 ISO produced this image. Yes it's a little soft but it was past midnight and several beers hand held and it was really dark in this venue.


Last edited by blackcloudbrew; 09-03-2009 at 09:05 AM.
09-03-2009, 08:50 AM   #8
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Here's how I fared with the 70-200 at a concert recently...
All with AF using a K20D in usual concert lighting:







09-03-2009, 09:23 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by designinme_1976 Quote

I would like to hear others opinions of low cost options that would get my close to the range without spending $700-$800 for The sigma, Tamron, 70-200.
If you're looking for a manual zoom in that range you could get a Tokina or Adaptall 80-200mm 2.8. I think the Adaptall is supposed to be the better IQ wise. You could get one for $200-300 on Ebay.
09-03-2009, 09:44 AM   #10
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The Tamron 70-200 is probably the best value f/2.8 zoom there is.
Worth the money, and it would be hard to find a lens in this range that rivals it.
09-03-2009, 10:16 AM   #11
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You've got to be pretty far from the stage to need 200mm on APS-C. And unless it's a very well-lit venue, f/4 just isn't going to cut it. Now, these too do tend to go hand-in-hand - a venue large enough that you're likely to need 200mm is also typically lit well enough that f/4 is plenty; in fact, f/5.6 is often enough. And if you're talking outdoors *during the day*, maximum aperture isn't a concern at all.

I find AF iffy in concerts - the system is as likely as not to focus on a microphone, instrument, stand, arm, or something other than the face. So even on my AF lenses, I often use MF shooting concerts.

So if you're shooting a venue where you need 200mm, then the A70-210 will probably be fine. Although manual zooms are kind of a pain with regard to SR, since you can't take full advantage of it unless you change the SR focal length setting evenry time you twist the zoom lens. I'd consider something like the DA50-200 or 55-300 (or one of the various 70-300's) instead if you know this is for outdoor / large venue / well-lit use only.

But if you're ever planning on shooting in lower light levels, you really need faster lenses, and probably don't need the 200mm. I do most of my concert shooting with three primes: DA70, M100/2.8, and M135/3.5. The M135/3.5 is kind of borderline in the maximum aperture department, but with good timing and a bit of luck, you can get perfectly usable shots at 1/30" or even 1/20", as with this one:

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