With a photo pass and 2 SONY SLT-a99 cameras (lent to me by SONY) in hand I walked into the FOX Theatre over the course of a weekend to photograph NeedtoBreathe, Third Day, Colton Dixon from American Idol, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and Josh Wilson.
I’ve always heard good things about the a99 but never had the opportunity to test it. After a weekend of shooting I only have one thing to say other than “There’s no denying it.”
The SONY SLT-a99 is the must-have powerhouse camera for concert photographers.
Oh let me count the ways!
- Electronic View Finder
- Single-Lens Translucent (SLT)
- Exposure Simulation
- 5 Frames-Pre-Second bursts:
- 100 to 25600 ISO
- 24.3 MP sensor CMOS Full Frame
- 1/8000th fastest shutter
- Flexible LCD screen
Before highlighting a few of the above here’s a list of the equipment that I was lent.
- 2 Sony a99 Full-Frame DSLR Cameras + battery grips
- 85mm f/2.8 Mid-Range Prime Lens
- Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens
- 70-400mm f/4-5.6 Telephoto Lens
The Goal Of Every Concert
Concerts help build a band’s tribe. It puts a human face on the music that the fans love. Concerts give fans an opportunity to experience the music with all 5 of their senses. My goal at every concert is to photograph it in such a way that will make the fans who didn’t attend wish they had! In order to do that I need to have the best equipment possible. I can’t just stand in the back, take photographs and hope for the best. I have to capture the experience from all view points of the concert. Front and back rows hear the exact same music but see very different things. I have to put that all together with my photographs.
The fans need to see through my photographs that they are part of an exciting tribe. They need to see that there are 1,000s of other fans that are just as devout. The concert is a “you do not want to miss” celebration. In order for me to capture that celebration I have to capture the sweat rolling off their brows as well as wide angles of of fans having a greath time in the venue. To be successful I have to be active and I need equipment that won’t disappointment so that I don’t disappointment.
The lens: the eye of the camera.
There is no question that SONY lenses and in particular their Carl Zeiss lenses are the best. The lens glass has a clarity that I didn’t know existed even after using other brands that cost over $2,000 a piece. This clarity means that the camera sensor is going to get ALL possible information that I see through the lens. The two lens I used were the 70-400mm f/4-5.6 Telephoto Lens and the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens. When I’m leaning on the stage and need to get full length body shots or the crowds going wild I used the Carl Ziess 24-70mm. (Since I had two cameras I didn’t have to worry about missing a shot when changing lenses.)
The Carl Ziess Lens gave the camera the clearest view possible to capture. Concerts are contrasty beasts and the fall off of the light from the stage happens very quickly so it become difficult maintaing the details the farther you get into the crowd. With the Carl Zeiss lens I didn’t have to worry about that which was invaluable when photographing Colton Dixon. Colton wears a snow white jacket during his concerts. As you know exposing for a subject who wears a white jacket with spotlights shining on him can be a headache. The Carl Zeiss lens performed superbly. After using the lenses a few times it becomes silly to even think about using anything else for my next concert shoot.
To get up close and personal to capture facial expressions I used the the 70-400mm f/4-5.6 Telephoto Lens. I typically never use anything above f/2.8 but this lens gets the job done with high marks. To capture action I kept most everything at 250fps. One thing that the 70-400mm did have trouble was focusing quickly. I’ve heard a number of great reviews for the 70 – 400mm so maybe the one I had was just off a little bit.
The reason I didn’t worry about it’s f/4-5.6 was because I was shooting everything at 12,800 ISO. This is the magic of the a99 in my mind. It makes the apature moot because it’s offset by the high ISO. The grain looks like something I would expect to see at 800 ISO. Thumbs up to you SONY! I don’t mind the grain and in fact I expect to see it. Concerts by nature are a little raw so I like to see a little grain in my photographs to reflect that.
Another benefit of SONY lens is that it keeps you from wasting time cleaning up messes in photoshop and lightroom. Hundreds of hours are lost making converting mistakes into “art” because of bad lenses.
The 24.3MP 35mm Full-frame Sensor
Have you ever heard that you can make better decisions with more information? Well it’s no different when it comes to the size of a camera’s sensor. The larger the sensor the more information it can receive about a photograph. The large 24.3MP 35mm full-frame sensor captures more information to preserve precious details that are lost with other smaller sensor cameras. Every concert photographer has to worry about how quickly the exposure for the stage changes because of the strobes, flood lights and spot lights. The perfect exposure is lost in a manner of seconds because a single spot light is suddenly engulfed by a sea of flood lights.
The large sensor allows me to focus on taking well framed photographs because I know what seems to be lost int he shadows and highlights can be found.
“Single Lens Translucent”
Let’s all take a breath because the SLT (SIngle Lens Translucent) has made my life anew. The SONY a99 doesn’t have a movable mirror but a translucent one. This means when you look through the viewfinder, which is electronic, you always see what you are photographing as you are photographing. There is no mirror to keep you from seeing what you need to see. This means you get to keep you eye on the ball at all times. No more guessing if you got the shot because a mirror was flapping around in the camera 5 times a second blocking your view.
The SLT allowed me not to waste time chimping to check the display on the back of the camera. I think more popular brands are going to be building this into their cameras.
So there you have it. The SONY a99 is a true powerhouse for concert photographers. It was able to superbly perform in extreme lighting conditions both low and bright. Although there seemed to be a slight delay when the strobes were firing through the electronic viewfinder the SONY a99 is up to the job capturing amazing images without stopping first to ask questions.
The price point is going to be attractive to the general consumer and as a result is going to give a lot of “professionals” a run for their money. My suggestion to professionals. Better make sure your customer service and relationship marketing is top shelf.