Shooting concerts with compacts and DSLR’s..my experience

I’m back from Europe, jet lag and all!

I’m back home after a week on tour with Seal and after what seemed like a solid 20 hours of travel time to get back home, I arrived and crashed for 10 hours. Today I felt great and am now fully rested so figured it was time to get back to work as I need  this site more than ever.

I had a great time with Seal on the tour and wanted to share some new photos here as well as a few of the favorites that I was able to get from the past few days. Shooting concerts is loads of fun, but also tiring when doing two hours each show in sweltering heat. I have no idea how Seal and his band does it as they have what appears to be unlimited energy through the entire night. Add to that the little sleep one gets on the road and it makes me have even greater respect for what they do on a daily basis.

The shows were awesome, the music was awesome, and the locations were gorgeous (even though I did not get to see too much of them). His new album comes out in September and the songs I heard were mind blowing good. His best work ever, and as he says, the Quintessential SEAL Album.

What I want to talk about today though is my experiences taking all of these concert photos and the gear I used to  take them with. What worked, what didn’t, and what I feel is the best concert camera/lens combo on the planet.  When I left to meet up with the tour I only brought along a Leica X1, Olympus E-P2, Sony NEX-5 and a Pentax K7. I did not bring my Leica M9 as I had to sell it just a couple of days before due to financial issues beyond my control. Many of you know the situation I was recently put in, and financially, it killed me. So the big toys had to go. So that hurt and killed me but no choice.

The cool thing is that when I got there Seal had many cameras with him and he allowed me to shoot with whatever I wanted. He let me borrow his M9/Noct combo, his Canon 1dMKIV, etc. That is one of the cool things, I was able to shoot with so many cameras and find out what worked well. I always dreamed that one day I would get to shoot concerts as I am a huge fame of Jim Marshall who used a Leica to shoot some of the most historic concert photos of our time. While many say a concert should only be shot with a DSLR, I feel a Leica M is the best tool for the job in most cases, with the right lens.

The Dream Combo – The Leica M9 and Noctilux 0.95

The LEICA M9 and Noctilux is a combo that comes in at over $17,000. INSANE amounts of money but it’s a beautiful setup that will give you results like no other camera and lens combo on the market. I shot this setup at 0.95 for three nights and it never let me down. The first two night I shot in A mode, but by night 3 I was all manual. Focusing was very easy for me and capturing Seal as he moved around the stage was a challenge but doable. Due to the M9’s bright viewfinder, and focus patch I came away with some beautiful images. If you have $17,000 to spare, hey, why not? For concerts? This is my dream setup. If I were a hotshot pro concert photographer I would own TWO M9’s, the Noctilux and a 90. No question. The images from this combo are in a class of their own and do not look like standard pro concert shots.

The Canon 1dMKIV with 100 Macro lens

THE CANON 1D MKIV – Shooting this massive DSLR was sort of a revelation. I have not shot with a DSLR in a while and once  held this camera I knew it meant serious business. The focus was lightning quick, the response was simply jaw dropping and the images that came out of it were beautiful. This combo comes in at MUCH less than the M9/Nocti and in many ways will give you more reliable and consistent results. The color is much nicer and the camera is so chock full of features it numbed my brain a bit. I am so used to simplicity with the M9, I forgot how high tech DSLR’s have become these days! I shot it with the Canon 100 Macro and it never did let me down BUT most of the shots I took with it looked like many other pro concert shooters images. Is that a bad thing? No, but I feel the M9/Nocti combo gives a unique edge with the “look” one can achieve. Still, this is probably the best Canon DSLR I have EVER shot with. Gorgeous.

THE SONY NEX-5

This new Sony NEX-5 camera is A unique little bugger. One one hand, we have a small, cute, nicely designed camera that has a large APS-C sensor in it which should mean GREAT quality in a compact size. WRONG! The lens this camera comes with is very very soft and after shooting it all week I found it to be TOO soft for my tastes. At web resolution the images are fine but at closer look they are soft.  I did shoot one of the shows with it but had to crank ISO to 6400 and shoot in B&W as the color shots were awful at that ISO. BUT, for $700 it is a decent camera as it packs in a great 108oi movie mode, and its LCD is very nice with its swivel feature. This camera needs a better user interface AND better lenses. Then it may be more worthy of consideration over other small cameras. As it stands, I prefer the Olympus E-P2 over the NEX and even from what I have seen of the Samsung NX10, I prefer it over the Sony. But, the Sony is TINY, I will give it that! Also, I found this camera excels when shot in B&W!

For concerts, it would not be my #1 choice, or #2, or #3, or #4…but it can provide some great shots regardless…

The Leica X1

Ahhhh, my Leica X1, now my only Leica 🙁 This is a fantastic camera but it has its quirks of course. It’s small and light but looks and feels like a Leica. The Image Quality from this little jewel is astounding and the lens is also special. High ISO is better than the Leica M8 and I have no worries shooting it at ISO 3200. For concerts, its not the most responsive solution, and you have to  get in really close so no, it’s not a traditional concert camera but like the Sony, it can pull it off if you work at it. I take the X1 with me everywhere these days. Love it.

The flight out to meet with the tour was WONDERFUL. Even home made ice cream sundaes were offered up, all free of course!

The horn section warming up before the show.

after the show mostly everyone hooks up with their loved one via Ichat on their macbooks. So cool 🙂

The bus rides were always interesting but always the same. On the bus, edit photos, drive for a few hours, off of the bus, eat, shoot the show, back to the bus, drive and maybe get some sleep. It was so cool to experience this first hand and now I can say I accomplished something I always wanted to do, and that is tour with a band and shoot their shows.

Florence Italy from my hotel window…

Seal portrait in his Hotel

The Olympus E-P2

The little Oly that could, THE LOVELY E-P2. This camera has been a fave of mine for a while. I like its build, its feel, its look and its EVF even if it does stick out like an alien life form. For a concert situation I did not have too much luck with it but when I slapped it in grainy B&W mode it did add a unique twist on traditional convert photography.

I did not shoot with the Oly too much but I did enjoy it more than the Sony NEX-5 and that is most likely only due to the lens quality being better on the Oly. The only lens that I shot with on the Olympus was the 14-150, and its a great, but slow lens.

I also shot some stuff with the Pentax Kx and 200 f/2.8. Great camera kit and lens but I did not get the best results with this setup so I ended up leaving it on the bus for most of the trip. It seemed when the lights went down, even with the f/2.8 lens, it could not keep up IQ wise. Nice setup with good light but it lacked that “something” that cameras like the X1, M9 and 1dMKIV had.

With that said, I hope you have enjoyed this little article on my experiences with these cameras while shooting them in a concert setting. So thank you for reading it, and thanks once again to Seal for allowing me to tag along for a week. It was a great experience that helped me in a time when I needed it most. Thanks buddy!! I know you are reading this 🙂

Also, I have to put a shameless plug in here as right now I need all the help I can get. I have been dealt some rough blows lately in my personal life and I can use all the help I can get. I never ask for donations, and am not doing so now but if any of you reading this need to buy any gear it would REALLY help me if you used my links to B&H Photo or Amazon to do so. Just clicking those links will give me credit for ANYTHING you buy there, so I thank you!

PS – Due  to many requests I added a paypal donate button on the right, and can also do donations via google checkout but would have to email an invoice. Also, I have been toying with the idea of a get together soon, spending a day in a great location shooting, learning and processing. More to come on that. Also, all of the emails – will get back to you ALL tomorrow! THANK YOU TO ALL for the support, it really helps to boost my spirits!

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57 Comments

  1. Steve. Followed your work from the beginning. Tell me why you can’t be shooting for Rolling Stone on assignment? Your Seal series blew me away.Not the usual. On a personal note. Life is reality and reality is life….Keep going. Seems to me as an outsider you should be doing fine as a pro shooter in Arizona….do weddings, pj, corporate events…whatever pays the bills. Bottom line. Keep shooting.

  2. Great work as always Steve. Very impressive. You capture all of the emotion in everyones faces. Also you can seem to catch all of the body language that is being cast around the stage and amongst the fans. It makes you want to see Seals concerts in person. Once again great work and I am sure there are better days ahead. Keep up the great work and everyone will keep up with the donations.

    Thank you for all of your time and effort that goes along with this site.

  3. Hi Steve!

    So good to hear that you had a great time on a tour with Seal! He really is a top person, I also cannot wait to get his new album.

    And all these pictures – WOW!

    And I totally agree with donations.

    I’m not sure if mine will be big enough but that’s all I can do at the moment.
    When life gets better I will gladly pay for a subscription on this site!

    Take care!

    Best regards from Prague, Czech Republic

    David

  4. Okay I now understand the Noct a LITTLE bit after seeing these pictures, and 17 grand ain’t so much when you consider that medium format digital still costs more, and the Leica quality is just as good within it’s size. I’ll stick with my R4a and 50mm 1.5 Nokton though. 🙂

    Did I miss something? X1 is your only Leica? MP, M6, M9 all gone? What the what?

  5. Steve, what post processing do you do in Lightroom after shooting. Any particular favourite presets?
    Also, do you set custom whitebalance most of the times?

  6. Great shots and amazing opportunity! Hate it that you had to part with your M9 and gear 🙁 but glad you were able to get away for a week and immerse yourself in what you love to do! Hopefully you healed just a little bit more and that will continue….!

  7. Steve – great shots (as always and what I’ve come to expect from you) and great reviews of the cameras (as usual). You’ve been such an inspiration to me in terms of expressing my creativity via photography. I hope you know how much we all appreciate you and will support you through thick and thin. I’m not entirely sure what’s been going on in your personal life lately (I’ve been away for 3 weeks in Africa and just returned) but just know that we’re all here for you. Keep on keeping on!

  8. Steve;

    Great site, I have followed it for quite a while. Sorry to hear about unloading the M9…
    Just ordered an X1 and am hoping the AF speed does not ruin the experience. A little nervous about that… Really enjoyed the Seal diary and pix. Great stuff. I will definitely order my gear through your links as I look forward to your reviews/insights.

    Stay positive — It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Better times ahead.

  9. It’s also interesting to note how some posters take Steve’s comments on certain cameras in a very personal way…:-)

    Keep up the good work Steve!

  10. Hey Steve,

    A great site, entertaining, fun to read and lots to learn from, from yourself other contributors and the great discussions. I’m definitely in the camp of those who want your site to continue and even grow.
    Some of your Seal-Tour shots are fantastic and should be used as album covers, tour posters etc. You got some great ideas to grow your business. Eg myself, I’d love to attend seminars run by you (and Ashwin?). For the time being I’m going to make use of your Paypal donate button – keep the great work up and going, Steve.

  11. Thanks for sharing your trip experiences with us, great reading.

    > …and in many ways will give you more reliable and consistent results. The color is much nicer…

    Steve, can you clarify the point you made about the 1D4 in comparison to the M9? What are the issues with the M9 in your opinion?

  12. Hey Steve great pics, seems you had a terrific voyage. A question:
    1 have a 35/1.4 ASPH + 502 both black and NEW, in perfect codition. 4 months old . How can i sell them? and how much can i get for them?
    I live in Israel and it is not easy to sell them here- could u help me?
    Thanks
    Danny

    • Danny – use Steve’s Buy/Sell forum to sell your gear. If you accept Paypal payments, it’s easier for people to pay for your items also.

  13. Great article and summary of your tour and your “work” as tour-photographer!

    And yes the M9 combo with the 0.95 Noctilux looks awesome…but I still find it hard to manually focus on a moving “target”.

    Great you could manage it!

  14. THANK’S TO EVERYONE – STEVE, YOU’RE DOING A REALLY GREAT JOB HERE – GOOD LUCK TO YOU!

    Let’s donate and keep STEVEHUFFPHOTO.COM going !

  15. Steve,

    Until the chips are down and life is dealing you a crap hand you never really know who your real friends are. I know, I’ve been there… friends I thought would come across disappeared like the wind and those I pretty much discounted totally surpised me with their help and care.

    You’ve a great body of friends out there who wish to help keep this site running and thank you for your inspiration. Like others, I agree with donations. I prefer to purchase my gear from small specialist London shops, so B&H and Amazon are of no use to me, which is no help to you.

    Keep yer chin up, fella!

    Brian
    Hertfordshire, UK

  16. Steve, thanks for another great article with some truly amazing shots.

    It sucks big time to hear that you had to sell your beloved Leica gear! But – you’re such a talented photographer and – dare I say – journalist, that I’m pretty sure you’re not only going to be up and running again quite soon, but you’ll also soon be able to rebuy all that gear that you fancy so much.

    My thoughts are with you, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you big time!

  17. Hi Steve
    When you talk about the nex, I can not be more disagree, one thing is the camera and another the lens, I wonder too why did you not buy a Leica M adapter to it.
    The lens si soft, okey, it is, so do not use it. The advantage of this tiny little camera is that you can mount everything on it, so stop wasting your time with that 16mm if is soft and start using it as it deserves, is the most tiny aps camera on earth, use it with a small great lens and start enjoying it with the most discretion/quality relation (in digital), like in the streets.

    the “facebook” thing in the first comment make me laugh

    Regards Steve,
    and I hope you can get through this situation and keep working in this blog

    • Nacho, relax Brother.

      a) They do not sell the NEX separate from one of the kit lenses. Also, why should the customer buy the camera then have to go searching for some adaptor to get the most out of it? If Sony are self-procaliming their product to be a worthy competitor, then walk the talk!

      b) The lenses are garbage, look great but perform miserably. 99% of people who buy the camera will buy it with the sony lenses. Therefore the camera will be judged in that capacity. The end result will be pretty much as Steve summed it up…okay but not good enough.

      ‘6’

  18. I agree with some of the other comments. A good website like this has to stay alive and is definetly worth our money. So use the donate button (as I just did) and support this site. And of course I also like the idea to pay a kind of subscribtion fee. Let’s be honest we are paying a lot of money for glossy Photomagazines with less “soul”. Thank you steve for all the great articles, photos and informations.

  19. Steve
    I did follow your site for a while now and it became my daily news and inspiration – as it became for so many others. Once in my life, I got into the same kind of trouble and had to sell all my Nikon and Leica M equipment due to financial issues. It nearly broke my heart to give a way the dreams of my youth. But time went on and things got back into the right direction for my ex-family and me. Finally, some times later I found myself owning pretty much the same equipment I’ve had in the past, but looking at it much more relaxed as these pieces are definitively art in craftmanship with great history and one could get insane loving this cameras and lenses for their quality, precision, look and feel – but at the end it’s just equipment. What you have shown on your tour with Seal is definitively that the photographer is making the picture – the equipment is supporting to get what you want. Sure there are differences and variations in sharpness, rendering and what not, but at the end it’s you capturing the right moment and emotions. And what you did during the Seal tour was just stunning and moved me a lot. Yes, a picture that makes people coming back and looking at it over and over again, touching one to the deep of the heart is the real art.
    I know, it’s a long “first one”, but even that is not enough to express, what most of us are feeling when following your blog. I do also follow the other guys in confirming, how impressed I was of Seal’s reached out hand giving you exactly what you needed those days – a friend who’s there without bothering, a chance to do what you love, an experience of your life.
    Living in Germany, I won’t use the links for purchase and after having issues with paypal I won’t use that either. Maybe there’s another way of supporting you. I wouldn’t mind putting some bucks into an envelop and send it off to you. My mail adress should be in that comment and so please feel free to sent a mail or post box adress.
    I wish you all the best and please keep on doing what you really love.

  20. I’m in, I’ve paid for years a subscription at Reid Reviews, and I enjoy your site more. Don’t take it wrong, Sean’s site is wonderful, very informative. But your site is a pleasure to read.
    Every time I buy at B&H I use your link, but I don’t buy that often or pay great amounts of money since I get really good deals in Mexico, where I live.
    Let us know how to donate, I believe we are a community and we ought to help when needed. Now is time.

  21. Wow guys, THANKS for all of the amazing kind words and support. I am blown away, and all of the emails as well! Wow! I am not a fan of paypal, as I had issues with them years ago but will try again and see how it goes. I can do donations via google checkout but would have to email an invoice for that. For now, I put up a paypal donate button in the right sidebar. Thanks!

    Steve

    • Good choice with paypal (it’s just so easy comparatively) but a google checkout donation could be good too, they are a lot better these days than they were say 5 years ago. I made my donation – I wish it could be more but if we all do what we can, that help for Steve will really have an impact! So get donating people!

  22. Steve,
    Good to see you back. Hopefully life is a bit more balanced now. I plan to use your links to make a big lens purchase soon, and I am sorry about all of the turbulence. Your images on the trip are fantastic, and you are growing as an artist. Maybe doing some print sales will help shore up some finances, what not, but really, wonderful work despite being in the eye of the storm. I plan to keep supporting you during the process, and wish you the very best moving forward.

  23. MP for life gone too? I’d of kept that before an X1…. Paypal donations the way to go… also as mentioned before – happy to look at hosting the site for you as well.

  24. I have gained so much from reading your site, on a daily basis for over a year, and i haven’t paid a penny!
    I would always have been happier to make a donation than not to.

  25. As a broke ass photography student I definitly wouldnt donate, but will continue to use your BnH links for all of my purchuces. Keep the site up Steve, great images and entertaining to read.

  26. I am from Singapore and as I do not have any gear in mind that I’d buy from B&H or Amazon at the moment, I’d support the donation suggestion. Steve, let us do our bit.

  27. Steve
    Welcome Home !!!!
    You need to know how many people you have touched with your website…I could not agree more with what has already been written amount donations or a yearly charge for your site…I would like to send you a check or make an immediate donation if you would like to put a link on the website or provide us with an address to send a check to….This is a time when your friends are there to support you and cheer you on… Would also like to give a shout out to SEAL for your kind gesture of reaching out to Steve during a moment of need…You are a class act !!!! Can’t wait to buy your new CD…
    Steve, Hang in there—you and your son are going to make it…
    God Bless
    David Berry

  28. NEED THIS SITE!!!!!
    WANT TO DONATE!!!!!!!
    WANT TO GO TO A STEVE HUFF PHOTOGRAPHY SHOOT/ TOUR/ WORKSHOP TYPE THINGIE!!!!!
    THESE IMAGES ARE NOTHING SHORT OF UTTERLY FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!
    YOU ARE SO GIFTED STEVE…i really mean that…
    sori

  29. I’m from Argentina please tell me how to send a donation !! i love this site and the pictures ! As you know it look like Ken Rocwell is doing good money on his web page. Just do the same thing. we need this site to keep going ! hope you and your family fix your problems ! As you know eerithing is just hapening to fast.

    Relax and you will found a way to fix it !! you can also go back to work as a photographer !!

    Greg

  30. Went to seal.com and had a look at some of Joseph Linaschke’s (Seal’s tour photographer) photos. Not bad but the few samples Steve showed us from his one week experience with all kind of cameras (which he was just testing) are on par with them easily.

    By the way, JL is selling limited edition prints of his photos for $500+ a piece.
    Steve, get permission from your friend Seal and sell some of your photos. They are worth it!!!

    (Note to Seal, I’d say you found yourself a new tour photographer.)

  31. Go to seal.com and visit his gallery for some really amazing shots. It’s worth it. I just did.

  32. * * * TO ALL THE READERS OF STEVEHUFFPHOTO.COM * * *

    AS MANY OF YOU, I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THIS UNIQUE (PRIMARY LEICA ORIENTED) WEBSITE SINCE ITS BEGINNING. AGAIN AND AGAIN STEVE AND HIS CO-WRITERS HAVE INFLUENCED AND INSPIRED ME AND GAVE ME TRUE, VALUABLE REAL WORLD KNOWLEDGE (I WOULDN’T HAVE GOT ELSEWHERE) TO SO MANY ASPECTS OF LEICA GEAR AND LEICA PHOTOGRAPHY ITSELF – BE IT ANALOG OR DIGITAL.
    BECAUSE OF THIS, I STARTED IN THE LEICA WAY OF PHOTOGRAPHY – AND THIS CHANGED MY LIFE! THIS IS INVALUABLE, BUT HELPED ALSO TO SAVE ME A LOT OF “REAL WORLD MONEY” TOO.
    I THINK IT’S TIME TO SUPPORT THIS EXCELLENT SITE BY DONATIONS – YES, DONATIONS AS SO MANY OTHER SITES ON THE INTERNET USE (SORRY TO DISAGREE WITH YOU STEVE ON THIS). FOR ME AND MANY OTHER WORLD WIDE READERS, THIS IS JUST A MUCH MORE STRAIGHT FORWARD STRATEGY, SINCE IT IS NOT FOR EVERY CORNER ON THE PLANET CONVENIENT TO SHOP AT B&H. I THEREFORE APPEAL TO YOU STEVE, TO INTEGRATE A SIMPLE TO USE DONATION POSSIBILITY ON YOUR SITE. BESIDES, IT’S STILL FREE!

    LET’S KEEP STEVEHUFFPHOTO.COM GOING !!! – THANK YOU.

    Just a devoted reader from a corner of this earth.

  33. These are great photos, especially those by the M9 of course.

    I took photos at a local gig with my X1 (My only Leica as well!!) Because of the slow AF, I used manual focus and got away with some good shots. I was pretty impressed.

  34. Hi Steve. Im glad you enjoyed your trip with Seal. Great images with a lot of soul and atmosphere. I am all so sad to learn about your financial and personal situation and I have no doubt that you will get thru this difficult time. I can urge you to go professional or do creative seminars for amateur photog’s. Your images are fantastic. Good luck my friend.

  35. Steve a few thoughts.

    First – this has been a great series, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. You have made some fantastic photographs.

    Second – You already sold your m9 and lenses? I thought that may happen but not so quickly!

    Third – your link to amazon is broken – and the bhphoto link may not give you the credit – I can’t tell what it’s doing on redirect.

    Fourth – I think you should offer bookmarklets for amazon and BH so we can add them and shop for a plethora of stuff that could credit you. If you don’t know how to make the bookmarklets, email me and I’ll send you the code.

    Finally, I’m sorry it seems things have not improved. I had thought you were taking your son with you on the trip, sorry that didn’t happen. Truly sorry for the hardship your family is experiencing, on both sides. All the best to you all!

    • and by the way – ask for donations Steve.. seriously… or conceive a special section for members and charge an annual subscription – some kind of value add for $20 a year or something… a la Sean Reid. Additionally, can you get some shooting done on other avenues (maybe not that pleasurable, but things like product shots or weddings)? Sorry for the triple comments.

        • I subscribed to Sean Reid’s site for a year and I liked it but it lacks the enthusiasm and drive found here.

          Steve, you have a talent for taking great photo’s no matter which camera you pick up and you have a talent for reviewing camera kit.

          I bet Seal doesn’t perform for free so why should you

  36. Hey Steve-

    Your fantastic images from this series prove that it’s not the camera, but the person using it. These are all great. Of course it’s good to hear about the cameras, too. 🙂

    Hang in there!

  37. Steve great article on your tour experience and IMHO the M9 shots have the most atmosphere. That could be down to your artistry with this combo though as its obvious you really now how to get the most out of this setup. So sorry to hear about the M9, I hadn’t realised this was the case. As an aside do you have a gallery of prints for sale online? There are a few shots I have seen on your site over the last couple of months that I would definitely be interested in and this could be another avenue for you whilst bringing real pleasure to lost of other people. Hang in there things will better eventually.

    Darell

  38. Great article and pics Steve, thanks. What I notice (not being a Leica convert) is that the Canon 1DmkIV shots (taking into account all the different factors that come into play here) are really astounding; something I can’t really say of the M9 shots.

  39. Awesome write-up Steve! I felt the same way about the NEX5 when I played with one – great camera for Facebook but not for serious work. Maybe some better glass will help it in the future.

    But disappointed that you didn’t say the E-P2 was miles better than the M9, but I guess that was wishful thinking on my part 🙂 I’m sitting here with a Voigtlander 50/1.1 on my E-PL1 and wondering which end of the combo is going to get the chop first.

    How did you find the size and weight of the 1D4 in a concert situation? Was it manageable? Would you ever consider taking one on a vacation?

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