Gear: What I’m bringing to Pitchfork


With the Pitchfork Music Festival quickly approaching, I'm making equipment selections over the next few days. With another year of experience on top of having covered last year's festival, hopefully I'll be bringing only the essentials. On the short list are the Nikon D2X, Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8, and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR.

Main Camera

Nikon D2x: As with all of my work, I'll be using the Nikon D2x as my primary body. This is the same camera I used last year and it can certainly take the abuse. The AF performance is blazingly fast, especially in the bright daytime conditions, and the buffer is adequate for bursting and the generally furious shooting that occurs during the first three songs. The resolution is probably overkill for an event like this, especially given the size of the files, but of course I'm a glutton for pain. And so is my five-year old G4 mac, apparently.

Main Lenses

Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8: This lens is my bread and butter optic for indoor concert photography, and with slightly different distances involved, that role only diminishes slightly for this festival. Generally, I find the wide-to-short-tele range is perfect for the pit, especially for the more dynamic performers. The constant f/2.8 aperture and photojournalist-oriented performance curve, with strong wide-aperture image quality, allow me to keep shutter speeds up and ISO down.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR: This telephoto lens is perfect for tight shots of individual performers and grabbing the drummer at the back of the stage. On a 1.5x crop frame, the wide end isn't very wide, but the isolation and reach of the 70-200mm make it indispensable for bringing home high-impact musician shots.

In all honesty, I could happily shoot the entire festival with the three pieces of equipment above. Still, I'm considering the following:

Backup Camera

Nikon D70: Limited resolution compared to my primary camera, but the mild anti-aliasing filter on the sensor produces very high quality images in RAW. The shot buffer is wimpy and the viewfinder is abysmal, but the camera itself is light and I'll probably strap this cam over my shoulder as backup. I might mount a complimentary lens to this second body, like the ultra-wide Tokina 12-24mm. However, as I normally shoot with only one body and simply change lenses, I'm not too eager change my setup.

Other Lens Options

Tokina 12-24mm f/4: The only non-Nikon lens I'm considering, the Tokina's wide field of view may be useful for more atmospheric shots. The slow f/4 aperture is a minor consideration, but there should be plenty of light when I would need to use this lens. At 12mm this lens could provide some high-impact images, but the overall usability would be limited.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4: The fast aperture of this lens would most likely be under-utilized in the bright light dominating most of the festival, but the medium telephoto (on 1.5x, anyway) would be useful for the last two bands of Saturday and Sunday.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4: Like the above 85mm, only slightly worse in almost all respects save size and weight. Again, a possible low light option, and one much more compact than the telephoto, albeit with trade offs in image quality and AF performance.

Supplementary Gear

Nexto CF OTG: The Nexto CF OTG is a portable storage unit that accepts compact flash cards. The drive can copy or move the entire contents of a memory card, verifies transfers, and offers limited file-browsing for additional verification. Unlike many other similar devices, the Nexto's tranfer speeds are relatively fast – the unit is capable of moving 1gb of data in a little less than two minutes. The Nexto case features a small LCD that indicates progress and tasks only; images cannot be displayed or reviewed.

The Nexto hardware itself is simply a casing with minimal hardware and firmware, and accepts standard 2.5″ laptop harddrives. I'll be bringing a Nexto with a 100gb drive installed, which is more than enough for the two days I'll be shooting the festival.

Apple 15″ Powerbook: While I won't be bringing my laptop to the festival, I'll may bring the Powerbook to get a head start on editing if I'm feeling particularly ambitious.

Kinesis Bags: I'm a big fan of the Kinesis camera bag system, which is a modular system that is truly as functional as it is ugly. While the bags accent conventional shoulder straps, at the center of the system is a belt that accepts the company's myriad line of bags, pouches, and holders. I can carry my D2X, 70-200, 17-55, Nexto drive, and more. Comfortably, all day long. Not something I'd want to try with a shoulder bag.

For long events, I'm not above sacrificing my personal dignity to save myself from some backache, so I'm willing to rock this belt system. Not only is it much more comfortable than an over-the-shoulder camera bag, it's also highly functional. Everything is close at hand. As my equipment is connected to my waist à la a Batman-esque utility belt, there little that can swing around, get snagged, or otherwise get in the way of shooting. Just my pride.

Sunglasses, Sunscreen: The sun is not your friend. It's important, folks.