Nikon Lenses for Concert Photography

Live music is demanding. You're often shooting in the upper limits of what the camera was designed to do, in terms of low light autofocus performance, high ISO image quality, and speed. In terms of lenses, it pays to have lenses with wide apertures and fast AF response.

As a pro music photographer, here's a comprehensive list of Nikon lenses that I recommend for shooting concert photography, from primes to zooms, full-frame and APS. 

Prime Lenses

I'm going to go out on a limb and recommend all f/1.8 lenses in this guide. I feel while f/1.4 primes certainly have their place, I almost always prefer zooms when the light is available to use f/2.8 glass. The 2/3-stop difference between f/1.4 and f/1.8 is marginal in all but the most extreme situations, and here I feel like the weight and cost savings for these f/1.8 lenses is very real and worthwhile for most photographers.

While Nikon's very excellent f/1.4 lenses do have their own performance advantages, and I would not dissuade you from spending the extra cash if you have it, the f/1.8 versions of these primes are exceptionally good performers and I have no hesitations recommending them.

Nikon 24mm f/1.8

The Nikon 24mm f/1.8 is a great perspective on full-frame cameras and offers close to a 35mm focal length on DX cameras — useful either way you slice it. On FX cameras, 24mm is excellent for wider shots showing multiple band members or when you're shooting in small venues very close to the performers.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8

The 35mm focal length is a classic and works well on FX and DX cameras alike, offering a field-of-view of a 50mm lens on the latter. At 35mm, you get a balance between a wider field of view with the ability to start to isolate subjects a little more. If you have one prime in your bag, this is an exceptionally versatile focal length and a great place to start, especially if you shoot smaller, more intimate gigs.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8

Yes, the nifty-fifty. This is a super economical lens if you are just starting out, and it is much faster than any zoom lens in the mildest ballpark of price. On DX, 50mm becomes a short telephoto, but still offers some good flexibility. On a full-frame FX camera, 50mm is more ideal, offering a very natural perspective that lets you create isolation in your framing while not being too tight.

DX Zoom Lenses

Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4E

If you shoot with a DX camera, the 16-80mm f/2.8-4E is a lens that bears consideration. While this is a variable aperture lens, it features a pretty narrow range that remains relatively fast, topping out at f/4. With the high ISO performance of modern DSLRs being exceptionally good even up to ISO 6400, I feel comfortable recommending f/4 lenses to the beginning concert photographer, especially in the super-useful range of the Nikon 16-80mm.

Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8

The Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 is the classic midrange zoom for DX cameras with pro-level specs. While it offers a more limited zoom range than the Nikon 16-80mm, you get a constant, fast f/2.8 aperture and very fast AF performance. The range of 17-55mm covers you from wide-angle to short telephoto, which makes this a viable single lens option for smaller shows.

FX Zoom Lenses

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8

The 14-24mm f/2.8 is a phenomenal lens — it's ultra-wide angle field of view is so addicting that you'll want to use it far more than is prudent. This lens excels at wide atmospheric shots and when you are able to get very close in to performers, to really take advantage of the crazy wide perspective. The Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens is a more economical choice with a bit more longer range, while you give up the very widest perspective of the 14-24mm.

Nikon 24-120mm f/4

The full-frame equivalent to 16-80mm is essentially the Nikon 24-120mm f/4, which gives the live music photographer everything from a wide-angle to telephoto option in a single lens. The trade-off is a slower, but constant f/4 aperture. While not as ideal as a constant f/2.8 aperture, the high ISO performance of even entry-level DSLRs is good enough that an f/4 aperture is workable.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8

This is my bread and butter lens. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 is just a great range and combines exceptional sharpness wide open with a fast f/2.8 aperture. There's a reason this lens is in basically every pro's bag.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR

The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR is a perfect lens for shooting larger shows, where photographers may be positioned at a bit of a distance performers. It excels at music festivals and larger venues like arenas and amphitheaters, where the 200mm focal length helps close the distance on larger stages and performers like drummers at the back of the stage.

End Notes

There you have it. These are my recommendations as a Nikon shooter and music photographer for lenses that will serve you well in your concert photography kit. If you want to see more gear recommendations, head over to my Gear Guide for the DSLRs, additional lenses, and accessories that I recommend.