I am interested in camera recommendations with a fast shutter and which are able to focus well in low light. The camera will be used for indoor concert photography where no flash is allowed.

  • Hi Audrey! Welcome to Stack Exchange. I've tried to give an answer as best I can below. But this sort of open-ended "what camera is best for X" question is difficult to get good results for (see this blog post by Stack Exchange's Jeff Atwood). If you can focus the question, we can be even more helpful. – mattdm Jun 27 '11 at 0:30
  • You may also find What is needed for a photoshoot in a concert? helpful. – mattdm Jun 27 '11 at 0:31
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    You should check out ishootshows.com he has many guides to this exact type of shooting. Lots of details on both bodies and lenses and pretty extensive reviews on the Nikon lineup. – BBischof Jun 28 '11 at 16:32
  • I once wrote an article for point and shoot cameras suitable for concerts, you can have a look: camerasfor.net/best-point-and-shoot-digital-camera-for-concerts * Since its written by me I am not posting as an answer. – viv Mar 17 '15 at 20:07

As usually in life, the best things are not cheap.

Given only the criteria of fast shutter and good focusing in low light, I suspect Nikon D3s is still unbeaten. It also has a quiet shutter mode, should you visit concerts with silent audience.

A Nikon AF-S 70-200 ED VR II 2.8 lens would be a good match for low-light concert photography. The big aperture helps your camera to focus in the low light, and zoom gives you more freedom of composition. It has weather sealing (just like the camera) in case you would ever visit an outdoor concert with sudden rain.

While the sensor of Pentax K-5 is also praised for its low-light performance, auto-focus has been Achilles heel for Pentax and while vastly improved on K-5, it still lags behind the big two. Also slowness of supersonic AF motors on their premium tele lenses is not encouraging.

  • Tracking AF is the real problem for Pentax. Focus of subjects not moving quickly towards or away from you is fine; accurate and at least fast enough to be competitive within their cameras' price brackets. The lens motor failure rate is hard to judge; certainly there's some vocal complaints, but since Pentax doesn't publish numbers we can't actually know a rate. One of the big lens rental places would probably have the best information. – mattdm Jun 26 '11 at 22:46
  • @mattdm you're right, failure rate is not attested, removed that. Musicians do jump around and based on my experiences with the three brands, AF is slower on Pentax (making also the shutter slower, which the OP wouldn't like), so I still stand by that part. Not looking for a brand war - I use Pentax. – Imre Jun 26 '11 at 23:37
  • Fair enough. And I'm not trying to be a Pentax fanboy or anything. The tracking AF definitely sucks. I also think the Nikon is a fine recommendation assuming enough budget and so on. – mattdm Jun 26 '11 at 23:42
  • +1 on the D3s. Best camera for high ISO shooting bar none. If you want lighter go for a D700, but you'll lose 1-1.5 stops in ISO performance. – user2802 Jun 27 '11 at 7:35
  • Interesting tidbit of information: the Nikon AF-S 50/1.4G (and some other fixed focal lenses) will be about 2/3rds of a stop brighter at F2.8 than the zoom lens. It's counter-intuitive, but F2.8 does not refer to the amount of light but to the size of the front lens in comparison to focal length. So using fast fixed focal lenses will give you another 2-3 stops of light, due to the lens passing more light to the sensor and to faster aperture. – Sam Jun 28 '11 at 13:35

Given a budget of around $1000 for the camera body, as you mentioned in a comment to one of the other answers, the answer is:

Any camera body you can buy for around $1000.

Seriously; in this price bracket, they're all competitive. There are some variations in focus speed in low light, but that mostly comes down to a tradeoff of accuracy vs. speed — and even then, for around the same price, the differences are going to be pretty small.

By "fast shutter", I assume you mean responsive shutter. Unlike with point and shoot cameras, that's really not much of an issue even on entry level DSLRs, and going up a step or two means it's really a non-issue. Cameras in the $1000 price range will have very fast shutters in another sense too, by the way — able to be as quick as ¹⁄₈₀₀₀th of a second is typical. If your concerts are outdoors and very brightly lit, that might be of interest. :)

So then, the important thing will be the lens, and the recommendation there will be very dependent on exactly what kind of concert and on your level of access. It'd be helpful if you could elaborate. But in most cases, there will be reasonable options for any brand and camera body.

So, you should look at a few $1000-range camera body reviews online. I prefer the subjective reviews to the technical, since the technical ones tend to exaggerate differences, because that's what drives people to those review sites. Find people talking about the feel of the camera, and see if that fits what you're looking for. Talk to your friends, too, if they're into photography. And then buy whatever you find yourself most drawn to. You really won't go wrong.

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    If you're really in the $1000 price range, I would care a lot more about the lens than the body. The kit lens is usually f/3.5-5.6, which is pretty much useless for action shots in the dark. Get a fast prime lens of f/1.4 or f/1.8 and you'll notice a huge improvement. – eWolf Jun 27 '11 at 8:22
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    @eWolf: note that the budget was $1000 for the body, plus more for a fast lens. – mattdm Jun 30 '11 at 1:26

I routinely shoot low-light no-flash with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm 1.8. If you have a good raw processor (DxO Optics Pro in my case), the 7K set at 12,800 is quite usable for print. With good post-processing, even a zoom with F 5.6 would work.


Do you want a DSLR or something smaller? I would choose something with CMOS Exmor chip, which have very good low light photos. For example Pentax K-r (or older K-x) with some good lens. When it should be compact, then could be something like Samsung EX-1, Nikon P300, maybe Olympus Pen or the new Fuji X100. Or something between these categories - mirror-less "DSLRs" like Sony NEX or Samsung NX series. It depends on how much money do you have and what you expect. :-)

  • what is your opinion on Canon Initially looking for a DSLR knowing full well that I need a fast lens 2.8 or lower but am currently researching camera brand and bodies. prepared to spend $1000. on body and know I need to spend more for a fast lens – Audrey Haglund Jun 26 '11 at 18:15
  • hmm, in fact my experience with Canon is limited to old film Canon Eos 3000N and much older rangefinder compact Canon A35F. I chose Pentax because of great price / performance ratio and perfect compattibility with old lenses. But as I know, the higher level Eos cameras (with three or less digits in model number) are good. There is also a good 50 mm lens for good price. However I think there are better users to give you advice about Canon. :-) – Juhele Jun 26 '11 at 19:11
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    Hanging out mainly with Canon users I certainly can't fault their newer DSLR's for good quality sensors with low noise and good noise processing at high ISOs. The cheap 50mm 1.8 is a nice fast lens if you're not after something expensive. Not amazing quality but great for the price i'd say. Depending on how close you are and what kind of shots though you may want a longer lens. I'd recommend the 70-200 f2.8L IS II but that's a bit big and out of most people's price range ;) – Dreamager Jun 26 '11 at 20:48
  • The EF 50mm f/1.8 II is fast in terms of aperture (that allows a faster shutter speed), but is glacially slow in terms of focus speed. – Michael C Jul 4 '15 at 22:17

Probably Fujis X-M1 and other X-Trans sensor Fuji cameras. They have impressive low-light performance (not the autofocus, but the image result), even better then DSLR and even Full frame sometimes - check out image comparison on dpreview for high-iso. Colors are nice as well. But they force you to use JPEG at high iso, and I think you might have to do manual focus in low light. Fujis are also, in general, durable cameras (when compared to other cameras in the same class).

There are also micro four thirds camera (Olympus or Panasonic, or Blackmagic if you're into video), their sensors are less impressive when it comes to high-iso, but you can mount the great Olympus 75mm 1.8 lens (150mm in 35mm equiv) on them - preferably on an Olympus OM-D body because you would then have image stabilization (in-body). This lens alone is a good reason to look into that system.

  • Oops, necromancing. That's why nobody mentioned the Fuji. How things changed. But hey why is photo.stackexchange proposing such old threads to me? It showed up on the right or something, I didn't go looking for it! – Rolf Aug 27 '14 at 12:21

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