Who is writing this article?
My name is Sam Roon, and I am the founder of SkullsNBones.com. I’m an amateur photographer and have shot a few shows over the last decade and a half. While I enjoy working with film and developing negatives and photos myself, I prefer digital cameras (DSLR cameras) to photograph live bands because of the work involved in getting the images.
Prerequisite information about my analysis
Live concert photography requires a unique set of skills from the photographer and a robust suite of camera features. Your gear must be reliable, tough enough to withstand rigorous use, and versatile.
A good camera body will allow you to capture great shots of metal bands and make it easier for you to edit them afterward. You want a high-resolution camera that can shoot in low light and handle fast-paced action.
Point and shoot cameras
This post is not for you if you’re looking for entry-level point-and-shoot cameras. There are some fantastic options for point-and-shoot cameras. Still, in this article, I intend to analyze camera bodies in which you can use an interchangeable lens and a set of features that can be used for professional and semi-professional use (and highly motivated amateurs like myself!). You just can’t do what is needed with a more compact, entry-level point-and-shoot device.
The top 5 camera bodies for photographing live metal bands
These five camera bodies are pretty different from one another in terms of price point, features, and of course, their brands. But they all share one common trait: they are excellent for photographing live metal bands and other types of concerts.
At the end of this article, I’ll share my thoughts on what is the best camera body for shooting live shows, but honestly, it just comes down to personal preference.
Here are the cameras I’ll be talking about in this article and a list of their key features.
- Semsor: 45.7MP FX-Format BSI CMOS
- Image Processor: EXPEED 5
- Touchscreen: 3.2″ 2.36m-Dot Tilting LCD
- Video Recording: 4K UHD at 30 fps
- Autofocus: Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF System
- Native ISO: 64-25600, Extended: 32-102400
- 7 fps Shooting for 51 Frames with AE/AF
- Negative Digitizer Mode: 8K Time-Lapse,
- 180k-Pixel RGB Sensor, Focus Shift Mode
- SnapBridge Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
- Current price
Canon EOS R6
- 20MP Full-Frame format CMOS Sensor
- DIGIC X Image Processor
- 4K60p and FHD 120p 10-Bit Internal Video
- Sensor-Shift 5-Axis Image Stabilization
- 12 fps Mech. Shutter, 20 fps E. Shutter
- Dual Pixel CMOS AF II with 1053 Points
- 0.5″ 3.69m-Dot OLED EVF
- 3″ 1.62m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen LCD
- Subject Tracking with Deep Learning
- Dual SD UHS-II Memory Card Slots
- Current price
Olympus OM-D E-M1X
- 20.4MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds Sensor
- Dual TruePic VIII Image Processors
- Integrated Vertical Grip, Dual Batteries
- 2.36m-Dot 0.83x Electronic Viewfinder
- 3.0″ 1.037m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen
- DCI 4K/24p & UHD 4K/30p Video Recording
- 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization
- 15 fps Shooting and Expanded ISO 25600
- 121-Point All Cross-Type Phase-Detect AF
- Weather-Sealed Construction
- Current price
Sony a7 IV
- 33MP Full-Frame format Exmor R CMOS Sensor
- Up to 10 fps Shooting, ISO 100-51200
- 4K 60p Video in 10-Bit, S-Cinetone
- 3.68m-Dot EVF with 120 fps Refresh Rate
- 3″ 1.03m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen LCD
- 759-Pt. Fast Hybrid AF, Real-time Eye AF
- Focus Breathing Compensation
- 5-Axis SteadyShot Image Stabilization
- Creative Looks and Soft Skin Effect
- 4K 15p UVC/UAC Streaming via USB Type-C
- Current price
Fujifilm GFX 100S
- 102MP 43.8 x 32.9mm BSI CMOS Sensor
- X-Processor 4 Image Processor
- 4K30 Video; F-Log Gamma, 12-Bit Raw Out
- 3.69m-Dot OLED EVF
- 3.2″ 2.36m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
- 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization
- 425-Point Phase-Detection Autofocus
- ISO 100-12800, Up to 5 fps Shooting
- 400MP Pixel Shift Multi-Shot
- 19 Film Simulation Modes
- Current price
I have been using a Nikon for many years now, and before that, I used Sony gear. That said, I don’t feel biased toward Nikon cameras. I believe each of the camera brands on this list is exceptional, and more importantly, the cameras I’ve listed are all superior models for live imaging shows. (we want more amazing photos of metal bands, not less!)
I can say that I purposefully selected my favorites from each major brand to compare on this list. Still, I didn’t play favorites pitting Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony, or Fujifilm against one another.
Features that matter
The best cameras for shooting live shows are typically built for a wide array of uses, making the list of features confusing. A few key elements are essential for live concert photography, and I’ll talk briefly about them here.
Cameras with a large sensor
The resolution of the camera sensor is vital to achieving superior photo quality. The larger the sensor, the more light it can capture and thus produce better results in low-light situations like during concerts where lighting is often limited.
The best camera sensors for live concert photography are full-frame format or APS-C format.
What is a full-frame sensor?
Full-frame sensors are the same size as a 35mm film frame but found on DSLR cameras. This means that the sensor is much larger than those found in most digital cameras, which typically have an APS-C or even smaller.
The downside of using a full-frame format camera body for concert photography is that they are often heavier and more expensive than other models. But if you’ve got the dough, it’s worth it.
A full-frame sensor is excellent for live show photography because it can gather more light than a smaller size, resulting in better photo quality.
What is an APS-C sensor?
An APS-C sensor is a type of digital camera sensor smaller than a full-frame, and this means that the photosensors in these cameras are about 20% to 30% smaller than those found in full-frame format camera models.
APS-C sensors are less expensive and often lighter than their full-frame counterparts, making them ideal for shooting concerts where you may need to move around quickly.
An APS-C sensor is suitable for live concert photography because it does not require much light to produce excellent photos, making it ideal for low-light situations.
What is a CMOS sensor?
A CMOS sensor is used in most DSLR cameras. It stands for complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor, and it converts light into an electrical signal that can be recorded as photos or video footage later on when the camera is plugged into a computer via USB cable (or other means).
A CMOS sensor works best with low light conditions such as those found at live concerts because they allow more photons through its aperture than CCDs do, making them ideal for shooting concerts where you may need to move around quickly.
A CMOS sensor is essential for live show photography because it converts light into an electrical signal than a CCD, making it better suited for low-light photography.
Camera sensor resolution
The best camera for concert photography has a high-resolution sensor. Most high-resolution sensors have at least 20 megapixels, which will provide plenty of detail for editing your photos after the show.
Camera sensor size and resolution
When looking for a camera body to photograph live metal bands, you want a large sensor size and high resolution. This will ensure that you can capture the best photo possible, regardless of the lighting conditions.
Frames per second (FPS)
The best camera bodies for photographing live metal bands offer a high frames-per-second (FPS) rate. This will allow you to capture the show’s action without having to worry about missed shots. Speed is vital in this situation.
A reasonable FPS rate to look for is at least 7fps, which will ensure that you can capture the fastest moments of the performance.
Camera light sensitivity, and ISO range
The best camera bodies for photographing live metal bands have a wide ISO range. This will allow you to get good quality shots even in low light conditions, such as when filming inside of an arena or stadium setting.
An ISO range between 100-6400 is ideal because it will allow you more flexibility when shooting at various lighting levels.
Low light performance
Photographing live concerts can be challenging if your camera doesn’t perform well in low-light situations. To ensure that your photos are clear and crisp, look for a body with good low light performance ratings.
Burst shooting mode
It is beneficial to have a camera with a suitable burst shooting mode to capture the best moments of a live show. This will allow you to take multiple shots in quick succession so that you can choose your favorite one later.
Most digital cameras have a decent burst mode, which I care about more than just mashing the shutter release button down and collecting a million images.
The camera body’s water and cold resistance
If you are shooting a metal show outdoors, like at an open-air festival, your camera must be resistant to the elements. Look for a body that has both water and cold resistance ratings so that you can be sure your camera will stay safe in any weather condition.
Digital cameras are also sensitive to dust, and when you use cameras with interchangeable lenses, you are really playing with fire at a festival site. You want to protect your gear as much as possible. (Maybe I’ll write another post with tips about this.
One crucial factor to consider when choosing a camera body for photographing live metal shows is whether the body is sealed. If not, then dirt and dust can quickly get inside the camera and cause damage.
A sealed body will help keep your camera clean and adequately functioning even in harsh conditions.
The best camera bodies for photographing live metal bands have fast autofocus. This will allow you to quickly capture moments without worrying about missing anything due to slow-focusing speeds.
A good autofocus speed is between 0.05 and 0.25 seconds, which will ensure that your camera can keep up with the action on stage or around it during a show.
Let’s be fair; all mid-level and professional-level camera bodies have batteries that can be swapped out. Still, you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of the second of three songs fumbling through your camera bag, trying to find the fresh battery.
A good camera battery should last through at least 4-500 shots, which will ensure that you can shoot the entire show without worrying about running out of power. If you love your burst shots, you’ll want to be able to shoot 6-700 on a single battery.
One final factor to consider when choosing a camera body for photographing live metal shows is whether or not it has image stabilization. This will help keep your shots steady, even if you are moving around a lot during the show.
An image stabilization system should have a rating of at least five stops, which will ensure that you can get clear photos no matter how much movement is going on around you.
RAW shooting mode
RAW shooting is a must-have feature for any camera body that you use for photographing live metal shows. This will allow you to capture the best photo possible with maximum detail and color accuracy.
RAW files are also easier to edit in post-production, so you will have more control over your photos no matter what type of editing software you are using.
Why these 5 cameras are my favorites for taking live show photographs
The Nikon D850 is one of the best camera bodies for live concert photography. It has a massive 45.7 megapixel CMOS sensor, a 153-point autofocus system, excellent light sensitivity, and can shoot at 7 frames per second.
Canon EOS R6
The Canon EOS R6 is one of the best camera bodies for live concert photography because of its sensor-Shift 5-Axis Image Stabilization, 12 frames-per-second shutter, and dual SD UHS-II memory card slots.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X
The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is one of the best camera bodies for live concert photography because of its 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization, shoots at a stunning 15 frames-per-second, and has a 121-Point All Cross-Type Phase-Detect autofocus.
Sony a7 IV
The Sony a7 IV is one of the best camera bodies for live concert photography because of its large 33 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, 10 frames-per-second shooting mode, and 5-Axis SteadyShot Image Stabilization.
Fujifilm GFX 100
The Fujifilm GFX 100 is one of the best camera bodies for live concert photography because of its mind-boggling 102 megapixel CMOS sensor, its massive 425-Point Phase-Detection Autofocus, and 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization.
Maybe I shouldn’t use the terms “lens” and “break” in the same phrase? Oh well, what’s done is done.
This post is entirely about DSLR cameras, and I want to keep it 95% that way. Digital cameras are perfect for shooting live shows, but they are useless without a lens. Talking about lenses is not something I can smush into a couple of paragraphs, so I’ll get right to the point.
Lens recommendations for taking pictures of live bands
You need more than one lens to capture the right moments at a live event. You’ll need a lens for closeups, a lens for audience shots, a lens for capturing wide-angle moments, and if you shoot festivals as I do, you’ll want a lens with serious zoom capabilities.
Some lenses cover several use cases simultaneously, and specific lenses might be an excellent option for an entire show if you don’t mind the lack of varying possibilities that different lenses offer.
Soon I will write a post about lenses and link to it from here so you can get some details about what I’m talking about, but let’s put a cap on this for now and move back to our main topic.
What is the absolute best camera body for photographing live concerts?
Between the cameras featured on this list, the Nikon D850, Canon EOS R6, Olympus OM-D E-M1X, Sony a7 IV, and the Fujifilm GFX 100, which one is the absolute best for photographing live shows? The honest answer depends on what features you value the most.
Which camera has the best sensor?
One of the primary reasons I selected these 5 cameras for this list is because they each have an excellent sensor and exceptional resolution. Cameras are only as good as the sensor inside, and it plays a significant role in what your final photo will look like.
That said, cameras have different sensors that benefit other use cases. For example, if you want to print your photo on the side of a building, you’ll want the most megapixels possible. Cameras with a full-frame format will have slightly superior quality but only smaller photo resolution.
The camera with the best sensor is a tie between the Fujifilm GFX 100S and the Sony a7 IV. The megapixels on the Fujifilm GFX 100S are unrivaled, and if MPs are your priority, this is the clear winner. You also pay a hefty price for this size, so read on before assuming this is the superior camera!
However, if you are more interested in full-frame quality, the Sony a7 IV’s full-frame Exmor R CMOS sensor and its huge megapixel count (by usual standards) make it a winner as well.
Ranking the cameras
- Fujifilm GFX 100S 102MP 43.8 x 32.9mm BSI CMOS Sensor
- Sony a7 IV 33MP Full-Frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor
- Nikon D850 45.7MP FX-Format BSI CMOS Sensor
- Canon EOS R6 20MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
- Olympus OM-D E-M1X 20.4MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds Sensor
Which camera has the best low-light performance?
The camera with the best low-light performance is the Nikon D850. Its native ISO is already incredible, and it is extendible to an astonishing amount of sensitivity.
To be fair, each of these cameras is well within the range of optimal low-light performance. The real challenge for low-light imaging will be selecting camera lenses that meet the challenge. (Lenses will have to be a whole other post!)
Image quality is a skill at mastering in low-light situations, and you’ll want a tool to make that work as simple as possible.
Ranking the cameras
- Nikon D850 Native ISO: 64-25600,Extended: 32-102400
- Canon EOS R6 ISO: 100-102400
- Olympus OM-D E-M1X ISO: 64 to 25600
- Fujifilm GFX 100S ISO: 100-12800
- Sony a7 IV ISO: 100-51200
Which camera shoots the fastest frames-per-second?
The camera with the fastest frames-per-second is the Olympus OM-D E-M1X with its 15 frames-per-second. The Canon EOS R6 is a close second with its 12 FPS.
As I mentioned previously, cameras with fast FPS are vital in a live show imaging session. Each of the cameras on this list possesses the features to capture high-quality photos at a quick pace.
Ranking the cameras
- Olympus OM-D E-M1X 15 fps Shooting
- Canon EOS R6 12 fps Mech. Shutter, 20 fps E. Shutter
- Sony a7 IV Up to 10 fps Shooting
- Nikon D850 7 fps Shooting for 51 Frames with AE/AF
- Fujifilm GFX 100S Up to 5 fps Shooting
Which camera has the best autofocus?
The camera with the best autofocus is the Canon EOS R6. This camera uses deep-learning artificial intelligence to recognize and track a subject’s eyes, face, head, and body.
I’m not gonna lie; I love shooting manually. But when you’re being bumped into by 30 other people trying to snap a still of that critical moment that only lasts for a second, you simply don’t have time to fine-tune the focus. You need speed.
You’ll usually find me during the third song at the edge of the photo pit in manual mode after I’ve captured everything I needed to create a beautiful photo gallery.
Ranking the cameras
- Canon EOS R6 Dual Pixel CMOS AF II with 1053 Points
- Nikon D850 Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF System
- Olympus OM-D E-M1X 121-Point All Cross-Type Phase-Detect AF
- Sony a7 IV 759-Pt. Fast Hybrid AF, Real-time Eye AF
- Fujifilm GFX 100S 425-Point Phase-Detection Autofocus
Image from Wikimedia for Image Stabilization licensed creative commons to use.
Which camera has the best image stabilization?
The camera with the best image stabilization is a toss-up between the Olympus OM-D E-M1X, the Canon EOS R6, and the Fujifilm GFX 100S. These cameras each use the same sensor-shift technology for image stabilization.
The Sony a7 IV uses SteadyShot image stabilization which I feel is slightly less versatile for an interchangeable lens camera.
The Nikon D850 does not have image stabilization, which doesn’t matter in my opinion because I don’t use it.
Ranking the cameras
- Olympus OM-D E-M1X 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization
- Canon EOS R6 Sensor-Shift 5-Axis Image Stabilization
- Fujifilm GFX 100S 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization
- Sony a7 IV 5-Axis SteadyShot Image Stabilization
- Nikon D850 Does not have image stabilization
Which camera has the best price?
(Please note that prices change often and the numbers listed here are those at the time of writing this article. I will try to update them periodically but you can check the links for the most recent prices listed on Amazon.)
The camera with the best price for its value is the Olympus OM-D E-M1X. It’s about a thousand USD cheaper than the Canon EOS R6, Nikon D850, and Sony a7 IV, but it is a serious contender, as you can see from the previous rankings.
To be completely honest, I included the Fujifilm GFX 100S to show that paying twice the price doesn’t always mean twice the value. Sure, it’s a fantastic camera, but is it more than $3000 better than the others on this list?
If you’re lucky enough where the price is not an issue for you, then you may even want to look at professional gear. Hell, the cost of this gear isn’t low, in my opinion, but this is the price range if you want to take things seriously.
Ranking the cameras
- Olympus OM-D E-M1X around $2000
- Canon EOS R6 around $2900
- Nikon D850 around $3000
- Sony a7 IV around $2900
- Fujifilm GFX 100S around $6500
The verdict: What is the best camera body for photographing live shows?
In my opinion, the best camera for shooting live shows is the Canon EOS R6. I’m picking this camera because it’s damn near perfect for my needs. My honest impression is that I could drop this camera in the mud, and it would still work beautifully.
Here’s how I stack the Canon EOS R6 up against the other cameras on this list
While the Canon EOS R6 has the lowest number of megapixels of all the cameras on this list, its full-frame format sensor creates incredible photo quality. Further, 99% of what I photograph is made for the web, which means a massive number of megapixels is a waste when the photo is compressed and reduced to web quality.
The Canon EOS R6 is within the ideal range of low-light performance I typically use when shooting live bands. While extending the ISO to the extremes, the reality is that I end up discarding pictures with too much grain and image noise anyway.
The 12 FPS (frames-per-second) on the Canon EOS R6 is incredibly fast. I typically use a 3-shot burst technique and pick my favorite photo based on the finer details I look at later. With 12 FPS, it would take 3 shots incredibly fast, meaning less time pointing at the subject and more time thinking about the next shot. (these micro-times are more critical than you might think when you only have three songs to shoot a band!)
The Canon EOS R6 has a Dual Pixel CMOS AF II with 1053 Points. Its AI can recognize and track eyes, faces, and animals. Especially with live concert photography, autofocus that is this smart can be the difference between a good picture and an exceptional photograph.
I typically don’t use image stabilization, but I know some other photographers love it. The Canon EOS R6 has similar sensor-shift 5-axis image stabilization as the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and Fujifilm GFX 100S.
While I think the Olympus OM-D E-M1X has the best value for the money, I believe the Canon EOS R6 has a price that meets its value.
In the end, I think it’s pretty clear why I feel the best camera body for photographing live shows is the Canon EOS R6. It has all the features you need to take amazing photos without breaking the bank. Plus, with its autofocus system and image stabilization, you’ll be able to take snapshots of your favorite band without worrying about blurry photos or missed opportunities.
The other four cameras on this list are also superior devices. If you happen to be leaning toward one of them, I can fully endorse your decision. Cameras are a tool, and that tool needs to work for you. Different cameras possess different features and depending on what you need, you can select the best device for your use.
Good luck, happy shooting, and stay metal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Between Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony, and Fujifilm, which is the superior camera brand?
Nikon. Next question.
Just kidding. I like Nikon only because that’s what I’m using right now. If I were on the market for a new camera, I would seriously consider each of the cameras on this list, which is why I wrote this post. I would probably end up with Canon, but that’s not because they are a superior brand.
Is digital zoom necessary?
No. If you’re using digital zoom, you are probably looking for a more entry-level device. And honestly, if that’s where you’re at, I would ask you to stay out of my way in the photo pit.
Should I buy a new camera or look for a used one?
If you can find the exact camera you are looking for used, and it has a great price, it’s worth considering. Just make sure the photo count is low and that you know the manufacturer’s expected lifetime of the shutter (based on photo count) so you can gauge whether or not it’s worth it.
I always buy new because I’m a psycho who likes to waste money I don’t really have.
DSLRs have a lot of video functions, do these matter?
Nope. You shouldn’t be taking videos from the photo pit. The bands don’t like it, their management doesn’t like it, and all the other photographers will think you’re an asshole.
That said, video functions might come in handy for other uses. For example, when I used to do interviews with bands, it would be pretty nice to have one single device for multiple purposes. In that case, many different video options come in handy, but perhaps video is a topic for another post?
I thought lenses were more important than camera bodies…
Lenses are indeed critical, but if you have a great lens whose light is captured in tiny resolution, with slow autofocus, or if the burst shooting is super slow, then it can feel like your lens is useless.
If you’re going to buy a camera for taking live photos, you need to consider the body and the lens separately.
Digital cameras vs. film cameras, which is better?
For taking pictures of bands at metal shows, you’re going to want to use a digital camera. Digital is better in countless ways to make your life easier and produce outstanding results.
I like film cameras, but a digital camera is superior for this use case. I know some people out there refuse to believe anything can be better than film, and trust me, I hear you. But when I’m in the photo pit wrestling with 100 other people trying to snap photos and shift to another position, I don’t have time to mess around with a film camera.
Digital wins for live shows.
Do mirrorless cameras make a difference?
Mirrorless cameras remove a step in moving light from a lens to the sensor. In a typical DSLR, the mirror flips up when you take a picture, allowing light to pass through the viewfinder and hit the sensor. That step is removed with a mirrorless camera, so there’s one less opportunity for light to be lost.
This feature makes a difference in some ways but not others. Mirrorless camera functionality can make autofocus faster because there’s no need to move the mirror out of the way. It can also make cameras quieter because there’s no need for the mirror to slap around.
While a mirrorless camera can be a great tool, I don’t find this feature necessary in live show photography. So to answer the question, a mirrorless camera can be a nice thing to have, and just don’t expect it to make a big difference in photographing bands on stage.
Did I miss anything?
If you have a question about this list or something else you would like to know, please let me know, and I’ll try to respond or add the information to this post. I will write a lens post soon, so please hold those questions. But anything else, let me know!