Last Friday I had the chance to shoot some live music at the Fox Theater in Redlands, CA through Rick Benyola, a friend I'd met at a local photography meetup. His friend's band, The Stillwinter was having a cd/promo performance and Rick was invited to shoot some stuff at the show, so he extended the offer to a few local photographers, of which I was one. Luckily I'd received my Sigma 85mm f/1.4 in the mail just the day before, so this would be an excellent opportunity to try out the new toy.
I met up with Rick and a few other local photogs at a café next to the venue to chat before the show. When everyone had arrived, we met up with the guys from the band, introduced ourselves, chatted a bit then headed inside. The venue was very dark (and hot!) so I was expecting it to be a challenge, seeing as how I've never shot live music before.
Something I learned very quickly about shooting concerts: BRING EAR PLUGS. Luckily, another person in the group had brought some (enough for everyone!) because after standing right up against the speakers for a few songs, your ears start ringing. I spent the majority of the first act getting dialed in --Again, I'd never shot much live music before this, so the constantly changing lights with varying intensity messed with my results. I didn't set a custom white balance because it would have been useless due to all the colored lights placing different color casts on my subject. I'd shot in small venues (like open mics and such) before, and that's MUCH easier to manage. The tips, tutorials and articles over at ishootshows.com helped a ton in preparing for this.
Once I got comfortable with my settings (and surroundings), I started snapping away. I was armed with my 60D with a 35L mounted, and my 7D with the new Sigma 85mm. I would use this combo for the majority of the show, rarely taking out the 70-200 2.8L IS for some tighter shots. I love fast primes, and was finding that the 2.8 forced me to push to ISO 3200 to get a clean shot and stop the action. The 7D does a respectable job at ISO 1600, and even 3200, but as a general rule, I keep ISO as low as possible, even though much of it can be fixed in post with Lightroom or Noise Ninja (or whatever your weapon of choice is), It usually will soften the image.
For much of the show, I was normally trying to get around 1/160-1/200 or better to stop action as best I could, which meant shooting wide open or stopped down to f/2. Tracking the subject with continuous focus and spot metering for their face, which would usually be the brightest part of the frame, to prevent blowing out the highlights.
Check out a few of my shots below:
You can view more in my gallery.
The Sigma performed much better than I had expected and definitely lives up to the hype. If you're in the market for a fast 85mm prime for portraits or anything else you might use this for, get it! At current prices, it's a steal and definitely deserves a place in anyone's gear bag. The lens is sharp, fast and contrasty -- everything you could want. I'd heard that the lens renders color a bit "warmer" with respect to skin tones than most of Canon's other L primes (which means a little extra time in post). Unfortunately, that isn't something I've been able to test as of yet (or maybe I just haven't noticed).
The autofocus on the Sigma is quick, probably on par with Canon's own 85mm f/1.8, which is plenty fast for a lens this long with that much glass and with this wide of an aperture. It had no problems focusing and tracking my subject, even in continuous AI servo and in extremely low light -- on both bodies.
Chromatic Aberration (CA) seems to be well controlled, possibly even better than Canon's own flagship 85L. I don't have any examples as of this posting, but you can check here at the bottom of the page for a comparison between the purple fringing of the Sigma 85 wide open @ 1.4 vs the Canon 85L stopped down a bit @ 1.4. The CA on the 85L is much stronger. When I get a chance to test this, i'll post my own results.
Bokeh on the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is very pleasing, though not as creamy as on a canon 85L. Yes, it's noticeable, but i'm not sure that that alone is worth more than double the price.
All in all, It was a great experience -- got to test my new gear, try a new 'type' of shooting, met some cool people, got a few good shots and shared some tips, techniques and even gear(!). Here's hoping to doing more of this in the future!