I want to look at life in the available light

The photography situation was a very mixed bag for the Rush tour, this time around. Last time I had the Sony 707, which was a good mix between size and features. At the time it also scored high marks for quality. Since then however, digital SLR prices have come down out of the stratosphere and they take a far cleaner image, especially in low light conditions. Of course the problem is digital SLRs are not very small, and longer lenses even less so.

Since cameras are still verboten at Rush concerts, I could either just go and enjoy the show, or enjoy the show and get creative and take some photos. I decided on the latter. Since we were sitting in the stands in Montréal, I wasn’t too worried about getting caught while taking photos if I maintained some discretion. The problem was getting the camera in to the venue in the first place. Carrying an SLR invisibly is not hard. Simply sling the strap over your shoulder and put on a jacket. The camera sits comfortably under your jacket against your torso. No biggie. But what about a long lens? We were a long way back and I was just itching to get my 70–200 IS lens into the game. I wedged it into the back of my pants. It worked remarkably well, except for the lens grinding into my spine. Oh, and the battery grip was a non-starter. I removed it for the first time since I bought the camera.

CRW_6464.CRW: Digital Rebel, EF 17-40mm 1:4L @ 22mm, 1/60, f/4, 100 ISO, with bounced flash

Above, the 30D/70–200 f4L IS combination pictured in “street clothes.” The same body and lens appear below, in more stealthy garb.

I also took some basic care to not be spotted during the show. I feared the lens I used might give me up, however. The 70–200 has black rubber grips for the zoom and focus rings, but is otherwise finished in white. This would not do, so I carefully applied a generous amount of black hockey tape. The camera body is black, so a minimum of tape was required there.

Happily, my fear of the tape leaving a sticky residue was completely unfounded.

Exposure was a breeze. I selected full manual exposure and set 1/80, f4, 400 ISO to start, purely as a guess. I reduced the shutter speed to 1/60 after checking the histogram of the first few shots. Most exposures were very close, and the rest were close enough that I could adjust them afterwards. With a shutter speed of 1/60 and most photos taken at the 200mm end of the zoom range, I put the lens’ image stabilization to good use.

The only real fear I had  one particular security guy at the entrance to the Bell Centre. He was the one with the airport-style metal-detector wand. As soon as I saw this guy, I whispered to Don in warning, and he took immediate action. Being ahead of me in line, he detoured two rows to the left, so we’d not pass immediately in front of metal-detector guy. It was an inspired move on Don’s part. I suspect I would’ve froze and been caught.

Because we had ninth-row floor seats for the Ottawa show, I needed a different technique. The security personnel would certainly notice me slinging around an SLR with a ten inch lens, hockey tape or no. Hardly paranoia, my fear of being spotted by security was, if anything, underestimating the danger. An aisle ran across behind us and a security guy was stationed at the end of our row, just five seats away from me. He certainly was looking out for cameras. The guy in front of me was warned several times.

DSC02555.jpg: Sony W30, 6.3mm, 1/100, f/2.8, ISO 800

I briefly considered risking my SLR and the small 85mm f1.8, but decided against it because I’d be nervous and it would lessen my enjoyment of the show. Instead, I borrowed Jessica’s Sony W30. This diminutive camera fit easily into my pocket so even if I decided not to use it, taking it along was no hardship. Its downfall for this application was two-fold. First, it has a tiny sensor. Serious picture noise is the result with underexposure or higher ISO settings. I expected this so it came as no surprise. The other problem is the lack of manual exposure settings. Given the black background and blazing lights on the band, metering would be no simple task. I decided to use spot metering and hope for the best. I managed a 15% keeper rate, which is decent, considering the difficulty of the conditions. If only it had manual exposure settings!

DSC02535.jpg: Sony W30, 6.3mm, 1/100, f/2.8, ISO 1000

“Take a page from the red book and keep them in your sights. Red alert. Red Alert.”

There’s no comparison in the quality of the images from the two cameras in these conditions. This is not to say the W30 is a bad camera. It’s not. The performers in an indoor concert are very challenging subjects to photograph, and a less flexible camera will not perform as well. On the other side of the coin, a less than perfect image is better than no image.

Like I said in the previous post, the concerts were fantastic. Here’s hoping they’ll get to work on another album and come play for us again.

Soon.

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