If you are willing to shoot photos or videos of your idols and invest in an appropriate camera gear, this guide will help you decide.
First thing is to decide the budget you want to use, then the type of things you want to do (photo, video or both ?). Note: camera gear is really expensive.
If you want to get pics like the usual fansites, be prepared to invest quite a lot. You often see those Canon white lens ? Well, it costs that much. However, do you need this to get quality photos or videos ? Well, not necessarily, there are alternatives.
I will mostly focus on full frame and APS-C cameras, as MFT and point and shoot cameras are not perfectly suited for K-Pop as you usually need range and low light capabilities, that those two are lacking.
First of all, the brand you are choosing, I’m gonna stick to three, as I consider them to be the most suitable for what we shoot.
- Decent camera bodies, with decent performance in photos and videos
- Good variety of lenses
- the most used in general, so easier to get used stuff at good price
- Better camera bodies than Canon, better value at least
- Lenses are not as good as the Canon counterpart in general
- Bad for videos because of the focus
- recent mirrorless cameras has been really good, for both photos and videos
- low variety of lens, you can’t go over 200mm easily
- Lenses are really expensive, but camera bodies are ok
Those are the brands for cameras, they also make their own lenses (native lens), but there are also other brands that can make lenses for those systems, they are called third parties manufacturers. You mostly have to care about Sigma and Tamron as for now.
Used cameras: you have to look for the shutter count. The higher the shutter count, the lower the price, obviously, but you shouldn’t buy a camera that has a too high count. Under 30 000 would be pretty decent while providing a good discount on the price. If it’s too high, you might have to include the cost of renewing the shutter, but it’s another step and hassle. (cost varies depending on cameras)
Warranty: we called grey market, any product coming from export (usually asia). Those products are cheaper (even brand new), but if something happens, it’s gonna be harder for you to claim warranty. I would suggest to buy grey market lens but stick to classic market bodies (buy the camera in an approved retailer in your country for instance). Well, the product is the same, so it’s up to you, is the price gap worth it ? Personally, all my gear is grey market.
Kit lenses: in general, avoid them, I’m talking about the 18-55mm you usually get with your cameras. This lens is gonna be useless for K-pop and the quality is usually bad. I would suggest you to buy a prime lens instead (50mm f/1.8 is a good one, regardless of cameras as each brand got their own affordable option). For K-pop uses, 18-55mm is not enough range in general anyway so you don’t need it. Here is a photo I took using my very first set-up with a 18-55mm. (at 55mm range), and here is the zoomed version. On another hand, here is a picture I took using a Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM on a crop sensor, you can see that I’m lacking a bit of range, but the quality is way better. My advise: buy a 70-200mm instead and get yourself a 35mm or 50mm for wider shoot. (as those primes are usually between 100/200€ so quite affordable.)
Used lens: a lot of lenses, especially the professional ones are built like tanks so they have quite a long lifespan so it’s quite easy to buy a used lens. However, what you have to check is the state of the glass, is it ok ? Check for fungus and any defect possible, look from one end and the other, is there dust inside ? Also, try the lens if you can, especially the focus system as it can go off if there is an issue inside.
- Image stabilization: it got different names depending on manufacturers:
- Canon: IS = Image stabilization
- Nikon: VR = Vibration reduction
- Sony: OSS = Optical steady shot
- Sigma: OS = Optical stabilization
- Tamron: VC = Vibration control
- Lens format: Full frame and APS-C designed lenses got their names as well:
- Canon: EF for full frame and EF-S for APS-C
- Nikon: FX for full frame and DX for APS-C
- Sony: FE for full frame and E for APS-C
- Quality indicator: for expensive shits
- Canon: got an “L” after the aperture to indicate professional oriented lens,
- Sony: G Master serie
- Tamron: SP for Super Performance
- Sigma: A = art, S = sport, C = contempory ; it’s the uses for which the lens was designed for
- Nikon: I have no fucking idea, they don’t have one I think
- They are also other accronyms but they are less important I would say.
What to buy beside camera+lens ?
Batteries: If you are using a DSLR camera, I would suggest you to buy at least one additionnal battery, because if you are shooting non stop during a fansign, you will end low on battery after 2 hours (talking from experience), so just in case, have some safety measure. Also, get official batteries, the third batteries are cheaper but their lifespan is way shorter. When shooting mirrorless, you might need more because the batteries don’t usually last as long as the DSLR counterparts.
Battery grip: It’s an accessory that you put at the bottom of you camera that brings 2 things. One, is a slot for another battery, your camera will have 2 batteries in it, so you don’t have to change it during a session. Two, is the ease to shoot vertical photos since they are additional commands on a battery grip. This is why for Dreamcatcher London, all my photos are horizontal, but for Dreamcatcher Amsterdam, I have some vertical shots as I have the grip with me. I would also suggest to get official battery grip since it’s linked to the camera system, but it’s expensive as fuck for what it is, it’s up to you eventually. You can still shoot vertically, it’s just not as convenient.
Memory cards: depending on your cameras, you might need to use SD cards (most frequent nowadays), Cfast cards or XQD. Check that your computer can read those cards, would be sad if you can’t, don’t forget to get an adapter then. For your memory card, you need something that can handle the storage needed, and the speed. For a lot of cameras, the SD card you want needs to have a UHS-I written on it (or U1), it’s a speed norm that quite some cameras have right now. UHS-II is for high-end cameras, so just ignore as it’s not that common anyway. If you’re planning on shooting non-stop during an event, the memory card is gonna have to be handle more, as a reference, for a fansign of 2 hours, with a Canon 80D (which have a good speed and buffer), I have almost 6000 photos for 150GO. However, this is me and I’m an insane shooter, spamming that fucking button. I would recommend 2 64GO cards or a single 128GO card, this is a good start and should be able to handle all your needs.
Flashes: Clearly not needed in almost all situations, but it might come handy in some rare situations, like airport or exterior night shooting. Do not use them during dance performance, and fansigns, it’s bad etiquette and you’ll probably be asked to get it off or worse, be kicked. Don’t need to buy an official flash (Canon, Nikon, Sony) as they are too expensive for the uses we have, instead, get a third party one that can be as good, like any Yongnuo one. Flash should be the least of your worry anyway. An example for what flash can bring: Handong after the Amsterdam concert.
Tripod/monopod: A tripod is a stand for your camera to rest, this is an extremly convenient item and I suggest you to buy one if you can, they are especially useful in fansigns. The tripod will allow you to reduce the shake since you don’t have to carry your camera anymore, and it’s more … energy friendly, holding a dslr for hours is tiring, believe me. A monopod has the same purpose but it’s on one leg instead, so, less stable as you can’t just leave the camera there, but you’re more mobile so if you have to move, it’s good.
What do we need for K-Pop ?
Most of K-Pop events can be either outdoor or indoor, so you should stick to the worse scenarios to base your purchase on, which is : indoor and low light. So you need something that can be used in this situation.
Aperture: f/2.8 is a good aperture in low light without an inconvenient depth of field, so this should be your go to aperture. f/1.8 or f/2 are also good options but those lenses are not as common beside the prime.
Focal lenght: 70-200mm should be your go-to lens, it’s an extremly versatile focal lenght and should cover a great part of your needs. In very rare situation, where you are really close, a 35mm prime should be great to compensate or a standard zoom (24-70mm). This applies for APS-C as well, but you can find yourself a bit tight by 70 (as it’s about 110mm full frame equivalent), so a wider lens might be needed, although, in most cases, it’s ok. For the Kard showcase, I was at second line, so very close and the 70-200mm on my crop sensor felt a bit tight sometimes, I couldn’t get a full body shot of Somin when she was in front for instance.
Extra focal lenght: In some situations, 200mm may not be enough, for instance if your seat is far in a fansign, or during a dance performance. There are two options:
- Extender: It’s something you put between the camera and the lens, they usually increase the range by 1.4 or 2. However, there will be a degradation of the image quality, and if you are using a 1.4 extender, you will lose one stop of ligt (f/2.8 to f/4, f/4 to f/5.6, etc.). The focus speed will also be slower.
- Another lens… Sigma 150-600mm , Nikon 200-500mm, Tamron 150-600mm should be the main ones unless you have thousands of euros, then go for prime telefoto lens, but it’s above my knowledge (considering that a lens can go over 6000€ so …).
ISO performance: You are gonna need a camera that can get a maximum ISO of at least 6400, because in dark environment (concert room for instance), you’re gonna reach that maximum…
Video: Something that can film 1080p at 60FPS is a sweet spot, most cameras can do 1080p 30fps so it should be fine, but if you’re aiming to get fancams, over photos, 60fps is needed. Unless you go 4k 30fps, but getting into 4K is more expensive.
Camera Bodies recommendations
I will focus most likely on APS-C and full frame bodies, and all the price will be new and grey market, and without the kit lens. So you’re gonna have to adjust the price for your country if don’t want grey market (add something like 20/25%). Also, you are gonna have to do your own research, i’m just leading you on a path, as they are more to just what I show there.
Canon 60D :
- APS-C / 18mpx / 5.3fps / 1080p 30fps / 9 focus points
- APS-C / 24mpx / 5fps / 1080p 30fps / 19 focus points
- APS-C / 24mpx / 6fps / 1080p 60fps / 45 focus points / dual pixel
- Full frame / 20mpx / 4.5fps / 1080p 30fps / 9 focus points
- APS-C / 24mpx / 7fps / 1080p 60 fps / 45 focus points / dual pixel
Canon 7D Mark II:
- APS-C / 20mpx / 10fps / 1080p 60fps / 69 focus points / dual pixel
Canon 6D Mark II :
- Full frame / 26mpx / 6.5fps / 1080p 60fps / 45 focus points / dual pixel
Canon 5D Mark IV:
- Full frame / 30mpx / 7fps / 4k 30fps (cropped) / 61 focus points / dual pixel
Canon 1DX Mark II:
- Full frame / 20mpx / 14fps / 4k 60fps / 61 focus points
- APS-C / 24mpx / 5fps / 1080p 60fps / 11 focus points
- APS-C / 24mpx / 5fps / 1080p 60fps / 39 focus points
- Full frame / 24mpx / 6fps / 1080p 30fps / 39 focus points
- Full frame / 24mpx / 6.5fps / 1080p 60fps / 51 focus points
- APS-C / 21mpx / 10fps / 4k 30fps (cropped) / 153 focus points
- Full frame / 36mpx / 5fps / 1080p 60fps / 51 focus points
- Full frame / 45mpx / 7fps and 9fps with battery grip / 4k 30fps / 153 focus points
Sony A7 III:
- 2200€ – retail price, not grey market as it’s a very recent camera
- Full frame / 24mpx / 10fps / 4k 30fps / 693 focus points
Sony A7R III:
- Full frame / 42mpx / 10fps / 4k 30fps / 399 focus points
- Full frame / 24mpx / 20fps / 4k 30fps / 693 focus points
In general, a full frame lens will work on an APS-C body, (although you won’t get the same range because of the crop factor), but the other way around won’t work well. If it does, you will have some serious quality drop so, is it worth it ?
The lenses I recommend, all prices will be new, and grey market, so you might notice some differences, and buying a lens used isn’t an issue at all: (sorted from cheaper to out of mind)
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM:
- 150€ (Only get the STM version, the previous ones are dipshit)
- insane value for the buck and very good range overall
- only compatible with Canon APS-C cameras
Tamron SP 70-300 f/4-5.6 Di VC USD:
- Good range and value for its price
- In either Canon, Nikon or Sony version (+30€)
Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 ED VR:
- Good range and value, although more expensive than the Canon counterpart
- Only for Nikon APS-C
Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD:
- Good range overall, with decent quality and value
- it’s lacking indoor because of the aperture but at this price point, not much possible at this range
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD (also called G1 or A009):
- 680€ (Do not get the macro version, it’s utter bullshit)
- good value, good performance
- compatible with either Canon, Nikon or Sony
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C:
- Long telefoto lens, very good value for the range it can reach
- It shouldn’t be used for under 300mm, you should just get a 70-200mm instead
- in either Canon or Nikon mount
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (A025):
- good value, performance is almost equal to the native lens
- in either Canon or Nikon edition
Nikon 200-500 f/5.6E ED VR:
- Good value, with good focus overall
- fixed aperture, nice on a long range telefoto lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II:
- worse value than the tamron one, but better at long range and slightly faster focus speed
- the classic white lens you see everywhere
Sony FE 70-200 f/4 GM OSS:
- The cheap alternative for Sony xD
- Lens is good despite the f/4
Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM II:
- good range, ok value, image quality is not as good as the 70-200 f/2.8 but compensate with the extra range
- because of the aperture, it kinda sucks in low light, but it should do ok in fansigns and outdoor fanmeeting
Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 ED VR II:
- Nikon native lens for this range, all the previous version are obsolete compared to the tamron version
- worse value than the tamron one for not an actual better option but if you want proprietaire option, it’s this one
Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM:
- It’s an extremly versatile lens, but at the cost of image quality, but at least, you won’t need any other lens. It’s still an L lens, so quality is enough in most situation.
- The wide end is very so-so
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS:
- not much possibilities with Sony cameras, lens is excellent though
Sony FE 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS:
- If you want to reach past 200mm, you don’t have much choice with Sony
Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM:
- Really good range, especially at f/2.8
- really heavy and expensive, and not as sharp as the 70-200mm but image quality is still nice
- Canon or Nikon option
Sidenote: For Sony bodies, you can use a converter to get Canon mount lenses on the Sony bodies, you don’t lose much on image quality, but the issue is focus speed as it’s not as reliable, also, it can varies quite a bit from a lens to another. Look for Metabones speedboosters and Sigma converter.
Anything that that suit all the below characteristic :
- it can reach your eye level while being seated
- it can withstand twice the weight of your heavier camera set up
- is aluminium (because cheaper)
- you shouldn’t go over 150€, and a lot of good options around 100€
The manfrotto befree is quite popular, really light, good enough height, and can support 4KG, which is enough for a 70-200mm set up.
For anything standing, I would suggest a monopod, some tripod can have some leg converted as a monopod, so, why not. Also, you can just stick to a monopod, instead of a tripod, it’s fine, but I personally like having the option to just leave the camera there. You can also look up for video monopod that can stand on their own but they are quite expensive for the good ones.
My personnal gear
Camera: Nikon D750 with Nikon grip
Lens: Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2
SD Cards: 2* Sandisk Extrem Pro 256GO U3 (UHS-I)
Flash: Yongnuo YN685
Tripod: some light korean tripod (indoor), and a Benro TMA38CL (outdoor)
Monopod: Sirui P424S