What's in the bag?

The camera equipment and more we need for a typical show report

What's in the bag?

In the run-up to the Bristol Sound & Vision show, I thought it would be a good idea to showcase precisely what equipment we might typically take to cover a show, and why. It also gives us an opportunity to pose a question about show coverage.

Show reports in general aren’t too demanding on camera equipment, and in great fairness, the limitations placed by this website mean that the smallest sensor inside the cheapest smartphone would notionally be sufficient for the task in hand. However, a property of many audio shows is that exhibitors are frequently in hotel bedrooms with the curtains drawn and the lights turned low. It’s not a unique property – I can think of at least one other photographic job where music is playing in a hotel bedroom with drawn curtains and the lights turned low – but in an audio show setting, photographing a black box in a darkened room is pushing the limits of a smartphone camera.

This is why most audio journalists take some kind of dedicated camera to an audio show. Modern camera systems are extremely competent in low light settings, so the actual choice of camera is more about personal taste and use beyond the audio show environment. My choice here is the Fuji X-T1 camera; a 16MP mirrorless design. The main advantage to this mirrorless type of camera (as opposed to a DSLR) is its weight, its ability to preview images through the viewfinder, and excellent out-of-the-camera JPEG images that need little or no post processing. It’s not the fastest focusing camera money can buy, and it can burn through batteries fairly rapidly, but for reportage, street and travel photography, and product photography as used here, the X-T1’s performance more than exceeds demands.

When two photographers meet now, they invariably talk settings. To address their needs, a photographer can adjust the way a camera operates, and the Fuji X-T1 is no exception: here comes the nerdy bit. For this kind of show – if there is time – I will use the camera on a tripod and keep the camera at base ISO (ISO200), otherwise I keep the camera in Auto ISO, with an upper ISO limit of ISO1600 and the lower limit at ISO200 and the minimum shutter speed of 1/60th second. Although I tend to use the out-of-camera JPEGs, I set the camera to record JPEG+RAW as a matter of course, just in case that once in a lifetime image needs some lovin’ after I took the shot. The Fuji’s WB system is typically very good, but the complex lighting found at a show can throw even the best auto system off the scent, so I’ve started including a fold-out Lastolite Eybalance, and taking a custom balance from that.

I set the camera’s film simulation mode to Provia (a good balance of tonality and saturation, especially as the vibrant colours of the Velvia mode can be overpowering when photographing black boxes next to wooden cabinets), keep DR at DR100, Sharpness at +1 and Noise Reduction at -1, keeping the highlight and shadow settings at their zero point. I also use single-point AF-S, usually relying on back-button ‘manual’ focus, and turn off the auto image review and turn on high performance mode. I tend to use the camera in aperture priority, often with +2/3rds of a stop exposure compensation.

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