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50mm or 55-300mm lens for pageant photos?

edited January 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
I am brand new to a DSLR camera. I just got my D3200 for Christmas and I have since purchased a 50mm lens and a 55-300mm lens (my son plays football and my daughter dances). My question is, which lens would you recommend for pictures during a school pageant held in the dark auditorium, and are there any special settings? I've purchased and printed your cheat sheets for each of the 3 lenses that I have now, I just have to put them to good use. :)

Thank you!


  • edited January 2016
    It's hard to say for sure without knowing how well the stage is lit, but I would be inclined to stick with the 50mm if you can get moderately close, because you will be able to open up the aperture and have a better chance of stopping motion, and it is also likely to focus faster. The 55-300mm is a nice lens for many things, but it is slow to focus sometimes, especially in bad light. The 50mm might be a bit wide for some things, but if you don't print very large, there's a good bit of room for cropping. If the stage is fairly bright and if you can get away with high ISO, the 55-300mm will work all right too, but it will be harder to catch correct focus, harder to stop motion, and you may find you're erasing a lot of misses.

    If possible, I'd experiment in the space or a similar space, first of all to decide what level of digital noise from high ISO is acceptable. This will vary a bit on how large you print, and also on what the subject is. People are often a bit more forgiving of objects, and you can get away with a fairly high ISO if the alternative is missing the shot.

    If you can then figure out what shutter speeds you can get away with, you can set your maximum ISO in Auto ISO to whatever you're comfortable with (I'd make sure it does not go to HIGH, because that really is nasty), set a shutter speed in S priority, and let the camera set the aperture.

    When your lens is set for a large aperture with shallow depth of field, your best bet is to decide what subject is most important, and if it's a person, aim for the eyes. The camera's viewfinder view will always be with the lens wide open, so what you see in the viewfinder is the minimum depth of field. If the lens is at any aperture other than wide open, DOF will be a little better.

    If you're using the 55-300mm or the kit lens, with VR, you can afford a slower shutter speed, but with the non-VR 50mm, you're probably best off around 1/70 or so.

    Make sure your auto focus is set for a single point, not Auto Area, if you need to concentrate on a particular subject. Single point, Continuous Servo, and Dynamic Area, should work well. Make sure too that you don't accidentally move the focus point. Check it frequently. Depending on how you hold the camera it can be easy to do. The [OK] button recenters it.

    Whatever you do, avoid Auto and portrait modes, which will actuate the flash in low light.
  • edited January 2016
    Thank you so, so much! My 55-300mm is with VR, but I will stick to the 50mm. I just want some nice shots, and I'm probably not printing anything, because it is my niece's pageant.
  • edited December 2016
    Glad you posted this question. I went to a Christmas play last week and took pictures with a Nikon D3200, with the standard issue lens-18-55mm. We sat on the very back row where the light was low, and the pictures were a little grainy.
  • edited December 2016
    @Wrae, when you mentioned a 50mm lens, are you talking about the non-focusing portrait lens?
  • edited December 2016
    Hi @Lonnie, I have the fixed focus portrait lens. I wish I would have remembered this tip at my daughter's Nutcracker performance this past weekend. Instead I used my 55-300mm lens and got "ok" pictures. They weren't as good as my niece's pageant photos. I haven't messed with my camera as much as I was hoping to, so I still have a lot to learn. I stay too busy with work, kids, husband and life in general to use it like I want to. lol
  • edited December 2016
    It's hard to analyze at such a distance, but a couple of things come to mind for the future. One is to remember that whatever 50mm you have, it's not non-focusing, though it may be only manual focusing if it's a D lens. It is certainly a fixed focal length at 50mm, but it will focus.

    If you are shooting a performance in which the subject is well lit and the rest of the stage rather dark, you will get a better result by underexposing, even up to a couple of stops (-). Otherwise, the camera's meter will try to turn the black background gray, and the resulting overexposure can blow out the well lit performers. You can experiment, but in general, you want the black to stay black.

    If you underexpose but shoot in Raw mode, you can up the exposure at slight cost in noise. If you blow the highlights, you cannot save them.
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