Experience tells me that the fastest shutter speed I’m going to get at Matilija Auditorium dance concerts is 1/320 second. That’s based on shooting my Nikon D300 at ISO 1600 and using an f-stop of 2.8 or 3.2. I’m willing to go to ISO 3200 for some subjects, but dance is not one of them. Not with the D300, anyway.
For a couple of years, I opted to work without a camera support so I could have maximum freedom of movement when following the action. But I paid a price in lost sharpness and erratic horizon angles. This year, I used a monopod for all three concerts, and I can see why so many sports shooters depend on these devices.
At first, I thought that using a monopod would also reduce the ergonomic challenges of shooting with a heavy, long lens for hours on end, but now I’m not so sure. Yes, I did not have to heft the weight of the camera all night, as the monopod handled that for me. But it also changed my shooting stance, and I believe that contributed to the hip pain I’m still feeling almost a week later. Handholding the camera, I was more likely to move around the tech booth and shift my weight from side to side. With the monopod, I tended to stay locked in one position for extended periods. Better pictures, but at a price.
By the way, I tried to shoot the first concert in RAW, but I ran into my old problems of buffer capacity and card capacity. I couldn’t get long enough bursts, and I filled three 4-gig cards by the intermission, so I reverted to shooting jpegs. Because I know the venue and its lights so well, I don’t think it hurt much to shoot in jpeg. The RAW images handled noise reduction and sharpening better, but at sane print sizes and proper viewing distances, I doubt it makes a noticeable difference – especially for the proud families of these beautiful dancers.