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On with the lenses..

You might also be interested in the article on Zooms vs. Primes.

I’m often asked what the best lens is for wedding photography. Unfortunately it’s a very complex question with no clear answer, and I can only really advice on how I use lenses at weddings.

The 24-70 f2.8 II is Canon’s finest day. Coming from the version 1 of that lens, which I largely hated to shoot, they produced a class-leading lens which is nearly as sharp at f2.8 as it is at f7.1

Balancing a kit bag with lenses can be a difficult process. There are those who say keep it lean and mean and there are those who take everything they can. I’m in the latter category. To start things off, let’s look at which lenses I use most at weddings.



As you can see, the 24-70 f2.8 II and 50 f1.2L dominate, resulting in around 65% of the photos taken on a weddings day! Yes, they’re both expensive lenses, but clearly I get value for money out of them.

Individual lens reviews

Canon 24-70 f2.8 II

The 24-70 f2.8 II is Canon’s finest day. Coming from the version 1 of that lens, which I largely hated to shoot, they produced a class-leading lens which is nearly as sharp at f2.8 as it is at f7.1 (where it’s sharpness is at a maximum). In addition, it’s the most accurate focusing lens in my bag. Expensive? Yes, but justified. I shoot a little bit of everthing with this lens. It’s incredibly versatile.

See sample images from 24-70 f2.8 II

canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-2 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-3 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-4 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-5 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-6 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-7 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-8 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-9 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-10 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1-11 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii (1 of 1) canon-24-70-f2.8-ii (1 of 1)-3 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii (1 of 1)-4 canon-24-70-f2.8-ii-1

Canon 50mm f1.2L

The Canon 50mm 1.2 is a fairly old lens now and due for an upgrade. However, there’s something about the photos it produces – they just look amazing! I’ve written a long term review of the 50mm f1.2L, so find out in more detail what my thoughts are. I use it for reportage, couple shots and detail shots mostly.

See sample images from 50mm 1.2L

canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-3 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-4 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-5 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-6 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-8 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-9 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-10 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-11 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-13 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-14 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-15 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-16 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-17 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-18 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-19 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-20 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-21 canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1) canon-50mm-f1.2-L (1 of 1)-2

Canon 85mm 1.8

The 85mm 1.8 is my best bang-for-buck lens and my only non L lens. It’s actually very good quality from f2.0 and much faster to focus and lighter than the 85 1.2L (which is amazing quality by the way!). I use it mostly as a reportage and couple lens.

See sample images from 85mm 1.8

canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-15 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1) canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-2 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-3 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-4 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-5 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-6 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-7 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-8 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-9 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-10 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-11 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-12 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-13 canon-85mm-f1.8 (1 of 1)-14

Canon 70-200 f4L IS

I don’t particularly love the “long lens” look that’s popular with 70-200 shooters. However, I accept I need a long lens for when I’m at the back of the church, so I chose the f4 version, which is lighter and cheaper, but still good quality. The days are gone where I need only f2.8 or faster lenses due to the increased quality of cameras at high ISO. The 70-200 f2.8L IS II is exceptional in every way of course. I will do some couple shots with this lens, but mostly it sits in my bag unless I’m fairly distant from a ceremony.

Canon 100mm macro f2.8 L IS

I use the 100mm macro in two ways; as an exceptional portrait lens and a macro lens rolled into one. You can use extension tubes instead of having a dedicated macro lens, but they are a pain to use and the 100mm gives me two different types of shot.

Canon 35 f1.4L

The 35 f1.4L is the one lens I could quite happily do without except, having bought and paid a lot of money for it, there doesn’t seem much point. I do use it in certain circumstances, most notably when there’s not enough room for me to use the 50L. However, it’s also extremely accurate at focusing on moving subjects in low light. I know others who love the field of view from this lens, but it’s just a bit too wide for me.

Canon 16-35 f4L IS

I didn’t particularly like the 17-40 f4 or the 16-35 f2.8L – both were not fantastic quality optics. However, the new 16-35 f4L IS really is fantastic quality, edge to edge. Again, I don’t particularly need it to be an f2.8 lens. Image Stabilisation is useful in some circumstances, but weddings are about people moving, so I tend to only make use of it when taking photos of, say, the whole wedding breakfast room. I use this to shoot overall wide angles of details and for some wides during the ceremony and for particularly wide angle shots of venues.

Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye

And lastly, the 15mm f2.8 fisheye. I use it at pretty much every wedding for just a few key shots showing a really wide view of the action that’s happening on the dance floor, or at dinner. You can’t buy this lens any more. If it broke would I replace it? Probably not.

I have a pretty large bag (clearly) but most importantly I have a think-tank lens belt with 3 compartments. With the lens on my camera, that allows me to have 4 lenses with me at any point.

What would I recommend?

Given that you can’t (usually) go out and buy every lens day one in your wedding photography business, I’ve put together a few thoughts on how you might progress and also a list of primes I’d recommend, if you’re so inclined.

Starting out – 3 lenses

  • 24-70 f2.8L II
  • 50mm 1.2
  • 100mm macro 2.8L or a 70-200

Everything – 8 lenses (me!)

  • 16-35 f4 L IS
  • 24-70 f2.8 L IS
  • 70-200 f4 L IS (or 70-200 f2.8L II)
  • 15mm f2.8 fisheye
  • 35mm 1.4 L
  • 50mm 1.4 L
  • 85mm 1.8
  • 100mm macro 2.8L

Building – 5 lenses

  • 24-70 f2.8 II
  • 50mm 1.2
  • 70-200 f4 L IS (or 70-200 f2.8L II)
  • 100mm macro 2.8L
  • 85mm 1.8

Prime only shooter

  • 24mm 1.4L
  • 35mm 1.4L
  • 50mm 1.4L
  • 85mm 1.8
  • 100mm macro 2.8L
  • 135 f2L

Carrying and transporting lenses

I’ve had some interesting conversations about taking 8 lenses to a wedding. Firstly, photographers can’t believe I use them all. As you can see above, I really do.

So the next question is how do I cope?

Well, I have a pretty large bag (clearly) which has wheels, but most importantly I have a think-tank lens belt with 3 compartments. With the lens on my camera, I have 4 lenses with me at any point.

The Canon 50mm 1.2 is a fairly old lens now and due for an upgrade. However, there’s something about the photos it produces – they just look amazing!

So, for example, during the ceremony I often have the 24-70mm f2.8 II on camera with the 16-35mm, 100mm and 50mm in my belt. The 16-35mm and 100mm will be used during the ceremony, but the 50 is there because I’ll use it after the ceremony for the “couple congratulations!”. Another example is the speeches; where I will have the 35mm, 50mm and 85mm with me. This allows me to shoot at f2 throughout.

Notable lenses which I don’t own

There are some great lenses that I choose not to include in my bag:

  • 70-200mm f2.8L IS f2.8 II. An exceptional lens, in terms of performance, but also heavy and expensive. As it’s a lens I don’t use very much, I settled for the f4.
  • Sigma Art lenses. The darlings of the industry at the moment, I just don’t like their rendering of the scene as much as the Canon lenses, and I find the focus with moving subjects in low light to be less effective. However, are they good? Yes, I’d say definitely so.
  • 85mm f1.2L. The ultimate portrait lens and peerless, but it’s extremely heavy and very slow to focus, so I use the 85mm f1.8 which is surprisingly good.
  • 135mm f2L. An exceptionally sharp and accurate focusing lens which I wanted to love, but the lack of IS really put me off (I needed 1/250th for a stable shot) and I eventually sold it. It just didn’t suit the way I work. Buy it with confidence if you don’t mind the shutter speed.

To finish

It’s oft said in the photography industry that the best lens is the one on your camera.

To be honest, there’s lots of things photographers say that don’t make any sense, and this is up there with the best of them. Lenses and lens choices can make a significantly difference to the look of your photography, so your selection should be taken seriously, as with any area of your photography business.

Do remember though that it’s very easy to buy a lens that an amazing photographer shoots with, but’s much more likely to be the way they interact with the wedding day and the way they use light which makes their work amazing. The lens is there to capture the vision, but the photographer is the one making the decisions.

comments 9

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  1. Sara Callow

    Excellent post Phil, thank you,think ill make a few purchases based on this, thanks shall look forward to more like this I’m hopeless at choosing lenses

  2. Gary Derbridge

    Interesting post Phil!

  3. Maria

    Really useful post, love that fact that you outlined and showed examples of each lens 🙂
    Quick question.. I have been looking around for extension tubes but I am confused as to which ones to go for?
    Could you recommend the best ones?
    Thanks 🙂


      Hi Maria,
      Glad you like it!

      You need extension tubes that allow the electronic signals to pass through to the lens and back again. Your retailer should be able to help 🙂

  4. Foto Nunta Brasov

    Great review – i own two of the lenses – 24-70 and 70-200 mark 2 both. i am thinking of buying an ultra wide lens – like 16-35 f4 IS os the new Tamron 15-30 f2.8 VC – what do you think about that?

  5. Chelsea Louise Haden

    Comprehensive post Phil. It all gets a bit confusing with so many lenses on the market! Thanks for helping to clear it up.

  6. Robert Burns

    Fantastic post through and through. Extremely helpful post to both my mom and I! We loved it. Thanks for sharing it with me.

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