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I’m often asked what the best lens is for wedding photography. Unfortunately it’s a very complex question with no clear answer, but it might help to discuss elements of several lenses that I use.
Firstly, I use only Canon L lenses which are f2.8 or faster. Why? Because I want to keep quality as high as possible and my ISO as low as possible for the best quality shots on my sensor. I therefore never need to exceed ISO3200 at any point in the day, which will produce a fantastic quality full page shot in an 11″x14″ album from my Canon 5diii or Canon 5dii.
I understand that a full set of f2.8 or less L lenses is very expensive and if you’re just starting out you may want to consider Sigma lenses or some of the f4 Canon L lenses and possibly spend a little more on a Canon 5diii, which will allow you to use a higher ISO if necessary.
Secondly, I prefer a lower depth of field for my wedding photography. Why? Because to my eye it produces more romantic and beautiful shots.
Be aware that if you have a crop sensor camera, such as the 7d or 1D-iv, you will need to adjust the length of the lenses by multiplying by 1.6 or 1.3.
Canon 50mm L 1.2
My overall favourite documentary / reportage lens is the Canon 50mm 1.2. With reportage you need to photograph very quickly and can’t always be choosy about exactly what your background will be as you might be able to with a couples portrait session.
The 50mm 1.2 has the perfect depth of field (at 1.4 or 1.6) to allow you to isolate the subject but not too keep you out of the action.
It’s other fortes are in the speeches and couple shots. With a prime lens you need to be careful about where you’re standing since you can’t zoom in and out, but it will produce beautiful photographs all day.
Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS (or version II)
My overall favourite portraiture lens is the 70-200 f2.8 IS. The lens allows you to isolate the subject beautifully and the flattening effect of the lens at 200mm is flattering to most people. It also allows you to capture detail close ups and has incredible bokeh. It’s important in a church where you are stood at the back and the image stabilisation is fantastic here.
More and more I am also using this lens for reportage. It’s not a traditional reportage lens, but you can achieve some fantastic shots where people are not even aware you are around, but there is likely to be less “story” in a photograph since the surroundings often provide information for the story and there won’t be much in terms of surroundings. The f4 IS version is a great lens too, and much lighter.
Canon 135mm L f2
One of Canons sharpest and most beautiful portrait lenses, the 135 f2 is amazing for bridal portraits and closeups of slightly more distant action. The bokeh of the lens makes it ideal for any photographs that you want to look very “beautiful”.
It does have a downside though and that’s a lack of image stabilisation. This causes you to have to shoot at at least 1/160th of a second to achieve a sharp image on a 21MP camera. This makes it particularly suitable for outdoors, but if your camera can cope with the ISO being turned up a little higher, it can be used indoors, as in this example. Be careful of shooting it at f2 for couples since the depth of field is so low that part of the photograph could be out of focus.
Canon 100mm L f2.8 IS macro
Almost the perfect lens, the 100mm L IS combines IS for low light and macro shots, beautiful bokeh, incredible sharpness and a useful range, allowing you to stand back and capture the action while getting in incredibly close for macro shots.
The focus system is as accurate as many of the other top lenses in this category and it’s fantastic at tracking subjects. I now use this lens instead of the 135L since it offers IS and macro – both of which are significant advantages to me.
Canon 35mm L 1.4
My second favourite bridal preparation lens is the 35mm 1.4. This lens produces high quality images like the 50mm 1.2 and keeps your ISO low in low light, while isolating the subject for that modern look. Some people love 35mm. I’m probably more of a fan of 50mm as a lens length personally.
It’s particularly useful in small houses and rooms where the 50mm 1.2 can be a little long. It can also be fantastic for natural light photography of the speeches and I use it in the evening to capture the overall mood around the time of the first dance.
Canon 16-35 L f2.8
An important choice for photographers is the excellent 16-35 f2.8 lens (although the 17-40 f4 is also a great lens and I used it up until recently). This lens is ideal for the group shot of everyone but also captures “overall ambience” wide shots of the speeches and stunning shots in the church where it can capture the action and beauty of the church all in a single photo.
I also use it for bridal portraits although you need to be careful with as it can be unflattering if used poorly – don’t get too close to people – and for an overall shot of the wedding breakfast room at a venue.
Canon 24-70 L f2.8 V1 and V2
Many photographers love this lens and use it pretty much exclusively. I’ll be honest – I didn’t love this lens until I sold the version 1 lens and bought the version 2 lens which is incredibly sharp and exceptional at focusing. It’s now my most accurate focusing lens.
This lens is effectively a workhorse; it is good at everything without being exceptional at anything. However it probably should be in every wedding photographers bag. I would strongly urge you to buy the version 2 lens though for a better image.
Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye
A recent addition to my lens collection is the Canon fisheye. Realistically it’s not a lens I use a lot during the day. However, it can be fantastic for producing atmospheric shots, such as an overall shot of the speeches or an overall shot inside the church.
It can also produce some funky looking bridal portrait shots, but you have to be careful where you place the bride and groom as they can become s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d in an particularly unflattering way.
Not strictly a lens, but extension tubes allow the photographer to focus much closer with their camera. It effectively turns the average lens into a macro lens and reduces the weight in my bag.
While I have now upgraded to the 100mm macro lens, extension tubes are only around £30-£40 – so about 1/20th of the price of a new lens! They are also more portable if other lenses are more important.
So there we are. That’s the list of lenses I may take to a wedding. Each one has a place and is used differently during the day. If I was to recommend one lens that everyone should have, it’s the 50mm 1.2. The 50mm 1.2 is incredibly versatile and it’s the one lens I could photograph a whole wedding with and be happy with the results.
If you want a starter set of wedding photography lenses, the 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 IS are a good choice.
You might also be interested in the article on Zooms vs. Primes.