This post is my personal opinion and my recommendations for the best lenses to use for wedding photography. I have been photographing weddings for over eight years and always get emails from other photographers and even some of our wedding clients about the best lenses to first start out with, those that are best for weddings/portraits, as well as for photographing their children.
To make this post really simple I could just say, “go out and buy every L series lens Canon makes” however, I figured it would be best to say a little about the lenses that I own and what I like about them and when I use them.
I do highly recommend though that if you are getting paid to photograph someone’s wedding as a professional, that it is your duty to use the best equipment available to do the task. I do not believe you should be taking money from people to photograph their wedding with a Rebel t2i and a kit lens. Hopefully that is why you are here and you are looking for some recommendations about lenses to use for photographing weddings. if you can afford the proper lenses, you should definitely rent them. It is fairly inexpensive to rent lenses nowaways and the companies like lensprotogo.com and borrowlenses.com can ship the lenses to you.
Weddings encompass many types of photography including, landscape, macro, portrait, groups, and much much more! For that reason a variety of lenses and different focal lengths are needed to complete the task. We own a variety of lenses and some will be used more than others depending on the size/type of wedding, the lighting available, and the portion of the day we are photographing.
Advancements in digital imaging technology have made leaps and bounds in the past few years and cameras are coming out at ever increasing rates with phenomenal low light capability and high EQ and resolving power. When I first wrote this article I spoke of the Canon 5D Mark II and its excellent low light capability making f4 lenses not so bad because you could simply raise the ISO to compensate for the stop of light loss compared to 2.8 lenses. This is even more true now that the Canon 5D Mark III has been released and has become our new workhorse camera.
This post is mainly written for those with full frame sensor cameras like the 5D, 5D Mark II and III, as well as the 6D. Cameras such as the Rebel Series, 7D, and even some of their older pro bodies do not have full frame sensors, thus the focal length of the lenses will be different because of crop factor. What that means is a 35mm on a 7D will be more like a 50mm so if you like the focal length of 50mm and own a 7D you probably want to go for a 35mm lens if you do not intend on upgrading to full frame.
Lets break down these lens choices by focal length. We shall start wide and go up to the longer telephoto zooms!
Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II USM Wide Angle Zoom
This lens is the best ultra wide zoom Canon has! We love it for capturing establishing shots of venues, for large entire wedding photos where we may have a couple hundred people in the photo, as well as for video on our Glidecam. The lens is fast, sharp, accurate, and silent in terms of focusing. This lens does have quite a bit of distortion the edges so we recommend keeping this lens for times when we only need extreme wide angles and must have the 2.8 like in dark wedding receptions. For more moderate wide angle shots, like in the 24mm range we recommend either the 24-105 or 24-70 Mark II.
Canon 50mm f1.2L USM Lens
If I had to only own 1 prime lens, this would be it! The 50mm 1.2 L Series lens from Canon has a large aperture that produces a narrow depth of field creating the great soft background blur effect you would need in portrait shots. Use this lens for dim light conditions or for when the bride is getting ready and you want shallow depth of field to blur out the background of distracting objects. It has amazing quality, small compact size and weight. The cost is around $1,400, but if you want a similar lens, not totally up to par with one, go with the Canon 50mm 1.4 for $300. Having one of these lenses is crucial because if you have all f4 lenses, at least you have one that can shoot in low light without flash. They don’t call the 50mm focal length “normal” for no reason. It is the standard focal length, not wide nor telephoto, the 50mm lens gives you the image closest to how your eye perceives things. It’s a very popular focal length that works for all types of photography such as full body portraiture, detail shots like tables/flowers, and much much more!
Canon 85mm f1.8 USM Lens
The Canon 85 1.8 lens is another great lens for any shooter that wants and needs a fixed focal length, very sharp portrait lens. Works wonders on both full frame and crop bodies, increasing the focal length to a perfect 136mm. Although the auto focus seems a bit slow and focusing is more critical because of the wide open apertures this lens is capable of, I recommend this lens for the times you want your portrait to really pop. This lens is sharper than any zoom in my opinion such as using the 24-105 at 85mm or even the 70-200 2.8 at 85mm. Being a compact lens it also fits easily in your bag and can also be easily placed in a small soft lens bag that you hang on your belt. We actually prefer this lens for video over the more expensive 1.2 version because of its light weight, as well as, the focus ring is easier to use for video than on the 1.2. Since we also have the 24-105 and the 70-200, we feel adding another heavy and expensive 85mm focal length lens is not really needed by us right now but if Canon does update the 85mm L series I will definitely take another look.
Canon 24-105mm f4L IS USM Series Lens
The Canon 24-105 L Series lens is by far, my favorite, all time, walk around lens. No lens in the Canon lineup is more versatile than the 24-105. Previously, I was the proud owner of the 24-70 2.8 Lens which gives you more light, but had some significant drawbacks when I started using it side by side with my 24-105. I decided to sell the 24-70 because it was too similar to the 24-105, which I had to have due to the longer focal length. 70mm on a full frame camera is too shy from being a portrait lens where longer focal lengths really help ensure noses do not look too big etc. It also comes with Image Stabilization meaning you can hand hold this lens using longer shutter speeds, thus giving it an edge over the 24-70 even though that lens opens up to 2.8. Also the weight of the 24-70m is heavy compared to the more versatile 24-105. Most importantly when I just want a little more reach, but I do not want to switch to my 70-200, having that little extra focal length really makes this a great lens. I use this lens for everything, it works great for group shots and all around shooting. I use it exclusively whenever I take my camera out for the day or when I am traveling and I need to be light. I usually bring the 50mm, and 24-105 when I do my projects in West Africa. So far it has been a very solid lens and is my favorite right next to the 70-200mm.
Canon 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM Lens
As a wedding photographer you need to be versatile and have a wide variety of shots. Using the aforementioned lenses above to get close up detail shots of the rings, jewelry, etc will not get you the same 1:1 ratio results as this macro lens does. This means you can shoot something as small as the wedding rings, get super close, and fill the frame. You cannot do this with other lenses because you will not be able to achieve focus while being so close, so that’s when you reach for the 100mm Macro. It also doubles as an amazing portrait lens, giving you super sharp images with shallow depth of field. Although, definitely not the first lens you need to purchase as a wedding photographer, it should be on your short list if you have all the other lenses listed here. Also a must have for video shooters since the IS really does make a huge difference. I would render the older 100 non L series Macro Canon makes totally obsolete in comparison to this lens.
Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II Lens
An expensive lens at over $2,000 but worth every penny! Grab this lens when you shoot the ceremony and want to remain unobtrusive and shoot around the perimeter behind the guests. I actually think that if you are going to shoot a wedding professionally you must have this lens! The 2.8 aperture, combined with sophisticated image stabilization means it will shoot in low light hand held. This lens also works wonders for a portrait lens and when shooting in large locations where you need a ton of reach. If you shoot with two camera bodies, I like using this lens on the 7D making it a super telephoto because of the crop factor and then placing the 24-105 on the 5D Mark III and you really have the ability shoot a wide variety without a lot of fuss. If you could only have two lenses I think it would be this one and the 24-105. So even though it is expensive, it does hold value well and will make your photos that much better that price will not even be an issue after one wedding season.
Canon 15mm f2.8 Fisheye
Excellent lens for a full frame camera as it super sharp and not fuzzy in the corners. It has excellent image quality which is surprising for a speciality lens of this type since it is purposely heavily distorted and one would think that the most distorted areas of the image would be of low quality, but it isn’t. Great, when used sparingly for some wide ceremony shots, interior/exterior pictures of the wedding venue, wide landscapes, being in confined spaces or more comedic portraits.
Other lenses that I will be writing about shortly:
Canon 24mm 1.4 lens
Canon 135L 2.0 Lens
Canon 24-70 Mark II 2.8 Lens
Canon 40mm 2.8 Pancake Lens
45mm Tilt Shift Lens