“What are the best lenses for Wedding Photography?” is a question I get asked all the time being a wedding photographer. I don’t blame people for asking because at any point I might have 2 cameras on me with 3 separate lenses. So I can see where the confusion comes from.
Simply put, the reason for having so many lenses when capturing weddings is that you’ll find yourself in multiple locations on a single shoot. While you could get away with a single variable lens, the results will be less than adequate for the special day. So here are my top 5 favourite lenses for wedding photography.
- 70-200mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens
- 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens
- 85mm Prime Lens
- 35mm f/1.4 Lens
- Prime Focal Length Macro Lens
For the purpose of this guide I’m going to base the specifics of these recommendations on the idea that you are probably using a full frame 35mm format digital cameras. Brand is not an issue, since the major companies all make something that will fit each need, and independent brands are in the mix as well.
You might be using other format cameras, like APS-C format or Micro Four Thirds. If so, just use your crop factor lens calculations to translate to your circumstances. Know that’s out of the way, lets jump in!
Top 5 Best Lenses for Wedding Photography
1. 70-200mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens – The Wedding Photographers Swiss Army Knife
First on my list is the must have 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens. Personally I would never shoot a wedding without this lens as it covers a lot of the essential bases.
One of these bases this lens covers extremely well is the ability to capture subjects with great clarity while still being extremely fast.
At a wedding, or even some other type of events, having the extra lens speed can make the difference between getting the shot and missing out. A slower lens could still be used with a high ISO, but a wedding photographer would typically not being using high ISO unless they’re going for a specific effect.
So, having lower or marginal light, a low ISO to ensure high image quality, and needing the reach of a longer lens, the 70-200mm f/2.8 becomes the obvious choice.
Another incredible benefit of using a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens for weddings is the depth of focus, or depth of field, goes both ways. Many experienced photographers know all about stopping the lens down for greater depth of focus and opening up the aperture for separating the subject from the foreground or background.
Moving onto the another benefit of using a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens for wedding photography is of course the bokeh abilities. While I haven’t used this type of lens from every manufacturer, I can easily say that for Canon and Nikon you do get some nice subtle bokeh looks.
Some of the things contributing to that are, of course, lens speed and focal length. But other aspects of the lens construction may also affect it. How many aperture blades, what shape the lens diaphragm makes as it stops down, how soft or sharp a lens is at maximum aperture all are in play with regard to bokeh.
I’ve handled some of the offerings from several manufacturers for the 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens offerings, and I would be happy with any of them. Sony, Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina all have had some nice candidates in this category. The short focal length may start at 80mm in certain brands.
Some versions go all the way back to the film days of these camera systems. The newest ones add in some improvements or even extra features, but a newish used model can get you into this lens range for a little less cost.
I highly recommend this as a go to lens for anyone who is looking at getting in to wedding photography. A must have!
2. 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens – A True Work Horse
Moving onto my second favourite lens for capturing weddings is the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. This is one of the more useful lenses any full frame 35mm photographer could have on their camera. This range covers what many photographers consider the normal range. From a fair bit of wide-angle to just a little bit beyond normal to the telephoto side of things.
When speaking of photographic lenses, normal is usually defined as a focal length that is equal to the diagonal of the format (say what?). This means for 35mm’s 24mm x 36mm frame size, that puts ‘normal’ at right around 43.5mm. 43.266mm if we want to pedantic, and since this is the internet, I do want too!
Suffice to say, a 24-70mm zoom will cover a normal range quite well. So would 35-70mm, 28-85mm, etc… The 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is one of the best lenses for wedding photography because of some the reasons we discussed about the 70-200mm f/2.8.
For whatever reasons, most lens makers are concentrating on the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens as the ‘pro’ normal zoom lens in their line ups. Other options are out there, like the 24-120mm that several brands have, but I will settle on 24-70mm as being the normal zoom lens for our discussion.
Besides the camera brand lenses, also look at the choices from Sigma, Tokina, and Tamron in this lens configuration.
A wedding can sometimes get fairly hectic and fast paced. Standardizing on this zoom range helps me make sure I’m getting the action and the necessary images and not worrying about levelling and eliminating distortions in post production so much. This allows me do stand on the sidelines but capturing images like I was in the middle of it.
Overall the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is a true powerhouse for capturing great images for any weddings regardless of the lighting or environment. Highly recommended!
3. 85mm f/1.4 Prime Lens – The Focus King
The mighty 85mm prime lenses come in a variety of fast apertures. Several at f/1.4 are available, a few at f/1.8 and even a couple of f/1.2 are on the market.
Any of these lenses can give you an amazing amount of selective focus. Perfect for a portrait that singles out the couple or maybe just the bride from even the most crowded group of people. Seriously, at maximum aperture, I can throw out of focus everything except the actual subject.
Close up, I can achieve a plane of focus that is only inches deep. This would allow the image to highlight one small aspect of the bride’s outfit, for instance. Or only one face in a full row of bride’s maids.
Lower cost alternatives are in most of the brands. For instance, Sigma makes an 85mm f/1.4 lens that is substantially less than the camera brands. Canon and Nikon have f/1.8 versions that shave off a huge amount of weight and cost. There really isn’t much difference from 1.4 to 1.8, but when lighting is marginal or a very specific depth of focus effect is wanted, the faster lenses do excel.
Obviously, a lens like this is also valuable in any portrait situation. Indoors in a studio or outdoors on location, this lens choice offers a lot of exposure and focusing versatility. 85/90mm has been a popular focal length for decades in 35mm because of the pleasing apparent perspective when used for either full facial or head and shoulder portraits.
If you are wanting to get that extra edge for your photos but don’t minding paying extra, this lens might be the one for you.
4. 35mm f/1.4 Lens – Wide Angle Master
The 35mm f/1.4 is another awesome prime lens belonging on this list of best lenses for wedding photography.
Not too long ago, I reread an older photo magazine article about which lens should really be considered normal in 35mm photography. The 50/55mm lens length apparently was a very easy lens to design and make, giving us lots of high quality, yet inexpensive options in several different maximum apertures.
However, it’s actually a little longer than what the standard formula says is ‘normal’ for 35mm cameras. Another option that many renowned photographers used as normal was the very slightly wide-angle 35mm focal length.
A fast 35mm prime lens is an easy lens to use, giving beautiful results in many different situations. For a wedding photographer, having a normal-ish prime that is two full stops faster than our all around zoom lens lets us shoot natural looking images without flash. The perspective is very pleasing and the image quality of every lens I’ve ever tested or used in this focal length is virtually perfect.
The 35mm focal length is great for walking around an event, looking for candids. A perspective that’s close to what the eye is perceived as seeing, coupled with the ability to go without flash, allows for unobtrusive images of people who don’t even realize you’re photographing them. No wonder pioneering street photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson used these lenses so often.
In general photography or wedding photography, I love using this lens. Easily one of the best lenses for wedding photography.
5. 105mm, 80mm & 60mm Lens – The Macro Masters
Macro lenses are a valuable tool for any Wedding photographers toolkit. Why did I not specify a focal length for this lens? This is completely down to your own style, shooting preference, and brand loyalty may have an impact on your choice.
Why have a dedicated macro lens in my personal line up, especially if it’s duplicating a focal length I already have covered with a zoom or even another prime? Because of the special properties of macro lenses. A macro lens (some brands call them micro) is corrected for flat field.
Field curvature is a normal optical phenomenon where light rays from different parts of the subject converge in a curved plane. The curvature is actually very small and tends to be negligible in most photographic applications. In ultra close up, macro, photography however, it can become an issue.
Combining a curved focus plane and a flat sensor, the net effect is that you can’t get the edges and the center in focus at the same time. A flat field lens compensates so that the focal plane becomes more flat rather than its naturally occurring bowl shape. In most photography with our typical subjects and working distances the curved field does not matter much at all since we have enough depth of focus to cover the difference.
Subjects that spring to mind for copy work within wedding photography include documents, signs, cards, sign in books, etc…
Subjects for macro photography within a wedding that aren’t straight out copy work can include close up views of the rings, either on the hand or not, the individual flowers in the bride’s bouquet, a detail of her dress, or perhaps some beautiful natural element of the venue.
In addition to being one of the best lenses for wedding photography, macro lenses are great for product photography. They also open up a fascinating realm of natural subjects to image for fun or profit.
Okay, what focal length? Take Nikon’s micro lenses, for example. They have in their current online catalogue focal lengths from 40mm to 200mm. Some of them are meant for APS-C format cameras, the 40mm and one of the 85mm lenses. Some are perspective control lenses, the 45mm and the other 85mm.
A 55mm and a 105mm are manual focus full frame, and the 60mm, another 105mm, and a 200mm are for the AF full frame digital cameras. Wow! In my opinion, it mostly comes down to what working distance do you want. I like the 60mm myself, it allows a lot of freedom of movement for me, but one of my good friends uses a 105mm Sigma and she loves how it works for her.
Really, it would be difficult to go wrong adding in a high quality macro lens into our Halliburton or Pelican case of best lenses for wedding photography.
Wrapping It up
What have we learned? A good wedding photography is first of all a good photographer and has learned their craft and tools well. A wedding photographer is well served using the 35mm full frame format for the light gathering capabilities coupled with excellent resolution.
A wedding photographer needs to concern themselves with more than just optical excellence, but also be aware of why equipment being of heavy duty construction is good for lenses, cameras, and accessories. If you want to learn more about lenses, you can check out our guide here on the best lenses for Astrophotography.
To help you get started on your journey, you can also check out this helpful video below.
Wedding photography is a great niche to be in. I applaud all the successful wedding photographers and wish you all the best in your business. If you are just breaking into this fascinating business, go forward with confidence in your craft. With a bag full of the best lenses for wedding photography and the skill to use them all, how could you go wrong?