Wednesday 15 October 2008

Lenses for Wedding Photography

For further photography-related information check out my compendium of tips.

I received a great question from a reader yesterday:

Hi there,

I've been reading your wedding blog with interest. I'm not a wedding pro, but aspire to that standard, and have just ordered a Canon EOS 5D MKII. I've read the post regarding the lenses you take to weddings but wondered which you recommend for bread-and-butter wedding use. Which 3 lenses would you say are must-haves in your experience?

I was thinking of initially buying the 35mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 135mm f/2. I'm also tempted by the 16-35 f/2.8 but have read some negative reviews.

Great blog by the way.

Thank you.

George Bain

Thanks for the question George and many thanks for the positive feedback on my blog. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that people enjoy reading it.

So which are the 3 must-have lenses for a wedding photographer? The lenses that I currently take with me to all weddings are the 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye, 16-35mm f/2.8 L II, 35mm f/1.4 L, 24-70mm f/2.8 L, 85mm f/1.2 L and 70-200 f/2.8 L IS. Bear in mind that I'm using a full-frame Canon EOS 5D with no crop factor. Rather than speculate as to which of these lenses I think are most important I've used Lightroom 2 to analyse the metadata from my last 10 weddings in order to see how frequently I actually use each of the lenses (I need to get out more!). Numbered weddings in the first column, percentage use of each lens in the following columns and average use in the bottom row.

A few observations:

1. Perhaps I should remove the 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye from my bag! I only used it at wedding 3 (for some shots on a beach).
2. The focal length range 16-70mm completely dominates every wedding I shoot. The 16-35mm f/2.8 L II is my most used lens. I think this reflects the compact nature of many wedding venues and my desire to shoot people with their environment. The 24-70 f/2.8 L is my next most frequently used lens.
3. The 35mm prime lens is used less frequently at weddings with shorter coverage time. I stick to the zooms to save time.
4. My 85mm f/1.2 L is primarily employed for the bride and groom portrait session and usage reflects the length of time that is allowed for this aspect of the wedding.
5. Weddings 2, 4, 5 and 7 were mainly shot indoors due to poor weather. The 70-200 f/2.8 L lens was then often unused.
6. The length of coverage, structure of the day, nature of venue and quality of weather all have an impact on lens usage.

So on the basis of this analyis my recommendations would have to be the 16-35mm f/2.8 L, the 24-70mm f/2.8 L and the 85mm f/1.2 L (or cheaper f/1.8 variant) for the portrait session - that dreamy bokeh is just irresistible for weddings. A pretty portable set of 3 lenses.

You will always be able to find a negative review of any piece of kit - people are much more likely to write one if they've had a bad experience. Lenses, in particular, show variability and it is possible to buy poor quality examples of them. If you're not happy with a lens then ask for it to be replaced - the more supporting evidence you can provide for this claim, the more willing the vendor will be to help you (theoretically).

Hope you enjoyed reading this. Please feel free to feedback your comments. I think I'll speculate further on lenses in future posts.

Check out my photography here: wedding photographer in Kent


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that David!

I shall certainly look at getting the 16-35L now :)

So the 35L may not be too useful to me, I included it becuase I wanted a fast lens for key situations (too dark etc - unable to use flash). How important do you think this is?

70-200L - Is this basically an outdoor lens for candid shots in your experience?
I short-listed the 135mm instead becuase a)was much cheaper and faster. b)less obtrusive for indoor work. c)probably equally good for portrait shots instead of 85L too - or do you think the added bokeh of the 85L is worth double the lens cost?

Thank you

David said...

Hi George,

I bought the 35mm f/1.4 lens for a number of reasons: for low light conditions, for the stunning optical quality that comes with a prime lens and for that delicious bokeh at wide aperture.

You could always wait and see how the Canon EOS 5D Mark II performs - f/2.8 will probably be fast enough in combination with IS0s above 3200.

The 70-200L requires plenty of space and freedom of movement.

It's difficult to make value judgements for other. All I would say is that I've never regretted buying the 85mm f/1.2 L.

David's photography blog: Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM lens

More to follow in a future post.



Anonymous said...

I shoot weddings, and while I also use a variety of lenses, I would suggest to aspiring photographers that they limit themselves to as few lenses as possible.

Learn to be focused on the craft, then introduce other options at a later date. Will also help the bank balance!

David said...

This is an excellent point from Alex.

Having a range of lenses available gives you more options but it could prove a distraction if you're still learning your craft.

When I started shooting weddings I used only two lenses - a Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 and Canon 70-200 f/4.0 L.



Tim Driver said...

I too shoot weddings locallly - having too many lenses in the bag can be really draining on a hot summers day


David said...

Hi Tim,

I quite agree with you - this is definitely the downside to having a full selection of lenses to hand!



Rachel Carr said...

Thank you so much for analysing how much you use each lens — it's a fantastic help to researching my shopping list!

Unknown said...

Hello David, how about an up to date analysis for 2012? It would be interesting to see how your shooting style has changed. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi David, Thank you for some helpful blog posts. I was thinking of switching my Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 lens for a couple of primes, 28mm f1.8 and 50mm f1.8 . I dont think the 28-70 is tack sharp wide open and it doesnt always lock on so quick. This of course means changing lenses more often on my single Nikon D4 body. Do you change lenses often and roughly how many times per wedding?, and do you worry about dust? What is your dust avoidance/cleaning regime. Thanks!

David said...


Many thanks for your lovely feedback.

I must swap lenses between 50-100 times each wedding. It's all down to common sense really. You need to be able to do it as quickly and smoothly as possible - which comes with practice. Lens comes off with one hand, the other hand has the other lens ready to go on immediately. The camera is never left open. I obviously try to avoid dusty areas etc I've never had a problem with contamination.

I know some of my photographer chums shoot with two camera bodies but I leave my back-up body in my camera bag.

It's whatever works for you!

All the best,