Best Cameras and Lenses for Wedding Photography
I’ve been shooting weddings and events full time since I moved to Estes Park to photograph weddings full time in 2006, and have used pretty much every pro grade prime and zoom one might come across in the course of his or her day-to-day shooting. So here is my list of the best gear for wedding photographers, including short descriptions of what I consider the top lenses and best camera bodies for wedding photography. Overall I’m looking for relatively light weight given the feature set (which is why I don’t use full size bodies like the 1D); extremely high ISO performance (which is why I avoid crop factor bodies); and great autofocus performance (which Canon finally delivered to us with the 5d Mark III).
I began my career as a Canon shooter, switched to Nikon for the 2012 season, and promptly switched back after getting frustrated with certain ergonomic issues I didn’t like, a very poorly functioning autofocus assist beam from the flagship SB900/SB910 units, and yellow and orange skin tones from the D700 bodies.
Nikon makes some fantastic cameras, and I’m a little jealous of how well their D4/D4s bodies perform under low light, but overall, I think the Canon 5dIII is the best match for my shooting style.
Things, of course, rapidly change in this world. The D750 has usurped the 5d3 in my opinion, and Nikon now has RF-triggered strobes. But I am certain the 5d4 will keep the game of leapfrog going.
Canon 5d Mark III – I shoot with a pair of these slung around my neck, one with a long lens and one with a wide lens. It’s a fantastic camera with great low light performance, dual card slots for redundancy, and terrific autofocus. I switched back to Canon from Nikon because of this camera.
Canon 5d Mark II – This is the backup body. It’s a very capable camera and a worthy third body.
Canon Digital Rebel – This is what I use for the Photo Booth.
I shoot with L-series Canon primes when I’m doing an in-state wedding, and a mix of L-series primes and zooms when I travel, often because destination wedding coverage includes activities like golfing or boat trips and it’s nice to be able to zoom in and out when you can’t walk back and forth.
The prime collection includes a 24mm f/1.4L Mark II, a 35mm f/1.4L, a 50mm f/1.2L, an 85mm f/1.2L Mark II, and a 135mm f/2 L. I also bring along a 100mm f/2.8L IS macro for ring shots, and a Canon fisheye if the dance floor gets super crowded and rowdy. When I categorize my images by focal length, I find I use the 35mm the most often. Then in order of popularity, it’s the 85mm, the 135mm, the 50mm, the 24mm, the fisheye, and last, the macro.
When I shoot destination weddings, I bring a 24-70mm f/2.8 II, a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, the 35mm f/1.4L, and the 85mm f/1.2L Mark II. Sometimes I’ll replace the 70-200 f/2.8 with the lighter 70-200mm f/4L IS version, and sometimes I’ll replace the 24-70 with the lighter and longer 24-105mm f/4L IS. It really depends on what pre-wedding-day activities are going on, when the wedding is, and what kind of low light capabilities I will need from my gear. I bring my two most used primes because I use them exclusively once the lights go out and becase I want to have a backup in case a zoom goes kaput.
Lighting and Flashes
For a long time I used Pocket Wizard PLUS units, and then I switched to Radio Popper PX transmitters and receivers, but now I rely on Canon’s 600EX RT speedlights, which have integrated radio communication. They are awesome. No more fooling around with extra batteries and chargers, no more fiddly little parts that break all the time. These things rule. They really have no competition. I tend to run an on camera flash in eTTL, bouncing off ceilings or walls, and a pair of off camera flashes running in manual power. I have four of these units and they kick ass. I also have four CP-E4 battery packs, which pack a punch and recycle my strobes super fast. This is especially helpful when I’m shooting couples portraits outside and need to overpower the sun. For light stands, I have three homemade Justin clamps (read lighter/faster/stronger) so I can attach my strobes almost anywhere, and I also have a couple Strobist light kits. These consist of the Nano stand, a swivel adapter, and a collapsible umbrella.
I shoot a lot of weddings that require airplane travel, and I can stuff an astonishing amount of gear into Think Tank’s Addicted carry-on backpack. When I’m actually running around shooting, I use a Think Tank Speed Belt equipped with two Lens Changer 50s, a Lens Charger 75, a Speed Changer, and a Pixel Pocket Rocket to hold my memory cards. If I’m rocking a fisheye I will add a Lens Drop pouch to the system — it’s got a soft felt liner so it accomodates a fisheye without a lens cap.
I use a TC80N3 remote for long exposures, and it also comes in handy becuase the intervalometer allows me to do astrophotography. I also use the off camera shoe cord for ring shots. Next, I always have a Lens Pen in my bag to clean my lenses. I use a Rocket Blaster and a Visible Dust swab kit to clean my sensors.
I shoot RAW to both cards in my slots, so each camera has a Sandisk Extreme SD and Compact Flash card inside. I kinda wish I’d bought 128 gig cards so I can shoot an entire wedding weekend without ever having to download, but I wound up with 64 gig cards and they are fine. I used to have Firewire 800 equipped computers, but these days, USB3 is king — so I use a Transcend USB3 Compact Flash card reader.
My Mac Pro exploded in 2013 after 5 years of service, and I wound up with a pimped out Mac Mini. With 16 gigs of RAM and an SSD drive for apps and my Lightroom catalog, it absolutely screams. It’s actually an unbelievable little machine. It’s connected to a Cinema Display. I also have a Macbook Pro, though mine is the older and now-discontinued 17″ model, which I wish Apple would ressurect. In 2013, my backup strategy changed from RAIDs to a bunch of monstrous 4 terrabyte external drives. I have 2 on site and 2 off site, and I keep them mirrored with Carbon Copy Cloner. I’d rather have lots disks everywhere than lots of disks in only a few places.