Lenses | The Best Lens for Wedding Photography

I’ve re-written the opening line of this post a dozen times … *sigh*… where to start?  “The Best Lens for Wedding Photography” is a very, very tough topic to cover and it is highly debatable.  My goal is not to tell you which lens is the best – but to give you the information you need to help you determine which lens is best for you in your current situation.

I’m not made of money and I’m guessing 99% of the readers out there aren’t either.  I’ve read articles in the past that say “you need to buy a whole arsenal of lenses…” and “you need multiple bodies with multiple lenses or your photos will be terrible…” but for the average-Joe, obtaining those things just isn’t possible.  There are many lenses that can be very suitable for wedding photography, even if you have only 1 body to attach them to.  So how do you go about choosing a lens?  The first thing you need to think about is where  are you photographing?

In Canada, very few brides have weddings that are entirely outdoors since our weather is ever-changing.  Although ceremonies are often outdoors, receptions are usually held in an indoor venue or, at the very least, inside a tent located outdoors.  This is important because it means that you will typically encounter low-light situations at almost every wedding.  The minute I think “low-light” I think “f2.8″!  So for me, being a Canadian wedding photographer, I consider having a large aperture (aka a fast lens) a must-have quality of any wedding photography lens.

The other thing that is important to consider is the amount of space you have to work with.  In my experience, so many brides show up to their first consultation with bridal magazines dog-eared on many pages as they want to show me examples of photos they have fallen in love with.  They want “that exact photo”.  They want it reproduced – pixel for pixel.  What they often don’t realize is that many of the “wedding pictures” in bridal magazines aren’t someone’s real wedding day!  They’re models!  People paid to look good and look like they are in love with each other.  They’re taken in ideal conditions with ideal lighting.  Nothing about a real wedding day is “ideal” – and that’s where the skill of a seasoned wedding photographer is key!  Having zoom lenses allows you to use your surroundings as best as possible!  Although prime lenses can open to a larger aperture, you won’t always be shooting in a huge location like the Royal York hotel with a near.  You’ll often be shooting in someones regular bedroom in a regular house.  You may even be shooting in a small, cramped hotel room filled with several brides maids, stylists, family members and a videographer!  Being suck with one-focal length in a situation like that is bad news!  I like zoom lenses because it allows me to use my surroundings more efficiently than with a prime lens.

Let’s review a few of the popular Canon lenses (Sorry Nikon fans, I’m a Canon girl!).  I’ve used all of these lenses in many different situations and they all have pros and cons.

Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II USM Wide Angle Zoom


I’ve enjoyed working with this lens!  It’s a fast lens, so great in low light.  Also, whether you’re working on a crop body or not, having the ultra-wide angle is a must when working in cramped spaces!  I like to use this type of lens for certain “getting ready” shots that involve groups of people (especially in cramped spaces), for certain group shots and especially at receptions!  Unfortunately, since the largest focal length is 35mm, this is not a practical lens to use for portraits of any kind or for detail shots.

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Canon 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM Wide Angle Zoom


This lens, although versatile, is a bit of a tricky one…. it’s similar to the 16-35, but it can bring you up to the 55mm range of things which is more “normal” (gives you the same perspective that the human eye does).  It still has the advantages of a large aperture as well as an ultra-wide 17mm focal length and it quite sharp despite the fact that it’s not technically an “L” series lens.  The build is strong and it is a very versatile lens with a price tag that is not quite as steep as the 16-35 mentioned above.  Is one better than the other?  I think it’s all in the opinion of the shooter.  I personally prefer the 16-35 since I feel it’s slightly more sharp at the center, but I know plenty of fellow photographers that love this lens too!  Can’t choose for yourself?  Try renting them both and experiementing!

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Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens


I’m not going to lie – if I could only have 1 lens in my kit – it would be this one.  In my opinion, this is the most versatile lens for wedding photography.  The 24mm/28mm range allows for fantastic group shots while the 70mm end starts to become very flattering for portraits.  All around, it’s a great lens!  Sharp, fast, well-built and worth the investment.  My all-time fave, for sure!

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Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens


I have mixed feelings about this lens.  On one hand, I really like the fact that it extends further into the portrait range than the 24-70 does, but on the other hand, I really like having the option of a 2.8 aperture.  I’ve rented this lens before, and although it’s build tough and creates stunningly sharp images I wasn’t in love with it.  I’m a girl that like the option of f2.8 for those dark indoor weddings.  If I knew I was shooting an outdoor wedding in perfect weather I would consider renting it again because it’s so versatile – but only in moderately lit situations.

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Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens


I love my 70-200 lens, although I have the version I.  (The newer, II version has image stability as well as a few other perks but with a hefty addition to the price tag.)  Takes very sharp photos and the focal range is magnificent for portraits.  I also find it very useful during ceremonies – when you still want all the up-close details but want to stay off to the side and remain unseen by the guests.  It’s a heavy lens and can take some time getting used to, but once it’s a part of your kit you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it!  As a side note, there is also a 70-200 f4.0 lens – many people will buy this lens as opposed to the f2.8 version as it will save you a couple-hundred dollars but be aware!  The different in aperture from 2.8 to 4.0 is quite apparant in low-light situations!  Not sure which one you want to buy?  Rent both – bring them to the same event – and photograph using both.  Then compare.  It’s the best way to know whether or not you’re putting your money into a smart investment.

So that’s my take on several of the most popular canon zoom lenses!  But what about the prime lenses?  Shouldn’t they have a mention or two?

I like prime lenses – don’t get me wrong.  Infact, the Canon 50mm 1.8f lens is one of the most affordable fast lenses for beginning photographers and it helps so many people work in low light situations.  That being said – I think there is a time and a place for prime lenses.  If you know where you’re shooting and know that a fixed aperture lens is feasible within the amount of space you have, then a prime lens is great – especially in the portrait range.  I’ve worked with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM AutoFocus Telephoto Lens before and I really have liked the results!  It’s a beautiful, sharp lens that produces a quality of image that is out of this world.  The only prime lens I keep in my gear bag, however, is the 50mm 1.8f that I bought way back when I was just an aspiring photographer!  I don’t use it very often anymore as the wide array of strobes and L-series lenses have become my weapons of choice.

Special lenses, such as ultra-wide, tilt-shift, and fish eye lenses are also popular for the occasional special effects but it’s important that you don’t overdue such extreme shots!  Lenses like this are fun to use but are best often rented for a special occasion unless you have money to burn!

So, to sum it up….


How should one choose the best lens for wedding photography?

1.  Think about light.  Will you need a lens that has an aperture of 2.8 or faster?

2.  Think about space.  Will you be in a small, cramped area like an old house?  Or will you have the freedom and flexibility of a large venue such as the Royal York Hotel?

3.  Think about your shots.  Are you only a 2nd shooter whose goal is to get mostly casuals?  Or will you need a full array of wide and telephoto lenses to capture not only group portraits but bridal portraits and detail shots?

4.  Think about your budget.  If you can’t afford to buy all the lenses you need, rent them!  So many pros rent equipment still – it’s nothing to be ashamed of!

5.  Reflect on your last wedding.  The best way to learn is to reflect on the errors of the past.  Think about what lenses you had at your last wedding and whether or not you were happy with the results!

Happy shooting, everyone!

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