Wednesday, July 02, 2008

It's In The Bag - Why You Need These Lenses On A Wedding

Good Afternoon Everybody,

A quick note on yesterday's post - I found out that the Technique Tuesday tutorial had a slight hiccup and didn't make it on-line till 6:00 p.m. It's up and running now so scroll down and give it a peek. It's a Cecil B. DeMille, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg extravaganza!!!

OK gang, today I'm grabbing one of the most requested Skribit questions, "What's the best recommendations of lenses to use at a wedding?" Well, first, let me say, "It kind of depends on your budget." So dear reader, let me start with the basic set-up and move up to the exotic and pricey options.

Let's talk cameras first. Regardless of whether you are a Canon or Nikon shooter, I would be choosing one of the models with the APS-C sensor size. I'm a Canon shooter and love the Canon 40D. If I were a Nikon shooter, I'd definitely be looking at the new D300. Nikon has finally got pretty darn close to Canon in the low noise area with their new D3 and D300 series of cameras. Why do I love the APS-C size sensors? Because basically I'm cheap. What's the #1 characteristic of photographers? We are all CHEAP...... 'nough said here.

How does that help me? Well, now I can buy a long lens and get 1.5-1.6x the focal length out of the glass. I love having a 300mm optic on my camera when I really only had to buy a 200mm lenses, but I digress. Bottom line - shoot with a Canon 40D or a Nikon D300 - both solid choices for the wedding shooter. By the way, both also offer highlight protection for the JPEG shooter in the form of Highlight Tone Priority on the Canon side and Active D-Lighting on the Nikon side. Both settings also work on RAW as well. Bob Atkins had some Canon flavored discussion on the topic over at his site right here.

OK, on with the lenses. Hit the "Read More..." link below for what's in my gear bag.

If you are in the Canon camp, pick up their 17-85mm IS lens if you don't own it already. On the Nikon side, pick up the 18-200mm VR lens (sweet range.) I wish Canon went that wide. In any case, because of the very wide focal length of these two lenses, you can just about shoot an entire wedding with those lens choices. Wait there is more, you didn't hear it from me, but I know a certain third party manufacturer is coming out with a 15:1 image stabilized zoom in the next few months. Unfortunately, I'm sworn to secrecy under penalty of death so I can't tell you more but, as soon as possible I'll be reporting with this latest, greatest lens. I can only hope Maxwell Smart isn't lurking in the shadows as I write this.

What's the second lens to purchase? It's really a "no-brainer" - pick up either manufacturer's 50mm lenses. Spend about $320 dollars and you can get a 50mm F1.4's from B&H. Want to save a bundle and only lose 1/2 stop, pick up the F1.8 versions - either lens is only about $80. Folks, that's a steal since the optical quality is pretty darn close to the F1.4 variety.

On to number 3. I would pick up a 70-200mm image stabilized lens. Yes, I know it's pricey but worth every cent. On the Canon side, you have a choice of the lens in either an F2.8 or F4.0 version. The F4.0 version saves you about $500.

Hey gang, these are the BIG THREE that need to be in your camera case. You can get into pricier models and different focal lengths, but these are still my favorites. I also have another "Lens Rule" - if it's available image stabilized - BUY IT. Read my lips - do not settle for less. The image stabilized lenses offer many more possibilities in getting a lot more shots in the day than shooting with the alternative non IS/VR lens.

The next lens I would pick up would be one of the super wide lenses. That would be the 10-22mm (107 degrees wide) wide angle on the Canon side or the 12-24mm (99 degrees wide) on the Nikon side. This is about all the "wide angle" you will ever need. You can put together some pretty cool images with these wide angle optics. How wide are they? Heck, when I put the camera up to my eye with one of these babies on it, I can actually see people approaching me from behind. OK, OK, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but they truly are reeealy, reeealy wide.

Oh, and did I say that they don't really break the bank. Well, maybe slightly, but still great lens to have in your bag. How much are they? These lenses run about $700 for the Canon version and $900 for the Nikon version when I last checked. Hey, in the old days, I spent $5000 on my Distagon 40mm f/4.0 Lens (89 degrees wide) for my Hassy. We certainly have it so good in these digital days.

One last lens just for fun would be the Sigma 8mm Fisheye. It's just a fun lens to have in the bag. There are some interesting creative possibilities, and guess what, you would probably be the only one on the block with one. It's the difference that makes the difference, you know.

You know, at this point the list could go on and on. I picked up the 100mm Macro lens for my Canon and it's fun to shoot. I just wish it was image stabilized like the Nikon version. Anther lens I'm looking at right now is the 14mm Fisheye, but I keep hesitating because my 10-22mm wide angle is wider that the 14mm after taking in the 1.6x magnification factor on my 40D. Just do the math - the 10mm lens is really a 16mm optic while the 14mm Fisheye becomes a 2mm optic. One last lens I'm also looking at is a perspective control lens. You can focus from here to infinity with the tilt function of the lens. No, it's not auto-focus, hey I'm over fifty so that's not a good thing, but I still would like to play with it even though it's a bit pricey.

The last lens in my bag I didn't mention is my Canon 70-300mm DO IS lens. It becomes almost a 500mm (actually 480mm) optic on my 40D - which is pretty cool. Did I mention that I have taken pictures down to 1/6 second with that lens. Yep, it is pretty cool to get really great available light ceremony shots with that lens. Also, I have a Canon 24-105mm lens I picked up for my Canon 5D. I really don't use the Canon 5D anymore - it's the "highlight tone priority" thing with the 40D. Now put the 24-105mm on the 40D and you have one of Canon's sharpest "tacks in the box" for your wedding party groups and general shooting. I still occasionally get cramped with the 24mm setting which means I switch back to the 17-85mm.

Here is the quick recap:

-Canon: 17-85mm IS (24-105mm IS is a good choice too but it might cramp you now and then), 50mm F1.4, 70-200mm f2.4 or F4.0 IS it's all about the budget here.
-Nikon: 18-200mm VR (great range for the wedding shooter and sharp enough especially at F6.3), 50mm F1.4, 70-200mm F2.8 VR

Canon: 10-22mm wide angle lens
Nikon: 12-24mm wide angle lens - sorry it costs more that the wider Canon optic.

8mm Sigma Fisheye

OK everybody, that pretty much wraps up where I stand on the lens subject. I know a zillion readers will have a zillion opinions on the subject, but these are my favorites. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

All kidding aside, admittedly, I'm a wide angle kind of guy, love the long lenses at wide apertures to isolate the subject in my wedding and portrait shoots, and I'm a fan of wide to tele zooms for all the general purpose assignments. I hope this gives you some insight into how I shoot and why I like the lenses in my line up.

That's it for today, so I hope to see everyone tomorrow. David


  1. Those aren't the choices I'd make! I mean, I agree with you about range, but not about VR over fast aperture. I'd take an f/2.8 lens over a VR f/3.5-5.6 lens any day.

    My setup is this:

    1. Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 macro. I shoot everything with this except the ceremony.

    2. Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8. Used for ceremonies, nothing much else.

    3. The one item I agree with you on: the Nikon 50mm f/1.8. I'm thinking about swapping it out for a Nikon 85mm f/1.8, though.

  2. Just curious as to why you would not use the fastest glass possible, besides being cheap. I'm just starting out and all I keep reading about is getting those 2.8 and faster lenses. Do I really need them? Or is IS/VR really that great?

    Thank you sooooo much for this blog, you have helped to reignite my passion for photography and the discovery with-in myself that I love weddings.

  3. Hi David,

    I do agree with you for the most part on your lens selection, but there is one lens you've left out: the Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS. I started out with the 17-85, and didn't feel much pressure to trade up - thanks to you, David - but now I use the 17-55 almost exclusively.

    It is somewhat obvious, but I'll state it clearly: this is an f/2.8 lens with image stabilization. The loss in range at the long end isn't really important, since you already have the 70-200, right?

    Scott: I think David's recommending the combination of a slow IS/VR lens and the 50mm for when shallow DOF or low light is needed.
    I'd still take IS over a wide aperture, particularly for the ceremonies, as people are usually standing still enough to get away with 1/30. I've heard good things about the Sigma 18-50, but I think the additional cost of the Canon for the IS is worth it.
    I'd highly recommend the 85 1.8, my Canon version is fantastic, but keep the 50 as well.

    Guided Light: I think in general, the only reason not to use the fastest possible glass is as you say, price. (Weight might also have something to do with it.) I did weddings for quite a while with the 17-85, but once you start have some money to invest into your business, 2.8 glass is high on the list of priorities.
    For a general, do-anything knockabout lens, the 17-85 is still great.

  4. Ahem.

    Have you actually used the Canon EFS 17-85mm f/4.5-5.6 lens that you "recommend" for wedding photographers? I used one for a bit longer than a year and can confirm its well-known reputation as a decidedly mediocre lens in many ways that matter to wedding photographers. It is very hard to imagine why any wedding photographer would start out with this.

    It would make a ton more sense for a Canon shooter using a cropped sensor body to put off that 70-200mm f/2.8 L zoom for a bit (or get the excellent f/4 IS version instead or perhaps a 135mm or so wide aperture prime) and spring for the very fine and very wedding-photography friendly EFS 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens. With this lens in the bag, the photographer could probably also do without the 50mm prime.

    After reading the recommendation of the cheapie 17-85 as the main lens, I'm even more astonished to see the recommendation that the next lens should be the extraordinarily expensive EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS.

    For wedding photography I'd sure want to pick up at least a 430EX flash unit before I purchased the far less useful EFS 10-22 zoom.


  5. David You left out the Fuji shooters,
    I have seen on you blogs where you used the s2 I will match the s5 with any Nikon or Canon on the market today.

  6. I'm skeptical about shooting no-flash wedding ceremonies at 1/30th. Not unless you jam your ISO to 6400 or something. You might get away with it in one or two brighter venues, but many of them will be too dark to make that work. IS/VR will let you hand-hold a shot slower than 1/30th, but remember you're not shooting a bowl of fruit. These are people. They may not be slam-dunking basketballs, but they do in fact move and blink.

    When I shoot my 50-150 racked out at 150, I use a shutter speed of 1/200. I can do that at f/2.8 with an ISO value of 2000 or less. (Which, on my D300, looks incredible!)

    You might get away with slower glass for posed shots and for receptions--you'll be using a big diffused flash. But for ceremonies, no. I don't think that's a wise move at all.

  7. Mr. Ziser - I am a regular reader of your Digital Pro Talk series. Because of your style of writing, I feel I have gotten to know you a bit as a person, and am thus comfortable asking a seemingly random question.

    Your post today reminded me that you shoot with Canon 40D's. A friend of mine had one, and had problems with it front focusing (very close, but not tack sharp). We tried with Canon glass, Sigma glass, perhaps even a Tamaron - all the same results. We then tried mine, and had the same issue. The funny part is that it is only in autofocus - when using manual, it is spot on. We did some research and found that this is becoming an epidemic among Canon cameras.

    My question to you - do you have this issue with your 40D's? Have you been able to resolve it?

    Thank you much for your time - I look forward to hearing from you.

    Matthew Kauffmann

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Hello David,

    I'm absolutely agree with you. I'm with Nikon (today D300) and during a long time, I find my 18-200mm VR very cool to do every thing during a wedding. Now, I begin to use faster lens as Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and a Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8. A 50mm (f/1.4 or f/1.8) is not so bad but to close from my 17-50mm. I prefer to use a 85mm f/1.8 to catch some sweet portraits.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog!

  10. David, I am tracking right with you. About the only deviation is my Nikon 17-55 2.8. That is on my tripod camera for formals. But the rest, amen. Nikon 10.5 Fisheye; Nikon 12-24, Nikon 18-200 VR; Nikon 50mm F1.8; Nikon 70-200 VR; and Nikon 300mm F4

  11. Does Active D-Lighting work while shooting RAW? I was told that it didn't??

  12. Considering the other lenses that you recommended, another Nikon lens to consider is the new Nikkor 16-85mm VR. It is still an f/3.5-5.6 lens, but it's optics and IQ are reported to be outstanding and much better than the 18-200mm VR. It would be a similar range as the Canon that you recommended.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the post. It was interesting to read what and why you chose the lenses you did.

  13. I would agree with the less lenses you have to carry, the better. However I much prefer prime lenses any day of the week. I do not think that there is an archetype for weddings.

    My setup;

    28mm 1.8
    50mm 1.8
    85mm 1.8
    200mm 2.8


  14. I'm curious as to why you picked the Canon 10-22 over the 17-40 L. Having used them both the 10-22 seems almost too wide for me when doing weddings even with cropped frame sensor. For being very close in price (The 17-40 is actually $50.0 cheaper) is the little extra room worth the loss in sharpness/quality?

  15. "I love having a 300mm optic on my camera when I really only had to buy a 200mm lenses"

    I don't understand this logic at all and several people seem to have it. Maybe I'm wrong, but unless you don't like cropping in post production, I see zero benefit from the crop factor. I mean it's not like you're getting a more zoomed in view, it's just a crop! That's like saying I can get a 600mm view from a 50mm lens just by cropping a tiny area in the middle. Let me go and shoot those birds with my 50mm who needs a 600mm lens?

  16. I originally resisted commenting on the "300mm optic" point, but since someone else mentioned it I'll join in.

    In my book it is OK to say that "on a 1.5x cropped sensor camera my 200mm lens 'acts like' a 300mm lens" as a convenient shorthand for describing the effect of using a smaller portion of the projected image circle from the 200mm lens.

    But the 200mm lens is still a 200mm lens. The unfortunate misuse of photographic terminology used here ("300mm optic") has led to a ton of confusion on the part of new photographers using cropped sensor DSLRs - either Nikon 1.5X or Canon 1.6x or 1.3x versions.

    Since I'm feeling a little guilty (but only a little...) about posting only (deserved) criticism of this article, let me offer some alternative positive suggestions for those using the recommended Canon 1.6x cropped sensor bodies. (And I'll acknowledge at the outset that there are valid differences of opinion about this.)

    A good core lens for this type of shooting is the EFS 17-55mm f2.8 IS. It has excellent optical quality, an f/2.8 max aperture, a very useful focal length range on 1.6x cropped sensor bodies, and the image stabilization feature will often come in useful in this type of shooting.

    Few photographers would need anything wider for the type of photography under consideration here, though a longer lens could come in useful. A realistic professional wedding photographer would most likely want a copy of the recommended EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens - a real workhorse for this and other types of work. With fill flash - also used by most folks for this type of work, even outdoors - it might also be possible to get by with the also-excellent f/4 IS version of the Canon 70-200.

    A few well-chosen primes could also augment the EFS 17-55. They might include the 85mm f/1.8, and perhaps a 135mm. But in most cases the zooms are going to be a lot more flexible.

    There are a number of other interesting and useful options for those shooting full frame Canon DSLRs for professional wedding work, especially at the wide end - but I'll leave those out since you did not mention any bodies of this type.

    If I can leave with one last thought - that EFS 17-55mm lens is really a very poor recommendation for wedding photography.


  17. Hi Matt, No problem with focusing - it's the only camera I've used since it's release. -David

  18. Thanks for your interesting approach.

    I have the same point of view you have, my setup is 40d + :
    o Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8 - 4.5
    o Canon 50mm 1.4 (replace my 1.8 since 2 weeks)
    o Canon 70-200 f/2.8 (non IS... due to price I don't regret but cannot compare with the IS)

    Once again, thank you for the article.


  19. Well David, it is me Steffi and I prefer the Canon 5d MarkII with a 24-70 f2.8 canon lens and of course I have the 70-200 in my bag if I need the extra distance. I can't believe you prefer the 40D over the 5d......there is no way :)
    Happy shooting and say hi to your lovely wife..........

  20. What happened to the Tamron 18-200recommendation you made a Photoshop world a few years back? I invested in some and put away the others (all the others listed)for wedding work. But have slowly reverted back to some of the Canon lenses but they are so much heavier then the Tamrons. What are your thoughts, why the switch??

  21. I shoot 100 weddings and Bar Mitzvahs a year. I use the Canon 5D, with an assortment of lenses. The 24-105L IS F4 is the workhorse. From portraits to groups and on to dancing this lens is awesome. I also carry the Canon FIsheye, 70-200 2.8L IS and 50mm F 1.4.

  22. I think everyone needs to keep in mind that David was trying to give his recommendation to a popular question that every pro photographer gets tagged with. I think his recommendations are pretty spot on, and you can argue the crop factor question for two days. For those who are reading and are confused about the topic, do some looking and you should find a meaningful post that explains the topic without passionate attachments.

    For those of you who are trying to figure out what to purchase as you build your kit... keep the end in mind. I originally shot on the 24-70 f/2.8. The larger aperature was worthless for anything beyond dragging more light into the image (paramount - I know). I had well lit subjects that were perpetually soft. Moved on to the 24-105 IS. It rocks.

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