A great camera body will help capture the wedding day’s most fleeting moments — and the lens for wedding photography will help you capture those moments no matter where they occur.
Having an arsenal of lenses — or a handful of lenses that cover a wide range using zoom — allows photographers to capture the moment in a cramped, dim reception venue or a wide open, brightly lit park.
Camera lenses come in dozens of different focal lengths, at different apertures and with different features. So what’s the best lens for wedding photography?
The best lens for wedding photography differs from photographer to photographer based on shooting style and the brand of the camera body. Some photographers favour bright primes with two bodies for fast access, while others prefer the ease and range of zoom.
But no matter your style, there are a few features and focal lengths that are fairly standard for wedding photography. Here are some of the most recommended lenses from wedding photographers around the web at price ranges from less than $200 to more than $2,000.
This best lens for wedding photography list includes lenses for multiple camera bodies, including Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Fujifilm, as well as some third-party lenses that are available in multiple mounts.
(Note: As a Nikon shooter, I haven’t had experience with every lens on this list — this best lens for wedding photography list comes from each lens specification and user reviews around the web.)
1. Bright, Wide-Angle Zoom: The 24-70mm f/2.8
One of two workhouse lenses for wedding photography, this wide to medium telephoto lens covers a solid range of focal lengths while still packing in a bright aperture for those dimly lit ceremonies.
The lens is wide enough to capture the entire ceremony in a wide shot. And the telephoto end can be finagled for closer shots and even portraits if the budget doesn’t also allow for a bright portrait prime.
The lens also comes in handy for those family formals.
As a popular lens, some manufacturers have multiple versions of this lens — often, the difference is optical image stabilisation. That stabilisation is helpful for shooting those dimly lit spaces at lower shutter speeds in order to drop the ISO down.
Remember, however, that you’re shooting motion, so while IS may prevent camera shake, it won’t prevent motion blur. If stabilisation is in the budget, great. But stabilisation isn’t as essential in a wide angle lens as it is for telephoto and macro.
As such a popular workhorse, third-party manufacturers get in on the action too, which could help you save some cash when choosing gear for wedding photography.
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Best 24-70mm f/2.8 Lenses for Wedding Photography:
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 ED: A fast zoom lens, this Nikon lens is sharp and performs well in low light. The lens retails for about $1,800, or you can pick up the one with VR for about $2,400.
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM: Canon’s versatile zoom is sharp with solid bokeh. The lens retails for about $1,700, but there’s not a ton of difference between the new and the old for wedding photography on a budget.
- Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM: Owners of this Sony lens praise the bokeh and sharpness and even the performance for video. The lens retails for about $2,200.
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens (Multiple mounts available): Still fainting from the first price tags? This Sigma offers a similar range and bright aperture and retails for a lower $1,300 list price, while Sigma’s Art line is known for a high-end quality.
- Fujifilm Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR: This Fujifilm is a bit wider than the 24-70mm standard but maintains that f/2.8 that’s essential for many low light scenarios and offers a sharpness many photographers applaud. The lens retails for $1,200.
2. Bright, Versatile Telephoto: The 70-200mm f/2.8
The second workhorse lens for wedding photography, the 70-200mm offers a versatile zoom range and enough focal length to really help the subject pop from the background.
The 70-200mm is great for capturing details without running around to get up close during the ceremony. The long zoom range also makes the lens an option for the portrait section of the day. Its length will help create softer backgrounds even while keeping the aperture a bit wider to keep both the bride and groom in focus.
The downside is that long focal length and bright aperture mix makes this lens a heavy piece of glass. It’s also an expensive addition to your wedding photography kit.
The longer the lens, the more important image stabilisation is. If you can only afford to get stabilisation on one lens, get it on the longest lens in your bag. That will probably be this lens.
The general rule is to keep your shutter speed above the focal length. While it’s easy to shoot a 50mm at 1/50 in limited light, the 1/200 suggested for a 200mm is harder to do. This is where that lens stabilisation comes in.
Many photographers use both a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm to capture the wedding day. These work particularly well during portions of the day where the pace of events isn’t ideal for lens swaps.
Best 70-200mm Lens for Wedding Photography:
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR: While expensive, Nikon fans note this lens’ sharpness, speed, and colours. The lens also includes image stabilisation, which is one of the reasons for that higher $2,800 price point.
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM: Canon photographers rave on this lens’ mix of sharpness and bokeh with the telephoto zoom range. The downside? It’s heavy and costs around $2,100.
- Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS: Designed with high-end optics, this Sony lens is noted for sharpness, bokeh, Eye AF and stabilisation. Like many others covering the same range, it is heavy and pricey at $2,600.
- Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (multiple mounts): Going with a third-party lens drops the price of a workhorse lens significantly — fans of this $1,200 lens note the sharpness and stabilisation.
- Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM (multiple mounts): Sigma’s second generation 70-200mm lens is noted for a three to four stop stabilisation system, sharpness, and speed. The lens sells for $1,400.
- Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS: While the numbers aren’t as high, since this lens is designed for a crop sensor, it actually shoots up to a 213mm equivalent. The sharp, stabilised lens sells for $1,600.
3. Portrait Prime: The 85mm and 50mm f/1.8
The f/2.8 zoom lenses may be wedding workhorses, but prime lenses offer an even brighter aperture. In some brands, they even offer a more efficient autofocus.
Without all those zoom components, most prime lenses are also lighter.
The 85mm is an excellent focal length for portraits, particularly on full frame cameras. The focal length is more flattering than wide angle while still allowing you to take portraits in venues with limited space.
The 50mm is also a popular choice for portraits. The background separation isn’t quite as nice as that 85mm, but 50mm lenses are often very affordable.
For photographers that need to make the budget stretch as far as possible, a 50mm lens is an excellent option. It offers that bright aperture without the big price tag.
While not as versatile as a zoom lens, many photographers can find a decent 50mm prime lens for only around $200.
The brighter aperture of a f/1.8 prime will allow for even smoother backgrounds in portraits. Some brands go even wider, down to f/1.4 or f/1.2.
The wider aperture is also excellent for limited light when that f/2.8 just isn’t enough to get a nicely lit shot. This lens is helpful during ceremonies and other low light portions of the day.
Best 85mm Lenses for Wedding Photography:
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (multiple mounts): Sigma’s Art lens series is quickly gaining a following for the high-end optics. The lens is ultra bright and the autofocus also performs well. The prime lens retails for $1,200.
- Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G: Bright and affordable, this Nikon is a popular option. The lens lists for around $500.
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM: A portrait favourite, this Canon lens gets bokeh and sharp subjects for not a lot of cash at about $420.
- Sony FE 85mm f/1.8: A popular option for Sony shooters, this lens is noted for the sharpness and the compact size. Retail price is around $600.
- Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R: Equivalent to an 85mm on a full frame body, this Fujifilm uses a crazy bright f/1.2 for nice background bokeh. The lens list for about $1,000, however.
Best 50mm Lenses for Wedding Photography
4. For the Details: The Macro Lenses
Those ring shots and detail photos may only make up some of the wedding album, but they are important.
Along with ring shots, macro lenses capture other details like flowers or architecture. You can even use them for portraits, like a shot of the bride’s eyelashes and makeup.
Macro lenses come in all different focal lengths and apertures. A longer focal length will offer more separation for the background, though getting close up on a macro level already provides significant softness in that background.
The 100mm focal length is popular among many wedding photographers, but photographers with a limited gear budget could pick up a macro with a shorter focal length, typically for less cash.
Because getting up close creates a soft background, many macro shots are photographed at narrower apertures in order to get more of the ring in focus. That means an f/1.2 isn’t necessary.
If you do pick up a brighter macro, however, you don’t have to use it for just macro. Many lenses allow you to switch off the close-up mode, then the lens shoots as a normal lens.
Buying a bright macro that doubles as a portrait prime can help stretch the lens budget.
Like with a telephoto, stabilization is more important on a macro than a wide-angle. That close magnification will exaggerate any camera shake.
Macro also tends to be easier to manually focus. This makes a fast autofocus not quite as essential as when shooting the moving precessional and recessional.
Best Macro Lenses for Wedding Photography:
- Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G ED IF VR Micro: With a life-sized 1:1 magnification and stabilization, this lens is a popular choice for Nikon shooters. The lens retails for about $900.
- Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM: Bright, long and stabilized, this canon lens has an excellent reputation among photographers. The price sits at around $900. (On a budget? Consider the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM, which runs for about $400)
- Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro (multiple mounts): This Sigma macro offers stabilization and a 1:1 ratio. Some photographers suggest the autofocus is a bit slower than the equivalent from big brands.
- Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro (multiple mounts): With life-size reproductions and stabilization, this Tamron lens doesn’t have nearly as high of a price. Like the Sigma, the complaints center on the autofocus.
- Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS: Sony’s 90mm macro is a well-received option that boasts stabilization, internal focus and a 1:1 magnification. The lens lists for about $1,100.
- Fujifilm XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro: This Fujifilm offers a 120mm equivalent and shoots close enough to get a 1:1 ratio. The body is also weather-sealed. The lens list for $1,200. (Budget photographers can consider the older Fujifilm XF 60mm f/2.4 XF Macro with a 1:2 magnification).
5. The Wide, Bright Performer: The 35mm Prime
Wedding photography involves storytelling — and sometimes a wide angle lens is necessary to capture that story. A prime 35mm is brighter and lighter than a 24-70mm.
Other photographers may choose to shoot with two primes on two bodies instead of using the pricey, less bright zoom options.
35mm prime lenses are often bright and affordable. These are excellent for everything from capturing the entire ceremony set-up in one shot to photographing the entire dance floor.
Best 35mm Lenses for Wedding Photography
- Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8 G ED: Wide, bright and lightweight, this Nikon is a popular option for getting the wide shots of the wedding day. The lens sells for about $530.
- Canon 35mm f/1.4 L USM: This Canon lens is a pricey $1,800 for a prime lens, but photographers that have shot with this wide lens praise the sharpness as well as that extra wide f/1.4 aperture.
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art (multiple mounts): The Sigma option still has a crazy wide f/1.4 without quite such a high price point. The lens sells for $899.
- Fujifilm XF 23mm F2 R WR: This compact lens is the equivalent of a 35mm on a full frame camera and is known for the fast performance and bokeh. The lens sells for $450.
How Many Lenses Do You Really Need for Wedding Photography?
Wedding photographers need enough focal lengths to cover the wedding from start to finish. Just how many lenses that means is different for every photographer.
Photographers with enough clients to support a big budget may have one lens in each category and even a few duplicates as backups. Others may shoot with just two or three.
The choice of a focal length also varies based on style. Some photographers favour the separating power of a big lens. Others enjoy the storytelling feel of a wider lens that captures the full scene.
Prioritise what focal lengths you need most for both your style and to capture every event of the day.
Lenses are difficult to judge based on tech specs alone. If you’re still not sure if you should get that pricey brand name lens or a third-party lens, try renting one.
Renting is an affordable way to rest easy in your choice, especially for those lenses with a four-figure price point. Some rental companies will allow you to buy the lens that you rent if you like it.
If you don’t, it was a much cheaper loss than finding you don’t really use that focal length that often or you don’t really like the way the lens focuses. Renting is also a good choice for wedding photographers just launching their business that don’t yet have the budget for so many (or so expensive) lenses.
Choosing the best lens for wedding photography is important in order to capture the entirety of the day.
The most popular lenses for wedding photography are the 24-70mm and 70-200mm bright zooms along with primes at 85mm, 50mm 35mm, and a macro lens. The best lenses for wedding photography are also bright, sharp and versatile.
By finding lenses that fit your camera body, shooting style and budget, you can cover the wedding day in cramped rooms to wide-open fields with your best lens for wedding photography.
Images via Unsplash
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