In wedding photography, opposites attract — for both the couple at the altar and the wedding photography camera slung around the photographer’s neck.
Wedding photography requires features found in both sports-oriented cameras and landscape and portrait ones. The camera is often the workhorse that touches on opposite features, rather than on speed or detail alone.
So how do wedding photographers choose the camera that will accompany them from the getting ready shots to the garter toss? The camera market has several options, but the models that are great now will be replaced in just a few short years.
Understanding what features to prioritise, instead, will help you not only pick a great wedding photography camera, but one that works best with your own style and workflow.
Wedding photography cameras should have interchangeable lenses, manual modes, RAW shooting and a hot shoe slot for flash. But that leaves several dozen mirrorless and DSLR options.
Here’s what you need to know to narrow that list down and choose the wedding photography camera that fits your style – and budget.
The digital equivalent of film, a digital camera’s sensor determines the quality of the images, or at least works alongside the lens to determine image quality.
There are image quality factors that you can’t see from a list of tech specs alone. But looking at the camera’s sensor size, design and megapixel count will shed some light on what the camera can capture.
The larger the sensor, the more light it can gather from a single shot. That makes larger sensors great for dim churches and dark dance floors. These will also create softer backgrounds, even when using a lens with the same aperture.
Smaller sensors, on the other hand, are more affordable. Crop or ASP-C sensors also make it easier to find a lens with a big zoom.
Full frame sensors are arguably the most popular among wedding photographers. They are large enough to capture lots of light and bokeh, but not as large or expensive as medium format cameras. Full frame sensors are the digital equivalent of shooting 35mm film.
The problem? Full frame cameras are pricey. Even the less-featured bodies retail for upwards of $2,000.
Crop sensor cameras are more affordable. While the sensors aren’t as large as full frame, they can still produce some nice background blur and collect a good amount of light.
Micro four thirds sensors, popular in some brands of mirrorless cameras, are even smaller. That doesn’t mean a micro four thirds can’t keep up with weddings. And they’re typically much smaller than full frame cameras, easing that neck and back pain at the end of a long day.
There’s no rule saying wedding photographers have to shoot full frame. If the budget allows, full frame offers the highest quality. But crop sensors and even micro four thirds are still great cameras.
Before you invest in a system, however, keep in mind that different sensor sizes require different lenses. For Canon and Nikon, a full frame lens will still fit on a crop-sensor DSLR with a slightly longer focal length. But if you buy all crop sensor lenses and move up to full frame, you’ll need to replace lenses too.
The way the sensor is designed can improve performance over another sensor with the same size. A backlit sensor moves some of the hardware behind the sensor. The design change allows the sensor to capture a bit more light.
Optical low pass filters are another element of the sensor that differs between cameras. This sensor filter is designed to eliminate moiré. This is a distortion that occurs in fine patterns, like a groom’s suit jacket with a subtle stitch pattern.
Removing the optical low pass filter, however, allows the camera to capture more detail. Many sensors are improving on (but not eliminating) moiré without the filter.
A relatively new concept, stacked sensors separate the light-gathering portion of the sensor and the processing and data storage into separate layers. This design is less about image quality and more about speed. Sony is the first to design a pro-level stacked sensor, but the technology could trickle out to more manufacturers.
A camera’s sensor size will say much more about image quality than the number of megapixels. That doesn’t mean megapixels aren’t important. A higher megapixel count will give photographers more flexibility to crop an image in post. And you can also print those images into giant canvases.
High resolution isn’t all positives, however. More megapixels means smaller megapixels. A lower megapixel count is better for low light shots. The key is to find a good balance, rather than mixing a small sensor with a high megapixel count.
A majority of the images in that wedding album will be photographs of moving subjects. This makes a fast, accurate autofocus system a big perk for wedding photography cameras.
Autofocus performance is difficult to judge by the tech specs alone. Look for a camera with a high number of autofocus points and look for insight on the performance in user reviews.
Most autofocus systems can perform well in good light. For weddings, however, the camera should be able to focus in the limited light of a windowless chapel or a dark dance floor.
Many cameras will list a detection range in the tech specs that show the range of light the camera can focus in. Look at the lowest number to compare cameras. An autofocus with a range that starts at -3 EV will be better in low light than one that starts at -2.
Low Light Performance
Wedding photography is often low light photography. Looking at the sensor and the autofocus performance for low light is essential when comparing wedding photography cameras.
But what else plays a role on those dark reception venues?
Look for the camera’s ISO performance. Digital cameras have come quite a long way in the last few years in terms of noise reduction at high ISOs. If your current set-up is five years old, upgrading to a new camera from almost any brand will offer a big boost in that area.
Look for the camera’s ISO rating using DxO Mark or by scouring the camera reviews. Our article on choosing the best low light camera will give you some more tips.
When the bride is walking down that aisle or you are trying to capture that perfect mid-laugh expression, a fast camera is helpful. For wedding cameras, look for something with a burst speed of at least 5 fps when shooting RAW.
The camera’s autofocus is another area to consider speed. Many manufacturers will list the top focus speed when marketing a new camera. Just remember that speed is under ideal conditions, not low light.
Wedding photography means several hours on your feet hauling gear. This makes size a pretty serious consideration. Mirrorless cameras are quite a bit smaller and lighter than most DSLRs. The smaller size means ending the day with less strain and packing a smaller bag for those destination weddings.
It also means a shorter battery life. You’ll need to buy more extra batteries — and fit them in that camera bag — to keep shooting all day.
DSLRs are typically larger, but there’s a lot of size ranges in the category too. The Nikon D5 is quite a bit larger than the Nikon D7500 or even the Nikon D850, for example.
The camera body also only makes up a portion of the camera’s weight too. A mirrorless camera can be heavy and awkwardly balanced when paired with a big lens.
Camera brands, among photographers, are like sports teams. Many photographers are die-hard fans of their favourite camera brand. (Me? I’m on team Nikon). But does the brand you choose really matter? Yes and no.
Yes, because, once you buy into a brand, switching requires new lenses and flashes and gets quite expensive. Each camera brand also has a range of different features that they are known for.
Olympus and Panasonic, for example, only offer micro four thirds sensor but tend to have excellent image stabilization and video. Nikon and Canon are big DSLR players, while Fujifilm and Sony make some excellent mirrorless cameras.
No, because the industry is full of successful photographers shooting with each of the major camera brands.
While you should buy an interchangeable lens camera with at least a micro four thirds sensor, your success as a photographer isn’t determined by the brand you choose.
It’s determined by your creativity, style, lighting and technical mastery.
One more thing to consider before committing to a camera brand — how many available accessories are there? In the early years of the mirrorless camera, choosing a mirrorless body meant you only had a few lenses to choose from.
That’s changed as mirrorless cameras have come of age, but photographers should still look at the available accessories before committing to a brand.
Look at the list of available lenses and flashes for the camera body you are considering. Wedding photographers often have a bright wide angle (like a 24-70mm f/2.8), a bright telephoto (like a 70-200mm f/2.8), a macro lens and/or bright prime lenses at a few different focal lengths.
Make sure the camera you choose offers the lenses that you’ll need — or want.
Don’t forget to also look into flash heads before buying. Make sure you can find a hot shoe flash for that brand along with a wireless set in order to use off-camera flash.
Even if you are just starting out and can’t afford everything right away, make sure you have the option of expanding as you grow with whatever wedding photography camera body that you choose.
Along with image quality and performance, there’s another big factor to consider in choosing the best wedding photography camera: Price.
Yes, a $6,000 camera will be great — but do you need a $6,000 camera? Can you afford a $6,000 camera?
A $6,000 camera will take better photos than a $600 one — but it isn’t going to make you a better photographer and it isn’t a guarantee that your wedding photography will be successful.
Many of the photographers charging five-figures for each wedding have that best-of-the-best camera. But if your pricing reflects your experience and you are just starting out, don’t go into extreme debt for a camera body that will be outdated in a few years.
For new wedding photographers, I suggest buying a system that you can grow into without breaking the bank. Stay away from each manufacturer’s cheapest camera body if you can — and steer clear of anything marketed with selfie features.
Stick to the mid to upper range when buying an APS-C or micro four thirds body. For full frame cameras, even the “entry level” option will meet the needs of most beginner wedding photographers.
Beware though, of only budgeting for one camera body. What happens if you are shooting a wedding and you drop your only camera body and break it? The couple has no photos of their wedding day.
You should have a second camera body in your wedding bag, just in case. It doesn’t have to be as nice as your main body — for example, I replace my camera bodies before they really need to be replaced so that the old body can serve as the backup.
If you can’t afford a second body, rent one. Just make sure to budget for a backup.
For wedding photography cameras, sometimes the little features go a long way. Here are some other factors to consider.
Dual SD cards
Two SD card slots come in handy. You can write the same files on both cards to avoid a technical error causing every wedding photographer’s nightmare: loosing the images. Or, you can use the feature to swap out cards less.
Wedding photography cameras are shooting all day long – battery life is important. While even DSLR shooters should still pack an extra battery, before you buy, look at the battery life to see just how many spares you’re going to want in your bag.
Video isn’t essential for taking wedding photos. Some wedding photographers will shoot both throughout the day. Video can also be helpful for creating marketing materials for sharing on your social media pages for your wedding photography business.
Current Recommendations for the Best Wedding Photography Camera
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Cameras change on an annual, if not monthly basis — understanding what to look for will help you make the best choice for you, no matter what cameras are on the market.
But now that you know the ins and outs of navigating the camera market, what are some cameras on the market today, mid-2018, that are great for weddings?
Here are a few from multiple brands and price points to consider.
Canon: The Canon 5D Mark IV is a full frame DSLR without the weight of the 1D X series that’s commonly recognized for the autofocus and low noise at higher ISOs. For a less pricey option, the Canon EOS 80D line is also solid.
Nikon: The D750 packs in both big resolution and big speed, something that’s hard to mix into the same camera body. The D750 also does well in low light, considering that higher megapixel count. In the APS-C line, the D7500 or even the older D7200 are good cameras for a lower price point.
Sony: Sony’s a7 series have those large full frame sensors, yet fit inside a compact mirrorless body; this line seems to be growing in popularity among wedding photographers for that reason. The Sony a7R III has a nice high resolution, but doesn’t have the 700+ shot battery life of the lower resolution but still excellent a7 III.
Fujifilm: Fujiflm’s cameras have great colour reproduction and the higher-end models perform well for weddings. Consider the X-T2 or X-H1. If budget is a real sticking point, look at the X-T20 but avoid dropping to the X-A line for weddings if you can because the sensor isn’t quite as good.
Micro four thirds cameras: For smaller mirrorless bodies, look at the mid to high end models from Olympus and Panasonic, like the Panasonic Lumix G9 or GH5, or the Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 lines (they are currently up to the Mark II generations).
So, you’ve gone through all the options and you have it narrowed down to two or three — but you still can’t decide. Now what?
If you can’t make up your mind, or you’re toying with the idea of switching brands and the change will be quite pricey, try renting the camera first. A number of websites offer camera rentals for reasonable prices, and some even allow you to buy the camera that you rented for a discount if you decide you like the camera.
At the very least, find a brick-and-mortar camera store and go try out a few of the cameras that are on display. Once you have the camera in your hands, it’s easier to pull the trigger on such an expensive decision.
The best cameras for wedding photography need to be able to keep up with the pace of the day from those getting ready shots to the very last moments of the reception.
Considering factors like sensor size, low light performance, speed, autofocus, size and the available accessories will help you choose the camera that meshes best with your photography style and budget. You should also check out our article on wedding photography lenses for more tips. You might want to check our article on must have film cameras too.