Weddings are one of the most commonly photographed events - and one of the most common paid events photographers can find. Images captured at weddings become some of the most-cherished memories of those involved. Those contracted to photograph these events are expected to deliver high quality results regardless of the circumstances encountered. And the lens kit is one of the big keys to a successful wedding shoot.
Not everyone photographs a wedding the same way. I prefer a more photojournalistic wedding photography approach mixed with the classic portraits. My wedding lens recommendations reflect this. Zoom lenses allow a wedding photographer to quickly respond to the action taking place - without intruding on the event and with varied framing and perspectives.
Traditional/formal wedding photography may be done just as easily using a few prime lenses. Prime lenses can also serve well for backup purposes as you should never rely on a single lens, camera, flash or anything else for photographing events as important as a wedding.
A wide range of focal lengths are often needed for a good wedding shoot - meaning more than one lens.
Since the ambient lighting is usually not very good (to be kind) at indoor weddings, fast (wide aperture) lenses and image stabilization are usually preferred. While f/2.8 is typically the slowest (most narrow) wide aperture I recommend a wedding lens have, image stabilization makes lenses such as the 24-105 L IS and 24-70 L IS lenses good choices as well. IS will not stop subject motion, but the wedding ceremony itself (with mandatory flash-less photos) is generally composed of near-motionless people. IS will allow some extra depth of field (narrower aperture, slower shutter speeds) while shooting handheld at these times. Adding a flash will allow action-stopping f/4 shots at the often-even-darker reception venue.
The fast prime lenses included below work very well - especially if you are working with multiple camera bodies or have time for lens changes. Their wide apertures allow lower ISO settings, faster action-stopping shutter speeds and more-diffusely-blurred backgrounds in a package that is often smaller/lighter than the closest zoom equivalent.
While fast focusing lenses are always better than slow focusing lenses, the action at a wedding is not usually going to stress AF speed performance in a lens. AF accuracy is of course always a requirement and is especially important with the shallow DOF delivered by wide aperture lenses.
I'm going to break the recommendations up into several groups, starting with the ultimate three-lens wedding kits for APS-C and full frame DSLR cameras. As always, read the full reviews to see which lens(es) are best for you.
The Best Canon APS-C/1.6x Wedding Lenses - My Recommendations
Wide Aperture, Great Image Quality, Fast Ring USM AF, Image Stabilization
With an f/2.8 aperture combined with image stabilization, great image quality and a nice general purpose focal length range, the EF-S 17-55 IS is a lens that keeps some from taking the step up to the better image quality full frame format cameras. There is no Canon full frame equivalent to this ideal-for-wedding photography lens - The 17-55 IS should be the #1 wedding lens in an APS-C kit. While the full frame equivalent 88mm angle of view at 55mm is not long enough for tight head shots, the rest of your portrait framing needs should be covered. You will have no problem framing larger groups with the 17mm end.
The Perfect Portrait Lens
Weddings are all about people and this lens will make those people look great. The 70-200 f/2.8 L II IS Lens is the best zoom lens I've used. This completely professional grade lens has incredible image quality, fast and accurate AF and a late-generation image stabilization system in a solid, weather-sealed (for those outdoor weddings), fixed-size body. The wide-as-it-gets-in-a-zoom-lens f/2.8 max aperture over the entire focal length range allows action to be captured in low light and allows the background to be blurred away.
While this is definitely the right lens to get, the other 70-200 L variants can be selected if the IS II is not affordable.
An Overall Nice Lens with Ultra Wide Angle Focal Lengths
Weddings are all about people, but environmental portraits are an important type of photo to capture those people in. Your clients are going to want to see the entire inside of the church with the wedding party standing at the front. This is the lens to capture that scene with. The Canon EF-S 10-22 will give you very nice image quality in a small, light package with a modest price.
F/1.8 Aperture in a Zoom Lens, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality
While this lens does not have optical stabilization or a wide range of focal lengths, it makes up for its shortcomings with by far the widest aperture available on a zoom lens. You are going to treasure that ultra-wide lens opening when you reach the ultra-dark reception venue. With an f/1.8 max aperture available over the entire zoom range, this zoom lens can perform in conditions that no other can. You can have your cake and eat it too – this lens has excellent image quality even at the f/1.8 aperture. Sigma delivers very impressive phyical features to full complement image quality.
The Best Canon Full Frame Wedding Lenses - My Recommendations
Ultimate Image Quality, Excellent Build Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Very Fast Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Weather Sealing
The 24-70 L II is the first lens I would put into a full frame format Canon DSLR wedding lens kit. This lens has the image quality and overall performance needed to capture these important events impressively. The 24-70mm range will make this your most-used wedding lens. This lens' biggest missing feature is image stabilization.
The Perfect Portrait Lens
This lens is also in my APS-C wedding lens kit recommendation. As I said in that list, weddings are all about people and this lens will make those people look great. This professional grade lens has incredible image quality, fast and accurate AF and a late-generation image stabilization system in a solid, weather-sealed (ideal for outdoor weddings), fixed-size body. The wide-as-it-gets-in-a-zoom-lens f/2.8 max aperture over the entire focal length range allows action to be captured in low light and allows the background to be blurred away.
While this is definitely the right lens to buy or rent, the other 70-200 L variants can be selected if the IS II is not affordable.
Canon's Best Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens
This is the lens you want for capturing the environmental portraits and church interior photos at a wedding. The Canon EF 16-35 L II is a professional grade lens with excellent weather-sealed build quality, Ring-USM autofocus and very good image quality. The f/2.8 aperture makes this THE wide angle lens to have for low light events. The focal length is very useful and complements most normal zoom lens focal length ranges very nicely (with nice-to-have overlap).
If the 16-35 L II is not affordable, consider renting or get the narrower aperture Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens.
The Other Best Canon Wedding Lenses - My Recommendations
The Ultimate Portrait Prime: Incredible f/1.2 Aperture, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality
Want to deliver a look that sets your portraits apart from the rest? This is the lens to get. The shallow depth of field look that an 85mm focal length and f/1.2 aperture delivers will make your portraits stand out. Including those taken in nearly any level of light.
A less expensive alternative to this lens is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens. I really like the Sigma, but my hesitancy to give the Sigma 85 a full blown recommendation is due to the less-accurate AF. Plan to shoot extra images to cover this inaccuracy issue if opting for the Sigma.
An even less expensive option is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens. While the 85 f/1.8 is a good lens and a very good value, it is a class below the 85 f/1.2 L II. Except for its faster AF system - and its lighter weight may be welcomed. I say "may" because a heavier lens can be easier to hold steady - until your arms get too tired (and photographing a wedding can be exhausting).
Light Weight, Impressive Image Quality, Fast/Accurate AF, Image Stabilization, Excellent Value, Weather Sealing
When capturing a wedding, the client will likely be expecting the little details to be captured. A tremendous amount of work goes into planning a wedding and the couple is going to expect you to photograph the results of that work - right down to the small details including the lace on the dress, the wedding rings, the invitations, flowers, etc. Therefore, a macro lens is highly recommended for any wedding lens kit.
The 100mm focal length also works very well for portraits - and it works well for very tight portraits on an APS-C body. The image quality from this lens at any focus distance is very impressive. An f/2.8 aperture will create a nice background blur and image stabilization will help you capture sharp images even in lower light levels. In-lens image stabilization makes accurate framing easier.
If you cannot afford to buy or rent this lens, consider the also-excellent Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens.
Excellent Image Quality, Great Value, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing
The f/4 max aperture is what keeps this lens from being a perfect wedding lens - you will need twice as much light to stop action than if you had an f/2.8 aperture. But, with the assistance of image stabilization, this overall-great lens can perform quite well at a wedding.
Excellent Image Quality, Macro Capabilities, Excellent Build Quality, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing
This lens also has a max f/4 aperture, but with still subjects, image stabilization more than makes up for the modest aperture opening. Significant macro capability is the biggest advantage this lens has over the 24-105 L IS - this lens can replace a macro lens in the wedding photography kit. Less distortion at 24mm is another advantage enjoyed over the 24-105 L.
Ultra-Wide Aperture, Excellent Image Quality, Excellent AF, Excellent Weather-Sealed Build Quality
A wide angle, wide aperture prime has a lot of uses, and they really shine at weddings and other low light events. F/1.4 is the widest aperture currently available on any lens wider than 50mm. This is a great lens overall - it delivers great image quality - and a great look.
An alternative is the narrower aperture, but image stabilized Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens.
And more alternatives/additions include:
Impressive f/1.4 Image Quality, Beautiful Design
The Sigma 50mm Art Lens delivers excellent image quality at an ultra-wide aperture, leaving your subject in sharp focus while eliminating the background distractions via a strong defocused blur. While I experienced some AF accuracy inconsistencies and this is not the fastest-focusing lens, this would be my 50mm lens of choice for portraits. The next-listed Canon 50mm f/1.2 does not have image quality this good, but it can deliver a bit more background blur.
Ultra-Wide Aperture, Excellent Build Quality, Weather Sealing
While the 50 f/1.2 is not the sharpest lens at f/1.2, it delivers a great portrait look. This is a very useful wedding photography lens.
A much lower-priced alternative is the smaller/lighter Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens. This lens lacks the build quality I would want for an important-to-my-kit lens, but it is fine for secondary needs. Or, make sure that you have a solid backup.
This was not an exhaustive list of the lenses that can be used for wedding photography. Any lens listed in the Canon portrait lens recommendations can work well for weddings. Also visit the Canon Lenses page for more recommendations.