What is the ultimate Canon wedding lens?
Images captured at weddings become some of the most cherished memories of those involved, and those contracted to photograph these events are expected to deliver high-quality results regardless of the circumstances encountered.
Weddings are one of the most common paid gigs photographers can find, and that fact helps justify the purchase of quality, reliable gear, and the lens kit is one of the big keys to successful wedding photography.
Not everyone photographs a wedding the same way. I prefer a photojournalistic wedding photography approach mixed with the classic portraits, and this wedding lens recommendations list reflects this. Zoom lenses allow a wedding photographer to quickly respond to the action taking place while providing for compositional variety and different perspectives. All this without intruding on the event.
Traditional/formal wedding photography may be done just as easily using two or three prime lenses. Prime lenses can also serve well for backup purposes (never rely on a single lens, camera, flash, or anything else for photographing events as important as a wedding), and they can add a different look to the mix of results.
A wide range of focal lengths is often needed for a good wedding shoot - meaning more than one lens.
Since the ambient lighting is usually very dim at indoor weddings, fast (wide aperture) lenses and image stabilization are best. While f/2.8 is typically the slowest (most narrow) aperture I recommend a wedding lens have, though image stabilization can make slower lenses work if the subject is still. Image stabilization 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) while shooting handheld. Adding a flash will allow action-stopping f/4 shots at the often-even-darker reception venue.
If working with multiple camera bodies or there is adequate time for lens changes, fast prime lenses are an excellent choice for wedding photography. Their wide apertures allow lower ISO settings, faster action-stopping shutter speeds, and more-diffusely-blurred backgrounds in a package that is often smaller and lighter than the closest zoom equivalent.
While fast-focusing lenses are always better than slow focusing lenses, most of the action at a wedding is not usually going to stress AF speed performance in a lens. AF precision is always a top requirement, especially so with the shallow DOF delivered by wide aperture lenses.
I'll start the recommended Canon wedding lens list with the ultimate Canon APS-C wedding lens, and will follow that choice with the trinity of Canon f/2.8 L-series zoom lenses.
The Best Canon Wedding Lenses
1. Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens
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 that full-frame format cameras can provide. There is no Canon full frame equivalent to this ideal-for-wedding photography lens, and 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 angle of view.
2. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Ultimate Image Quality, Excellent Build Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Very Fast Autofocus Speed with Precision Accuracy, Weather Sealing
If I could have only one lens, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens would be my choice.
The 24-70L II is all about performance and reliability. This L lens delivers impressive as-good-as-it-gets standard zoom lens image quality. Impressive autofocus performance combined with the wide f/2.8 max aperture makes this the lens of choice for photographing sports and other low light action and events. The f/2.8 aperture is useful for stopping action in low light, for creating a strong background blur, and for activating the higher precision AF capabilities of some DSLR cameras. This lens's biggest missing feature is image stabilization and the big price tag will turn away some potential buyers. Professional photographers need look no farther to find their go-to lens.
3. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
The Ultimate Zoom Lens
The 70-200 f/2.8 image stabilized lens is one of the most crucial zoom lenses in most photographers' kits, and the 70-200 f/2.8L III IS Lens is one of the best zoom lenses ever produced. Professionals and amateurs alike typically have this lens in their hands with high frequency. Professionals use it because there is no better lens available for many jobs, and amateurs use it additionally because this is the longest focal length available in an affordable, conveniently-sized f/2.8 lens. The wide f/2.8 max aperture allows action to be captured in low light (think indoor events) and, combined with the telephoto focal lengths, allows the background to be blurred away.
The 70-200 f/2.8L III IS is a completely professional-grade lens with great image quality, fast and accurate AF, and image stabilization in a solidly-constructed, weather-sealed, fixed-size body. An added benefit is that this lens performs well with extenders, a great option for when you need even more focal length.
For some, this is the only portrait lens needed.
4. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens
Canon's Best Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens
The EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens is the Canon wide-angle zoom lens you want. This professional-grade lens is the perfect choice for a wide variety of uses, and the image quality it creates is impressive. The lens is well built and includes weather sealing. If weddings and other indoor events are on your to-do list, this lens should be in your kit.
5. Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens
The Ideal Focal Length, The Ideal Max-Aperture, AND Image Stabilization
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens has the perfect-for-portrait-photography combination of focal length, ultra-wide max aperture, and image stabilization. The 85mm focal length invites pleasing perspectives, the f/1.4 aperture can erase the background, turning it into a diffuse blur, and image stabilization means that this lens can be handheld under even very dim light levels. Add to those features great image quality along with pro-grade build quality, and you get an ideal portrait lens. This lens can solely take on even the most-challenging portrait sessions you encounter.
6. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens
Incredible Image Quality, Ultra-wide f/1.4 Aperture, Very Useful Focal Length, Fast Ring USM AF, Pro-Grade Weather-Sealed Build Quality
The 35mm focal length is a staple for photojournalism, and the wide f/1.4 aperture is ready for the darkest venues. When image quality is paramount, this lens will surpass the requirement. The 35 f/1.4L II is the complete package, including a great AF system and ready-for-daily-professional-use build quality.
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 Lens Recommendations page for more recommendations.
The best wedding lens needs the Best Wedding Camera behind it. Check out our recommendations to complete your kit.