We often get asked “What is the best lens for wedding photography?” There is a lot of pressure on shooters who are just getting started with wedding photography. With every little moment of the wedding day getting captured, but with only one chance to get it all right, planning every detail is your best chance at success. With wedding photography, getting familiar with the right set of lenses is an important first step.
The right set of lenses is a subjective thing with no true right or wrong answers depending on your goals and style. But there are four types of lenses that are far and away the most popular rentals for wedding photography and are reliable, high-quality choices.
Wedding Photography Lenses and Reviews
Before we get into the lenses, when you’re building out your kit there is something to keep in mind about these “best of” lists before you buy or rent anything.
For any given lens review, tests are done typically with just a single copy of the lens type. So there are going to be situations where someone got an outlier model that produced poor results and then reviewed it. More technical rating sites, like DXO, offer a good guide for narrowing things down but every lens operates optimally only within a range of apertures and on certain camera models. Most sites are ranking lenses based on either the best case scenario, which won’t match real-world use, or is presented as an average of all tests and given a “final score.”
Fortunately, most of the best lenses of their day are still among the best lenses around. (Lenses tend to have a much slower turn-around than camera bodies, which are continuously updating feature sets.) Many of the most revered lenses have been replaced only iteratively, which speaks to how well they were built in the first place. The lenses in this list were picked based on both their wider reputation and also their sheer popularity among renters, especially during the wedding season.
#1 Wedding Photography Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8
Our most popular lens for weddings and most other events is the 24-70mm f/2.8. This is typically the highest quality wide-to-telephoto zoom you can get in any mount type. You get a very fast maximum aperture that remains constant across the entire zoom range (unlike cheaper kit lenses, which will decrease the maximum available aperture on the longer end of the range, resulting in less overall creative flexibility and reduced low light performance).
The length range of this lens is simply very versatile. 24mm is a great length for big groups and capturing reception halls and everything leading up to 70mm is wonderful for portraits and detail shots. You won’t be able to get the same performance out of a 24-70mm lens for macro work as you would a dedicated macro lens but you’ll be able to still capture some lovely closeups of rings, shoes, and flowers.
If you can only afford one lens, a 24-70mm is an extremely safe bet but if you’re still unsure, you can rent one for a fraction of the retail, or even resale, market cost. For a slightly more affordable option, you can opt for the f/4 version of the 24-70mm or the 24-105mm f/4, which gives you a hair more range. The 24-105mm f/4 is a very popular “second choice” to the 24-70mm f/2.8.
Best Mid-Range Zooms for Weddings
#2 Wedding Photography Lens: 70-200mm f/2.8
Pretty much everything you hear about the 24-70mm in terms of quality and versatility can be said about the 70-200mm f/2.8 — just applied to subjects where you need that longer reach. Reliably offering image stabilization and compatibility with teleconverters, these lenses are popular among wildlife and sports shooters as well.
While this length range might feel a bit much for an indoor wedding, many photographers relish the ability to capture closeups without being in the thick of it, allowing your subject some much-needed space and sense of privacy for more emotionally impactful scenes.
In both the 24-70mm and 70-200mm lens you can find more budget-minded versions with maximum apertures of f/4 instead of f/2.8. You may find that those extra stops are not necessary for you and you can rent both styles to compare:
Best 70-200mm Lenses for Weddings
#3 Wedding Photography Lens: 100mm Macro
You can shoot a whole wedding comfortably with a 24-70mm or 24-105mm. A lot of people’s second lens will be either the 70-200mm or the 16-35mm. The one “specialty” lens you may want to consider is a macro. But not all lenses that have “macro” in the title are true macro lenses. When shopping around, look for lenses that list their magnification factors, often written as a ratio (1:1, 1:2, etc.). Some use a decimal equivalent (1x, 0.5x, etc.). 1:1 represents “true life size” while 1:2 represents “half life size.” When an item the size of your sensor fills the entirety of your frame that lens is safely considered a true life size macro.
However, you don’t always need true life size in a macro lens. If it saves you money and gives you the results you want, any lens that is able to focus quite closely to an item (within a foot) — especially when paired with a high megapixel sensor — will give you plenty of cropping power for nice close-ups of rings and other small details.
A lot of macro lenses double nicely as portrait lenses so they aren’t just a specialty splurge. If you already have a 16-35mm, or similarly wide lens, you may opt to shoot all of your portraits, detail shots, and even distance shots with just a single 100mm macro rather than owning two other zooms or several prime (single focal length) lenses.
Best Macros for Weddings
#4 Wedding Photography Lens: 16-35mm
Speaking of the 16-35mm, this wide angle zoom completes the dream team of wedding zooms, along with the 24-70mm and 70-200mm. At 16mm you’re able to capture spaces, big groups — anything expansive. But zoom to 35mm and you have something suitable for contextual portraits where you can capture your subject with minimal distortion and also show some of the environment. You get a lot of this with the 24-70mm as well, so if you can only afford one then the 24-70mm is your better bet (especially on a full frame sensor). But the wider end of this lens is a fantastic luxury when shooting any event and hard to give up once you’ve tried it.
If 16-35mm still feels like a little too much overlap with the 24-70mm, then there is also the 11-24mm, 14-24mm, or 12-24mm for Canon, Nikon, and Sony, respectively, though some of these max out at f/4 instead of f/2.8.
Best Wide Zooms for Weddings
None of these lenses are particularly cheap, but weddings are high-stakes assignments and it’s worth getting some good glass if you’re going to shoot them regularly. If you’re not sure that wedding photography is for you or if even using zoom lenses is the right fit for your shooting style, renting is a great way to experiment with professional gear without the big initial investment.