I can always sense when the couple sitting across the table from me has conducted the relevant research before meeting for a wedding photography consultation. Whether the questions are the standard fare—found on one of many lists of things to ask your wedding photographer—or something entirely unexpected, such preparation indicates that the couple has a good understanding of their requirements and are serious about doing business. Occasionally, couples inquire about my wedding photography equipment—the cameras, brand, and lenses that form my arsenal—which is a topic of general interest to my fellow photographers, be they hobbyists or other professional wedding photographers. In the spirit of transparency and full disclosure to all, today’s article will cover the topic of my wedding photography equipment. However, instead of providing you with a basic list of my gear and its features, I’d like to tell you the brief stories of how each item came into my possession, my overall impressions, and how it’s used to photograph weddings.
A note on why I use Canon wedding photography equipment
Visit almost any photography related website, and you’re guaranteed to find archived conversations dating back many years and dedicated to the sole topic of which brand of camera equipment is the best. At what? Well, there are just as many subtopics for that too. Whether it’s Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, or any of the other smaller players, everyone has an opinion (and reason) for why one brand is better than another. Most of the time, it comes down to what the photographer owns. The photographer voted with their wallet—presumably, after conducting extensive research—and has a vested interest in maintaining the appeal of their favoured platform. Ultimately, if their brand isn’t the best, it reflects poorly on their highly deliberated decision, and that’s personal!
I don’t partake in such discourse. I’ve long held that given the level of technological sophistication available in modern interchangeable lens digital cameras, it’s safe to assume that the weakest link will almost always be the photographer and not their chosen equipment, no matter how much they argue the contrary.
Why is my wedding photography equipment all Canon? I bought my first Canon digital SLR in 2006. I had two realistic options at the time, the Canon 30D or Nikon D200, both of which were cropped sensor cameras. My decision rested on three factors: price, low-light performance, and ergonomics. At the time, the first two factors objectively favoured the 30D; the last point is highly subjective, but after holding both and fiddling with their settings in a store, I decided that the Canon was better suited for me. If I were making the decision anew today, it would probably swing the other way, or in an entirely different direction. As it stands, for better or worse, I’m stuck with Canon. I’m too invested in their system and switching to an alternative would be a poor financial decision. I would never be able to sell what I have and recreate it on an equivalent full-frame platform without losing thousands of dollars. Even if I were to consider it a ‘business investment’, my net return regarding the quality of wedding photography would be unnoticeable, not only to my clients—who I’m assuming aren’t photographers—but to anyone, even the eagle-eyed pixel-peepers. In short, I’m very comfortable with Canon’s products, and I can’t justify switching my wedding photography equipment to a different system.
My wedding photography equipment (in order purchased)
This camera was obtained on the first day it became available in 2009. I bought it for use on several film school projects because of its (then) excellent video capabilities. It was used on a dozen or so short films and a handful of weddings during my less than stellar first year as a wedding photographer. Presently, the camera spends most of its time lying dormant in my camera bag, waiting to serve as a substitute in the unfortunate event that one of my other cameras should encounter “interesting times”.
Canon EOS 35mm f/1.4
This lens was ordered from B&H in early autumn of 2007 when the Canadian dollar was above parity with the US dollar. At the time, I was shooting as a hobbyist with my Canon 30D and a used Canon Elan II film camera. I don’t baby my wedding photography equipment—everything is treated as the tools that they are. This lens bears many scars as proof of this approach: the plastic distance indicator window has a substantial crack; the metal rim of the filter thread has several minor dents and points where the paint has chipped away; the disappointingly-plastic body has countless scratches; the rubber focusing ring looks worn and has a slightly gritty quality when turned. Despite all that, the parts that matter—the actual glass, both front and rear elements—are scratch-free. As for its use, this lens rarely leaves my side. I use it to capture some of the street-inspired photographs seen in my wedding photography portfolio, as well as most of the wide-angle shots, especially once the lights go down.
Canon EOS 15mm f/2.8 fisheye
I purchased this lens from B&H in autumn of 2007 at above parity. However, this lens has the unique distinction of having been bought in person at the B&H store in New York. Due to its limited usage, I’ve kept it in pretty good shape all these years, although there is a minor scuff on the protruding front element, which was likely caused by the loosely fitting lens cap. Because it’s such a specific lens, it rarely sees any action and, except the 7D camera, is the least used of all my wedding photography equipment. It’s mostly used for photos of wedding cakes, architecture, and tightly packed crowds—or all three!
Canon EOS 16-35mm f/2.8 Mark II
This Canon ultra-wide zoom lens was purchased new in the summer of 2008 in a parking lot of a Brutalist office building in Etobicoke. At the time, the lens was retailing for approximately $1,800 plus tax, so I jumped at the opportunity to buy it from a gentleman on Craigslist for $1,400 in cash. For several years, I assumed it was stolen from a large shipment of photographic equipment—a daring heist of dozens of lenses, which the thieves were slowly peddling on the streets and in sketchy classifieds. That nervous dream was busted when I checked the serial number against a list of stolen equipment. Nothing, clean! It was likely a grey market lens imported through unofficial channels. A year after purchase, the focus ring developed a flaw. Seemingly randomly, something (probably a screw) would snag against the inner surface of the focusing ring. Since it had no ill effect on the lens’s autofocus performance, I waited until the spring of 2014 to repair it at Canon’s facility in Mississauga. As part of my wedding photography equipment, this lens gets plenty of regular use, but mostly during ceremonies, casual mingling and whenever I’m shooting within a very confined space. Since the lens has a constant f/2.8 aperture, it’s less efficient in dark situations, which forces me to fall back on my prime lenses. And finally, it was pretty disappointing levels of acuity and vignetting at wide apertures, especially at longer focal lengths.
Canon EOS 50mm f/1.4
This is my third Canon 50mm prime lens. I bought Canon’s excellent (an cheap) 50mm f/1.8, the so-called “nifty-fifty”, for $120 in 2006, just ahead of a trip to Saskatoon. That lens survived until late 2007, when a drunken pat on my shoulder by a friend outside a bar caused my Canon 30D, with lens attached, to fall onto the sidewalk. The lens’s plastic construction absorbed the full impact, exploding into its constituent parts. This act of sacrifice saved my 30D (which lives on as a hand-me-down with my grandfather). The following day I bought my first Canon 50mm f/1.4 just outside the St. George subway station for $300 from yet another guy I found on Craigslist. It lasted until the summer of 2013 when the focusing mechanism threw in the towel. Seeing as I had a wedding to photograph that Saturday, I decided to replace it immediately. The new lens had an improved lens cap and smoother turning focusing ring.
As part of my wedding photography equipment, the 50mm f/1.4 is used heavily throughout the day, both in light and dark conditions. It’s great for documentary style medium-long to long shots. As for gripes, every single one of my versions of Canon’s affordable fifties has had trouble hitting focus correctly and quickly. The current lens frequently misses focus on the targeted point when used with either the 7D and 5D Mark III cameras but functions superbly when mated to the 6D, which as a result, is the camera that carries this lens when I’m using it. Later this year, I’ll probably replace it with Sigma’s well-reviewed 50mm f/1.4 “Art” lens.
Canon 5D Mark III
The Canon 5D Mark III was my first dedicated wedding photography equipment purchase. I bought it in April of 2012 from the Queen St. East Henry’s store. It was also my very first full-frame digital camera and resulted in a steep decline in my use of film cameras. Typically, buying a new gadget is followed by that new gadget high: for several days, you spend an inordinate amount of time playing with and learning all of its functions. While I had that feeling after getting the 5D Mark III, it was incredibly short-lived. In the hours after I had purchased the camera, I discovered that my partner had lost her job. This event had put us on an uneven footing for the next several months. Wedding photography is an incredibly competitive industry, especially in a large market like Toronto. It was unrealistic for me to earn any substantial income from the business for quite some time, and here I had just spent four thousand dollars on a new camera. It was a stressful time for us, but we’ve made it through unharmed. Next month, the camera will have been with me for four years, and I’m quite happy to see it going several more beyond that. It’s been through every wedding I’ve photographed and come out alive.
In November 2013, I dropped it onto the poured concrete floor of a Starbucks cafe. My heart must’ve skipped a beat after I heard the thud. The full impact was absorbed by the lower left corner of the rear plate, which had cracked and dented inwards. Despite the damage, the camera worked, albeit not flawlessly. The shock had knocked the ground glass and focus module out of alignment. The repair cost me a cool $800 at Canon. Avoid costly repairs and don’t drop your cameras!
As part of my wedding photography equipment, this camera typically carries the 70-200mm zoom, the 35mm prime, and the 16-35mm zoom. As I have stated above, it’s not capable of focusing the 50mm (and 85mm) primes with the accuracy I require.
Canon EOS 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Mark II
Canon’s range of 70-200mm zooms is colloquially known as the coffee mug lenses. When standing vertically, they resemble sizeable insulated travel mugs. The nickname had become so successful that several companies started producing actual travel mug replicas. The 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II is my second coffee mug lens. My first, the original 70-200mm f/2.8, which was initially released in the mid-1990s, was bought online from Calgary’s The Camera Store in the summer of 2007, which was the year for buying gear due to the strength of the Canadian dollar. The original lens didn’t have optical image stabilisation, which I decided was necessary for the frequently dark environments of wedding ceremonies. I ordered the new IS Mark II model from B&H in June of 2013 and sold my original on Craigslist for $300 less than I had bought it for, which is equivalent to a 14¢/day rental. Cha-ching!
My current 70-200mm lens completes the telephoto end of my wedding photography equipment and sees frequent use during ceremonies and group portraits. Unlike the original lens, the new one has excellent optical acuity, better suppression of vignetting, excellent bokeh (the quality of the out of focus parts of the image) with smooth transitions, and optical image stabilisation, which is a fantastic feature to have in any situation.
I bought my second full-frame digital SLR in August of 2013 after growing frustrated shooting weddings in two different sensor formats. Having to calculate which lens to use on what camera (the 7D or 5D) to photograph the desired perspective was driving me nuts. It was too much mental math—which was never my strength—during stressful conditions. I knew that I required another full-frame camera but couldn’t afford another 5D Mark III. So several days before shooting my first wedding of the month, I decided on the Canon 6D. It was purchased on sale from Downtown Camera in Toronto. Thankfully, they had an unadvertised deal, and the price was phenomenal!
Now, I’m sure that some vexatious wedding photographers will read this and call such camera mixing a blasphemy. The 6D is a less “professional” camera than the 5D: it features a simpler autofocus module, fewer megapixels (which doesn’t matter because both have more than enough), no multi-controller switch, plastic versus magnesium alloy chassis, and slower burst mode. It makes up for those deficiencies with a more compact and significantly lighter body, built-in GPS, a more accurate autofocus system that works in darker situations, and a noticeably quieter shutter, which makes a positive difference at times when a wedding photographer needs to be stealthy. I prefer the 6D to the 5D Mark III as a wedding photography camera, for other documentary work—such as travel—and as a general purpose digital SLR.
Wedding photographers may spew further opprobrium regarding the fact that the 6D and 5D Mark III, while both being full-frame cameras, are still different formats due to their distinctly different sensors. While this is correct with regards to sensor resolution, the differences are nominal. They’ll say that you shouldn’t mix sensors because they won’t render colours identically, especially when coupled with different signal processors. While I’ve never done a test as to the colour profiles of these cameras, I’ve also never noticed a difference worth noting. In fact, the only difference in the colour rendition between the two cameras that I’ve seen is on the rear LCD panels. The 6D has an inferior screen, by a long shot, but this bears no relation to the quality and reproduction of the image files once uploaded to a computer and displayed on a calibrated monitor. A Canon EOS is a Canon EOS, and they’re all calibrated by the manufacturer for identical results. My experience confirms this; the 6D is a valuable part of my wedding photography equipment, and I’m more than satisfied with the pictures it produces.
Canon EOS 85mm f/1.8
This is the latest addition to my wedding photography equipment. I bought this lovely portrait lens in the summer of 2014 after reading about how light and quick-to-focus it is. Before acquiring it, I used my 70-200mm for similar photographs but quickly realised that an extra wide aperture would help separate subjects from the background. Many wedding photographers prefer the 85mm f/1.2 because of its shallow depth of field and low-light credentials. That lens isn’t practical for my purposes: it’s too heavy, slow-to-focus (because the little motor has to drive a giant rear condenser lens), and dreadfully expensive. For about a quarter of the price, the 85mm f/1.8 gives me 98% of the image quality up to f/2.8, faster focusing, and fewer backaches. This lens is incredibly versatile throughout all parts of a wedding, whether it’s intimate portraits of couples getting ready, ceremony close-ups, group portraits, or capturing intimate moments between guests later in the evening, it never lets me down. In a two camera setup, which is how I shoot, this lens is great in combination with the 35mm f/1.4. In fact, if I were limited to only two prime lenses for the duration of a wedding, this is the mix I would choose as being the most versatile.
BACKUP BONUS! Drobo 5D & Seagate NAS Pro 4-Bay
No wedding photography equipment list is truly complete without mention of the silent stars working tirelessly back in the office to ensure that our precious work is safe and sound. I have been using a Drobo 5D as a working drive since autumn of 2013. It contains five three terabyte disks arranged in Drobo’s proprietary RAID-like system with single disk redundancy enabled. I used to backup my working files (undelivered wedding photography) and my library from the Drobo to a single large external drive. However, after discovering that it was bursting at its seams, I purchased a Seagate NAS Pro 4-Bay system with four three-terabyte drives. It contains a full mirror of my Drobo files, including all previously delivered weddings, even though my contractual obligation to store them expired long ago. I update the Seagate with new content monthly, or after shooting a wedding, to ensure that undelivered weddings are always stored on two physically separate devices, each with single-disk redundancy. The logic behind using two different systems (i.e., not two Drobos or two Seagates) is that a bad software update from one manufacturer won’t compromise my entire collection across two separate units. Expanding on this, the Drobo runs on Western Digital drives whereas the Seagate runs on Seagate drives.
Some security-minded wedding photographers may notice that I didn’t mention any offsite storage solutions. I don’t use any for long-term storage of my work. Maintaining a physical backup of both systems offsite, and updating it regularly as new projects are shot, would be too onerous a task. And, considering the quantity of digital data I produce at any given wedding, a cloud-based offsite backup solution would choke up my internet connection for several days on a weekly basis and quickly become very expensive. Offsite solutions are for protection against cases on the fringes of the fringe. While archive specialists may consider such an attitude irresponsible, I think it’s a realistic compromise between being safe and obsessively pursuing an ever smaller reduction of risk. There’s a higher probability of the undelivered photos being destroyed in an automotive collision on my return from a wedding than by whatever risks a cumbersome and expensive offsite solution is attempting to mitigate.
It’s important to point out that my standard timeframes for delivery of wedding photography are faster than average. At no time in the process do I have more than two weddings outstanding. Furthermore, I do not act as an archive service for my clients. Once a couple accepts delivery of their wedding photographs, I stop being responsible for their safe storage. Some idealist wedding photographers aim to provide the secure storage of wedding photography in perpetuity. This practice made sense when wedding photographers were shooting film and were the sole keepers of the negatives, but it is no longer necessary. Digital photography revolutionised wedding photography storage. My clients are savvy and more than capable of safely storing their digital images using a variety of cloud-based services and physical solutions.