Zoom Versus Prime Lenses for Wedding Photography

A question on lots of photographers mind’s is: zoom versus prime lenses for wedding photography?

zoom versus prime lenses for wedding photography? This is a zoom lens.

The Canon 24-70 f/2.8 Mark I, which is the original iteration.

There are opinions, sometimes fairly strong at that, in the photography community about the virtues of using zoom versus prime lenses for wedding photography; zoom lenses are variable focal length, prime lenses are fixed focal length. This article is not here to fuel arguments of which way is best any more so than previous articles have not been to enhance the “Canon versus Nikon” ‘wars’, or any arguments for that matter. Technical Tuesday posts are for folks looking for insight and thoughts based on our experience, and we will always happily suggest the “raw versus jpg” arguments and the like to a wide variety of photo forums out there ready to host such debates.

All this said, what follows is a review of what has worked for us as Maine wedding photographers. Wedding photographers for whom seeking sharpness and excellent low-light performance is paramount.

A few years back, I swore by a two-lens set for two identical Canon pro bodies. 98% of the photos we would take during a wedding were with one or the other of these two L series lenses. One lens of this set was the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Mark I zoom and the other the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L – IS Mark I lens. It is very important to emphasize we are talking about the Mark I versions of both of these lenses. Two camera bodies thus smoothly covered from fairly wide 24mm to fairly long (and just right for weddings) 200mm. Why zooms? In the very fast-paced world of wedding photography there often wasn’t time to swap lenses, even when using two camera bodies. And, if there was time, it was better spent keeping an eye out, and a finger on the shutter button, for the next fleeting moment that would potentially make an award-winning image.

Canon 70-200 zoom lense

The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L Mark I, also the original version of this venerable lens.

What happened next is pretty simple to explain. After a few seasons using the lenses, they (especially the 24-70) became “soft”, notably less sharp than when new. Factory tune-ups and in-camera adjustments didn’t fully address the situation.

It seemed like a great idea to switch mostly to primes, mostly to cover the needs that were being covered by the 24-70, which, for most weddings, always tallied the greatest percentage of shots.

We went with a Canon 24mm f/1.4L; a Canon 50mm f/1.4L; and a Canon 85mm f/1.8. We kept our 70-200s as there was not, at the time, much of a feasible replacement within our reach.

Sadly, it didn’t take too many wedding gigs to realize we severely missed the one zoom lens to cover the ranges we now needed to swap lenses to achieve; it’s not so much that we couldn’t get used to adjusting ourselves instead of the focal length, it was a more fundamental issue of not having the time, even with two camera bodies to share the load, to change lenses all the time. Wedding photography, in the way we shoot, it is far too fast-paced for much of the day.

Canon then released substantial upgrades to the lens we missed the most: the 24-70. Canon rolled out the 24-70 f/2.8 Mark II L at the perfect time. As soon as we tested this lens it was like winning the lottery.  Wow, it is SHARP!  Thus ended the toil of swapping out all day long the otherwise wonderful primes we had been tried. This is now our “go-to” lens.

Canon 24-70

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L Mark II lens on a Canon camera body.

Canon 70-200

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS Mk II lens mounted to a Canon camera body.

And then, voila, Canon released the 70-200 f/2.8 IS L Mark II upgrade, too. And while the Mark I 70-200 didn’t necessarily have as severe or as widespread sharpness issues as did the 24-70, the new Mark II lens is razor-sharp and non-questions-asked a far superior lens. Liz and I each have, and love, our copies of this beauty of a lens.

We still have our special purpose primes, and do love them. They include a 15mm fisheye, a 100mm L macro, and the venerable and inimitable 85mm f/1.2, luscious for portrait and low-light, no-flash reception shots such as during first-dance.

So, with two fast, “L” grade super-sharp lenses that together cover every focal length from 24 – 200mm, with two identical Canon 5D Mk III bodies, we are truly enjoying top image quality and the kind of versatility and speed we need as busy Maine wedding photographers. So, in the question of zoom versus prime lenses for wedding photography? We answer, both!

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This Technical Tuesdays post asks, zoom versus prime lenses for wedding photography? Russ and Liz Caron, Maine wedding photographers, prefer to use zoom versus prime lenses to shoot their weddings. Do you have questions, or recommendations for the Technical Tuesday series? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to share this post with your friends. Russell Caron is available for workshops, group instruction, or one-on-one mentoring. Contact us, call Russ at (207)233-4050, or email him at russ@wed-pix.com.

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