Weddings are complex, emotional events full of pomp and circumstance, spontaneous joy and levity, smiles and tears. Certainly, one of the primary goals of all good wedding photographers is to capture the distinctive feeling of each event as it unfolds.
However, another key objective is capturing memorable images of all the participants—everyone from the clergy; the bride and groom; their parents and grandparents; assorted relatives and friends; the bridesmaids; the ring bearer; the flower girl; even Uncle Fred sporting his polka dot bow tie. In other words, many of the most important pictures in any well-executed wedding portfolio or album are portraits. They may range from head-and-shoulders close-ups to formal full-length renderings, and everything in between.
Given the fluid nature of the assignment, and the high percentage of portraits, most experienced pros pack more than one lens and camera when covering a wedding. In addition, their kit is likely to include zooms and prime lenses, from wide angles to telephotos.
As a guide to dealers serving the lucrative and vibrant wedding photography market, we’ve selected 12 great lenses that run the gamut from wide-angle primes to telephoto zooms. All are aimed at photographers from emerging to seasoned pros focused on elevating their wedding portraits—a strategy that will simultaneously enhance their chances for success and contribute to your bottom line.
Characteristics of Great Portrait Lenses
Focal length alone doesn’t define a great portrait lens. So, here’s a short list of the optical and operational characteristics that the wedding portrait photographers in your customer base are likely to prioritize when choosing lenses.
1. Sharp, high-resolution imaging at the point of focus to capture fine detail.
2. Pleasingly rounded, natural-looking rendition, aka, the 3D effect.
3. Beautiful bokeh, especially at the widest apertures. This refers to smooth, natural transitions from in-focus to out-of-focus areas of the image without harshness or artifacts in the out-of-focus areas.
4. A wide aperture for maximum depth-of-field control and the ability to soften distracting foreground and background objects to draw the viewer’s attention toward the main subject.
5. A diaphragm with seven or more rounded blades to enhance bokeh and minimize diaphragm-related artifacts, such as the notorious six-sided honeycomb effect.
6. Close-focusing capability, preferably down to 20 inches or closer with a wide-angle or normal lens; 39 inches with a moderate telephoto; and 59 inches with longer lenses.
Top Portrait Lenses for Wedding Photographers
Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
This Art lens from Sigma is lauded by enthusiasts and pros for its outstanding sharpness at f/1.4 and spectacular performance at f/2. The superbly made 17-element, 12-group superspeed medium telephoto also provides exceptional evenness of illumination to the edges and corners of the field. In addition, it offers beautiful bokeh throughout.
It employs three FLD (fluorite equivalent), two SLD (super-low dispersion) and one aspheric element; they minimize axial chromatic aberration and achieve high resolution. Also featured is weatherproof construction employing a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) barrel. In addition, a hypersonic motor (HSM) provides full-time manual focus (MF) and quick, quiet autofocus (AF). Also of note are a solid brass mount; a hefty lens shade made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic; and a water-repellent front coating to facilitate cleaning. The lens focuses down to 39 inches and has a removable Arca-Swiss-compatible tripod collar. In Nikon F, Canon EF, Sigma SA, Sony E and Leica L mounts, $1,599.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM
Canon’s exceptional high-speed portrait telephoto lives up to its L-series designation; it delivers outstanding imaging performance even at its widest apertures. Optimized for portraiture and low-light shooting, it includes one glass-molded aspheric (GMo) element to greatly reduce spherical aberration and distortion as well as enhance sharpness and clarity.
It also features Canon’s proprietary Air Sphere Coating (ASC) to minimize lens flare and ghosting. As a result, it yields images of greater contrast and clarity even under adverse shooting conditions. Moreover, its built-in image stabilization (IS) system provides a 4-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of camera shake. And a ring-type ultrasonic motor (USM) provides fast, precise, quiet autofocus with full-time manual focus override for fine-tuning. The lens also features dust- and weather-resistant construction and has a smudge-resistant fluorine coating on its outer elements to facilitate its use in adverse conditions. Canon EF mount, $1,599.
Tamron 28–75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD
This is an innovative, compact wide-to-moderate-tele zoom for full-frame Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras. The Tamron lens delivers impressive shooting versatility and a wide f/2.8 constant maximum aperture—all in a compact, slim form factor. It incorporates three aspheric; one XLD (eXtra-low dispersion); and one LD element to achieve excellent correction for spherical and chromatic aberrations. As a result, it captures images of outstanding sharpness and clarity over its entire range.
In addition, an RXD (rapid eXtra-silent stepping drive) AF motor provides smooth, fast, nearly silent AF. The lens also uses proprietary BBAR (broadband antireflection) coating to suppress flare and ghosting. Notably, it focuses down to 7.5 inches (1:2.9 maximum magnification) for compelling close-ups. Other key features include: a fluorine-coated front element to resist smudges and facilitate cleaning; a 9-blade diaphragm to enhance its artistic bokeh; and weather-sealed moisture-resistant construction. Moreover, it provides a 42–112.5mm-equivalent focal length range on APS-C-format models. In Sony E mount, $879.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G
The redesigned, unique 9-element, 6-group AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is a modern reprise of the cult classic 58mm f/1.4 Nikkors of the early 1960s. In addition, it’s an excellent portrait lens that performs far better than the original at its widest apertures. It also provides far superior evenness of illumination with little falloff in the corners. Moreover, it creates beautiful bokeh thanks in part to its rounded 9-blade diaphragm.
Perfect for portraiture, the prime lens additionally offers an 87mm-equivalent focal length on DX-format Nikon DSLRs. Furthermore, it uses two aspheric elements to better control aberrations; a silent wave motor (SWM) provides swift, precise, nearly silent AF plus full-time manual focus. The only downside is a minimum focusing distance of a longish 2 feet (0.13x). $1,599.95.
Rokinon SP 85mm f/1.2
Employing a sophisticated 10-element, 7-group optical design, this Rokinon lens integrates one hybrid aspheric and two high refractive index elements. They work to minimize aberrations and increase sharpness. Moreover, the superspeed portrait telephoto lens provides enhanced depth-of-field control for optimizing selective focus effects. It also boasts extended low-light performance; impressive overall sharpness across the image field at all apertures; and artistic bokeh thanks in part to its rounded 9-blade diaphragm.
In addition, the manual-focus prime lens for full-frame ILCs focuses down to 24.7 inches for impressive frame-filling headshots. It also provides a 136mm-equivalent focal length on APS-C-format cameras. With ultra-multicoating and all-metal construction, it features a durable, lightweight aluminum barrel. In Canon EF mount, $799.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM
This Sony prime lens is celebrated by photographers and reviewers for its outstanding resolution and refined bokeh. The 11–element, 8-group medium-telephoto lens incorporates one XA element and three ED elements. In addition, Sony’s Nano AR coating delivers images of exceptional sharpness and clarity even at its widest apertures.
The ultra-speedy prime also focuses down to 2.6 feet for capturing frame-filling close-up portraits. What’s more, it incorporates an internal focusing system (IF) and linear supersonic wave AF with an AF/MF switch and a focus hold button to deliver impressive imaging, AF performance and handling convenience over its focusing range. Also featured is a rounded 11-blade diaphragm that enhances its inherently beautiful bokeh. Other niceties are a physical aperture ring with a de-click switch that’s optimized for video applications as well as dust- and moisture-resistant construction. In Sony E mount, $1,799.99.
Sigma APO 70–200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM
Here is a versatile, well-balanced f/2.8 constant-maximum-aperture telephoto zoom from Sigma. It delivers outstanding imaging performance over its entire focal length and aperture range. That’s due to an advanced optical design employing two FLD (fluorite equivalent) elements and three SLD (super-low dispersion) elements. Its apochromatic correction virtually eliminates color fringing and enhances color accuracy. Moreover, multilayer coating suppresses flare and ghosting, all of which enable it to capture vibrant, compelling portraits even in challenging lighting conditions.
In addition, a hypersonic motor (HSM) provides swift, precise, virtually silent AF. It’s complemented by its built-in optical stabilizer (OS) that effectively minimizes the effects of camera shake when shooting handheld. Further, a rounded 9-blade diaphragm enhances its inherently beautiful, natural bokeh. The lens comes with a removable rotating tripod collar for convenient vertical or horizontal shooting atop a tripod. Designed primarily for full-frame cameras, it provides an impressive 112–320mm-equivalent range with APS-C-format cameras. In Canon EF, Nikon F and Sigma SA mounts, $1,199.
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD 1:1 Macro
This updated version of Tamron’s much-admired, classic full-frame 90mm macro is a versatile multipurpose lens. And it excels at portraiture. Its floating element design maintains outstanding image quality from its 11.8-inch minimum focusing distance (1:1) to infinity. Moreover, its 14-element, 11-group construction employs one LD and two XLD (eXtra-low dispersion) glass elements to minimize chromatic aberrations and achieve impressive sharpness throughout.
In addition, Tamron’s BBAR and eBand (extended bandwidth and angular-dependency) coatings minimize flare and increase light transmission. And a rounded 9-blade diaphragm enhances its pleasing bokeh. It also features VC (vibration compensation) image stabilization that provides a 3.5-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of shake. What’s more, a ring-type ultrasonic silent drive (USD) AF motor delivers rapid, precise, quiet AF plus anytime manual focus. Other key features include internal focus; a two-range focus limiter; weather resistance; and a water-repellent fluorine-coated front element. In Nikon F and Canon EF mounts, $649; in Sony A mounts (sans VC because Sony cameras have built-in IS), $749.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VR II
This superlative Nikon superspeed 200mm FX-format prime is not for the faint of heart or wallet. However, it delivers amazing reach, superb image quality, beautiful natural rendition and gorgeous bokeh, due to its rounded 9-blade diaphragm. This robust 13-element, 11-group lens also employs Nano Crystal coating.
Its ultrawide aperture is ideal for low-light work and enables exceptional depth-of-field control. Moreover, Nikon’s advanced VR II (vibration reduction) image stabilization delivers a 3-stop anti-shake-effect advantage in handheld shooting. It also features an advanced silent wave motor AF system for swift, quiet, decisive AF. The prime lens comes with a heavy-duty, detachable rotating tripod collar. Note: it works best atop a sturdy tripod, but it’s capable of truly brilliant imaging and is a magnificent choice for shooting compelling portraits. In Nikon F mount, $5,699.95.
Sigma 24–70mm f/2.8 DG DN Art
Just released from Sigma in the L mount and Sony E mount, this full-frame, short-range zoom is the mainstay of many wedding photographers. It delivers impressive framing flexibility and a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture in a well-balanced, compact form factor. Further, its cutting-edge optical design incorporates six FLD, two SLD (special-low dispersion) and three aspheric elements; they achieve extremely high sharpness, clarity and color accuracy over the entire range. Moreover, the mirrorless-dedicated design contributes to a reduction in the lens’s size and weight.
In addition, super multilayer and Nano Porous coatings were applied throughout to suppress flare and ghosting. And its stepping AF motor provides very quick, quiet, decisive autofocus action. The lens focuses down to 7 inches (1:2.9 maximum magnification) for stunning close-ups. What’s more, its 11-blade diaphragm contributes to beautiful, artistic bokeh. Weather-sealed construction enables shooting in challenging environments, and the lens is fitted with a durable brass bayonet mount to enhance mounting accuracy and rigidity. In Leica/Panasonic/Sigma L mount and Sony E mount, $1,099.
Pentax-D HD FA 70–210mm f/4 ED SDM WR
This brand-new Pentax high-performance, constant-f/4-aperture telephoto zoom covers the full-frame format. Sleek and compact for its class, it features enhanced weather-resistant (WR) construction. Plus, a sophisticated 20-element, 14-group optical design employs three ED and two anomalous dispersion glass elements to minimize chromatic aberrations. It also uses multilayer HD coating to suppress flare and enhance contrast. As a result, it achieves remarkable sharpness and clarity over its entire range.
A ring-type supersonic direct-drive motor (SDM) delivers quick, quiet, precise AF. What’s more, its rounded 9-blade diaphragm enhances its inherently beautiful, natural bokeh. Moisture-resistant construction and a Super Protect (SP) coating on the front element facilitate its use in adverse weather conditions. Further, when used with late model K-mount Pentax DSLRs, such as the K-1 Mark II, its electromagnetic diaphragm enables more accurate exposure control when shooting video. In Pentax K mount, $1,099.95.
Sony FE 70–200mm f/2.8 GM OSS
This is an exceptional pro-caliber G Master telephoto zoom in the full-frame format. The f/2.8 constant-maximum-aperture lens benefits from Sonys latest optical technology. It employs one XA (extreme aspherical) element, two aspheric elements, four ED elements and two super ED elements to deliver outstanding imaging performance over its entire range.
It also boasts built-in Optical SteadyShot (OSS) image stabilization to minimize the effects of handheld camera shake. Additionally, Nano AR coating reduces flare and ghosting, and a fluorine coating on the front element resists smudges and enables easy cleaning. Moreover, a supersonic wave motor provides precise, quick, quiet AF operation, and it has a rounded 11-blade diaphragm that contributes to pleasing bokeh. In addition, it offers close focusing to 3.15 feet (0.25x magnification at 200mm.) A rotating tripod collar permits quick switching from horizontal to vertical shooting orientation. The lens is also dust and moisture resistant. In Sony E mount, $2,599.99.