First, I would like to say that while I haven’t tried all of the lenses out there, I have tried and used the vast majority of what you would generally find in a professional wedding photographers bag. If you would like to know what I shoot with, feel free to check out what’s in my bag. I have shot with both Nikon and Canon. I love both. I currently shoot Canon as I just couldn’t get the style I wanted for weddings with my Nikon gear. So whether you are looking into photography as a career or just have a growing passion with a large budget, here are my all time favourite lenses.
- 70-200mm f/2.8 vr/is. I used to own the nikon VR1 version of this lens and I loved it. My father in law has the VR2 and we compared them side by side. His was very slightly sharper. But it was very slight. I was always very happy with mine. The vignetting that review sites claim is never a problem for portraits. I didn’t even notice it. I actually add a vignette fairly often anyways. I find that it brings the focus more onto the subject. One advantage it did have over the VR2 though is that when situated closer to the subject the VR2 becomes a mere 135ish mm focal length due to focus breathing. That is a no go for me, so if I was still shooting Nikon I would jump on a used VR1 in a heartbeat for a drastically lower price. But really any of these lenses more than suffice. They are often the last lens a wedding photographer gets just due to the huge price tag, but they really should be the first as they are game changers. I have the Canon 2.8L IS II now and it is incredibly sharp. It almost never misses focus too.
- My 85mm f/1.2L II. Just an insane lens. It is so beautiful. No other lens that I have or have had can capture what this one does in the way it does. I think it may be enchanted or something. For all of the beautiful photos though the focus is terribly slow, but for an engagement or wedding portrait session, it is never a problem. But with any movement from your subjects, you need to keep this in your bag. Equip the 70-200mm instead. Also backlighting is something that it’s focus system absolutely despises. But once you nail that focus, if you do, the payoff is worth it.
- Nikon 14-24mm F/2.8. I know. It’s not really a portrait lens. But this lens packs a punch in creating a powerful scene and you can always throw a couple in there. This was the final lens I sold when I made the switch to Canon. It was a tough day. I had desperately wanted to keep it. I even bought a Nikon to Canon adapter but I can’t manual focus at all and the focus indicator seemed to be inaccurate. So alas, my 14-24mm rode off in the sunset on the back of a dirt bike after a craigslist meet. This lens was absolutely fantastic though. The sharpness and contrast were outstanding. It made for the most epic and powerful images. I truly miss it. Someday, when I become a dual system shooter I will get this lens once again.
- 24-70mm F2.8. You can’t really go without it. It is so versatile. While I generally don’t use this much on the longer end for portrait sessions, I do in day to day life with my kids and family outings. It’s great for birthdays and such. I use it more on the wide end for those scenic shots with engaged couple and bride and grooms.
- 35mm 1.4. I like the 35mm focal length as I feel that it gives an accurate field of view to the human eye. It feels less dynamic then the 24mm and I’m always more relaxed when viewing shots taken at this focal length. I currently have the Sigma Art version of this lens. It is almost too good. So sharp and beautiful but the premium coating on the lens prevents you from being able to add in some artistic lens flare. So I may be switching back to the L lens once the new one is out. Aside from that, it destroys the Nikon and Canon in terms of quality for me.
- 135mm F/2. I love this focal length and at F2 it is even more amazing. I don’t currently own one of these. I used to have the nikon version with the defocus control but I found that it was a very nice lens. I just wasn’t getting enough use out of it as I almost always opted for the 70-200m instead. One problem I noticed with the Nikon was the exact opposite of the Sigma Art. It had a terrible haze when shooting with backlit situations. The contrast was almost non existent. Sometimes this can be used to benefit the image, but again it has to be a very specific situation. The bokeh one this lens is beautiful though and they both are tack sharp. So if you have a slower pace style I would definitely recommend this lens. I will get another one in the future guaranteed.
So those are my favourite lenses for shooting portraits. Obviously the models that I have chosen in these focal lengths are what I feel are the best. I do not factor in cost when I purchase equipment for my business. It is always about image quality. So pop over to my see what’s in my bag if you would like to skip all of the online research and buy what I have found to be the best after researching everything extensively and trying everything first hand.