Michael Caswell Photography

Sony Lens Selection for Wedding Photograohy

I prefer shooting with primes, but sometimes frustratingly inaccurate autofocus when I shot with Canon and Nikon DSLRs led me to gradually drift toward a "zooms by default, primes only when needed" method of lens selection. I longed for the creamy look (and lighter weight) of f1.4-f1.8 lenses, but very often simply could not trust them to focus correctly. Even wide-angle primes at longer shooting distances (like a wide shot from the back of a church), where there should have been ample depth-of-field, would often front-focus for no apparent reason, requiring me to overshoot just to ensure I got enough usable images.

Sony's accurate and reliable focus system has enabled me to get back to shooting with primes almost all the time, which I am really happy about.

In an admittedly unusual move, when I switched to Sony one common lens I initially did not go with is a midrange zoom (like a 24-70 f2.8). I've owned various 24-70 lenses (first with Canon, later with Nikon) since I began photographing weddings back in 2005, and I thought long and hard about it when it came time to buy Sony gear. In the end, I opted against it, because I planned to shoot with two bodies with primes for the entire wedding day (as opposed to how I worked previously with prior camera systems, putting one body away after the special dances and shooting the rest of the reception with just a 24-70).

In addition to liking the look of images created with fast primes, the other part of my rationale for this was that I figured it would be easier on my wrists to alternate between two cameras equipped with lighter primes as opposed to having to lift and support a much heavier mid-range zoom. And this has worked out wonderfully... I've found I very much prefer shooting with two lighter cameras rather than one heavy one. Still, after 3 years of shooting with Sony, I finally relented and picked up a Sigma 28-70 f2.8 (which itself is remarkably lightweight for a mid-range zoom), just to have on hand.

Anyway, on to my current lens selections. Generally speaking, my default lens choices for most phases of the wedding day are the 24mm f1.4 on one A1 body, and the 50mm f1.4 on the other. While a 50mm might seem like an odd choice for a "long lens", the A1's easily switchable APS-C crop mode and ample resolution make it considerably easier to shoot with primes, as these 24mm and 50mm lenses can also double as approximately 35mm and 85mm (well, 75mm, but close enough) lenses as well. True, there's no difference in the end result between shooting in crop mode and simply shooting full frame and cropping in post, but seeing the cropped image while shooting helps me better compose the shot, and also doesn't waste card space on image data that's going to be cropped out anyway.

Back in my Canon 5D days, I was mostly a 35mm / 85mm shooter, but although I really enjoy shooting with those focal lengths, for tightly packed receptions, 35mm is often not wide enough. And although 85mm is great for stealthily capturing unsuspecting guests from a bit further away and for things like the first dance where I know I have ample room to work, once the dance floor gets packed with people, I often find that 85mm is just too long, and 50mm is more appropriate for the tighter shots.

A pair of A1 bodies with 24mm and 50mm, with 1.5X crop mode, works perfectly for the vast majority of the wedding day for me. I really only feel compelled to go with a longer lens for church ceremonies.

Anyway, on to more details about my lenses.

The 24mm f1.4 GM is quite a bit more compact and light than you would expect an f1.4 prime to be, such as compared to the popular Sigma Art 24mm f1.4. Yet it's amazingly sharp, even when shooting wide open, and is fast-focusing as well. I use it for getting ready shots, the ceremony, and the reception, and it pretty much never comes off the camera unless I specifically need the 16-35 f2.8 for some reason. For the first half of 2019 when it was first released, this lens was quite hard to obtain, with backorders taking a few months to be fulfilled. Availability has since stabilized though.

One small complaint I have about this lens is regarding the aperture control ring that many current Sony lenses now have. Occasionally when the camera is bouncing around down by my side when pulling it out of a lens pouch, this ring gets bumped from its "A" position, which results in the aperture being locked to f16 (or whatever f-stop it gets bumped to) rather than being controlled with the dial on the camera. If I'm inside when this happens, it's very obvious because the display on the EVF becomes very dark and/or jumpy as the camera struggles to show the live view image with such a small amount of light being able to come in through the tiny aperture, and I can quickly fix it by turning it back to A and then properly setting the aperture on the camera. If I'm outside in good light, however, it's less noticeable, and I sometimes won't notice it right away.

I'll likely tape this ring down with gaffer's tape, but I haven't done so yet because I'm considering trying to shoot using it to control my aperture rather than the dial on the camera. My only hesitation about this is that since most of my lenses don't have the aperture ring, it may be difficult to get used to adjusting the aperture with this control, and even if I do get in the habit of using it (since my two main lenses are the 24mm and 50mm, both of which have the aperture ring), I may encounter moments of brief confusion when I happen to be shooting with a lens that does not have this ring. So, in that respect, it may be better to just stick with the universally functional front dial to control my f-stop.

The new 50mm f1.4 GM that Sony released in Spring 2023 is my other default lens. Though I was very happy with the venerable 55mm f1.8, since I shoot with this focal length very often, plus because I needed another 50mm for my second shooters to use, I finally gave in to the temptation decided to add a faster and more modern 50mm to my stable of lenses. I was a little concerned that losing that bit of focal length might reduce how much I'd be able to use it, but that hasn't been the case, it's really just been a wash.

I was admittedly a bit conflicted on this particular purchase. I initially tried the highly regarded 50mm f1.2 GM, which had been on my mind since it was announced in Spring of 2021. The Canon 50mm f1.2L had been my favorite lens back when I shot with the 1DmkIII bodies, and Sony's offering compares well to Canon's. On the other hand, there was a dramatic difference in weight and size compared to the tiny Sony/Zeiss 55mm that I had been accustomed to since I switched to Sony in 2018. The 50mm f1.2 is over 2.5X heavier than the 55mm f1.8, and also looks and feels massive in comparison. At about four or five hours into a typical seven hour wedding day, the weight on the shoulder becomes noticeable, as does the effort required to lift it repeatedly to shoot. But it should be noted that weight of this lens is not unreasonable for an f1.2... it's a bit heavier than Canon's EF 50mm f1.2L, but is lighter than the newer mirrorless-specific Canon RF 50mm f1.2L and Nikon's Z 50mm f1.2.

Still, the weight was significant enough that when Sony announced the 50mm f1.4, I decided to give it a try, and although I wouldn't describe the difference as night-and-day, it was certainly a noticeable improvement, and I ended up switching to it permanently.

Though even the f1.4 is (of course) quite a bit heavier than the 55 f1.8, but I consider it a worthwhile tradeoff for the increase in low-light abilities and even more pleasing background blur. One other small benefit moving to this lens provides is that it includes the user-definable button that most of Sony's lenses have. Officially known as the "focus hold" button, it can be reassigned for other functions, but I've always been reluctant to use it because the 55mm f1.8 does not have it. Now with all of my main lenses having this button, I feel more comfortable assigning a function for it. Lastly, the 50mm f1.4 can focus about four inches closer than the 55mm f1.8 (though I haven't done calculations / comparisons to determine how much of a benefit this is vs. the 55mm's slightly higher focal length).

This lens has a similar aperture control ring as the 24mm f1.4 does (which sometimes gets bumped to an undesired position), but thankfully Sony apparently listened to user feedback regarding this issue, as there's a locking switch that fixes the ring in the A position.

The Sony/Zeiss 55mm f1.8 is an absolutely amazing lens... compact and light, yet sturdy, fast-focusing, and with uncompromising image quality. For my first four or five years of shooting with Sony, it was pretty much always on one of my cameras unless I have a specific reason otherwise. Though I like the added compression, bokeh, and reach of an 85mm, often during receptions I often simply don't have enough space to shoot comfortably with that focal length, and the 55mm still gives a pleasing look while working better for those tighter spaces, and it's also great for full length portraits. Yes, the $1000 price tag might seem a bit on the high side for an f1.8 normal focal length prime, but if you enjoy shooting at this focal length, it's absolutely worth every penny. For years, my feeling was that if it were lost, stolen, or damaged beyond repair I would almost certainly immediately replace it with the same exact lens, but the above mentioned 50mm f1.4 has taken over this focal length for me.

Of course, I do vary from these lens selections when appropriate. For instance, during a large church wedding ceremony I'll usually replace the 50mm with the 70-200 f2.8, while for ceremonies in courtyards, hotels, and other medium size spaces I may choose the 85mm f1.8 (which I selected over the f1.4 GM version primarily due to focus speed) depending on the size of the space and the lighting conditions. This lens is also handy even for large churches, if you need a fast lens during the processional if the lighting is too dim. I also sometimes use the 85mm during portions of the reception coverage when I want a little more reach than the 55mm offers, such as capturing candids of guests mingling, or the couple's first dance if I have adequate space to work with, as well as bridal portraits. And during the later portions of receptions, it occasionally becomes necessary to swap out the 24mm for the wider view of the 16-35mm f2.8 when the dance floor gets really packed or otherwise when shooting in tight spaces, though this is rare. I also sometimes photograph my group formals with the 16-35mm, but this is probably my least-used lens.

I started out with the Sony 28mm f2 as my wide prime, though it hasn't seen much use since I added the 24mm f1.4 to my kit. Still, I found it to be a decent lens to use for almost all phases of the wedding day, and I still keep it in my bag just as a backup or for those rare instances when I need a wide prime on a third body. Very small, light, and with a reasonably fast aperture, it's a good focal length that falls between 24mm that sometimes feels too wide, and 35mm that quite often isn't wide enough, especially during packed receptions. Just be careful, as the lens hood on this one has a tendency to pop off if it happens to bump against something while the camera is slung over your shoulder and down by your side. It's a good alternative if you need a wide angle prime lens but are not quite ready to fork over the fairly hefty price of the 24mm f1.4.

In early 2022 I added the Sony 135mm f1.8 GM to my arsenal of lenses after having had my eye on it for many months, and it's rapidly become my go-to portrait lens for outdoor sessions. This lens is truly unbelievably sharp even wide open, and has gorgeous bokeh. I've also been favoring it for low-light ceremonies where I need a little more reach than the 85mm provides and more light-gathering than the 70-200 allows. As with the 24mm f1.4, this lens has an aperture control ring, which is prone to being bumped away from the "A" position (which lets the front dial on the camera control aperture) to the adjacent f22 setting, which can cause a rude awakening if you pull the camera up and begin shooting before realizing this setting has been changed (it's readily apparent in lower light, but less so in brighter outdoor conditions). So if you don't plan on actually using this ring to control your f-stop, plan on taping it down.

Lastly, be aware that the filter ring that the lens hood attaches to is somewhat fragile and prone to breaking off (this plastic ring is held in place with three rather thin tabs). I've read several reports of this part breaking, and it happened to me after about a year of usage, though to be fair, in my case it was the result of the forces applied to the hood while wrestling it into my lens pouch (the diameter of the lens hood makes it a bit tough to fit through the opening of the pouch). Some users make the case that this represents a prudent design, as an impact to the lens hood would just break this ring rather than causing more extensive damage to the lens.

A Note about Autofocus

It should be mentioned that the effectiveness of the Sony autofocus system in dim light depends greatly on the maximum aperture of your lenses. For instance, during wedding receptions, when the venue staff turns the lights down very low, you might find it difficult or impossible to get a focus lock when shooting with an f4 zoom lens, and might even have some trouble with an f2.8, but an f1.4 or f1.8 prime locks on just fine. This differs from my DSLR experience, where zoom vs. fast prime didn't seem to make much difference in AF performance in low light.

Also, when shooting in continuous focus mode (AF-C) with some lenses, if you are shooting at, say, f4, the aperture will typically not open up to the lens's maximum when focusing then stop back down to f4 when you shoot, instead it will just stay at f4 the whole time. But it will momentarily open up for AF if you are in single focus mode (AF-S) with most lenses. And in some cases it will open up even if shooting stopped down in AF-C, but it only seems to do this as a last resort if it's totally too dark to have any hope of focusing.

But regardless, because continuous focus works so well, I'm almost always shooting wide open in low light situations anyway, only stopping down when I need the depth-of-field (like for group shots).