Overview of Wedding Photography DSLR Bodies & Equipment
With so many different styles of photography out there, wedding photography is in a category if its own. One minute you’ll be shooting traditional portraits, and the next you’ll be shooting relatively fast action. One minute you’re in harsh, bright sun, and the next you’re in a pitch-dark church or reception venue!
Because of these extremely diverse conditions, we’ve created a complete guide to the types of camera bodies a wedding photographer should consider. Basically, these camera bodies are ready for anything, from static shots to fast action, and deliver gorgeous image quality whether you’re shooting in harsh sun or near-darkness.
Most of these cameras also offer something we feel very strongly about as a wedding photography studio ourselves at Lin & Jirsa, and that is the ability to instantly back up your raw photos to two separate copies, using dual card slots. Having this camera feature allows us to leave one single (SD) card in the camera all day long, say, a 64GB or 128GB card, …while swapping out slightly smaller capacity cards throughout the day. Using this workflow, by the time the wedding reception rolls around we already have the prep, ceremony, and portraits backed up in our pockets!
What Makes A Camera Body Good For Wedding Photography?
Update: After reading some of the comments, I’ve deiced to add a section about which camera body features are actually required for wedding photography.
Simply put, a lot of people ask questions like, what about shooting speed? Do you need 8-10+ frames per second? (FPS) No, you really don’t, most of the time. I even photograph high-action Hindu wedding ceremonies, with fast-paced dancing and other action, and I’ve never set my camera to shoot any faster than 4-6 FPS. In fact, I did just fine when cameras were “stuck” at 3 FPS!
Another thing that people ask about is weather sealing and magnesium-alloy body construction. No, you don’t really need weather sealing for weddings in some areas, however, if you do shoot a lot of outdoor ceremonies in a part of the world where it rains a lot, then of course it’s a good idea! It really just matters where you live, and the type of weather you shoot in.
What matters a lot more, to me, is the overall durability and dependability of the system. Some camera bodies are prone to “bricking” themselves, or completely dying for no reason, such that you have to yank out the battery in order to hard-reset the camera. Other bodies have other issues. So, generally speaking, the bodies we are recommending shouldn’t have these issues.
Lastly, flash compatibility. Over the last 5 years, we’ve seen a lot of cameras lose their external flash PC sync port, and personally, I say good riddance. I hated PC sync cables, and their issues with consistency after a few months of heavy use. Thankfully, most wireless flash systems these days are all built-in to the flashes themselves, or a hotshoe-mounted controller.
Also, there are many great wireless flash systems that are cross-compatible, if you don’t need high-speed sync (HSS) or TTL. (through-the-lens auto-exposure metering) In fact, I’ve used Yongnuo flashes that were supposed to be Canon-compatible on Nikon and Sony cameras for years, without any issues. It’s all just manual flash triggering!
If you have any other questions about any other features, please leave a comment below. Suffice it to say, for most wedding photography, the most important things in a camera body are general durability, safety/backup, and autofocus reliability.
With that said, let’s consider all of the systems that offer great camera bodies for wedding photography!
Top Recommendations: Full-Frame DSLR Bodies
For Wedding Photography
Sheer Performance Champion:
Canon 5D mk4 ($3100)
This is quite possibly the ultimate wedding photography camera, with its flagship quality autofocus system both through the optical viewfinder and in live view. It works amazingly well in all types of light and can nail focus even at very shallow apertures. That, plus a great frame rate, dual card slots for image safety, and of course mRAW mode for those high-volume shooters who do a lot of general candid journalism and need to cram thousands of photos into a 14+ hour wedding day.
These are the main features (if you’re not a videographer) that make the 5D mkIV compete well against its competition. Throw in the gorgeous image quality up to ISO 6400, and the selection of Canon lenses that all portrait-shooting bokeh-lovers know so well, …and you definitely have a champion of a wedding/portrait camera body.
The only shortcoming of the 5D mk4 is that it has less dynamic range than it’s Nikon and Sony competition, but considering the progress Canon’s sensors have made at ISO 100 since the 5D2 and 5D3, dynamic range alone is not worth “jumping ship” over for most wedding photographers.
Sheer Performance Champion:
Nikon D850 ($3296)
The Nikon D850 is just as good of a camera as the CAnon 5D Mk4, and better in some respects. The awesome thing about the Nikon D850 is that you have both a high-megapixel sensor and a medium-resolution sensor rolled into one camera, a first for Nikon. Unlike the D810, which had a “beta test” mRAW file format that didn’t really save much much file size, the D850 offers a ~25-megapixel mode and ~12-megapixel mode which deliver great image quality and a substantial storage space savings for those ultra-long marathon wedding days.
The D850‘s base ISO of 64, and the amazing dynamic range that goes with it, makes this a favorite camera for those dramatic, scenic wide-angle portrait shooters who want to capture stunning images of their brides and grooms set against an amazing sunset or other backdrop, with image quality that rivals that of medium format cameras.
All-Around Value Winner:
Nikon D750 ($1296)
As far as bang-for-the-buck is concerned, without compromising any amount of professional reliability and performance of course, you just cannot beat a Nikon D750. Currently going for $1300-$1600 brand new, and almost half that in mint used condition, no other full-frame camera comes close to matching the combination of amazing image quality and professional reliability. If you’re patient, you could probably pick up a new D750 as your primary camera, and then score a used D750 as your backup camera, all for about $2,000. (As of early 2019.) Not to mention the fact that Nikon has so many generations of great f/2.8 zoom and f/1.4-1.8 prime lenses that you have tons of options when shopping either new or used.
Top Recommendations: Full-Frame Mirrorless Bodies
For Wedding Photography
Make no mistake, the era of DSLRs being the ubiquitous, preferred choice for all professional wedding photographers has officially ended. Full-frame mirrorless cameras have undeniably come into their own. With a handful of major advantages that will benefit a wedding shooter, such as in-body stabilization for f/1.4 primes and the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) of an electronic viewfinder, the long-term future for many working professionals is definitely a mirrorless one.
Sony A7III ($1998)
This is our current champion of full-frame mirrorless camera bodies, as far as wedding photography goes. The A7 mk3 is the first relatively affordable full-frame mirrorless camera to offer those things which a wedding photographer needs most- reliable autofocus, dual card slots, incredible image quality at all ISOs, and last but not least, an amazing lens arsenal to go with it. The A7iii is currently just under $2K brand-new, and less when shopping used, making it the best option for those who want professional reliability, and are also considering the idea that owning two camera bodies instead of just one is a good professional choice.
By the way, don’t confuse this amazing camera with its predecessor, the A7 mk2. As a wedding photographer, you’ll absolutely want not only the autofocus and dual card slots that this mk3 version offers, but also its vastly improved battery life for those all-day jobs!
Sony A7RIII ($3100), Sony A9 ($3998)
Both of these cameras certainly make for great wedding photography cameras, however, they’re also slightly more optimal for other things, compared to the A7iii.
The Sony a9, with its $4,500 price tag, is really a flagship action sports/wildlife camera. It does offer an even more impressive EVF (electronic viewfinder) than the A7iii, and a slightly more capable AF system, but the difference in the price tags still means the A7iii is slightly more practical for weddings in particular.
The Sony A7R3 is a lot like the A7iii, but its $3,200 price tag gets you a 42-megapixel sensor instead of 24, and also a slightly better EVF again. If you make a lot of very large prints, then absolutely go for the A7R3, otherwise, the A7iii gives a better bang for the wedding photographer’s buck.
Canon EOS R ($2299)
Canon’s new RF full-frame mirrorless system is shaping up to be an incredible one, and many portrait photographers are already finding that the RF lenses such as the 50mm f/1.2 L and 28-70mm f/2 L are just gorgeous for general portrait photography.
However, as far as bodies are concerned, the Canon EOS R is not yet the “flagship” pro body that a wedding photographer could trust as much as they could a 5DIV. The EOS R only has a single SD card slot. However, that’s about the only drawback, so if you’re OK with it, the EOS R does make an amazing portrait camera, and at the very least it’s a much better backup camera to your primary 5DIV than any other DSLR. Feel free to sell that old backup Canon DSLR and try out the new mirrorless RF system. Canon has a full arsenal of flagship lenses on the way, and likely a flagship body not far behind.
Nikon Z6 ($1996)
The new Nikon Z mount is also very impressive, and its huge mount size should be an indicator that wedding photographers who love exotic lenses might be in for a real treat someday. For now, however, the Nikon Z-series bodies, both the Z6 and the Z7, lack the professional reliability of a D850 or even a D750, with their single memory card slot and slightly less trustworthy autofocus, if only in certain demanding conditions.
XQD memory cards are extremely tough and reliable, though, so again, just as with the EOS R, …if you’re already shooting on a D750 or D850 and you’d like to just dip your toes into Nikon FX mirrorless, then sell your backup Nikon body and trade up to the Z6, so that you can start familiarizing yourself with the system.
Additional Full-Frame Camera Recommendations For Wedding Photography
Okay, what if you’re really on an extremely low budget? There are many alternative full-frame camera bodies that a wedding photographer might consider. However, are they all a “safe” investment for such a high-pressure job as weddings?
The answer is, it depends. The camera absolutely must offer reliability, in more than one respect. It needs to be able to nail focus in extremely low light, which for example most of the oldest Sony A7-series full-frame bodies just do not do very well, compared to their amazing current-generation autofocus system. Not t mention the fact that, before the Sony a9 and A7iii, none of the Sony FF mirrorless bodies had a backup memory card slot. The same thing goes for the oldest DSLRs. Many of them have just one memory card slot, or unreliable autofocus, and although they could certainly “get the job done” in a pinch, the responsible, professional thing to do is to invest in a more reliable camera.
Pentax K-1 (and mkII) ($1796)
This camera is built tough, in fact it’s probably even just as rugged as the Canon 1-series and Nikon D5. It also has dual card slots, and one perk that Nikon and Canon’s DSLR systems cannot claim: In-Body, sensor-based stabilization!
However, we do feel that the camera may be at a slight disadvantage for wedding photography in particular. Make no mistake, the Pentax full-frame system is amazing and excels at outdoor types of photography such as landscape and nightscape photography, however, its autofocus prowess leaves a little to be desired in dimly lit churches, or on wedding reception dance floors.
Also, while the system does have a complete arsenal of lenses available, you’ll likely be unable to swap lenses or bodies with a 2nd shooter (or anyone else) in an extreme emergency. So, yes, please do consider this amazing camera, but do so with the aforementioned caveats in mind. If for example, you’re a serious landscape photographer on a budget, who also photographs a wedding every once in a while as a side gig, this is your camera.
The Nikon D610, and its black sheep brother the Nikon D600, receive our recommendation for one reason: they’re the cheapest full-frame cameras out there which offer dual card slots for instant on-location backup of your raw images.
However, these (essentially identical) cameras both lack the professional grade autofocus system that the Nikon D750 and D850 boast, so you’ll want to check focus on critical shots throughout a wedding day. Having said that, the image quality from the D610 is still more than enough to compete with even the latest cameras.
The Sony A7II and a7RII marked a decent leap forward in mirrorless autofocus reliability, indeed enough to shoot in most types of wedding photography conditions, as long as you do keep an eye on your extreme low-light and action shots. However, as we mentioned before, they both still use the infamous Sony NP-FW50 battery, and a responsible wedding photographer might need literally a dozen batteries to get through a very long wedding day without recharging.
The Canon 6D and Canon 6D mk2 deserve our final nod in the full-frame realm, with the caveat that they don’t have dual memory card slots, nor professional-grade autofocus. What they bring to the table is simply the overall durability that Canon is known for, and solid overall image quality that can meet any requirement a wedding photographer might face.
However, for the price of a new 6DII, you might be able to pick up a used Canon 5D Mk3, which has both dual card slots and professional autofocus, making it a much smarter choice. It’s an old, but “tried and true workhorse” of a camera, so if you’re on a serious budget and looking for a Canon DSLR for whatever reason, a used 5D3 is higher on our list than any other Canon DSLR below the 5D4.
Lastly, regarding full-size flagship cameras: why don’t we recommend a Canon 1DX2, or the Nikon D5, for wedding photography? Because for weddings in particular, their price and feature set are a bit off the value mark. Simply put, for the same $5,000-$6,000 investment you could buy TWO professional bodies from Canon, Nikon, or Sony, all which still offer the critical features such as dual card slots and pro-grade autofocus. For wedding photography, having a backup camera is extremely important, much more important than having 10+ FPS or a built-in vertical grip.
Top Recommendations: Crop-Sensor Camera Bodies For Wedding Photography
As desirable as full-frame cameras are, crop sensor camera bodies are totally capable of gorgeous wedding images. However, because of the emphasis that wedding photography in particular places on low-light image quality, it is hard to recommend more than just a select few crop-sensor camera bodies as the best long-term investment.
So, we’ll restrict our recommendations to the few cameras that offer both the critical features and (nearly) the same image quality as full-frame options. Indeed, make no mistake, these “flagships” make truly formidable systems.
Fuji‘s APS-C flagship system as a whole wins our recommendation for APS-C wedding photography, because it offers more of the things that a wedding photographer cares about than any other APS-C system: great image quality at all necessary ISOs, great autofocus, dual card slots for instant backup, …and one of the most important things of all, an arsenal of lenses that would make even a full-frame shooter think twice!
Simply put, in the real world of working professionals, even among wedding photographers, Fuji‘s system has “stolen” more former full-frame shooters than any other, when it comes to professional portraits and weddings. The portability that the system offers is not to be understated, either. (Thanks mostly in part to its smaller sensor, NOT its lack of a mirror & shorter flange distance, mind you!)
Oh, and there’s also the Fuji GFX medium format system, if you ever get an itch for a huge sensor, but want to keep your primary wedding kit the portable X-T-series…
Nikon D500 ($1796)
This 20-megapixel 1.5x crop (DX) DSLR has better low-light image quality than a few of the earliest full-frame cameras! With the right set of f/2.8 zooms, or even f/2 or f/1.8 zooms, plus maybe a fast prime or two, ISO 3200 and even 6400 on this camera are ready for professional wedding duty. It also has a complete arsenal of pro features and functions, borrowed straight from the flagship Nikon D5, including flagship autofocus and dual card slots. (You’ll have to start buying XQD cards to take advantage of that instant backup feature, though.)
True, you could probably buy a used Nikon D750 for about the same price, and some of the best “glass” for a D500 is either FX glass, or just as expensive, however if you’ve been eyeing the D500 for other reasons, (say, a hobby in telephoto wildlife photography) …then don’t hesitate to consider the D500.
Canon 7D mk2 ($1400)
This 20-megapixel 1.6x (also APS-C) crop sensor DSLR from Canon is also capable of image quality that rivals the oldest full-frame cameras. It also boasts those two things we’ve repeatedly mentioned, flagship-grade autofocus, and dual card slots.
Like the Nikon D500, the 7D mk2 isn’t exactly a low-budget option, and the lens selection is limited to mostly full-frame options and a few EF-S lenses. However, these cameras are absolutely capable of professional results, regardless of their sensor size.
It is far more important to know what you’re doing, and to have the right lenses for the job, than to have a full-frame camera body without the right lenses, or the right skills to get good results in low light.
Using Beginner camera bodies For Wedding Photography
This is a very common debate that we wanted to address in this buying guide. Some people argue that you simply can’t shoot a wedding unless you have a professional camera, while others point out that any camera can get the job done, as long as you know what you’re doing.
Obviously, if wedding photographers could get the job done 10 years ago with the very first DSLRs, or 20 years ago on film cameras, …then of course the image quality from even today’s worst beginner camera is “good enough”
However, does this mean an aspiring professional should make a habit out of trusting beginner equipment? Absolutely not! Because, image quality is only half the battle for a wedding photographer. Reliability and overall performance are just as important, and those are what a professional camera body offers.
So, while a very experienced photographer could pick up any camera and get the job done, the professionally responsible thing to do is to invest in a professional system. You owe it to your brides and grooms who are paying you good money. This is why we stressed features such as dual card slots so much throughout this whole guide.
Using Other Digital Format Cameras For Wedding Photography
What about Micro Four Thirds, or digital medium format, you might ask? Again, they’re certainly capable, however, we feel that they would deserve their own separate guide that takes a different tone. Because whether its the image quality of smaller sensors, or the lens selection of larger sensors, each system is a bit of a compromise in comparison to any of the well-established ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) sytems in the full-frame or APS-C realm.
On that note, thank you for reading this guide! If you have any questions about a specific camera, or a particular aspect of wedding photography, please feel free to leave a comment below.