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What’s Your Go-To Wedding Photography Lens: 24-70mm or 70-200mm?

By Shivani Reddy on January 30th 2017

It’s likely you’ve had this internal debate at some point in your career: which lens should I purchase first as a wedding photographer? Do you start off with a workhorse lens like a 24-70mm or aim for a less intrusive beast like the 70-200mm?

In our Wedding Workshop series, we go into great detail as to which lenses we use most throughout a wedding day to capture journalistic moments and artistic wedding photography. Watch the full Facebook Live debate here:

The Argument for the 70-200mm

When I am given a choice between the two, I always reach for a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, mainly for the beautiful compression created by this beast of a lens. Yes, it definitely has its drawbacks due to weight and price, but I am willing to look past that for the incredible quality of imagery it creates. When speaking of price, it isn’t too far off from the 24-70mm, this is considering the fact that we are purchasing them at f/2.8 and not at more closed down apertures like f/4.

The Pros

A 70-200mm focal length range allows you to use foreground elements to create interesting compositions, greatly compress your backgrounds to pose your subjects against a beautifully blurred out space, and the gives you a stunning bokeh look.

Now, it is important to note that for most crucial moments of the day that require some type of portraiture or journalistic capture (bridal portraits, first look, couples session, wedding ceremony, reception, etc.) we stay on our 70-200 to remain unobtrusive as photographers. That longer focal distance gives us the ability to capture moments from afar with assurance in image stability and a wider aperture than its cheaper alternatives.

THE CONS

The weight does play a huge factor in why people are reluctant to purchase the 70-200mm, but we actually don’t mind that so much. A more important reason to consider purchasing the 24-70mm first is because of its versatility in small spaces and quick moments. Let’s take for example a wedding recessional: the bride and groom are quickly walking down the aisle, celebrating their new title, and you are on a 70-200. You will need to be quite a bit of distance away, due to the Minimum Focus Distance, to capture this movement and might actually miss it if you aren’t far enough. For that reason alone, the 24-70mm is more a more favorable first purchase.

[REWIND: OUR THREE FAVORITE LENSES FOR BRIDAL PORTRAITS | FACEBOOK LIVE]

THE ARGUMENT FOR THE 24-70MM

For those looking to purchase their first lens as a wedding photographer, look no further, your answer is here. From our experience, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II is by far the most utilized lens for us here at Lin and Jirsa Studios.

THE PROS

Whether it be group portraits, family formals, decor details, wedding processionals, or shutter drag portraits at night – the 24-70mm has time and time again proved its worth as a valuable and useful piece of glass. There is no other lens that gives you the depth of field you want at this range of focal lengths. For capturing journalistic, in-the-moment photos, there is no better candidate than this guy right here. Its versatility can be seen in the multitude of scenes it can be used in, especially when you are backed into a corner of a room with no area to move around and shoot.

THE CONS

The price of this lens may deter you from saving up and making this purchase, but consider its benefits before completely discarding it to purchase a Prime instead. While Primes give you a higher aperture, they tend to lead to alot of missed focuses. The compromise you then face is having a lens that photographs at f/2.8 that produces images that look a lot like a point-and-shoot camera. The artistic quality that is produced from images taken with a 70-200mm isn’t at all the same and therefore your portfolio might look a little basic.

[REWIND: 3 SIMPLE LIGHTING TECHNIQUES FOR PROBLEMATIC SCENES]

Which Do You buy first as a wedding photographer?

Our advice? Buy the 24-70mm and capture the moments that matter without the worry of missing them. Artistic composition and compression come secondary to capturing the moments that your couple is paying you good money to document, so you don’t want to miss out on that for the sake of getting a cooler shot. Eventually, you can save up to have both of these quintessential lenses in your arsenal, but for right now if you are debating between the two, go for the 24-70mm.

Need more advice on what gear to buy next? Check out our entire Wedding Workshop Series which includes photo and lighting gear lists for lead & second shooters! Stream it now in SLRL Premium or purchase it in the SLRL Store!

Don’t agree with our choice? Which is your favorite lens to shoot on during a wedding day? Let us know in the comments below!

Shivani wants to live in a world where laughter is the cure to pretty much everything. Since she can’t claim “Serial Bingewatcher” as an occupation, she’ll settle for wedding/portrait photographer at Lin and Jirsa & marketing coordinator here at SLR Lounge. For those rare moments when you won’t find a camera in her hand, she will be dancing, eating a donut, or most likely watching Seinfeld.

Follow her on Instagram: @shivalry_inc

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Gerald Dallons

    I use both the 24-70 and the 70-200 both are the f/4 IS versions. I love the lighter weight over the f/2.8 versions and as most of my weddings are outdoors the slower lens are not typically a problem. If I’m in a dark church I pull out my faster primes. I use the 24-70 for pre-ceremony and processional, then change to the 70-200 for the rest of the ceremony. I use primes for the posed/family shoot time. For the reception I go back to the 24-70 if I’m not in need for speed and once it goes dark for dancing I go to a prime. I shoot off-camera flash and prefer to stick with a prime so it’s one less thing that can change exposures. Consistency is the name of the game when I’m firing off-camera flash.

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  2. Brittany Yeo

    Always love watching your lives. I completely agree from a which lens to buy first stand point, although I love my 70-200. One thing I think was missed in this debate though, is what would be your go to during a church ceremony (where your movement is restricted)? And then, how would that pick change if you were shooting with a secondary (who should have what)?  Love your work! 

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  3. Atiqur Sumon

    This is first time i visited this website through google. I hope this is very much important thing for photography. This tutorial will help to know about both 24-70mm lens. Here efficiency and cost also discussed that will help to make an appropriate decision. Thank you very much to share this tutorial.

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  4. Ett Venter

    Man, I love articles like this because it’s so great to see people’s preferences.

    I don’t use either of these lenses, ever. Haha. I shoot all my weddings with a pair of primes: an 85mm 1.2 on the one camera and a 24mm 1.4 on the other.

    (Actually, it’s a 56mm on the one and a 16 on the other, but Fuji’s sensor isn’t full frame).

    Back when I was shooting on my D800 or Df, I always used to shoot with an 85 and a 24-70, but then realised that on the 24-70, I was always shooting it at either 24, or at 70. Didn’t make sense to shoot the 24-70 at 70 if I had an 85, so I decided to ditched the 24-70 and go with a fast, wide prime. Best move I ever made.

    I will say this, though – I totally agree that if you had to get your first high-end zoom for weddings, I’d 100% go with a 24-70.

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  5. Ram Karan

    If I had to document an entire wedding with just one single lens then without doubt it would be the Canon 24-70 2.8 L . Great article Shivani thanks.

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  6. Jonathan Brady

    I’d be interested in seeing a poll on this exact topic. I think arguments can be made either way. I’m relatively new to weddings (only second-shot a few) but I’ve settled on the 70-200 on one camera and the 35L II on the other for most everything. I have the 16-35 f/4L IS for shots of guests between the ceremony and reception as well as on the dance floor and 100L IS Macro for details. I have other lenses available, but those are the 4 I use the most and I’d easily capture everything I wanted with them.

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