New Gear Ideas for Wedding Photography
What’s new in gear for the wedding photographer this year? No need for much more of an introduction than that, so let’s jump into it with a sampling of the best new gear that might entice a wedding photographer, whether a traditional stylist, a documentary shooter, or anyone in-between.
Canon EOS 5DS
Let’s start with the Canon EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R DSLRs, the announcement of which took the photo world by storm for a few moments back in February. It is the ultra-high-resolution variation of the awesome and beloved 5D series, and has had Canon shooters wondering whether they should jump to this large-file shooter or wait for the potential release of a 5D Mark IV that would most likely offer lower resolution than the 5DS and 5DS R but maintain or improve upon the burst rate, ISO, and exceptional video capability of the Mark III.
For wedding photographers who shoot Canon DSLRs, is the investment in such a high-resolution camera worth the added download and processing time of the big files? In speaking with several shooters, the answer is mixed. Many look forward to the ability to create medium-format-like details and the potential of larger prints, not to mention you can crop images liberally and still retain resolution. For shooters who use medium format cameras for their formal shots and switch to a DSLR for the reception, the 5DS could be the perfect solution because it retains the light weight and handling of a DSLR but offers the pixel count of the medium format without the need to switch setups, let alone carry both sets of lenses and gear. English wedding photographer Lisa Devlin notes that having the 5DS will help with her commercial work, as well—especially food photography, where clients often ask for larger files than her 5D Mark III can create.
Other advantages of the 5DS include its anti-flicker feature, which is helpful in certain lighting conditions, and its 1.3x and 1.6x crop modes, which create 30.5MP and 19.6MP images, respectively. The advanced mirror control mechanism and new selectable shutter-release lag times of the 5DS do help control vibration and provide a truly silent shooting mode which, of course, is a benefit to wedding shooters—although comments from Mark III users have always been very positive toward its silent mode. Several wedding photographers with whom I spoke, including Jesse Chamberlin at Our Labor of Love, made it clear that this would be their next camera.
Going in the entirely opposite direction, we have a medium format camera that offers many of the advantages of a DSLR. New as of Summer 2014, the Pentax 645Z Medium Format DSLR Camera has emboldened many DSLR shooters to take up medium format as their primary camera. While it’s arguably not a true medium format, with its 51.4MP, 43.8 x 32.8mm sensor—the same CMOS sensor found in new Hasselblad and Phase One cameras—it creates large, detailed, and tonally rich images, but unlike most of its medium format cohorts, its form factor, menu system, low-light capability and price point will be more familiar to DSLR shooters. Furthermore, the optical low-pass filter has been removed from the sensor design to enhance sharpness. It features a 27-point AF system and an ISO range to 204800 with impressive dynamic range and enhanced noise reduction for low-light capability not usually associated with medium format. The new focus module includes 25 cross sensors and three AF sensors dedicated to low-light focusing. It can shoot up to 3 fps continuously, and a mirror lock-up function helps to prevent blur on its high-res images.
Australian-based wedding shooter James Simmons calls the camera, “A low-light beast! It is way better in low light than anything I have ever used before. I have been using it during the location shoot (first looks or between the ceremony and reception), when I have a little more control over what is happening.”
Other features that align the camera closely to full-frame DSLRs are its dual SD card slots with FLU (Wi-Fi) card compatibility; tilt 3.2" LCD with enhanced live view shooting; hot-shoe mount; and a familiar interface, including recognizable buttons and mode dial. Also, very important for location shooters, the body is fully weather sealed and able to withstand inclement weather and temperatures down to 14°F. Its magnesium-alloy shell and aluminum chassis features a deep grip for stable one-handed shooting, and tripod mounts on the bottom and side of the camera. Although it may not be of particular use to wedding shooters, the 645Z features full HD 1080 video with an HDMI port and external mic jack, a first for medium format cameras. The camera is compatible with 645AF2, 645AF and 645A-mount lenses and a total of 67 Pentax medium format lenses with the appropriate adapter. Also, while Pentax has its own RAW format, the 645Z also allows RAW capture in the more usable DNG RAW format.
Wedding Photos © James Simmons Photography
Placed on a tripod or handheld in good lighting, the camera would be ideal for formal shots, portraiture, and details, but that does not distinguish much from standard MF rigs. The question remains, is it fast enough and, possibly more important, physically manageable for candid shots and dance-floor fun? In speaking with a few shooters who have used it for such, the answer is yes, with a “but.” Matthew Ree, of Mathew Ree Photography, in New York, notes an uptick in requests for medium format shooting and feels many colleagues will be turning to the 645Z for its relative affordability and familiarity. Others are embracing it for the same reasons, but are hesitant to give up their Nikon or Canon full-framers for anything except the formal shots. For wedding shooters who want to bring the image quality, tonal range, and professional muscle to their formal shots without breaking the bank, the Pentax 645Z is a very attractive option.
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
A wonderful addition to any Canon shooter’s bag, and most certainly a great wide-angle zoom lens for wedding photographers, is the new Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens. Its versatile focal-length range encompasses the totality of ultra-wide-angle perspectives, making it an all-in-one optic for most aspects of wedding shooting. Get in tight on the dance floor and have the flexibility to include all the revelers, or add distortion to a wide shot of the ceremony that includes the interior of the building, the guests and the bride walking down the aisle.
While some wedding shooters embrace a strict primes-only policy, the edge-to-edge sharpness of this lens may cause them to reconsider. One Super UD element, one UD element, and four aspherical elements minimize chromatic and spherical aberrations and other distortion, while Subwavelength and Air Sphere Coatings maintain light transmission and high contrast. A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor delivers fast, precise, and silent autofocus. As an L-type Canon lens, it is dust and moisture resistant, and a fluorine coating applied to its front element provides dust, oil, and smudge protection.
Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
Available in Nikon F, Canon EF, and Sony A mounts, this Tamron ultra-wide-angle zoom lens offers a similar set of perspectives as the Canon above; however, its maximum aperture of f/2.8 enables enhanced low-light capability and shallow depth-of-field control. It also benefits from Vibration Compensation image stabilization for control of blur. Tamron’s Ultrasonic Silent Drive AF system is the equivalent of Canon’s Ultrasonic motor for smooth and silent autofocus. And like the Canon, aspherical and low-dispersion glass elements and specialty lens coatings improve performance. A rounded nine-blade diaphragm produces smooth, natural out-of-focus highlights, which are a welcome element in wedding shots.
Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens
Many wedding shooters keep a 24mm lens in their kit, and this new wide-angle lens from Sigma is a beauty. For anyone who has dismissed Sigma glass in the past, its recent series of Art lenses should earn a reëvaluation. These are sharp, smooth, well-built, fast-aperture primes available for Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A, and Sigma SA mount full-frame lenses. The f/1.4 maximum aperture is a gift for low-light use and focus placement, and a nine-blade rounded diaphragm helps to create attractive out-of-focus highlights. The lens’s optical design enhances its performance at the widest apertures and FLD and SLD glass elements reduce aberrations. The HSM autofocus motor is responsive and quiet and its Thermally Stable Composite build maintains precision in varying temperatures. A brass mount adds to the durability of this gorgeous lens.
Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* Lens
Last August, Zeiss unveiled the second of its “Otus” prime lenses for full-frame DSLRs, the 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* lens, available for Nikon F and Canon EF mounts. An incredibly sharp manual focus lens with a fast maximum aperture, it is an ideal portrait lens for wedding photographers. Based on the Planar design with an internal focus mechanism and floating optical elements, this apochromat incorporates six anomalous partial dispersion glass elements and one aspherical element to suppress aberrations throughout the focus and aperture ranges. Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating has been applied to individual lens elements for consistent sharpness and image clarity. It is a heavy lens, but incredibly smooth to focus manually and it creates beautiful, timeless images.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens
Released in January, 2015, and available for pre-order is the new AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR prime telephoto from Nikon. Updating the 300mm f/4D IF-ED lens, which has been a standard for 15 years, this new lens should come as a great benefit to wedding shooters who use such a focal length. For starters, it is very compact, a full 3" shorter and 1.5 lb lighter than its predecessor, and the updated Silent Wave Motor provides a truly silent AF action. Its VR image stabilization system offers 4.5 stops of compensation against the blur caused by camera shake, which could be very effective for telephoto shooting in a dimly lit house of worship or event hall. Optically, its one Phase Fresnel and one ED element control aberration, and Nano Crystal and Super Integrated lens coatings reduce ghosting and flare and improve overall light transmission.
For many, this focal length might be too long for wedding applications. However, if you do have limited access during a ceremony or appreciate the benefits of telephoto perspective, this lens is a gem. Having used the lens at the recent CP Plus Expo in Yokohama, I can attest to its benefits and recommend it.
Profoto B2 250 AirTTL Off-Camera Flash Head
A survey of several local and internationally based wedding photographers regarding the new B2 250 Air lighting system resulted in a resounding, “Me wannee!”
“Seeing this at WPPI stopped me in my tracks,” commented Jesse Chamberlin, and early reports from the field note how easy it is to carry and use. The B2 is a follow-up to the very successful B1 500 Battery-Powered Flash. The B2 comes in lighter and smaller, with fast recycling and charge times and an impressive set of modifiers. Available in two kits, the one-light To-Go Kit and the two-light Location Kit, their fundamental idea is to provide studio-quality lighting that is portable and as easy to use as your camera’s TTL flash. To that, the flash head weighs 1.5 lb and can easily attach to your camera with applicable brackets or be used off camera. The battery pack, with battery, weighs 2.2 lb and is easily held in its neoprene carry bag. Its twin outlets each have a dedicated thumbwheel that allows the pack's 250Ws of power to be distributed asymmetrically over a nine-stop range in full or 1/10 steps. Full TTL control for Nikon and Canon is supported by the Air Remote TTL or an all-manual Air Remote Transceiver for other brands.
Flash brackets get your flash up and away from your lens, reducing awkward shadows and harsh and unflattering in-your-face lighting. Some brackets will swing your flash over your camera when you switch to portrait position and some will collapse nicely for portability. Brackets are tricky beasts because they vary greatly in price and build; even the best models can unbalance your system to the point of unworkable. Trial and error is the way to figure what works best for your setup and shooting needs. Custom Brackets Digital PRO-M Rotation Bracket utilizes roller bearings for smooth movement of your camera from horizontal to vertical, while the flash unit holds steady above your camera with a height-adjustable and tiltable arm. Its foam grip is comfortable and the whole system will stand upright due to innovative fold-in legs. It is available in models with the grip on the left side or the right side.
The Vello QuickDraw Rotating Flash Bracket is hinged to flip the flash 90° as you switch from horizontal to vertical orientation. The bracket mounts on the base of your camera with or without a battery grip, and its cold-shoe mount holds almost all flash models. New from ProAm USA is the DSLR Handle Grip and Flash, a basic but sturdy bracket with a hinged top arm to adjust the direction of your flash. It is aluminum built with a foam grip and a large 3 x 3" mounting platform for a more secure connection to the camera’s ¼"-20 tripod mount.
Backup and Storage
Portable Hard Drives
On-site backup of images is a smart idea that most wedding photographers endorse, and a few new portable hard drives stand out from the rest. The Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB USB 3.0 Drive features a solid-state drive for data transfer at up to 450 MB/s, and provides both USB 3.0 and 2.0 compatibility. It secures your images with an AES 256-bit encryption algorithm and features Dynamic Thermal Guard for functionality at high temperatures. Best of all, its 2.8 x 2.0 x 0.4" design is no additional load to carry. For increased storage capacity and faster transfer speeds, the 4TB Backup Plus Fast Portable Drive, from Seagate, has a USB 3.0 connection with a transfer rate up to 220 MB/s and 4TB of space.
The familiar favorite with the orange bumper, from LaCie, is the 500GB Rugged Thunderbolt External Hard Drive. What it lacks in storage capacity, it makes up for in speed, security, and durability. A solid-state drive and an integrated Thunderbolt cable and USB 3.0 port support transfer speeds of 387 MB/s. It is drop-resistant to 6.6', crushproof to 1 ton and dust- and water resistant (when cover is attached) to the IP 54 standard. The included software password protects your files with AES 256-bit encryption. It is also available in a 250GB version. G-Technology has its own new rugged hard drive, the 1TB G-DRIVE ev ATC. There is one is available for Thunderbolt and one for USB 3.0, and they both are shock resistant to 6.6', as well as water, pressure, and dust resistant. They literally float in water. The USB 3.0 version provides data transfer at 136 MB/s, is solely bus powered and backward compatible to USB 2.0. The Thunderbolt model also includes a USB 3.0 cable and is compatible with USB 2.0.
Western Digital offers the 2TB My Passport Wireless, enabling wireless transfer of data with any Wi-Fi enabled camera using FTP protocol. Stored images are wirelessly accessible to up to eight users simultaneously, and the hard drive also has a USB 3.0 port and an SD card slot for direct backup from your memory card. A rechargeable battery keeps you powered for up to 20 hours and Wi-Fi password protection provides image security.
The G-Technology 24TB G-SPEED Studio Storage System with Thunderbolt 2 is a versatile drive that can store and retrieve 4K video, but is also ideal for archiving all the weddings you shoot over the years. It features four separate enterprise drives, which are said to be more reliable over the long term, configured in RAID 5, and utilize Thunderbolt 2 with a single 20 Gb/s bi-directional channel. The new Seagate STEB5000100 5TB Expansion Desktop Drive is a stylish and compact desktop drive for storing images, with fast transfer speeds, thanks to its USB 3.0 interface. A plug-and-play setup will have you connected to a Windows operating system in no time.
Bags and Backpacks
The new Lowepro Echelon Roller is the hold-everything bag, ideal for a wedding shooter’s gear haul. A retractable trolley handle and sturdy wheels offer the easy pull, and leather handles on both top and side provide carry options. An impact-resistant molded interior protects your gear and removable dividers let you break up that huge space in any way you like. It is purported to be able to hold two pro DSLRs with six to eight lenses with up to a 300mm attached to one of the DSLRs. There is also a dedicated front pocket for a 15" laptop, numerous pockets for accessories, and straps for holding a pro-size tripod. A TSA-approved lock and all-weather cover with storage pouch is included.
The Lowepro Echelon Attache will hold one large DSLR with two to three lenses and features a pocket for a 13" laptop. An organizational panel for IDs and accessories is available and an all-weather cover protects it from the elements. A trolley handle pass-through makes it the perfect accompaniment for the Echelon Roller.
The Lowepro Echelon Brief holds a 15" laptop and has several pockets for cables, accessories, and miscellaneous ephemera. All of its contents are held in a removable padded insert and it, too, comes with a TSA-approved lock, all-weather cover, and trolley handle pass-through. For a total package that would suit any wedding photographer, whether travelling near or far, B&H has combined the above three items into a convenient Echelon Kit.
Also new from Lowepro is the ProTactic 350 AW Camera and Laptop Backpack, if you prefer lugging your gear as opposed to rolling it. This may be a bag more for the outdoorsy photographer, but its versatility and protective features should appeal to all. It’ll hold one or two DSLRs, including one with a 24-70mm f/2.8, as well as six additional lenses and/or flash units. The great thing about this bag is that you have easy access at four distinct points of the bag, including a hard top compartment and side access. The CradleFit laptop pocket suspends your computer to protect it from impact and its strap and support system is comfortable for long hikes. Vanguard has a new, very handsome backpack called the Vanguard Havana 41 that is designed to hold one DSLR and two or three lenses, but could hold more if you arrange the inside dividers. It has a compartment for a 13" laptop and a nice front opening compartment for quick access to a camera with lens attached. Several accessory pockets and rain cover are featured.
The stylish sand canvas with brown leather trim Kelly Moore Bag Kate Messenger Bag with Removable Basket may not carry all your gear to the wedding, but is very sturdy, looks great, and is ideal for one camera, a few lenses and flash when you need to run to the garden behind the event or for carrying your gear during the service. Leather and brass buckles with magnetic snaps don’t make that loud touch-fastener sound when opening, and the removable “basket” with adjustable dividers lets you organize gear the way it works for you. A slot for a 13" laptop and a front pocket for accessories complement this bag, which works as a standard carry, as well as camera bag with handle and shoulder strap.
While not a new product, several wedding photographers told me they are ditching traditional straps and turning toward the Spider Belt to support their cameras while shooting. Lori Waltenbury, a wedding shooter from Ontario, Canada, mentioned it as her Number-One piece of gear: “It saved me from a mountain of back pain!” The Spider Camera Holster SpiderPro Dual Camera System holds two full-size DSLR cameras with lens attached or a camera on one side and a lens on the other. This system includes the belt and two holsters with their respective plates that attach to the tripod sockets of your camera, and the pins that attach to the plate. A single-camera system is also available, as are smaller models for more compact cameras. Their unique design enables fast access to your camera and an easy return to its resting spot. Nicki Hufford, wedding photographer from Warren, Ohio, credits the Spider Belt for saving her from a hangover the day after a wedding shoot.
HoldFast Gear makes a two-camera harness that is also becoming very popular with wedding shooters, partly due to the fact that its handsome design fits well with the formal attire of most weddings. The Money Maker Two-Camera Harness is available in a range of colors, leather styles, and sizes. They feature a comfortable X-pattern across your back and hold two cameras ready at your side. Metal D-rings and the Holdfast Accessory Clips secure your camera to the harness via your camera’s ¼"-20 tripod mount and a “speed clutch” mechanism enables you to bring the cameras quickly to your eye. Photographers get attached to the accessories as much as much as to their primary gear, and James Simmons took the time to say, “… but if there’s one piece of kit that I simply can’t live without, it’s my HoldFast camera strap. I forgot it once, and made my second shooter go back to my house and get it.”
While it’s hard to say that film photography is a new aspect of wedding shooting, several photographers mentioned that they had requests for or are incorporating film into their repertoire, whether it be medium format for the formal shots or black-and-white for the prep sessions or dance scenes. It can be cost prohibitive to shoot a lot of film, but adding a selection of prints may appeal to the right client or surprise a couple who forgot it’s still possible. Of course, there are many wedding shooters who still shoot only film, whether that’s due to a client base that prefers such or their understandable feeling that the color tones, grains, and intangibles of film cannot be duplicated digitally.
Fujicolor PRO 400H Color Negative Film is a daylight-balanced C-41 film, applicable to a wide range of scenarios and known for smooth skin tones. When Matthew Ree uses his Contax 645 medium format camera to shoot formals, bride-and-groom portraits, or details, he loads it with Fuji 400H or Kodak Portra 400 or 800 color film. Brooklyn-based photographer Grant Willing uses Rollei/AGFA Digibase CN 200 PRO Color Negative Film for its exposure latitude and vivid colors, as well as its fine grain structure. Also, because it’s on a transparency base, it scans well. For experimenting in bright light, there are two relatively new film stocks: Adox Color Implosion 100 Color Negative Film provides a notable grain with bold reds and a de-saturated, nostalgic color scheme. Also, Cinestill 50Daylight Xpro C-41 Color Negative Film is a brand new arrival to B&H and happens to be movie film stock prepared for still use. It offers dynamic colors, fine grain, and a halation effect from bright light sources.
For black-and-white film, the standard remains Kodak Professional Tri-X 400 Negative Film for its fine grain, resolution, consistency, and flexibility. However, Kodak Professional BW400CN is often a choice for weddings due to its sharpness, ultra-fine grain and broad range in both shadows and highlights. Also, because it is processed in C-41 chemistry and printed on color paper, it is easier to find labs to handle it. Other black-and-white options include Ilford Delta 3200 Professional Black-and-White Negative Film for working in the low light of an indoor ceremony or the fast action of a late-night dance floor.
Finally, in radical departure from where we started this survey, the Impossible Project has come out with a range of color and black-and-white film for Polaroid Instant cameras, and both Lori Waltenbury and Brighton, Massachusetts wedding photographer Zac Wolf mentioned to me that they bring a Fuji Instax Instant Film Camera with them to all their weddings and are sure to rattle off at least a few shots of the bride and groom either to give to them as a little tickle before they leave the for the honeymoon or even to include in the final comprehensive package they send out.