Choosing Your Camera: Know What You Need

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In the days when film was king, medium format was the camera of choice for wedding photographers because the larger negative produced a better image, and cropping a large negative didn’t really degrade anything. Additionally, the larger negatives were capable of producing a greater tonal range, and when enlarging an already bigger image, the final results retained the fine-grain qualities of the original. While loving the spontaneity of a 35mm SLR, the photographer’s professional status was contingent on producing images with greater levels of quality than the relatively smaller format cameras were able to produce.

Today, many full-frame DSLRs are more than capable of delivering very high levels of resolution, with enough data captured to allow significant work to be carried out on the digital negative. Whether the task at hand is enlarging or cropping, chances are good that the final result will still be rich in fine detail, with high levels of contrast. Although many photographers still prefer the vivid and dimensional look of medium format film images, full-frame DSLRs fitted with top-drawer optics are more than up to the task of creating beautiful wedding photographs.

One of the qualities of digital imaging that makes things easier is the ability to see results immediately. High resolution LCD screens make it possible to check focus, composition and lighting on every shot before moving on to the next. For wedding photographers, this is an absolute godsend, as anyone who has shot a wedding portrait with “soft eyes” will agree.

Full-frame DSLRs suitable for wedding photography include the Nikon D4, D3x, D800 and D700, the Canon 1Ds Mark III, EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark III. It’s worth noting that the high resolution image files afforded by these full-frame heavyweights make it possible to crop your pictures from the native 2:3 ratio to squares for those who prefer square-format albums. The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, Canon's heavy-duty speed demon, which contains an APS-H (1.3x) CMOS sensor, is equally up to the task of capturing ample image files.

As for DSLRs containing smaller APS-C format sensors, it would be wise to avoid any of the less rugged budget models, though if you’re in a pinch they can still do a serviceable job. Pro-quality DSLRs suitable for wedding photography include the D90, D300s and D7000, as well as the EOS 7D and EOS 60D. At the very least, these compact DSLRs can serve as reliable back-up cameras. Regardless of your chosen format, stick to the best glass you can mount on your camera, because at the end of the day your pictures are only as good as the glass with which you capture them.

For more information about choosing the best lens for the job, please refer to The Wedding Photographer’s Guide to Lenses.

Although a majority of the picture-taking populace has gone digital, there are still a number of wedding photographers who for a variety of reasons choose to shoot with film cameras, most notably medium-format cameras that include the Mamiya 645-AFD III, a cross-platform 645-format camera, and the Mamiya RZ67, a 6 x 7 format camera. Medium format film cameras are also available from Hasselblad in the form of the traditional square format Hasselblad 503CW and the 645 format Hasselblad H2F. Each of these fine cameras is available with a wide selection of optics and can be converted for digital use with the addition of compatible capture backs from a number of manufacturers. Do be advised that while it’s possible to upgrade film based medium-format cameras with digital capture backs, they require more cables and connectors than digital-only medium-format cameras, and they can be slightly more unwieldy than their digital-only counterparts. Although the use of medium-format digital cameras for weddings has greatly dwindled as 35mm-based DSLRs have come of age, medium-format DSLRs are currently available from Hasselblad, Mamiya, Leica and Pentax.

Although the choices among film-based 35mm cameras are much narrower than in days past, two pro-quality cameras—Canon’s EOS-1V and Nikon’s F6—are still available, and they’re compatible with the same lens systems as their digital counterparts.

Regardless of your choice of camera brand and format, it’s important to take note of your intended camera’s fastest flash-sync speed. Almost all of the cameras mentioned above feature top sync speeds of at least 1/250th-second, which is as slow as you want to go when using fill flash outdoors on sunny days. With slower sync speeds you risk blowing out (overexposing) the background. Hasselblad’s 503CW features a top sync speed of 1/500th-second, which is fast enough to literally darken backgrounds on the brightest days, making it possible to capture dramatic lighting effects normally reserved for indoor studio portraits.

Lastly, when the serious work is done, you might want to consider using alternative cameras such as the Fujifilm Instax and Polaroid 300-series, Holgas, Lomography, Blackbird Fly, and similar picture-taking oddities, each of which produces pictures with a unique, unconventional look. Or, send out an assistant to complement your output with vignetted images, light-leaked photos and other enjoyable filmic pictures.

Do you have a particular camera that you like to use for photographing weddings? Regardless of whether you are a professional who shoots two weddings per week, or if you only photograph the occasional wedding, most of us have very subjective preferences when it comes to the gear we use. Please feel free to share your opinions in the Comments section below and tell us about some of your experiences, preferences and handy workarounds.

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Great article on wedding photographer's gear and thanks for including film cameras in it! I still use film and love it! I like to combine the best of both digital and film cameras.

Nice series of articles however there's a small error in this one...

The Canon EOS 1D mark IV is NOT a full-frame but a 1.3x crop ;)

I use a Pentax K-5 for weddings.  Although there is no full frame option in the Pentax lineup, the K-5 is a cut above the other crop sensor bodies offered by Canon, Nikon and Sony.  The fact that the K-5 is fully backwards compatible with Pentax glass makes the system work for me.  Obviously, you should use what you feel comfortable with.

EXCELLENT article - I always come to B&H for my research :)

I have many cameras for my wedding photography but most of the time i used cannon COS 5D mark III.it is my favorite camera and i feel comfortable use this camera.It have extended (50-102400)range that make a good wedding photo.

hi, i'm newly starting the wedding photography. is eos 60d is good to use for weddings? can you suggest any other camaras with the similar price range of 60d?

*****, i wanted to know whats the best camera to purchase for beginners?