MASTER LESSON: Wedding Equipment

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by fotografz, Dec 1, 2009.

  1. This is the second in a series of articles called Master Lessons in Wedding Photography. If you missed the first one, please look up Master Lesson: Reportage Wedding Photography by Neil Ambrose.
    In this series, our own experts in the field draw upon their considerable experience and knowledge about various topics pertinent to wedding photography. This article is by Marc Williams, a long time contributor who is uniquely qualified to review multiple camera platforms for wedding photography.
    As always, you can become involved in the topic at hand by performing the assignment described at the end of the article and posting your results.
    My lifelong career was in advertising. As an Art Director, and eventually Executive Creative Director, I was exposed to some of the best photographers and cinematographers in the world. I learned most of what I know from them, including strong opinions on their part concerning the subject of this article … photo equipment.
    To their subjective opinions I have added my own over the years … all in the service of making pictures, not talking about gear … which made me reluctant to do this article at first … since gear is just a means to an end, and I’d prefer to be known for the work, not what was used to do the work.
    However, my extensive exposure to a lot of different equipment while on-set shooting ads and TV commercials, doing my own commercial photography for clients, as well as shooting weddings for well over a decade now, is perhaps one reason I was asked to write it.
    I got into wedding photography when other Art Directors and Designers asked me to shoot their wedding in the same candid manner as my personal work … mostly done with a Leica rangefinder while traveling to TV commercial shoots in NYC or LA … and while on business trips to Europe for the ad agency Young & Rubicam. Wedding photography requests snowballed from there.
    I also branched out into doing photography for print advertising and started a commercial studio … Fotografz, LLC … which introduced me to even more diverse formats and hands-on experiences.

    I was asked to provide a personal perspective on different formats and brands of photography gear that can be used to shoot a wedding … mostly because I have been lucky enough to have used most popular brands and formats. That “personal subjectivity” will be very apparent in this article, which I am entitled to because I’m writing the article … LOL! But keep in mind, the opinions were informed by using the gear for a long time in the different circumstances that we all face when photographing weddings … not just a few days test shooting a bunch of charts.
    The drawback of an article like this is that it can become outdated pretty quickly. The digital age is on a swifter time line than the film age was. Yet, the principles and philosophy of each company tend to remain the same even when the details change and products are improved. Plus, not everyone who shoots weddings can afford bleeding edge technology, so used gear can play a larger role.
    The objective of such an exercise is to provide a hands-on, real world point-of-view for those considering various options available to them for this type of work.
    More importantly, we can examine the difference between what we think we need, and what we really need to accomplish OUR goals in wedding photography.

    Now, before someone says it, I’ll say it … “Gear doesn’t make the photographer”. Let’s set aside all those arguments no matter how true they are. This article is about different gear, and how it may assist you in achieving a personal vision. The assumption is that you DO have a vision to guide your choices.
    My own vision or approach to weddings has two strong influences … cinematic story telling from decades of writing and designing TV commercial storyboards … and humanistic “decisive moment” still photography. Much of the gear I choose to use is in the service of those creative objectives.

    My gear philosophy is less “camera system” oriented, and more weighted toward optics. I tend to pick what I think are the best lenses to achieve my goals no matter which brand … and see the cameras as a necessary means to that end.
    IMO, today’s crop of DSLR cameras are ALL excellent, and camera choices often come down to subjective preferences in terms of feature sets, and personal reactions to handling and ergonomics. Sometimes the criteria can be as simple as: “big hands/little hands” … “strong back/bad back” : -)
    Digital camera’s tend to keep trading places as latest/greatest which can be a merry-go-round you may want to avoid since it means swapping out a lot more than just the camera. Something I’ve done to often and am putting a stop to it.

    To me, the clearest differences between the various brands lies with the lenses. IMO, the optics are where the real performance is, and where a longer-term commitment happens … financially and creatively. This has become especially true with digital, since the cameras change frequently.

    In my opinion and experience, faster, more highly corrected optics do a better job of seeing into the dark than by exponentially increasing the ISO. While getting better with each new issue of camera, higher and higher ISOs STILL do odder and odder things to the images. It often reduces the dynamic range thus shortening the tonal range and flattening the sense of depth, and as noise increases, detail is increasingly lost to noise suppression both in-camera and with the post software. I also have observed that at higher ISOs, colors can get odd looking pretty quickly.
    It seems to me that ever higher ISOs have been added to meg count as the marketer’s siren song … the question for all of us to ponder is “how high is high enough” for what we shoot and how we shoot?


    Rather than just doing an in-depth critique of any given make, model, or format which will serve only to trigger defensive exchanges, I’d rather relate what I love from each and how each has helped me create something … as well as touch on some things that didn’t work for me … which only means … it didn’t work for me.

    I also haven’t included any crop frame cameras here because I haven’t used one for years … except a brief affair with a Nikon D300, which played second fiddle as back-up to a D3 for most every wedding, and ended up in the hands of my assistant more than mine. It was gone as soon as the D700 launched.
    This point-of-view concerning use of full frame choices is not meant to be elite in attitude, but rather
    based on a strong preference on my part for the wider end of the lens focal range choices … I’d personally buy a used FF digital camera over a new crop frame one.

    All these notions are organized with simple Pros and Cons from my personal POV.
    The sample images are not all specifically indicative of my primary “Romantic Photojournalism” style, but intended as a broader overview of different types of images wedding shooters generally do, (i.e., pure candid reportage, guided candid style images, and directed formals or portraits).


    I’d speculate that Canon is probably now the most widely used wedding cameras in history. As shooters on the “upgrade merry-go-round” shed barely used gear, used gear abounds and is often in great shape for wedding shooters looking for pro level spec performance without the pro price tag.
    I like Canon because of the fast AF prime L lenses available: 24/1.4, 35/1.4, 50/1.2, 85/1.2MKII … notably, not one comparable focal length AF lens is available from Nikon with the same fast aperture.
    Not only do these L lenses provide the ability to shoot in lower ambient light and isolate the subject with a shallow depth-of-field, they also give you a brighter viewfinder in dim light even when shooting stopped down … which is helpful for framing the shot, faster AF performance, and for seeing where to place the focus point on something the AF sensor can grab … an attribute of fast aperture lenses often overlooked. You need not shot wide open all the time to enjoy these benefits from fast aperture lenses.
    Super fast aperture lenses are wonderful and dangerous at the same time because of shallow depth of field. The closer you get to the subject, the more dangerous they get. These lenses CAN be stopped down when needed, which far too many less experienced shooters forget to do, and end up with useless shots due to critical subject areas being out of focus.
    As to the cameras themselves, the Pro spec 1D series DSLRs have always been stellar … tank like in construction and sealing with more durable shutters and superior AF compared to most of the Canon consumer or Prosumer bodies. The 1D series cameras also feature dual card capture for more secure wedding coverage in case a card goes bad, or there is a screw-up when downloading to the computer.
    However, Prosumer models like the 5D and 5DMKII have become very popular with wedding shooters because they offer full frame capture, good resolution for the money, and very competitive higher ISO performance … all in a much smaller package compared to the big, heavy Pro models.
    In my real world experiences in all types of lighting, I’d say there is no cameras made by anyone that focus as fast & accurately as a well calibrated Canon Pro model like the 1DsMK-III (and I assume the MKIV). Going straight from a MKIII to a D3X made this very apparent to me. Not by much, but it was there. However, I found the opposite between a 5D and a D700.
    Canon Live view. Great for checking manual focus @ 10X mag., and for framing overhead “Hail Mary” shots on the wedding dance floor or a cramped getting ready room.
    The Flash debate:

    There are those who feel the Canon shoe mount flash system to be inferior to Nikon, but I have to admit that hasn’t been my real world experience with later Canon flashes like the 580EX. Give or take a few attributes, they are both quite good, and IMO not a compelling reason to select one camera brand over the other for wedding work.
    This opinion is subject to challenge because users of the Nikon CLS system may disagree. However, in general practice at a wedding I really didn’t see any advantage played out … besides, I personally prefer wireless Radio triggers like Pocket Wizards because they have far more reach and better reliability factor … plus I also use them to trigger portable Studio level Monolights when needed. Some use Radio Poppers for this function, but I have never used them so cannot comment.


    Unfortunately, for the most part, everything that Canon makes that I DO like is very BIG and very heavy. It is the price you pay for pro level specifications and super fast aperture reflex lenses. I have used all the 1D series cameras up to and including the 1DMKIII & 1DsMKIII … along with all the L lenses mentioned above … and most all of the L zooms. The 5D/5DMKII helps with the size issue but the really seductive fast lenses are still quite large and heavy.
    Some of these L lenses have huge glass elements in them, which can make for slow AF in lower contrast or dim ambient light. The Canon 85/1.2L in both versions is notorious for this. Using the focus assist light on the Canon flashes, or the Canon STE-2 transmitter with its focus assist light can help with closer subjects to 12’ or so.
    One irritation I had was Canon’s insistence on using two different types of media cards for dual card capture with the 1D series cameras … Nikon uses 2 CF slots on the D3/D3X so you can match cards exactly and not keep track of different types and capacities of media cards. Hopefully Canon will go to 2 CFs or 2 SDs in future.
    I also came to disagree with the Canon philosophy of achieving higher ISO performance with more aggressive anti-aliasing filtration and/or noise suppression. As the meg count got bigger, and the pixel pitch grew smaller, it seemed to me that Canon filtration grew stronger. Some people don’t mind that … I did mind it. Some results looked a little “waxy” to my eye and detail began to suffer. IMO, it lessens the advantage of the sharp, faster aperture L lens performance which was the reason I selected Canon in the first place. Wider open apertures are already in danger of being softer than @ f/5.6, and I didn’t see the point of possibly softening it even more. I also saw less attractive “color separation” where colors similar to one another began looking too similar.
    Much debated, it is all in the eye of the beholder. Only you can decide. I did. All of my Canon gear is now gone. However, there’s no denying that some of the best photos in the world are shot with a Canon … including many wedding “greats”. It is all very subjective and depends on what look YOU want.


    Like some Canon models, the Nikon Pro bodies are “nail pounding” tough and well sealed against dust and the elements. Strictly my opinion, I think the Nikon Prosumer models like the D700 seem built to tougher specs than those from Canon like the 5D series. Perhaps it is just the feel/sound, that bugs me.
    Nikon finally went full frame, which was a must have for some photographers. If I pay for a 24 lens I want a 24 mm, not a 36mm lens viewed through a smaller, squinty viewfinder. Since I do not shoot images requiring super long telephotos, the gain in effective focal length with crop frame sensors was useless to me. Besides, I think that is marketing hype developed by companies that didn’t have full frame sensors. Cropping a FF sensor is in effect the same thing. You can crop a FF, you can’t add to a crop frame. The counter-point to that is that crop frame entry level cameras are less expensive.
    I personally have always preferred Nikon’s balance and ergonomics to Canon’s (except for the lens mount direction). Where controls are located, how the camera fits in my hand, etc.
    As mentioned above, the Nikon D3/D3s and D3X provide dual card capture and both the slots are CF.
    The new 1.5X crop frame sensor Nikon D300s also provides for dual cards, but uses a CF and SD configuration … which is still more secure than one IMO. I suspect the D700 replacement will also offer this. This is also a much debated feature, and it may well be true that careful card selection (avoiding off brands and possible counterfeits), plus much better recovery software, has mitigated this.
    Like Canon, Nikon also provides for Live View and 10X magnification to do focus checks.
    In practice, I have found the 14 bit Nikon D3X one of the best DSLRs for B&W conversions. It is the mid-tone response and slightly less aggressive AA filter of this camera that does it I think.
    I found that Canon’s and Sony A900 files are a bit harder to convert and get the same B&W punch
    as the D3X provides quite easily and swiftly.
    Zoom .. zoom … zoom … (something’s up!):
    Most importantly, Nikon introduced much-improved wide-to-moderate focal length zooms … the so-called Nano-Crystal Coated 14-24/2.8 and 24-70/2.8 AFS optics. I could easily see the improvement over the aging Canon equivalents, including my refreshed Canon 16-35/2.8LMKII … it’s the contrast of these Nikons that does it for me … not to mention better distortion control and sharper corners and edges … What these versatile Nikon zooms bring to wedding photography is really crisp and sharp results when shooting many of the wedding “must haves” like processionals, formal groups and roaming reception photography … or wide shots of church interiors and cramped getting ready rooms.
    For many wedding photographers, the 24-70 is their workhorse lens, and subjectively I felt the new Nikon zoom was the better choice for zoom work, which I have shot on a Nikon D700/D3 and D3X.
    Nikon now has a new 70-200/2.8G ED VRII zoom with Nano Crystal Coating. As of this writing, I have seen images from it and read reviews by other wedding photographers that beta tested the lens.
    It promises to be one of the finest lens of this type ever produced … a visible improvement in IQ and VR stability over the Nikon zoom lens it replaces. But, the price may well shock a wedding shooter.
    If you favor Zoom lenses, this trio of Zooms from Nikon covers all bases from 14mm to 200mm with state of the art optics.
    For those requiring super high ISOs, the D3 and D700 are widely touted as leading the pack. Now there is the new D3s which takes that concept even further with a totally redesigned image sensor that pushes the “no-light” boundaries even further. How it stacks up against the Canon equivalent I cannot say.
    My question is: do you really need that level of ISO performance for wedding photography? As it turned out, in reality I didn’t. The amount of times I actually went above ISO 1600 at a wedding was few and far between … more on that subject later.

    Like Canon, the pro level cameras are big and heavy, as are many of the lenses. If you shoot a combination of fast zooms and even faster primes, it’s like hauling a steamer trunk full of cider blocks.
    The one thing I do not like about Nikon is that the lenses mount “backwards” compared to Canon, which I find more awkward in hectic wedding conditions. Even after well over a year with the Nikons, I could still change Canon lenses faster than Nikon … much, much faster in a dark reception hall.
    Also, Nikon severely lags Canon in fast aperture AF prime lenses. The closest ones are the older design 85/1.4, 100/2 and 135/2 DC lenses … none of which sport faster AFS Auto Focus, or the new Nano-Crystal Coatings. Inexplicably, the new Nikon AFS 50/1.4 D was not given the Nano-Crystal Coating, and the AFS only provided a modest increase in AF speed compared to it’s predecessor. Unlike Canon, there are no really fast aperture AF lenses under 50mm from Nikon… the exception being the long discontinued, slower-focusing, non-AFS 28/1.4 @ near $3,000 to $4,000.+ “collector’s” prices. Hopefully, Nikon will surprise us and make this “con” disappear with new prime lenses.
    (Please note that this Sony review is more extensive than for Canon/Nikon due to it being a newer option, and generally less discussed for wedding photography).

    Enter Sony, the dark horse that suddenly became a lead horse. After Sony acquired Minolta, a steady stream of innovative Alpha series consumer level cameras came tumbling out of Sony.
    Being “lens centric”, what really caught my eye was the appearance of Zeiss AF lenses in ZA mount. A very interesting development in lenses IMO. However, at the time, the availability of only crop frame, consumer level cameras to mount them on held me at bay.
    Then came the A900 … then the highest meg. DSLR camera available … 24.4 meg. full frame. Amazingly, the A900 had Image Stabilization in-camera! … all for only $3,000. (now even less $). Plus more Zeiss lenses were added in Auto Focus ZA mount. Not quite a 1D Canon or Nikon D series pro level spec camera, but worthy of putting to the test just to get to the Zeiss lenses.
    Side Bar: Zeiss is the renowned optical company providing lenses for Hasselblad, Rollei, the legendary Contax cameras, and Cine lenses for the movie industry … Zeiss has been the arch rival of Leica for optical leadership for almost a century. I’ve had a love affair with Zeiss optics since starting in photography, which was reinforced by the photographers and cinematographers I worked with … and now Sony offers a range of AF reflex Zeiss lenses and a full frame camera that seemed perfectly suited for wedding photography.
    I’ve avoided singing Sony’s praises until I shot a full wedding season with it and the Zeiss lenses to determine ruggedness and reliability, as well as image quality. Well, I now have used Sony for over a full season.
    IMO, if I were to recommend one DSLR “system” for weddings I’d say take a strong look at Sony.
    Rather than following the same old path that leads to either Canon or Nikon, wedding photographers now have another choice when it comes to a superb “wedding” system with excellent optics.

    I can say with certainly that after using the best from Canon, the Leica DMR, and Nikon’s best … the files from the Sony A900 are the best color straight out of the camera. This is based on shooting all these cameras in the same conditions and processing them in LR2 (now LR3) in the same wedding folder. The Sony files needed the least attention, thus the least amount of time … a big deal for wedding shooters.
    In addition to the A900 camera, there now is the newer Sony A850. This camera is full frame, 24 meg. for under $2,000. IMO, the less you pay for a competent, well specified camera to get to the lenses the better, since the camera is likely to be replaced as technology moves forward and your current camera takes a ferocious hit in value … conversely, good lenses stay with you and tend to retain more of their value. This tends to be true for all makes of pro spec optics. They cost more, but retain more.
    As of this writing, the A900 and A850 are the ONLY full frame, high meg. cameras with in-camera Image Stabilization. Those who have used IS or VR lenses from Canon and Nikon know the benefit this technology can have on final image quality.
    If there is anything that consistently degrades image quality, no matter how good the lens or camera may be … it is camera shake or vibration.

    With all Sony DSLR cameras EVERY lens you put on the camera is Image Stabilized … including the most frequently used wedding lens … the 24-70/2.8. Neither Canon nor Nikon offer stabilized 24-70 zooms … yet … when, and if, they do … the lens is bound to get even bigger. None of Canon’s super fast aperture primes mentioned above are Image Stabilized, nor are any of Nikon’s fast aperture primes like the 50/1.4, 85/1.4 and 100/135 f/2 DC lenses.
    Then there is the Zeiss effect. Both Zeiss and Leica lenses are reputed to produce what is called “micro-contrast”. This is yet another much debated aspect of image quality and I don’t wish to engage in further debates. Suffice it to say that I am a believer, because for me seeing is believing.
    However, the superb sharpness, color and contrast of Zeiss optics is for the most part not up for debate. Even the much more difficult to use, Zeiss manual focus Nikon ZF or Canon ZE lenses are highly desired and sought after for these image attributes.
    IMO, no other range of current production 35mm reflex AF lenses I’ve used produces a 3D effect as consistently as Zeiss. I believe that the way the lenses render focus fall off is what produces this illusion of depth on the one-dimensional flat surface that is a print … an attribute especially evident with the Zeiss ZA 85/1.4 and 135/1.8 but also appears on shots from the ZA 24-70/2.8.
    The Zeiss ZA 135/1.8 also did something I thought not possible … it consistently out-preformed the Canon 135/2L in terms of 3D effect and visible IQ, subtle detail, and clarity … which in real world terms may be partially evident because it is stabilized, and the Canon is not.
    IMO, the range of Zeiss Alpha mount (ZA) lenses is perfect for wedding applications: 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 85/1.4, 135/1.8 … Sony also makes a stellar 70-200/2.8 lenses which compares well with the Nikon/Canon equivalents … it is a “G” (Pro) series Sony branded optic with virtually no visible Chromatic Aberration ( aka: CA) probably because it is an APO design. CA can cause an image to look less sharp because the different color spectrums are not aligned … similar to a magazine photo slightly printed out of register. It’s not exactly the same, but gives you an idea of the effect.
    The Sony 50/1.4 delivers about the same IQ as both Canon’s 50/1.4 and Nikon’s new AFS 50/1.4G. However, while the Sony 50/1.4 may be optically equal to Canon or Nikon, it can produce better results in certain circumstances, because the Sony version is, in effect, stabilized where you need it the most at a wedding … in low light.
    While Sony does not have Live View, it does have an interesting preview feature where you can shoot an image and do all the adjustments needed to exposure, WB, etc. and see the effect on the LCD … then shoot the shots with those new settings. Pretty useful feature actually.
    Flash: Almost a Con, but not:
    Sony’s flash system is a carry over from the “Mind of Minolta”. They have a proprietary ISO hot shoe mount that I first thought to be a stupid design. In practice I found it the opposite … it is brilliant. It’s very fast and sure to mount, and with the Sony FA-HS1AM adapter the camera’s hot shoe can be used for radio controls like Pocket Wizards. The TTL performance is every bit the equal to Canon and Nikon. But the speed of mounting and dismounting the units is particularly nice for wedding work.
    Two other things about the Sony flash system that I found very useful for wedding work:
    The flash compensation procedure on the A900 is one of the simplest and fastest one button solutions I’ve ever used, especially in the dark … because it’s on the huge LCD in a Mr. Magoo sized display.
    The flagship HVL-58AM on-camera flash is a very innovative design. It rotates in a way that allows use of bounce cards, or bounce diffusers in a correct orientation for both landscape and portrait oriented shots without using a flip bracket. In actual practice this control aspect and ergonomic design is very useful for on-camera wedding work IMO, and could tip the balance if one finds other attributes of all three systems to be relatively equal.
    However, as of this writing, Sony has no equivalent of the Nikon SU-800 Commander or the Canon STE-2 … you have to use a flash in the hot shoe to control off-camera units which involves what I think is too complex of a procedure to implement at a wedding. I had to write it out on a cheat sheet, then subsequently never used it due to time constraints at a wedding. The Nikon SB900 is way better.
    Also, I have yet to figure out a way to trigger the Sony flash with a Pocket Wizard receiver. There is no standard PC terminal on the Sony flash like on a Nikon SB900, and there isn’t one on the Sony adapter either. I’m sure a solution exists, but I haven’t had the time to search it down yet. In the meantime I am using Nikon SB900s for off camera work with Pocket Wizards.


    While the Sony A900 and 850 are more Canon 5D sized, the Zeiss lenses are just as big and heavy as those from Canon and Nikon. Again, it’s the penalty of large maximum aperture reflex optics.
    There has been some discussion concerning the AF abilities of the Sony A900. I’ve found that it is not quite as fast as the Canon 1D series cameras or the Nikon D3/D3X (what is?) … but it is very accurate … IMO, about the same AF speed but more consistently accurate than the 5D or D300 was for me.
    The Sony A900 and A850 are not super high ISO cameras. However, after living with the A900 now for thousands of shots, I found the optimal settings and processing techniques for the files that make it just fine for work up to ISO 1000 … as judged by looking at prints rather than 200% on-screen pixel peeping exercises on a 30” computer monitor. My wedding clients don’t look at images that way, they see the prints. What noise it does produce above ISO 800 is nicer than most any other DSLR I’ve used, and takes on more of a pleasing film grain look when shot at ISOs 1250 and above. Plus, for my work, I found that I rarely exceeded ISO 1000, so performance above that was less critical for me. When noise has been an issue, a slight application of software like Nik Define 2, used sparingly and selectively does the job. However, a one stop better ISO performance from Sony would be welcome IMO.
    Only you can determine if higher ISO performance is a real need. If so, the better bet could be a Canon 5D/5DMKII or Nikon D700/D3/D3s.
    The operative words here are “real need” verses “perceived need” fueled by ever increasing marketing hype, and those more interested in internet bragging rights.

    IMO, what is still missing with Sony is a fast aperture 28 or 35mm, and a 100mm Macro from Zeiss.
    For those that use their wedding cameras for other work, the Sony system is not complete. It lacks the Tilt-Shift (T/S) lenses offered by Nikon and Canon, and the Sony Macro isn’t quite in the same league as the latest Macro models from Canon and Nikon … both of which are now IS or VR stabilized, so that Sony stabilized advantage is lost.
    Sony is a late bloomer, and strong rumors indicate mind boggling innovations are on the horizon … notably a 35 meg camera with a top shutter speed of 1/12,000th and a true flash sync speed of 1/1000th.
    Leica is most noted for the invention of the 35mm camera … specifically rangefinder cameras.

    It is the brain child of a man named Oskar Barnack who worked for the Leitz optical company, famous for microscopes. He wanted something more portable than the larger cameras of the day, and invented a small camera that used 35mm motion picture film and Leitz optics. The name Leica is supposedly derived from Leitz and Camera (Lei + ca = Leica). Being German, one would have thought the spelling to be Leika (????)
    Because of it’s relative stealthy size and portability, the Leica camera became the tool of choice for many of the pioneers of candid photography, including what is known as “Decisive Moment” photography attributed to the Leica toting French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson.
    To this day, the founding principle of the Leica M camera remains true … I can fit an entire 6 lens Leica M rangefinder kit with flash in a bag that is just barely able to hold just a Nikon D3X or Canon 1DsMKIII and one lens plus flash.
    So, once again it comes back to the lenses. Leica has specialized in producing some of the best optics in the world, and is specifically known for some of the fastest aperture prime lenses available … all of which are optimized for wide open shooting in available light. They are also know for making lenses with very desirable “character” which makes some of the older Leitz and Leica lenses must sought after.
    Many M lenses are super fast, but absolutely miniature compared to super fast aperture Canon, Nikon or Sony reflex lenses … which solves the “size” problem, and eliminates 8 hours of lugging around a duffel bag full of bricks if you desire really fast prime lenses for available light work at weddings.
    Because a rangefinder does not have a mirror box assembly and the attendant mirror flipping up and down which can cause vibrations, you can often hand-hold rangefinders at lower shutter speeds than Single Lens Reflex cameras.
    Leica’s latest rangefinder is the digital M9, an 18 meg, full frame camera that uses a CCD sensor rather than the CMOS type sensors used in Nikon, Canon and Sony cameras. CCDs tend to produce a different look than CMOS, and at ISOs up to 800 or 1000 I personally prefer the CCDs. All of the commercial level Medium Format Digital backs use CCD sensors for the same reason I like it in the M9. a less filtered image out of the camera. The penalty is noise at higher ISOs.
    Rangefinder Pros or Cons, depending on your POV:
    Besides being smaller, a rangefinder is a totally different form of shooting compared to any SLR. You are NOT looking through the lens like with a Single Lens Reflex camera. You do NOT see the distorted effect a wide angle lens has on an image. You do NOT see the compressed effect of a telephoto lens.
    You ONLY see the content of the picture and compositional framing through a rangefinder window.
    This forces an emphasis on WHAT you are shooting, rather than HOW the image is rendered.
    In some cases the frame lines in the viewfinder are smaller than the total viewing area, meaning you can see outside the actual taking area … which is great for anticipating action or possible interruptions.
    In short, compared to different SLRs that are all actually quite similar in use, a rangefinder is one case where the choice of camera can make a BIG difference on how you think and shoot.
    The Leica M has been a mainstay in my gear bag for a really long time. Others come and go, but the M is always there. It keeps me grounded in “content” driven, and well-timed photography technique.
    Others will argue that you can do that with any camera … to which I reply, “good for you” … I’m human, and start drifting from my original intent when only using DSLRs with their persistant assertion of how the image looks as much as what it is about. So, the Leica helps keep me disciplined. Besides, it is my absolute favorite camera of all time because it helped form my vision for wedding work long before I shot my first wedding.
    With the recent launch of the above mentioned 18 meg., full frame M9, the Leica M once again is a primary wedding camera for me … and often accounts for more images per wedding than the DSLRs.
    Lastly, Leica Ms tend to have less of the bells and whistles available with DSLRs. Leica opted to concentrate on doing one thing well … act as “the box” that gets you to the lenses as simply as possible.
    One often debated aspect of the Leica M is that it is better suited for unobtrusive types of photography.
    Personally I do think people react differently to a camera that looks more like a P&S than a professional camera … however, it is true that how people react depends more on the actions of the photographer than what he/she has in their hands.
    Very expensive.
    Many think the Leica M system to be too premium of a choice for wedding photography. If they bought what I have they’d be more than right. I’ve spent half a lifetime assembling and refining my M kit. IMO the lenses from Leica are a lifetime investment in unquestioned image quality regardless of cost. Unlike many photographic tools, some Leica optics tend to hold value, or even increase in value.
    However, used Leica gear can still take some of the financial sting out of it, and 3rd party M mount lenses are now available at a considerably lower price point … including ones from Zeiss in ZM mount.
    Manual rangefinder focusing takes a lot of practice, even then is not as suitable for aggressive action photography like sports and action aspects of low light wedding photography that are easily handled by AF DSLRs and excellent TTL flash applications.
    More suited for available light work than flash photography. Most any TTL bounce flash such as the Leica SF58 or Metz with Leica TTL module that are available for the M camera are bigger than the camera itself, and are very unbalanced in use IMO. I use a tiny, non-bounce Leica SF24D flash with a diffuser for the times I need a little puff of fill, or when I run out of available light, which is not very often with lenses like the Leica M 24/1.4 ASPH and 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux (yes you read that right … f/0.95!)
    Leica M lenses do not have electronic data bus contacts that transfer info to the camera … new M lenses are engraved with a 6-bit code that is read by the camera so it at least knows what lens is mounted and certain in-camera adjustments can be made … but the Exif info displayed by the processing software isn’t as complete as with DSLRs. None of the 3rd party M mount lenses have this code … and neither do the older Leica M lenses … but most Leica M lenses can be sent to Leica to exchange the mount for a 6-bit one.
    Not suitable for telephoto wedding work above 90mm, or for Macro work (there is a M-135mm lens, but it is very difficult to use at a wedding). There are no zooms in the strictest sense of the word … there are multi-focal length M lenses: 16-18-21mm and 28-35-50mm, but they are slow f/4 max aperture and require an unwieldy “Frankenfinder” in the hot shoe for framing. Better to use DSLRs for zoom work at a fast paced wedding IMO.
    For all the reasons mentioned above, I see a M rangefinder as a partner to a DSLR. There are some wedding photographers that exclusively use a M, I’m not one of them. There are no 70-200 zooms for when you are relegated to the balcony at the back of a church : -)
    Leica has stuck to it’s focus on IQ over higher ISO performance with the use of CCD rather than CMOS sensors. The M9 has improved on the previous M8 by a margin of about a stop or so … which for me just squeaks by and allows excellent files at ISO 800 and 1000 at weddings.
    Did I mention very expensive?
    Once upon a time the medium format camera was the dominate wedding tool. This was when more traditional posed work was the rule and candid or “reportage” work the exception. Hasselblad, Bronica, Rollei, Mamiya, and others ruled the roost.
    The larger film size produced stunning clarity compared to 35mm. But as 35mm films got better, and 35mm cameras introduced the consistent accuracy and speed of Auto Focus … plus wedding photography began shifting more toward “reportage” or story telling candid work … the Medium Format system began falling from favor. This decline was further hastened by the introduction of ever increasing resolution of 35mm full frame digital cameras like the Canon 5D/5DMKII and 1DsMKIII or the Nikon D700/D3 and D3X, or Sony A850/A900.
    Yet, persistent rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated.
    In a relatively short time the Medium Format camera companies reinstated MF as THE high resolution champion by merging with high tech digital back makers. Hasselblad hooked up with Imacon, and Mamiya with Phase One (and now Leaf) … to produce 645 AF cameras with breathtaking clarity and almost limitless resolution. Digital sensors near twice the size of those found in the full frame 35mm DSLRs packing in 30, 40, 50 and now 60 meg.!
    Initially horrifyingly expensive! However, as the resolution advanced, the former units plummeted in price … until very recent 31/33/39 meg 645 cameras can be had for a little more cost than the highest end 35mm DSLRs. And even the now, outdated 16 meg. digital backs mounted on an old Hasselblad 501CM can equal or out do even the most recent high meg 35mm DSLRs in terms of image quality.
    So, what is the relevance of a commercial level studio camera to wedding photographers?
    Well, if you specialize in more traditional wedding photography and/or do a lot of portrait studies … and don’t hose off 2,000+ shots per wedding, a MF kit could provide an edge over most any 35mm toting competition. While the results are difficult to display using sub one meg web uploads, the prints are a whole other matter. The clarity, color separation and tonal subtleties are apparent even in an 8X10 print … and 20” X 30” display prints will knock your eyes out with the sense of realism and rendering of detail. With these backs you can “crop until you drop” if so desired. I’ve done shots of an entire wedding of 150 guests and could make passable 4X5s of each face … and have produced commercial shots that were used as 10’ murals to be viewed from only a few feet away.


    Big. Heavy. Slower, more thoughtful method of shooting. However, that is changing rapidly as the makers introduce new innovations that increase the flexibility of these Medium Format digital cameras.
    The most recent of which is the 37 meg larger sensor Leica S2 which I had the opportunity to test drive recently. It’s a 35mm DSLR type MF camera a little smaller than a Canon Pro model that is best described as a “Crossover” format. The “Leica Like” cost of the system most likely will eliminate it from any wedding photographers shopping list unless they do a fair amount of other high paying commercial work.
    Another possible “con” of Medium Format digital is that it produces huge files that can choke a weakly equipped computer. More computer RAM is essential as is a beefed up Graphic’s card along with peripheral storage measured in terabytes.
    Generally not as good higher ISO performance, although new technology is fast correcting that to some degree, but nowhere near that of the latest crop of 35mm DSLRs. MFD ISO 800 is very usable now, and innovations such as “Pixel Binning” like that of some Phase One backs virtually extends the ISO performance to rival some DSLRs.
    Less responsive AF compared to today’s 35mm DSLRs … although that also is being addressed with new breakthroughs … Hasselblad’s revolutionary new AF technology in the H4D, and Mamiya/Phase’s vastly improved new AF camera are examples. Hasselblad’s solution for off-center subject focus that eliminates the need for multipoint AF points in the viewfinder may well revolutionize all AF cameras.


    The exclusion of other brands is intentional. I have a close friend that shoots weddings with a Pentax DSLR and a huge range of excellent lenses. The files look terrific. However, it’s crop frame, and while I’ve used a Pentax 35mm DSLR on occasion, I have not shot with one extensively … so I’ll leave it to others to comment on.
    Same for any other system … no slight intended. I’ve tried to stick to that which I’ve actually shot with for more than a few images and tried sticking to full frame solutions for weddings.
    I’ve also avoided speaking to all the film choices still available. I have Hasselblad V & H film gear, a Nikon F6 and have used a Mamiya M7-II and Leica M6s & 7s for weddings. However, the mainstay for weddings for most shooters now is digital, so I stuck with that. No slight meant at all, I think film is still a viable wedding choice.
    I also avoided discussing off-camera studio flash and strobe gear which is a whole subject unto itself with endless variations, applications and possibilities that deserve their own article IMO.
    Please feel free to comment on, and illustrate, your experiences shooting weddings with other camera systems. The more input generated in one place the better.

    Here’s what’s in my current wedding gear bag, (one of Think Tank’s smallest rollers, the Airport Airstream):

    2 Sony A900s, Zeiss ZA 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, Sony 50/1.4, Zeiss 85/1,4 and 135/1.8, 2 Sony flashes:
    We separately carry a Sony 70-200/2.8G APO and 1.4X extender which only goes into the Church if we are relegated to the rear, or there’s a balcony to shoot from.
    For the Leica M kit: a small Kata DC443 shoulder bag with a Leica M9, 24/1.4 ASPH, 28/2 ASPH, 35/1.4 ASPH, 50/0.95 Noctilux ASPH, 75/1.4 and a 90/2.8 … all of which I use at every wedding for specific shots. The Kata bag has a slot to slide it over the handle of the Think Tank roller bag.


    It is difficult to make an assignment concerning the use of different gear since it requires you have the different gear in the first place.
    But here is a simple exercise you can do to determine your real needs as opposed to perceived ones.
    This exercise really requires openness and honesty on your part to effectively help determine real world equipment needs … even if it goes counter to what you bought and paid for and feel the urge to justify … something that is a very human thing we all can tend to do.
    “The Truth Will Set You Free” … maybe.

    Open an entire wedding folder in Photoshop Bridge and look at the exif info listed in the dialog boxes to the left. Click on the top tab marked “Filter” …. then click on the arrows marked: ISO Speed Ratings, Lens, Focal Length.
    Study these listings carefully because they provide the truth of what you actually use and what you don’t. You may THINK you need super high ISOs and find you actually rarely use it. I sold my D700 and D3 after doing this since I almost never used an ISO over 1000 which most any DSLR can do these days. My most used ISOs were all overwhelmingly bunched up between 400 and 800 even when using the D700 and D3 … which was a waste of their best attribute.
    If you use a zoom like a 70-200 look at the actual focal lengths you are using … you may find that you are dragging around a giant 70-200 zoom only to use it at the long end 90% of the time … and would be better off with a 135mm or 200mm prime @ ½ the cost and size. If it were not for balcony shots at the church I would have no reason to own a 70-200 zoom, (even then a 200mm prime would do fine).
    Do this with a number of different wedding folders to see if a pattern reveals itself. While marketing for photo equipment can be assertive, and internet talk seductive … in the end your eye and brain tell the gear what to do … and this exercise can help you see what you are intuitively really doing as opposed to what you think you are doing.
    Another aspect to study is meg count. This is a highly personalized objective to study. If you tend to heavily crop images then a higher meg count can be beneficial. If not, then you have to determine if using a camera with more pixels packed into a 35mm frame is gaining you anything, or if a camera with less pixels but a larger pixel pitch would be more beneficial. A perfect full frame example of this is a comparison between a Canon 5DMKII @ 21 meg, or a Nikon D700 @ 12 meg. Keep in mind the real size you print to, not some mythical internet claim to 30”X40” prints … unless you make 30” X40” wedding albums : -) If I recall correctly, P.Net did a wedding shooter poll some years ago and hardly anyone did prints over 8X10.
    It would be terrific if you reported back your own findings, or revelations after doing this exercise. It could save you some money … or cost you some … LOL!
    Marc Williams
  2. Nicely done Marc, concise and poignent.
    Interesting excercise for many to engage in too.
  3. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Very nice piece - easy to read and I loved the History Preamble.
    I relate to the Quantitative Assignment - many will benefit from just doing that . . . and so will many sore backs :)
    Thank you,
  4. Some good stuff in there Marc.
    Just one query - I was told by some image stabilization experts that putting IS in camera does not work as well as putting it in lenses. The premise being that a 200mm lens requires more IS than a 85mm. Something like Nikon's new 70-200 VRII really pushes what is feasible with IS and I would be really surprised if Sony got anywhere near that level of performance using camera based IS.
    I'd be interested to hear any comments you have on this.
    Also, regarding the Canon files you mentioned - I've found the current crop of Canon DSLR's need RAW presharpening, and then output sharpening as well. More so than others I have used. Get this right and the files absolutely sing.
  5. Excellent Marc!
    Happy Holidays to you and your family.
    I always look forward to reading your valuable information here.
  6. That's good info for Canon shooters Jeff. Assuming the average enlargement of 7" X 10.5", is there a guideline % or is it image dependent on the RAW pre-sharpening?
    As far as Sony's Super Steady Shot technology for internal stabilization ... the way it works is there is a "live" bar graph in the view-finder which lets you know when the image is stabilized at the sensor ... it provides pretty good feedback to help you improve your own technique while it does its job. The combination is pretty effective.
    In fact, at certain shutter speeds you really don't have to get the bar graph down very far ... like shooting a 85mm @ 1/50th sometimes just half way is enough to do it ... like the available light shot attached to this post which was 85/1.4 shot at 1/50th shutter.
    It may well be true that some stabilized lenses like the very newest Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR could be better ... however, I've now come to prefer all of my lenses be stabilized .... especially those used heavily for wedding work like a 24-70 ... the stabilization on the Sony/Ziess 24-70 lens is WAY better than Canon or Nikon's 24-70 ... LOL!
  7. Excellent job Marc!
    Thanks for all the helpful work you put into this Master Lesson.
  8. Terrific article, thanks :)
  9. Great article Marc. I myself use a Nikon gear. Started with Fuji S2..had a great run with it, and only recently switched to D300. Clients often ask what gear i bring or use, which i find a bit strange because if you like the images, what is the difference what i use, but saying Fuji S2 (which uses CCD sensor that you so love), always brings a puzzled face, when I say “it’s a Nikon body!”...and then an immediate response "ooooh, Nikon is good" haha. I still think the auto B/W setting on that FujiS2 is the finest straight B/W images that I have ever produced.

    I too like the Medium Formats. Still use Mamiya 330 for my own personal enjoyment with 645 Mamiya right next to it. My son who is 9months prefers to play with them more then D300, which i can’t blame him. I’m itching to bring one of them to a wedding, but then like you said, the weight, the hassle. Now where can I find a free assistant J

    I do think there is not enough mentors as per the old days. There are def great benefits of learning on your own, but having a mentor like yourself just adds another dimension to one's knowledge, confidence and experience. Too bad you are not in the Big Apple...

    I look forward reading more of your insightful articles. I just saw Mamiya RZ with 4 super expensive lenses, 2 backs, Polaroid back, 2 flashes..and bunch of filters. Basically a full kit for $1000 on craigslist. Grrrrr, why do I do this to myself!!! Maybe my New Years present
  10. Anton, you made me remember that one of my first digital cameras was a Fuji S1 ... it was indeed a terrific camera ... a bit slow for my style of shooting, but the images made up for it ... I even shot a commercial print ad with that camera.
    Man, $1,000. for a 4 lens RZ system? I still have a RZ Pro-II and full set of lenses that I occasionally drag out and shoot 6X7 film with. An interesting thing about the RZ is that some of the lenses are really quite good ... part of the reason is that the RZ uses a bellows focusing system built into the camera so the lens elements are fixed and never move ... which makes for less optical compromises. It is still one of the most inventive MF systems ever with all kinds of cool stuff to goof around with. It's a big bugger for sure .... best used on a good sturdy tripod. If you can find an inexpensive used adapter that camera can take a digital back.
    I also believe in one-on-one mentoring. I've spent lots of time on helping others to "play it forward" in payment to those that took the time to teach me what they know. Every one of my former assistants are now quite successful photographers.
    I still have a mentor myself ... a top lifestyle and fashion shooter in NYC who I still am in awe of. He has the most exotic gear vault I have ever seen, yet recently shot one of his biggest global campaigns for a well known electronics company with a point & shoot ... I kid you not ... absolutely terrific work.
  11. uk


    Great job, Marc.
    Appreciated once again.
  12. Marc, great job, especially when dealing with a topic that is often too subjective and visceral at the expense of fact. You have drawn on your experience and made it clear that these are *your* views, so thankfully no flamewars ;-)
    <p>I too would be interested to know more about Sony's in-body IS system compared to an in-lens solution.
    <p>The exercise you've suggested is also very simple but clever :) I must try it out later today.
    <p>I have a question. Has your shift in gear (no pun intended!) influenced your wedding photography style, or has that remained pretty consistent through your years with Canon, Nikon, Leica and now Sony?
  13. Thanks Mark.
    As far as the Sony stabilization is concerned, I'd suggest trying one. Nothing beats in the hand. I think the main advantage in real world applications is that it helps more than nothing .... and most DSLR reflex lenses have nothing : -) BTW, I had a "Sony" friend here one day and while we were talking a deer walked into the yard and I grabbed his A900 with a 70-300mm (or something like that) lens and shot a crystal clear shot @ 300mm @ something like /125th. Can't show you because it was his camera and CF card : -(
    As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the images I chose aren't tightly tied to my primary candid style ... many (not all) of us aren't pure anything, and have to do some posed or more structured work also ... which I tried to represent in the article. Where you draw the line is a personal decision. I admit to moving my line a bit to get the opportunity to shoot more diverse work. For example, certain ethnic weddings in my geographic area come with firm expectations of more structured shots than I prefer doing. However, the rest of the wedding shot in my primary style makes it worth it. That is what I live for.
    The one thing that has remained consistent regardless of what gear is used is a knack for that nano second capture that snatches a fleeting expression, body language or moment of humanity from the rushing river of events that is a wedding. That talent, technique, or whatever you want to call it I freely admit is intuitive and hard to explain. It's there in every wedding I shoot ... sometimes to my surprise and delight since it's instinct at work. I simply trust it. The day that aspect fails to show up is the day I hang up my wedding boots.
  14. Great work, well done! I must say those Sony and Leica images are quite remarkable, not that anything else is shabby, but to me they have a certain presentation to them that stands out. Congratulations on a fine job, best wishes to you. I must also edit quickly and comment on the splendid way the wedding dresses, feet, hands, balance of subject and all else are well polished. That is as much of a lesson of anything you wrote, and is seen so seldom by myself anymore, that it's necessary to recognize your well studied methods and bring them to the foreground.
  15. Mark,
    I have very much enjoyed your contribution here. Just out of courosity (I haven't kept up with new equipment the past couple of years), does the sony system accept canon and third party lenses ie..tamron and sigma?
  16. Mark, I doubt Canon would ... I don't think there is an EOS to Minolta/Sony dumb adapter either ... as far as I know.
    Sigma and Tamron do make Sony mount ... in fact, one wedding shooter on another site used a Siggy AF 50/1.4.
    Legacy Minolta lenses also work ... some of which are pretty good from reports I hear.
    I occasionally use Zeiss lenses made for the Hasselblad V cameras via a "dumb" adapter. The Zeiss 110/2F is pretty interesting on the Sony A900. But they are manual focus and there is no communication with the camera at all.
  17. Thank you very much for your perspective on the various formats and brands of photography equipment as well as some of your insights to wedding photography. As a wedding photographer I often state that my dream camera will consistently meter and instantly focus in what can be a rapidly changing environment assuming image quality being similar with the various brands.
    I like the nano second comments above and “That talent, technique, or whatever you want to call it I freely admit is intuitive and hard to explain.” Today’s journalistic images are often present and gone in less than a second and photographers need equipment that is fast, accurate, consistent and like an extension of our being to be able to utilize that talent, intuition, etc. There often is not enough time to make a quick exposure compensation change let alone switching a lens or to a 2nd camera body with a different lens, etc. Some of our favorite candid wedding images have been taken with an Nikon 18-200 lens. We do not use the 18-200 much any more due to the overall image quality and focusing speed, etc. but the practical convenience has captured many wonderful moments.
    The images from the Sony are quite impressive and I am interested in hearing more in the future about your long term impressions of the system.
    Thank you again for your time to present a well thought out, well written and useful perspective. It is a great read.
  18. Update:
    A fellow on another forum read this article and has provided information on a product that allows the Sony flashes to be fired with Pocket Wizards or other radio controllers:
    My thanks to Quino Terceno!
  19. What? No love for Pentax? ;-)
    Great article and that EXIF info was interesting. I'd be curious how other wedding photographers push their ISO as well.
  20. I invite anyone with Pentax information to step up and fill us in...Ken?
  21. Not enough battle experience w/ Pentax gear during weddings myself...I'll see if I can get a Pentaxian who does to add his thoughts.
  22. I too want to thank Marc for this excellent article!
    I'll throw in my two or three cents re Pentax. Forgive the length here. I hope it's justified by the fact that Pentax doesn't get its props as often as it deserves.
    Please note that I'm not a full-time wedding photographer. I also do portraits, school sports (not so much any more), formal school events like graduations, First Communions and Confirmations, corporate parties, etc. I write, about photography and computers. I also spend part of my time supporting a couple pieces of software that I've written. So I'm not out there doing a wedding every weekend. Moreover, I didn't start using Pentax until 2006, so I don't have the longest history with the company. My first serious digital camera was an Olympus, and before that I shot film using Nikon, Ricoh, and - a gift from my grandfather - Exakta SLRs, as well as working in school with Rolleiflexes and such. I'm not really a gear nut. That said....
    Why Pentax?
    I shopped hard when I bought my first DSLR in 2006 and decided on Pentax, for two reasons. First, image stabilization in the body. (Pentax calls it "shake reduction.") Second, the high value/price ratio. Actually my first purchase was a K100D, but I quickly sold that and traded up to a K10D - a weather-sealed body with outstanding ergonomics that cost about the same as much less capable Canon and Nikon low-end bodies. Subsequently I added a K20D and an older *ist DS. Since those first purchases, I've been seriously tempted a number of times to abandon Pentax. I'm tempted more by Nikon than Canon, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on; perhaps it's just that it's against my temperament to use what "everybody else" is using. Anyway, I've stuck with Pentax. I'm not planning to go full-frame any time soon, so I'd be switching to something like a D90 or a 50D. But in terms of specs, neither really offers me any advantages. For the same reason, I decided to give the recent K-7 a skip. Don't need video.
    AFTER making my purchase, I discovered another reason to stick with Pentax: lenses. More about that below.
    Anyway, I stick with Pentax for the reasons that brought me to Pentax in the first place: in-body shake reduction, and price. And now I'm fairly committed to the Pentax (and Pentax-compatible) lenses.
    I know just enough about the Nikon D90 and Canon 50D to know that they have comparable features. But I love the way my Pentax K10D/K20D cameras work.
    I'll skip over things like the availability of two e-dials, etc., stuff common to higher-end cameras, and focus on the mode dial.
    No scene modes on the mode dial of the K10D/K20D. I use only three modes.
    During the wedding ceremony, I use Pentax's TAv mode, which allows me to set the shutter AND aperture, and use auto-ISO. I gather that on other cameras this = M with auto-ISO. The only advantage of TAv is that I can switch from auto-ISO (TAv mode) to fixed ISO (in M mode) simply by switching the mode dial, and I do that a lot. Easier than getting into the Fn screen to reset the ISO. I use TAv mode for things like sports in badly lit gyms and dance recitals as well.
    I learned photography on fully-manual cameras and when I started with my Pentax DSLRs, I used M (full-manual) mode most of the time. The "green button" (as it's called) can reset the exposure in M per the program line in an instant and I can adjust from there. By hitting AE-L, I can turn one e-dial and the other adjusts automatically to keep the same exposure. In short, M can be easy to use, but gives me total control.
    However, a little over a year ago I started an experiment that I'm now thinking hard about bringing to an end: using the K10D/K20D's "hyperprogram" or P mode. P mode on the Pentax K10D/K20D allows me to move into effective Av or Tv mode simply by moving the rear or front e-dial. In other words, if I am looking for very shallow depth of field, in P mode, I just move the rear e-dial to (say) f/1.8. The shutter speed will adjust automatically. To switch to shutter priority, I would simply move the front e-dial. The EXIF info of photos taken in P in this way will indicate that the shooting mode was Av or Tv - not P. (For this reason, the Av and Tv modes on the mode dial are not really necessary and I wish Pentax would remove them.) The EXIF shows P only if you use the green button to let the camera set the exposure automatically and you do NOT move either e-dial. To apply exposure compensation, of course, I use the +/- button as on any other camera.
    In hyperprogram (P) mode, I still have complete control of the camera. Well, almost complete: I can only bias the meter 3 stops +/-, but that is way more than sufficient. I almost never go beyond 2 stops +/-. In hyperprogram mode, I'm virtually guaranteed a nominally correct exposure with every shot, which certainly wasn't the case shooting all the time in M. And adjustments in hyperprogram are easier than in M. I generally leave the EC set to + 1/2, and then I simply have to move 1 e-dial to get the exposure I want.
    It took me a while to get used to thinking in terms of EC +/- rather than the absolute or real exposure values I was used to shooting in M, but I've done it. And I think it's great. I was good with M, but hyperprogram is even easier and the results are as good or better. MOST of the time.
    The problem is, I still have to use M when shooting flash off-camera. During the last year, as I've carried out this experiment, I also finally started getting competent with radio-triggers. (I used to use Pentax's optical triggering system, which, well, radio triggers are much better.) Off-camera flash changes everything: aperture and shutter speed have different effects shooting flash. So right now, I'm having a bit of a debate with myself about whether to stick with P when it's useful - which is much of the time - and switch to M when necessary, or whether to go back to living in M all the time (except when I need auto-ISO, in which case I switch to TAv). If I had to place a bet, I'd bet that I'll go back to M. If I do it will be because these days I'm trying all the time to SLOW DOWN, think harder, shoot less often but more carefully.
    The K10D and the K20D have nearly identical ergonomics and I shoot with them almost interchangeably. I know which is which because I keep the grip on the K20D, but otherwise I don't think about it much. I carry an older *ist DS with me, as a "just in case" camera, but I prefer not to use it, because I find it hard now to work without 2 e-dials.
    I spent a couple of years getting to know many of the better zooms for the Pentax system. The Pentax DA* 50-135 f/2.8 was always on one of my bodies during the ceremony; the other body would have a wide fast lens, the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 or Sigma 16-50 f/2.8 or if the light was a little better in the church, the excellent Pentax 16-45 f/4.
    Anyway, last year, I had a sort of religious or spiritual experience (I'm not entirely kidding) and decided that, to take my photography to the next level, I needed to slow down and work harder. And I realized that perhaps the greatest strength of the Pentax system is its line of prime lenses. So I've sold most of my zooms (most, not all), and I'm shooting mostly primes now. Replacing my zooms has been a slow (and somewhat expensive) process, so I don't yet have everything I want. The lenses I rely upon most now are:
    1. Sigma 10-20 (the one non-prime here)
    2. Sigma 28 f/1.8
    3. Pentax 35 f/2
    4. Pentax 40 f/2.8 limited (pancake lens)
    5. Pentax 50 f/1.4
    6. Pentax 70 f/2.4 limited (not quite a pancake)
    And at the moment, beyond 70 I have to switch to a zoom. I'll be adding the Pentax 100 f/2.8 very shortly. Later, I'd like to add the Pentax 21.
    I love these lenses. I have rediscovered photography, in a way, by going back to primes. Results are terrific, or perhaps I should say, my photography has improved as a result. It took me a while to "get" primes. It's NOT that the image quality is markedly better at the given focal length. And it's not necessarily that the primes are faster, although several of mine ARE faster than f/2.8. For me, it's more a matter of, well, discipline, like writing poetry that rhymes and scans instead of free verse. If I know that I'm stuck with a focal length of 28mm, well, it limits my options in a way that I frankly find rather liberating. Yes, it slows me down, but that has been entirely a good thing.
    In my opinion, the greatest weakness of the Pentax line for a wedding photographer isn't the lack (at the current time) of a full-frame camera, it's the weakness of the P-TTL system and the weakness of the Pentax top-of-the-line flash, the AF 540 FGZ. The fantastic build quality of the K10D/K20D bodies (continued of course in the newer K-7) are strong reasons to buy Pentax. The mediocre build quality of the Pentax 540 FGZ is a reason NOT to buy Pentax. All of my 540 FGZ units have broken - particularly, the locking pin has gotten stuck. It's apparently a well-known problem. The flash unit simply isn't worthy of the cameras.
    Fortunately there's an easy solution: Buy a third-party flash. I've heard good things about the Sigma units, but I went with the top-of-the-line Pentax-compatible Metz 58, and I like it very much. I either shoot Auto (instead of P-TTL) or go Strobist and get the flash off the camera entirely. Now that I use off-camera flash more and more, I've added an inexpensive Nikon flash to my kit, along with the Pentax and Metz units, and life is pretty good. I use FlashWave2 radio triggers ( and have found them reliable and easy to use - just like my Pentax cameras.
    Shooting the event
    Before the ceremony, I have the Metz 58 on the K20D, with a Demb Flip-It to help control bouncing. I probably have the Sigma 28 f/1.8 on the camera at this point, although I have the other camera with me, too, and the Sigma 10-20 may be on it, especially if the bride's dressing room is small. At least during the last year I've been shooting in hyperprogram P mode on the camera, and Auto mode on the flash.
    During the ceremony (in a church): So far, I've never been forced to shoot from left field, so I can do very well with the Pentax 70 on my main body, the 40 on the second body, and possibly the Sigma 28 or 10-20 on the third camera if I think I'm going to want to take more than 1 or 2 wider shots. I shoot TAv mode here - aperture as wide as possible for necessary depth of field (usually around f/2.8) and shutter speed not slower than 1/100th sec if possible, although often it has to be slower. Auto-ISO set to a range of 650-1600 or even 2200 if I think I need it. Shake reduction of course enabled on the body, so I don't need a tripod or monopod.
    Formals: This varies, in part due to conditions and in part due to the fact that I get better with off-camera flash every time I'm at bat, but my default today would be the Sigma 28, with just 2 off-camera flash units. Tripod, of course, with Pentax cable shutter release. Everything has to be easy to set up and take down.
    Reception: This really is wide open, depending on the nature of the venue. I have not yet used radio triggers on the dance floor but may feel confident enough at my next wedding to do so. In the past, I've bounced flash (when flash was necessary and when bouncing was practical). Here I would favor the Pentax 40 pancake, on one camera, and the Sigma 28 on the other.
    Pentax cons
    There are no cons of the Pentax system for wedding photography that can't be dealt with by a photographer who knows the system. That said...
    ... I wish P-TTL gave me more consistent exposures. Workaround: I stopped using P-TTL and have switched to Auto or off-camera flash.
    ... I wish Pentax made a solidly built, higher power flash. Easy workaround: Buy Metz, or go off-camera.
    ... I wish it were easier to rent lenses for the Pentax system. But I personally no longer find that such a big problem. I have more lenses than I use regularly, I can cover almost any situation and most of the time I can cover it well.
    That Pentax does not have a full-frame camera at this time is not a problem for me. It might of course be a problem for others. I don't think that sensor size is the only thing that matters; if I did, I'd be shooting medium-format, I suppose.
    Can you shoot weddings using Pentax gear? Should you?
    Well of course you can. I do and I'm not unique. Quite a few Pentax wedding photographers hang out over at
    But should you? Is Pentax a good choice for wedding photography?
    First, let me admit that I can't say that Pentax image quality is better than Nikon or Canon or Sony. There are Pentax fans who will make that argument, and in particular, there are people who seem to know what they're talking about who are very fond of the Pentax digital primes. The K10D and the K20D both won a lot of awards. But I'm not saying that Pentax is better absolutely, better regardless of money.
    If I were rich, I don't know what I'd do. I might be shooting with a Nikon D3x and a nice set of compatible prime lenses. Or I might just buy every prime for the Pentax system - both the best Pentax primes (including the 21 and 31 and the DA* 200, none of which I have now) and/or the full line of Pentax-mount Zeiss lenses, which I can't afford.
    But I'm not rich. I need to get the best results for the least money. Virtually any purchase you make these days involves a compromise of some sort. The compromise I've made selecting and sticking with Pentax seems to me a very good one. I would hate to give up these wonderful Pentax lenses. I'd hate to give up in-body shake reduction (which is one reason why, now, when I think of switching, I look longingly at Sony rather than Nikon). I could have switched to a 5D recently, as they've become easy to afford, but I don't want to give up the build quality and the weather-sealing of my Pentax bodies. And I'd hate to spend a lot more than I already do. So I stick with Pentax. If I were starting from scratch today, I very well might do the same thing. A Nikon D3x would not make me a better photographer, indeed, I am pretty sure it would make no difference at all to 90+% of the photos I take.
    Anyway, I enjoy my photography and my clients are happy with the results.
  23. One other thing to note is the K-7 does have a few new features over the K20D that would appeal to wedding photogs...indoor white balance and focusing has been improved, the mirror slap is barely audible now so it won't be a distraction in the church (your flash still will ;-), 100% viewfinder, better metering, AF assist LED, and an AF-ON button on the battery grip (previous versions didn't have this which seemed like a bad oversight).
  24. Excellent William.
    Like I mentioned, I have a friend that shoots Pentax for weddings and I've played around with the camera a bit ... can't remember the name of his first one (maybe called 1st?) that he showed me some years ago, but it was really small yet packed a powerful image punch. If I recall correctly, he used some legacy Pentax lenses that were his Fathers on that digital camera.
  25. Thanks, William. Excellent info. Come on, people, this is a gear thread--let's discuss!
  26. William ... post a photo from the Pentax !!!!!!!
    Anyone using an Olympus E camera for weddings? How about a 3/4s camera of any kind? If you use one, it was for a reason ... tell us about it. I'm seriously curious about those possibilities for some wedding applications. Small, compact, with some darned good IQ based on some images I've seen.
    Let's open this thread up folks ... if you still use a film camera even part time at a wedding ... tell us about it and show a shot. I LOVE my Nikon F6 and have just one lens for it ... an AFS 50/1.4D with a SB-800 ... it's all such a compact kit.
    I'm still a crazy film fanatic and sold some digital gear to get a top end Imacon scanner.
  27. I loved how you described the way you feel about primes William:
    love these lenses. I have rediscovered photography, in a way, by going back to primes. Results are terrific, or perhaps I should say, my photography has improved as a result. It took me a while to "get" primes. It's NOT that the image quality is markedly better at the given focal length. And it's not necessarily that the primes are faster, although several of mine ARE faster than f/2.8. For me, it's more a matter of, well, discipline, like writing poetry that rhymes and scans instead of free verse. If I know that I'm stuck with a focal length of 28mm, well, it limits my options in a way that I frankly find rather liberating. Yes, it slows me down, but that has been entirely a good thing.
    I feel the sampe way and completely understand what your saying - limiting those options allows you to understand what you have and, like you said, liberates you with the ability to use it appropriatly.
  28. Used to be a gearslutz ~ for many years --- ( first NKN F in the early 70's) but, recently (finally) was able to sell all the gear for less than 10c on the original cost ..and that> took many years to even find interest > in the 8X ~ 4X views / 6X7 / etc --- ...all down to one camera and one 2.8 zoom
  29. Hi Marc,

    You mentioned earlier the
    "The Flash debate:

    There are those who feel the Canon shoe mount flash system to be inferior to Nikon, but I have to admit that hasn’t been my real world experience with later Canon flashes like the 580EX. Give or take a few attributes, they are both quite good, and IMO not a compelling reason to select one camera brand over the other for wedding work."
    I only have experience with Nikon flashes and find that Nikon flashes tend to consistently overexposure with subjects wearing black like tuxs - black dresses, etc by 2/3 - 1 stop. Has that been your experience? Also with the SB900 - I have randomly gotten about 1 stop over exposure with direct flash across the center of the frame, etc. (set to even) especially at wide angle. It is not repeatable but does occur at most weddings when using direct flash.
    Pocket wizards are also my choice for remote flashes. CLS may be ok for portraits, etc but is inconsistent in a changing reception venue, etc.
    Thanks, Ron D
  30. Marc,
    A wonderful article and a level headed, pretty cool overview of the different systems - thank you!
    A few things on the SONY system:
    The system is indeed missing PC lenses, among others, although the excellent Schneider 28mm f/2.8 Super-Angulon shift lens is available with the SONY Alpha mount. I use one: There's no tilt, but frankly at 28mm and narrow working apertures normally used for landscapes and architecture, the DOF is such that tilt is a pure gimmick. I think the tilt feature would add a lot more real value on macro lenses with focal lengths 50mm and longer.
    The 100mm f/2.8 macro in its present plastic-clad barrel does not look like much, but it is a lens well regarded for its sharpness and bokeh. Certainly not a slouch - perhaps you got a bad sample. Minolta also made a 180mm macro, in G series, which SONY (so far) has unfortunately elected not to carry over.
    Regarding low light performance, in inheriting the Minolta system SONY also continues Minolta's great attention to color. A900 color fidelity scores are in the medium format back territory. The point is, this great low ISO performance can be impacted if the Bayer microfilters are made less dense or wider band than they are presently, thus admitting more light to the photosites and improving the low light performance. Personally I'd rather have outstanding performance at base and low ISO (managing the light and/or bringing the in-camera image stabilization to bear to get the extra stops rather than upping the ISO) than have SONY follow Canon and Nikon and compromise SONY's differentiating feature, its trademark color fidelity, for "me-too" high ISO.
    -- Alex Karasev
  31. I'd have to agree with you about the color Alexander. It is the best out of the camera I've ever seen. As I mentioned in the article, the need for high ISO is a new siren's song from the manufacturers, but I question the true need for it ... which was the point of the Exif Info exercise ... to see if you DO need it.
    I've worked up some approaches for noise control on the A900, and now can shoot up to ISO 1000 with confidence ... even in poor light. Stabilization helps, but does nothing if the subject is moving ... that is where a higher ISO for a higher shutter speed comes into play.
    I have not shot or owned the 100 macro. Others who I trust have used it. My personal bench mark is the Leica R 100/2.8 APO Macro ... which can be adapted for use on the A900. If I needed a 35mm Macro, that is the solution I would employ. But I don't need it ... I use a Medium Format macro for critical close up work.
    For me tilt/shift work is a moot point, but for others it is an important aspect of their work ... this blocks the A900 from consideration. However, this is an article aimed at wedding shooters primarily. T/S is not a hot topic for event work.
  32. Execellent presentation Marc! Its good to see I can pop in after a couple of years and still find some great stuff going on here! What can you tell me about using the Contax 645AF at weddings (film or digital)?
  33. Hi Michael.
    Loved the Contax 645 for weddings! Used it first with film ... then used a Kodak Pro-Back 645C for digital. My pal Irakly still uses a Contax 645 with a Phase One digital back.
    Auto Focus is a bit dicey in lower light, but the viewfinder is pretty bright for manual focus when needed. I moved to a Hasselblad H3D-II for faster AF.
  34. Thanks for the response Marc! As long as the AF is good in decent light, it would probably serve my purposes. My eyes kind of like the AF on cameras these days LOL! Which lenses did you find yourself using most of the time? I think you once mentioned that you used the 120J flash on this camera, would that still be your recommendation? Thanks!
  35. Sorry, I lost follow up on this article ... my bad.
    Michael, I no longer use a Contax 645 ... as mentioned, I moved to a Hasselblad H system for the better AF. Actually, the H viewfinder is also much brighter than the Contax 645 for more critical manual focus usage like in studio.
    Back when shooting the C645 I had most all of the lenses ... but a few favorites emerged. The 55mm is a sleeper of a lens with a rare ability to produce beautiful bokeh both front and back of the subject (often rear Bokeh looks great on some lenses, but front doesn't). The 120/4 Macro is maybe one of the best ever made for medium format. This camera would be worth owning just for that Macro IMO. In essence, all the lenses were very good for that camera, and still are.
    I still think the 120J with a Contax TTL module would be a viable solution if not hard to locate. I really do prefer bare bulb. I never liked the Quantum solutions because it requires lugging around a battery pack for power at weddings where the 120J will take AAs in the flash. Most Quantum light modifiers work on the 120J.
  36. "The one thing that has remained consistent regardless of what gear is used is a knack for that nano second capture that snatches a fleeting expression, body language or moment of humanity from the rushing river of events that is a wedding. That talent, technique, or whatever you want to call it I freely admit is intuitive and hard to explain. It's there in every wedding I shoot ... sometimes to my surprise and delight since it's instinct at work. I simply trust it. The day that aspect fails to show up is the day I hang up my wedding boots."​
    I absolutely love this quote of yours, Marc. I can completely relate. It's strange to read something that is exactly what I have been thinking and feeling recently. I am relatively new to the SLR world having just purchased my first one in December but I have definitely found my calling. I went to a friend's wedding a couple of weeks ago and took my new Sony A550. As it turns out, I took some absolute cracker shots, one of which is the bride's favourite. She used it on her thank you cards and is going to be enlarging it for her living room wall.
    My dad has been a hobby photographer for over thirty years and while I was growing up our family would have regular slide shows. I guess from looking at so many excellent photographs as a child I naturally learned how to compose and take a good picture.
    Thanks for this very informative article. It has been incredibly helpful for me.
  37. Thanks Madeleine.
    Nice catch ... that's what it is all about.
    Depending on your personal tastes, you may want to experiment with contrast levels when converting to B&W. I found the Sony cameras to be excellent at color because of a great mid-tone range response ... but often in need of a bit more contrast added to B&W conversions than other digital cameras.
  38. Thanks for the tip, Marc. Hey do you mind me asking what lens do you give to your assistant at weddings? Thanks.
  39. Hi Madeleine.
    Not sure what you mean by "what lens I give to my assistant at weddings?"
    If the person is purely assisting, they aren't shooting ... they are helping me shoot.
    My usual semi-assistant/second shooter Noel has her own Canon 5D and a crop frame Canon back-up (30D?) ... she shoots with a Canon 20-35/2.8L, 50/1.4, 100/2.8 macro, and another back-up zoom that I don't recall.
    Sometimes I have her up on the balcony shooting one of my Sony A900s with a 70-200/2.8 Zoom on a tripod while I work the main floor of the Ceremony with a Leica M9.
  40. Thank you. And yeah I meant your "second shooter".
  41. Great article.
    You listed a lack of a fast 35mm as a Con for Sony. I think you might have overlooked the 35mm 1.4G lens. This is a currently produced lens and not an out-of-print Minolta. :)
    You'll also get your wish for a fast 24mm Zeiss Prime very soon with the upcoming release of the 24mm Zeiss f/2 SSM (Yep.. SSM focusing)
    If you can get your hands on it, the 100mm f/2 Minolta lens is reputed to be one of the sharpest primes ever made. They're accordingly as rare as hens teeth and very expensive on the used market when they come up.
    Another very interesting option is the 135mm STF lens. It's a very esoteric optic, but there's literally nothing on earth like it. The smooth transition from focus to out-of-focus rips your subject from their background. It's really something to see.
  42. A fast Zeiss 35mm was the wish. But you are right, the G is no slouch, but it is priced like a Zeiss.
    Yep, drooling for the AF Zeiss 24/2 ... if it gets here in my lifetime. This article was written prior to that announcement.
    the 135 STF is a manual focus lens, and I already have the AF Zeiss 135/1.8 which also "rips the subject from the background" : -).
    Good input ... I'll have to search for that 100/2!
  43. Wow, in reading all of this, you most definitely will confuse a amateur on what to start off with. However, I started with a Nikon, and want to upgrade to the D700. I'm kinda of lost on the lenses to purchase, I notice you mention the 24-70/ 2.8 as a main, but is that the only one? What are some other good lenses, flashes to go with for wedding photography? Club photography as well? When I say club, I mean setting up lights on a backdrop in club environment. Suggestions please.
  44. Thanks Marc! I have bookmarked this and it became like my manual now.
  45. I have that elusive Minolta 100/f2 and I use it on my Sony A700. Oddly, my Minolta 35-105 (old style) beats it on sharpness every time I compare them directly on the same scene. That's one heck of a sharp zoom! And quite the bargain for around $100 to $200 typically. I don't think my f2 is a bad copy; it does seem really nice... it's just that the 35-105 is stellar. I couldn't speak to the bokeh between the two, 3D effect, etc. But now that I've read your article, I'm certainly going to look for it!
    I'm still quite the amateur compared to you guys. I'm a very low-volume shooter whose sessions are family get-togethers, graduations, random stuff I see on car trips that I can pull over and shoot from the side of the road, etc. I can go weeks without taking any shots, but I always look forward my next session sneaking up on me. I do have one regular "customer" though... one of our best friends who has me over for a photo shoot in their back yard each year for Christmas pictures of their kids. No money exchanged, purely for the mutual benefit of it. (Cards for her, shooting for me.) She poses them, and I snap away. It's neat to later see one of my pictures arrive in the mail on a Christmas card, having been cleverly cropped and processed. She has a better "eye" than I do, but isn't very equipment savvy. So between her final touches and me working the equipment, together we make a pretty good photographer, lol. The picture always makes me go "Wow, I can't believe I took that!"
    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the great article. You pretty much nailed most of my own views about hardware vs content, although I get by on micro-budget contraints. It's good to see there are still people out there who take the time pass on their knowledge. It's wonderful when it's done in a logical, sensible way that invites open conversation about various systems without all the flaming and bickery that has ruined many discussion boards in the last few years.
    Thanks again.
  46. great info about use the right equipment for wedding photography

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