Choosing the Best Cameras for Wedding Photography

Choosing the Best Cameras for Wedding Photography

Tools of the Trade: Choosing the Best Cameras for Wedding Photography with Michael Anthony

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September 2017 issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

2017 is a great year for photographers. Technology has advanced at such a rapid pace, and continues to offer some of the best tools available to do what we love doing. With all the options, how do you choose a primary camera system? Wedding shoots comprise a mixture of product, portrait and action photography—so how do you know which system works best for all these needs?

I recently tested multiple camera systems to see which came out on top. Since we are comparing cameras for wedding photography, I will focus on full-frame or larger sensors. Most full-frame sensors today give better overall low-light performance than APS-C or Micro 4:3 cameras. While I love some of the options in those categories, full-frame cameras are favored by professionals.

I’ve broken the article into two broad categories of wedding cameras: what I call the “wedding workhorse” and the “speed demon.” Within each category, I unpack four attributes: image quality, autofocus performance, low-light ability and ergonomics.

The Wedding Workhorse

The workhorse category encompasses the most common cameras used in wedding photography. If you could choose just one camera, it would fall in this category.

Let’s look at systems from the big three: Canon, Nikon and Sony.

Canon 5D Mark IV – $3,499 MSRP
Image Quality 4/5
Autofocus Performance 3.5/5
Low-Light Ability 4/5
Ergonomics 4/5 

I was an early adopter of the Canon system, so this one was high on my list. Last year, I purchased a 1DX Mark II as my main wedding camera, but when I had the chance to get my hands on the 5D Mark IV, I was amazed at how awesome it was. First, the ergonomics are what we expect from a Canon body. Little has changed in the 5D series, or any Canon body for that matter. You can look at this as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how large your hands are, but the 5D has always fit well in mine. It has great weight distribution compared to a mirrorless option, like the Sony a7 or a9 series, which is something I had taken for granted in DSLR cameras. This is the only camera in the series that has a legit touch screen that operates as well as your phone. That is a great feature once you’re familiar with it. Canon wasn’t the first to use a touch screen, but it has one of the best I have tested.

Image quality is awesome. Canon has improved Dynamic Range in this edition, a blessing for wedding photographers. Details render sharply, and Canon has the best selection of glass on the market, rivaled only by Nikon. Sony is catching up in this department, but options are still limited and Sony lenses are still 20 percent more expensive than Canon and Nikon’s. Color depth is excellent, and its sensor was rated by DxOMark as the best that Canon has ever made. The system falls a bit short of the Sony a7R II in that test, but is still perfectly acceptable as a wedding camera.

Autofocus is fast and clear. Canon uses a 61-point autofocus system and optical viewfinder, which technologically is a bit long in the tooth when compared to some of the newer options. But most importantly, the autofocus is accurate and allows easy switching between single shot and continuous focus points by mapping the DOF preview button. Canon also offers dual-pixel autofocus, which makes live-view focusing incredibly accurate. It’s one of my favorite features of this camera.

Low-light performance is awesome, and Canon really did listen to its users. Each iteration of the 5D series keeps getting better. ISO isn’t a problem until you get into the 8000 range as long as your subjects are properly exposed. As of the writing of this article, this is my favorite option for photographers looking for a single wedding camera.

Sony a7R II – $2,899 MSRP
Image Quality 5/5
Autofocus Performance 2/5
Low-Light Ability 4/5
Ergonomics 3/5

I chose this camera because Sony just introduced another camera into its lineup, the a9, which has been marketed as a sports camera. We will get to that in a minute. The a7R II was revolutionary, much like the 5D Mark II was years back. This camera features mirrorless technology, is incredibly compact in size and has a 42mp sensor that allows for beautifully resolved photographs that can print large and edit well. It has 14 stops of dynamic range, the same as many medium-format cameras on the market. This means you have much more latitude in post-production. The color depth on the Sony is the highest of all the workhorse cameras. Low-light performance is exceptional, with minimal noise in well-exposed images at 6,400 ISO. I was surprised by how it handled high ISO at high resolution. The a7R II has a feature called Eye-AF that allows you to use a separate button on the camera to lock focus on the eye. This excellent feature is so useful in photographing people.

There’s no question that the Sony has the highest image quality in this category, but it is far from the best option for wedding photographers. The a7R II lacks in some key features we require. Solid autofocus is the big one. The menu system is clumsy, and in order to change focus points, you have to map custom buttons and use your dials to change them, which takes two to three button presses each time you want to make a change to your selected focus point. That’s not too big of a deal once you get used to it, but it was a problem that bothered many photographers, which is why Sony added a joystick to the new a9. The autofocus is a bit slow and struggles in low-light environments. Glass options are limited, but Sony is quickly rectifying that with its G Master line. By the time you’re reading this article, Sony will have released the 16–35mm, 24–70mm and 70–200mm trinity of pro lenses.

When shooting with the a7R II, one of the biggest things that worried me was the lack of dual card slots, which, again, was corrected in the latest iteration of the a9. This is a crucial feature, and almost all cameras released today have it. The a7R II and the a9 are an excellent combination for those with bigger budgets.

Pricewise, Sony doesn’t currently have an option for photographers looking for a full-featured wedding camera that compares with the offerings from other manufacturers.

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Battery life is a major problem with this camera because the size of the battery is small to match the size of the camera. Mirrorless systems eat battery life, and you will find the need to replace the batteries in the a7R II three to four times during a wedding.

Nikon D810 – $2,799 
Image Quality 4/5
Autofocus Performance 2.5
Low-Light Ability 3.5/5
Ergonomics 3.5/5

This camera is a bargain at its current price, and is set to be replaced in the near future. It is a very good all-around option for those in the Nikon system. Dynamic range is only a hair short of the a7R II, and the camera has better battery life than both of the other options in this class. The Nikon sits between the other cameras in terms of color depth. It has very high ISO performance, but is bested by the 5D Mark IV in this category.

The Nikon is a bit heavier than the Canon and much heavier than the Sony (although weight evens out on the Sony once you add a G Master lens).

Where the Nikon currently falls short is the autofocus system. The autofocus has just 15 cross-type autofocus points, which are the only ones worth using. The LCD screen is dated with poor resolution. It’s not touch capable, but image quality is still excellent.

Nikon, like Sony, does not have the service options available for professionals like Canon does. Canon offers quicker turnaround times and overall better service options, such as equipment loaners and overnight shipping.

The Nikon is still the best bet for those invested in that system. Although there have been rumors of the company’s financial outlook, I don’t see them going out of business anytime soon, so I wouldn’t base my purchasing decision on the rumor mill.

Of more concern is Nikon’s lack of innovation. While people may claim the same of Canon, that is not the case. Canon’s business strategy has been market segmentation, holding back features from one camera to encourage users to buy other cameras in its lineup, specifically in the video features, but Sony has consistently improved its cameras with each new release. Many photographers and videographers may not like that strategy, but Canon is adding innovative features to its cameras—just not combining them into a single option.

The reason people have been worried about the innovation from these two companies is because they are comparing them to Sony, which is updating its camera line and releasing new options almost yearly. Sony is a newcomer to the professional imaging world, so it’s racing to put a product line out there to encourage purchasing. Once it diversifies its product line, its innovation and rate of updates should be on par with the other companies. This happens a lot in technology. Look at Apple shortly after it released the iPhone. The iPhone was updated with a new version in the first three years. Then the iPad came along to rock the device market again, and innovation slowed in order to make the most revenue out of the current technology.

As I am writing this, Nikon has just released a teaser trailer for the D850, which will be the successor to this camera. The specs haven’t been released yet, so one can only hope that it’ll be amazing.

The Speed Demon

This category features cameras that are geared toward action. Autofocus and frame rate are priorities, as are build quality, battery life and longevity. Camera manufacturers consider these cameras their flagships, and they often carry the highest price points.

Canon 1DX Mark II – $5,999 
Image Quality 3.5/5
Autofocus Performance 4/5
Low-Light Ability 4/5
Ergonomics 3/5

This camera is legendary among professionals. This is Canon’s flagship series, and I used it and its predecessor for years. The 1DX is built like a tank, but that comes at a cost in terms of size. In the past, professionals didn’t care about size as much. As mirrorless technology increases in popularity, people are starting to enjoy the benefits of size and weight savings.

This camera has incredible ISO performance. It’s got a dual processor, with one processor dedicated to the AF system alone. Dynamic range is the best in this group of speed demons, and the battery life is excellent, but not on par with the Nikon. Wedding photographers don’t need all of this camera’s features, like GPS, but the speed helps capture important moments.

This camera is compatible with Canon’s incredibly diverse line of lenses, and features a blazing-fast 16FPS.

Sony a9 – $4,495
Image Quality 4/5
Autofocus Performance 5/5
Low-Light Ability 4/5
Ergonomics 3/5

This camera was just announced, and the specs look incredible. It features 20FPS shooting, which is revolutionary. With no blackout of the shutter, it’s the only camera that can capture live action without any blackout in the screen whatsoever.

The a9 has 693 autofocus points compared to Canon’s 61. It has all the features we were missing in the a7R II, including dual card slots, better battery life (only half of the 1DX, however), dynamic range close to the 1DX, plus lower and higher ISO. The camera is fast and renders beautiful photos. Sony added custom menus, and it still has the ability to map custom keys to different functions. In other words, the user interface is greatly improved.

The autofocus system is known as being incredibly accurate. Using this camera in continuous mode blew me away. After using it for a few weeks, I can say that the innovation packed into this camera lives up to the hype. Tracking running subjects with a shallow depth of field yielded incredible accuracy. You can tell with the release of this camera that Sony is not holding back in innovation.

As with all new technology, this camera does have some bugs, but I am confident Sony will release firmware updates to resolve them shortly.

First, it had a hard time locking focus using a native 70–200GM lens during a simple studio headshot in low ambient light conditions. Next, and this is a big one, when shooting a couple’s first dance, the camera was performing impeccably, but when switching over to AF-Continuous mode and high-speed shooting, the camera locked up and shut down in the middle of my shooting sequence. Thankfully I had my 5D on my other hip to finish the sequence, but that was unacceptable for a wedding photographer. (Disclaimer: After I reset the camera, this didn’t happen again. The camera went into “data recovery” mode and recovered most of the photos leading up to the failure, but it seems that everything that was on the buffer was not recoverable.)

I wouldn’t let this experience dissuade you from buying it. It is exceptional, but it’s also brand-new, so these little things will likely be fixed with firmware updates. I have continued to use the a9 and have not experienced this problem again in over a month.

I am impressed with what Sony has done for the price point. This is an excellent camera for receptions and ceremonies. One of the biggest gripes people have with it is that Sony doesn’t currently have the glass to accompany it. But Sony’s G Master trinity of lenses, along with the 85mm F/1.4, should be enough to cover most people’s needs. 

Nikon D5 – $6,499 
Image Quality 3.5/5
Autofocus Performance 4/5
Low-Light Ability 4/5
Ergonomics 3/5 

The D5 is Nikon’s flagship and most recent pro body release. The D5 is also the most expensive in this group. It has 153 autofocus points, which is excellent for a DSLR. It is completely weather-sealed, like the other two bodies above. The D5 can shoot at 14FPS, which is very fast. Color depth is outstanding, and it has a slightly higher resolution than the 1DX, but not as high as the a9.

The D5 does not have as good a dynamic range as the other two cameras in this class, which is one of the reasons I would put it at the bottom of the list. That being said, its 12.5 stops of dynamic range is still very good, considering how far we have come the past few years.

Ergonomically, this camera is comparable to the 1DX Mark II, which means it is heavy and bulky compared to the a9. You may or may not like a larger camera. I keep my wedding cameras as light as possible because I am holding onto them all day long.

The differences between the 1DX Mark II and the D5 are marginal. If you are considering either of these cameras, you are probably well invested in one of the system’s glass. I wouldn’t consider jumping ship for either of them.

The Medium-Format Monster

Fujifilm GFX 50S –  $6,499
Image Quality 5/5
Autofocus 3.5/5
Low-Light Ability 3.5/5
Ergonomics 5/5

In early 2017, Fuji broke new ground with its release of the GFX 50S. While digital medium-format systems have been around for a while, this is the first time a manufacturer was able to make the price competitive. At $6,500, this is not an inexpensive tool, but in the medium-format world, it’s a bargain. The Hasselblad H6D-50c, which uses the same sensor, was $25,995, but it recently dropped to $17,995. Hasselblad was no doubt feeling the pinch of competition for the first time in this arena. I include this camera here because at its current price point, it’s available to many professional studios.

The term medium format refers to the sensor size of the camera. To be classified as medium format, the sensor has to be larger than full frame 35mm, but smaller than 4×5 large format. The Sony sensor inside the GFX is not as large as the 100mp Phase One, but it is larger than a full-frame 35mm. Sensor size impacts overall image quality and tonal range, and offers more dynamic range and color depth.

After I first got to play with medium format last year, I knew I had to have one. I considered financing for the Phase One system, but then concluded that as a wedding photographer, it was just not a big enough need in my business to justify the enormous cost. That changed with the GFX 50S. After I picked one up, I was amazed by the quality of the images. The color tonality is just amazing.

The GFX 50S is a mirrorless system, which makes it no bigger than your standard DSLR. The GFX solves a major pain of medium-format systems by introducing a 425-point focus system, along with a joystick and touch-to-focus technology. It has face detection as well.

While most medium-format cameras have slow autofocus, the GFX is incredibly accurate, even when using the touch screen. Rather than a traditional optical viewfinder, it has a removable electronic viewfinder that allows you to save space if you need to pack light. The electronic viewfinder has WYSIWYG exposure and color previews, so the need for test shots with natural-light images is essentially moot.

Ergonomics are incredible, and this is my favorite camera to hold. It fits perfectly in my hands.

I highly recommend this camera to any higher-end wedding studio that is looking to expand its offerings. We use this system for our wedding portraits, in-studio shoots and portfolio work.

Roundup – What’s the Best Camera for Wedding Photography?

If you’re considering a move to Sony, the a9 could be the camera that helps you make that leap. The new iteration of the a7 on the horizon will hopefully add dual card slots that make use of the new battery and the a9 autofocus. Once that happens, Sony will have a good all-around system.

I own cameras from Sony, Canon and Fuji, and have used both Nikon and Panasonic. Canon has the most well-rounded set of lenses, lighting, camera bodies and support for the professional wedding photographer.

While the size of mirrorless units is a plus, as soon as you add the glass to the body, the size difference becomes negligible.

When you factor in user interface, Canon Professional Services support and its diverse line of lenses, Canon currently has the best offerings for wedding shooters. This can change as other manufacturers quickly catch up with their offerings, but Sony has announced that it is expanding professional support in North America. Sony is also working hard to diversify its lens lineup, and Nikon is vowing to rock the photography scene with new innovation soon.

As I said at the top, it is a great time to be a professional photographer.

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  • Michael Anthony

    There is no way to rate cameras without a bit of subjectiveness :-). I am also using Sony more and more these days and have a Fuji system as well. This article wasn’t meant to say Canon is the end all-be all of camera systems, just saying that it had the most well rounded option if I had to lay out the specs balancing both image quality and AF performance, etc……Nikon’s D850 sure looks impressive though and I can’t wait for the A7rIII, we live in good times as photographers 🙂

  • Desbris

    The new Nikon D850 is out now and it is the best all round DSLR by far. Im a 5D IV user and if it wasn’t such a pain to sell all my 8 lenses and gear I would switch over, the D850 is in a class of its own and I am jealous I don’t have one

  • Axel Santiago

    Very subjective article. Author likes Canon system so Canon obviously is the top performer. Nikon goes to the bottom of the list, and even gets a cheap shot about financial rumors. If you ask many of the seasoned professionals using Nikon or Sony, they would have a different view, particularly in the areas of autofocus and TTL performance, which many would argue is superior with Nikon. The Canon system is great, but so is Nikon and Sony, with some differences that appeal to different photographers. Bottom line is experienced photographers know their cameras, lenses, speedlights, and will stick with have worked for them. For a novice, a more objective review would have provide more value.

    • Behind the Shutter

      something to keep in mind… the author owns and shoots actively with Sony, Canon, and Fuji.

    • Michael Anthony

      Axel, I am actually a user of three different systems, and am primarily using Sony these days, this article is as objective as I could make it, I actually said in the article that all of the systems you mentioned are good in some ways and need improvement in others, I touched on all of the current cameras except the D850, which didn’t have specs announced when I had written this article. I haven’t used it yet but the specs are surely impressive! I agree, use what works best for you 🙂

  • dhovanec

    Should i give up if I do not own one of those?

    • Savi You

      I shoot with 2 Sony a6500 (after years of using 5DMKII’s)

      • Michael Anthony

        Not at all Savi! There were a ton of other cameras I would have loved to review, but these are just some of the popular ones right now for wedding photographers. Maybe in the future we can look at the a6500’s and Fuji X system as well. You can make beautiful photos with any camera.

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Choosing the Best Cameras for Wedding Photography

with Michael Anthony time to read: 16 min
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