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I have a Canon 600D with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. I have a friend's wedding coming soon, and I'm not sure if my zoom lens will do a good job or not. I was thinking of buying a prime lens so I can get better portraits, but I'm not sure if this is true.

The wedding will be in a hall with different light situations (sometimes it's bright, sometimes it's dark, and they'll use laser lighting a lot), there is a garden associated with the hall, and the wedding will be at night. I'm not the official photographer for the event.

  • A related answer for Canon 600D can be found at photo.stackexchange.com/questions/15946/… – Global nomad Dec 8 '11 at 16:32
  • Good stuff on that post. For you, it could also depend on details on your friend's wedding -- outside or brightly lit, or dim & cozy. Finally, it depends on what "fine" means! Is your friend asking you to be the official picture-taker, or are you just there for fun & memories? Your 600D + kit lens is tons better than the cameras I used to take to events > 2 years ago. – Michael H. Dec 8 '11 at 16:47
  • In general, basically every lens that canon sells outperforms the 18-55mm kit lens. Some are on par, but the vast majority are much better. – dpollitt Dec 9 '11 at 0:56
  • The dirty cheap EF-S 24mm f/2.8 will easily outperform the kit lens. Matter of fact, I stopped using the kit lens after I got one... It is not the best choice for your problem, but is certainly a cheap step in the right direction. – Fábio Dias Sep 7 at 15:32
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Prime lenses are excellent options for portrait work, especially at wedding venues. Prime lenses are less forgiving when it comes to varied situations and framing. Instead of moving the zoom ring, you have to move your feet. If you are the main photographer for an event, no one is going to mind you moving around to get the shot. If you are an audience member attending the wedding as a guest, it may be considered rude to get move around so much for a shot.

Typically indoor weddings have poor lighting, at both the ceremony and reception events. Because of that, fast lenses of at least f/2.8 are usually the standard. You could fill your gear bag with zoom lenses at f/2.8, and shoot weddings very well, but it would likely be less expensive to purchase a few f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.0 lenses that are wider yet.

Another benefit of prime lenses is that typically they are smaller and lighter then a professional grade zoom lens.

For portraits specifically, a wider aperture will provide you with a more blurred background, referred to as bokeh. It also will let you stop action such as a moving bride or groom, and allow you to use a lower ISO setting if you are worried about noise.

Overall, prime lenses are a great option for wedding photography, because they are particularly good at portrait work, especially in low light.

To get started these questions may help you with your first purchase:

  • Just a side note: wide open, the DOF may get a bit thin, so group photos might be tricky. Be aware of that – Fábio Dias Sep 7 at 15:35
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The most important rule of thumb I've learnt from shooting weddings is wedding venues are dark! A lens with a nice wide aperture - a "fast lens" - will help you get faster shutter speeds and therefore less blur in poorly-lit conditions. So I'd say yes, without a doubt a prime lens will be very useful on the day: not because of its fixed focal length, but because prime lenses tend to have larger maximum apertures.

50mm or thereabouts is a perfect focal length for portraits with your camera. At that focal length, your existing lens has a maximum aperture of f/5.6, which really isn't very large at all. By comparison, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II will (unsurprisingly) go to f/1.8, a difference of over 3 stops. Put another way, it's the difference between 1/20s shutter speed with your current lens, versus 1/200s with the 50mm prime. The 50mm f/1.8 is a popular choice with people just branching out into prime lenses: it's cheap but capable of taking good quality pictures. The main down side is that it can be a bit slow to focus - really only a major problem when your subject is moving (such as the first dance at a wedding).

If you've got a bigger budget, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is a fantastic lens with a better, faster auto-focus motor. It's also a full 4 stops faster than your current lens at an equivalent focal length: the difference between 1/20s with your lens and 1/320s with the 50mm. I've used this lens at many weddings and it's never let me down.

There are also other options such as the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 but I haven't used them so can't endorse them personally.

The only down side of a prime lens is the obvious one: it doesn't zoom, so you have to reposition yourself if the shot from where you're standing is too close or too wide. But the fastest zoom lenses available only have a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and are pretty expensive. Many people find a 50mm prime to be a great compromise between low cost, good quality and poor versatility.

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    Yea, why do b&g's always want to get married in the dark?! – dpollitt Dec 8 '11 at 17:53
  • Haha - exactly! – Mark Whitaker Dec 8 '11 at 20:36
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    +1 for listing different options for prime lenses. Thanks – K'' Dec 8 '11 at 22:32
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The classic wedding shot contains two heads at equal distance to the camera which is few meters away. This allows for rather narrow relative depth of focus at moderate focal lengths (50mm EFL or so), and blurring the background out is pretty typical. F5.6 at 55mm isn't it, and the Canon 600D is a crop camera (1.6), so we are actually talking about F9 here in relation to a full-frame camera (with a crop camera, you'd probably not use the full 55mm though). So regardless of the low-light issue, a fast prime would give you a lot more to work with regarding blurring as a picture composition tool, particularly relevant since you are working with a crop body here.

However, you state that you are not the official wedding photographer (in which case I'd have recommended looking for a full-frame camera to borrow) but rather a location shooter for uncertain lighting conditions.

A prime determines your working distance. It's good for portrait shots. It's not equally good for location shots. The variety of lighting conditions in connection with a crop body and the possibility that you'll revert to a zoom lens (not necessarily the comparatively slow kit lens) makes it advisable to carry a good external flash: you want to be able to bounce it.

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