2017 was truly a fantastic year for Ken Mace Photography! It was jam packed with amazing moments that I was able to capture for great couples that I am glad to know. The amazing thing about being a wedding photographer is to witness one of the happiest days in peoples lives. People laugh and people cry. They hug a little tighter and are more expressive than normal. They stare a little longer to say things with their eyes when the words are not good enough. There a subtle gestures of the hands and eyebrows and the lips. There are moments, lots of moments. And I am ready to capture them all. So for me, the gear is important. Really important!
Today, the camera equipment that is available allows me to do things that the most revered photographers of the past could only dream of doing. Todays iPhones are more capable than the tools that Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Dorthea Lange, Diane Arbus, Robert Doisneau, and Arnold Newman (a personal favorite of mine) had available to them. And yet, they were able to create amazing works of art that stand the test of time and inspire so many photographers past, present and future.
"It is the Indian, not the arrow." -Cliff Mautner
Even though the gear is important (and it certainly is to me) it will not take the picture for you. It also will not make you a better photographer. What it can do is help you make the photo. But to do this you must first understand it's capabilities and limitations (which I do) before you can make the imagery that you want to make for your clients. Before I purchase any piece of equipment I do two things. First, I have to identify a need for the particular lens, light stand or whatever the item may be. If it can perform a task that I need or make the process of shooting, editing or archiving photo files more efficient then I am interested. Second, I research to find every shred of information about it that I can find. Some of that info is useful and some not as much for my needs. After I buy the item though is when the real evaluation begins. All of the reviews and analyses in the world will not tell you how it will perform in your workflow and to your standards. Some items don't make the cut and wind up being sold to fund another item that could aid the process, like the 135L (it's not you, it's me!). The 135L is truly a masterpiece of a lens. It was released 22 years ago in 1996 and I would still choose it over the highly touted 135 1.8 from Sigma (2017). I won't go over that in depth and I am sure that opposing views are numerous (I am not a big fan of third-party lenses for the Canon system). It just was a focal length that did not work for me so it had to find a new home where it could be used. Each of the items listed below (and pictured above) has been selected with a high degree of scrutiny and has passed with flying colors! Here is the Ken Mace Photography 2018 lineup.
Canon 5D Mark IV
The 5D Mark IV is the latest camera in Canon's 5D line. The original 5D (12.8 mp) was released in 2005 and quickly became beloved by many photographers. It was the first standard-sized full frame camera and performed extremely well. The 5D 'classic' as it is now called is still a capable camera and readily attainable on the secondary market for about $300. If you are an enthusiast starting out and want a full -frame camera to help you on your way, then this is a great option. The 5D Mark II (2008) was the first camera in its class to offer video in addition to the new 21.1 mp sensor that was upgraded from the 5D classic. It's new video feature and improved ISO brought more accolades to the series as it became highly regarded for being an all around great performer. In 2012, Canon announced the 5D Mark III (more below) to an excited fan base. The most notable improvement was the increase in AF points from 9 to 61 (41 cross-type)! The Mark III remains a staple for many photographers and for good reason.
The 5D Mark IV (2016) was released with an array of new features including a new higher resolution sensor of 30 mp, built-in GPS, WiFi, touchscreen with touch AF control, anti-flicker for artificial lighting (inherited from the 1Dx Mark II), 4K video, 7 fps & improved native ISO performance. All of these extra features expand on what the 5D line does; provide a camera that does everything well. The features that have quickly made this latest offering from Canon particularly useful to me are the dual-pixel, 61 point high density reticular AF II with 41 cross-type, the mirror vibration control system & the increased low-light performance. As a wedding photographer, the low-light performance is a primary consideration when deciding on a big purchase like this. The ability to rapidly focus in challenging lighting situations really sets the Mark IV apart. The mirror vibration control feels like it gives a bit of a cushion to the mirror during shutter actuation. This does not provide any improvements for me in photo quality but I like how it sounds. That is trivial I know, but who cares? However, the dual-pixel AF is not. There are not many situations where I found myself wanting with the Mark III in terms of AF. But the situations where I did notice a challenge, such as subjects coming straight towards the camera, the Mark IV really shines. There have definitely been situations where the Mark IV has helped me nail the shot where it's predecessor may have struggled.
Canon 5D Mark III
As mentioned above, the 5D Mark III's biggest improvement from the Mark II is AF system which was initially found in the 1Dx. The new AF system gave the Mark III 61 (41 cross-type) focus points which was a quantum leap from the 9 (1 cross-type) AF points of the Mark II. Another feature supremely important to wedding photographers is the dual card slots (1 CF, 1 SD). This allows a real-time back up of all of the photos (also present on the Mark IV). There are no do-overs for weddings so this feature was well-received by every wedding pro I know. I have personally never had a memory card fail (knock on wood) but if it should ever happen, I am ready. Also upgraded from the previous model is the native ISO (100-25600), 6 fps, new 22.3 mp CMOS sensor, and weather sealing!!! Your gear will be exposed to the elements. Before the weather-sealing we used form fitted plastic bags (or any available plastic bag) to protect the equipment and get the shot. This goes back to my criteria for selecting gear, 'does it make the process more efficient?' Simply put; yes! It is so much quicker and easier to not have to stop to 'bag it'. It is also one less thing to carry during the wedding day. The 5D3 is still a beast of a camera and a treasured addition to my bag!
EF 35 1.4L II
One of the first lenses I ever purchased was the initial version of this lens, EF 35 1.4L, released in 1998. The 35mm focal length is a favorite for me and my documentary inspired shooting style. With a fast aperture of 1.4, it is an excellent low-light choice and very sharp when stopped down to 2.8. Wide open at 1.4 it can still produce fantastic images and is reasonably sharp. It's weakness for me was in the high contrast situations where lateral chromatic aberration (CA, also referred to as purple fringing) was severe enough to avoid using the lens. It was less pronounced when stopped down but even then it could still be difficult to deal with in Lightroom.
Enter the version II. The updated version of this lens has truly set it apart from the pack of 35mm options available including the third-party manufacturers. Canon's new "Blue Spectrum Refractive" (BR) lens technology has virtually eliminated the CA. I have no idea what Blue Spectrum Refractive is or how it works and honestly, I am just fine with that. What I do know is that it does work remarkably well. This has also removed any reservations that had previously caused me to choose another lens in those high contrast situations. This alone was enough for me to justify replacing the version I. Another big leap is the sharpness. At 1.4, it isn't just reasonably sharp, it is amazingly sharp. This isn't just a lens, it is a work of art in itself! Talk about creative possibilities! It is my favorite focal length and I no longer have any restrictions for its use.
EF 24-70 2.8L II
The 24-70 is a versatile lens and a go-to for the ceremony for me. Going from a wide angle to standard/medium telephoto range allows the composition of so many images when the freedom to move may be limited. I am there to document the moment and not be part of it so having the freedom of the zoom is beneficial. This version was released in 2012 and was awarded TIPA's Best Professional DSLR Lens the following year and very deserving of that honor in my opinion. If I were only allowed to ever have one lens (I don't know who would be restricting me but...), this would definitely be the one. A documentary approach means that you need to include more in your photos and the 24, 35 and 50mm range delivers. At the long end of 70mm, it performs as a good portrait lens should.
EF 70-200 2.8L II
This lens in an excellent companion of the 24-70 for ceremonies. The close-up shot to catch the brides (or grooms) tear as the vows are read might not be possible without a telephoto zoom lens. It is all about the moments and the 70-200 is an excellent tool to help capture that. It is also a stellar portrait lens. The compression at 200mm produces amazing out-of-focus areas (bokeh) and isolates your subjects so well. If there were only two lenses that I could use (those darn lens police again) then I would add this to the 24-70.
EF 100 2.8L Macro
The Macro lens is the best tool to capture the finer details of the day including rings, heirlooms and the detail on the necklace. If you have ever seen where the ring is as big as the photo itself then you have seen what the macro lens can do. To perform this wedding day duty, the 100 2.8L can resolve an amazing amount of detail in the photo. Intricate lace and opulent ring designs need a tool like this to showcase the meticulous and beautiful craftsmanship. It is also a great portrait lens due to its ability to resolve such fine detail. But do not try to take those portraits in low light because that is where this lens struggles. It will hunt to achieve focus in poorly lit spaces and can make you miss the moment. In these challenging situations I opt for the 85 1.8. However, if you add a bit of light for that ring shot then viola! You have instant photo goodness.
EF 16-35 2.8L II
During the reception while everybody you know is dancing and celebrating your wedding, the dance floor gets crowded; really crowded! I love the ultra wide angle lens for this portion of the day. There is no substitute for the feel of the image when you are in close where the action is. Shooting from the sidelines with a telephoto zoom will not give you the same level of intimacy that the 16-35 2.8L II will give you when you are right in the action. Getting in that close means that you catch a lot of flying elbows and kicks from the line dances. I have more than one scar from the YMCA as well! It is totally worth it though when I get that intimate look as a result.
EF 90 TS-E Tilt Shift
The tilt-shift lens is a specialty item used for perspective correction and is a mainstay with architectural photographers. Canon has several including an updated 90mm that now proudly bears the coveted red-ring of the L lineup of lenses. This original version is quite capable of producing outstanding images. Using the 'shift' function will produce out of focus areas above and below, left and right sides with the center in focus, and it can also render diagonally. This creates wonderfully unique images to give your gallery more variety.
EF 85 1.8
This lens is the 'little giant' of the 85 mm options for Canon. It was released in 1992 and continues to impress even with today's higher resolution digital sensors. The auto-focus is incredibly fast and accurate and produces very sharp images. Sitting at the bottom of the 85 line under the 1.2L II and the newest offering, the 85 1.4L IS, you will not see much perceivable difference in image quality in my opinion. To provide a disclaimer, I am not a pixel-peeper unless I am checking focus. Photographs are not viewed at 100% magnification so I tend not to evaluate in that manner. This lens is such a great performer and the price tag makes it even more more appealing. It has treated me so well that I have never been able to identify a need to upgrade to the L.
EF 50 1.4
And finally we have the 50 1.4. I do not use the 50 very often but when I do, this does everything I ever need it to do. Canon's 50 mm line also has a 1.2L big brother which is an amazing piece of glass. I know many photographers who laud the 1.2 and use it so much they have an additional one in their bag for a backup just in case. There are several portfolio examples on my homepage that were made possible by the 1.4. It is very sharp at f2 (I am rarely wider than this). If I used this focal length more I might consider the 1.2 and that is only because of the build quality. As with all of Canon's L lenses, the build quality is stellar and ready to handle the most challenging conditions. The IQ difference alone is not enough to convince me to opt for the big brother.