Lens Guides

The Two Indispensable Mirrorless Prime Lenses for Wedding Photography

I’m a full-time wedding photographer who uses his cameras to support his family and put food on the table. I don’t spare on cost when it comes to my gear, as I want to make sure to have the best tools for the job. I shoot with a Leica SL2 and an SL2-S because I find that they’re the best mirrorless cameras on the market for how I shoot. And now, I pair those with the SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art and SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art lenses for the majority of my wedding work.

Wedding photographer Jay Cassario always brings the big guns to capture wedding days!

As a Leica photographer who has worked very closely with the company for several years, I’m very familiar with just how critical this group of faithful photographers can be. Much like pouring a bottle of Chateau Lafite into a red plastic cup with ice cubes, some believe that the simple idea of putting anything other than Leica glass on a Leica body should be considered a crime. On the other hand, there are many photographers, like myself, who shoot with a Leica camera because it’s the best tool for the job and enjoy the unique shooting experience that comes along with it. In that same spirit, lens choice shouldn’t be limited to a brand name… there are many factors to consider beyond the logo, and this is exactly why I opt for SIGMA glass.

The L-Mount Alliance has made excellent SIGMA gear available for Leica shooters.

Taking a Minimalist Approach to Wedding Photography

As I write this article, I’m currently in the midst of the busiest wedding season that I’ve had in my 8-year career due to the pandemic forcing nearly all of our 2020 clients to postpone their weddings. This comes on the heels of a year that made me question just about everything in life, from my daily choice of pajamas to whether my passion as a photographer was still there. I was far from alone in that struggle, but thankfully I was able to find the fire again and stoke it even higher. Surprisingly, close to an entire year off, in the end, helped to give me a fresh start that was long overdue along with a new minimalist approach to how I photograph a wedding day. This new approach has helped make my busiest wedding season ever also one of the most creative that I can remember.

Each and every wedding presents its own set of unique challenges. Being able to navigate those challenges while capturing the story that needs to be told — in the most creative way possible — is what makes being a wedding photographer so special. It’s what pushes me to think outside the box and use what others might see as a hindrance to my creative advantage. Give me a bag full of lenses, a few camera bodies, and another bag full of lights and I can make anything out of any challenge thrown at me. Limit me to just one or two cameras, two lenses, and one flash, and I’m forced to confront those same challenges using a completely different approach. One that I’ve found ultimately, results in more creative and artistic outcomes.

What Makes the SIGMA 35mm / 85mm Lens Combo Ideal

Taking a very minimalist approach to the gear I use isn’t something that just happened overnight. It took time working with many different focal lengths to realize what worked best for my style of shooting. I spent the past three years working with four prime lenses and a couple of flashes, which at the time was a lot less than what I had been carrying around prior to that. I don’t use zoom lenses, because I need the versatility that a fast F1.4 prime offers. When paired with the low-light capabilities of the SL2 and SL2-S, I can shoot in just about any lighting conditions thrown at me without having to add a flash. I will still use a flash when needed, but a fast prime makes it more of an option rather than a requirement.

When it came down to pushing things creatively, I knew that two primes was the way I wanted to go. In early 2021, I had begun to try out the SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art and SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art primes, and tested them against my 35mm and 90mm F2 Summicron primes. The new SIGMA glass offered a slightly faster aperture, nearly identical size and weight, along with slightly faster autofocus. After a few double header weekends of weddings testing both combos against each other, I knew the direction I wanted to go. It wasn’t the more expensive Leica glass.

If I could choose just one lens to shoot with, it would be a 50mm prime. That’s the focal length I’m naturally drawn to and feel the most creative with. It’s what I use for personal work and documenting family life on the farm. But give me something a little wider and a little narrower and there you have it… 35mm and 85mm, the peanut butter and jelly of glass for photographing weddings.

The SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art is a lightweight, yet well-built lens, that balances quite nicely on the SL2. This is the lens that I use the most out of the two since it’s such a great focal length for both environmental portraits, and for documenting moments. The 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art allows me to unobtrusively capture moments from a much closer distance than I could with a 50mm lens or anything longer. This gives a very unique perspective, one that makes the viewer feel like they’re right there in the moment. It gives the bride and groom a completely different perspective than how they remember it. This lens also allows me to take a few steps back to be more of a “fly on the wall” while capturing both foreground and background elements to give a much more layered and artistic feel.

The SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art is a refresh of a lens that I owned years ago when I shot with a Nikon camera. The newer DG DN lens is hands down the most impressive 85mm lens that I’ve ever shot with, and it’s the perfect lens to pair with the 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art. While the 35 is great for documenting moments, the 85mm focal length is the way to go for taking portraits or giving yourself a little reach when you need it. I take a very hands-off approach for a lot of the wedding day, but there are times when I also need to take formal portraits and the 35mm focal length has just a little more distortion than I like. The 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art gives me the ability to shoot these in just about any lighting conditions with a very shallow depth-of-field without any of the distortion. It’s also great for photographing ceremonies when I’m not always able to get up as close as I would like, or down a long aisle as the bride and her father walk toward me. The autofocus is so impressive that I’m able to nail the focus at F1.4 as the bride walks down the aisle at an extremely high percentage rate, if not perfect. Shooting this lens wide open while having confidence in acquiring focus allows me to shoot in dark churches without having to add any artificial light, which a lot of times isn’t an option.

Moving Forward with a New Outlook… and SIGMA 35mm & 85mm DG DN Art Lenses

Picking ourselves back up after watching a year’s worth of bookings evaporate was one of the biggest hurdles we were faced with as wedding photographers. Some of us are still struggling to put the pieces back together. It took a long time for me to find that passion again, but an extremely busy wedding season forced me to confront those challenges head-on and answer a lot of uncomfortable questions. Changes were needed and I started making them early on as the season picked up pace. Stripping my process down to the floor boards in order to push myself creatively was just one of them. Letting go of the excess that I once thought was needed and limiting my toolset proved vital in my quest for the passion I once had.

The SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art and SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art L-mount lens combo on my Leica SL2 and SL2-S is all you’ll find me using at weddings these days. There are still times when I’ll bring along other lenses, but only in very specific scenarios that I know about ahead of time. Limiting myself to just two lenses forces me to move more, see differently, think differently, and ultimately push myself like I never have before. This approach has not only helped me find my passion again but also resulted in my clients loving their photos even more. Hearing them rave about their photos is easily the best road to finding your confidence again.

In the end, the SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art and 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art lenses are what I’ve found works the best for how I see things. If you’re struggling creatively, in a rut, or need a new approach to try, lighten your camera bag and limit yourself. If you had to choose just two lenses to shoot with on a wedding day, which two would you choose?

Comments (1)
  1. Jay,
    Great article. Love your images. I’ve been using Fuji’s version for some weddings (23mm on one camera, 56mm on another). The minimalist approach.not only saved my back, it also helped me on improving my photography quality.
    Recently, I am thinking about giving Leica a try. I just not sure if Leica’s focus capability meet the Weddings/events need?
    Thank you.

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