I've been asked countless times on what is the best equipment when shooting a wedding. From my personal experience, the equipment used tells only part of the story. Composition, timing, and storytelling are equally important. But for this article, I will cover the basics of what you need to get started. I preface this by stating that this is my personal opinion and may not always work for everyone. With each equipment I will cover some technical aspects, but I will be simplifying everything to better understand why this particular equipment is important.
The first thing you're going to need is the camera body itself. Whatever body you choose is personal preference. My first camera was a Canon Rebel t3i that became my workhorse for 6 years. It wasn't the greatest by any means but it did the job . The biggest thing to get take away is how the camera performs in low light situations. Weddings tend to take place in dimly lit places where light isn't readily available. Having a camera that can respond to low-light situations will make your life easier. A term to remember is ISO, which is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your camera. The component within your camera that can change sensitivity is called “image sensor”, or commonly referred to as the "sensor". It is the most important part of a camera that is responsible for gathering light and transforming it into an image. With increased sensitivity, your camera sensor can capture images in low-light environments if there is no light available. However, higher sensitivity adds grain or “noise” to the video. I would recommend to do some research, rent out a camera you are interested in and test it out. Determine what you need and go from there. There will be no perfect camera that can cover everything you need.
Once you have a camera selected, you're next step is to invest in some lenses. Now this part is very subjective depending on each person. For a beginner, determining what lenses to buy is an overwhelming task. Terms such as focal range, aperture, prime, zoom, macro, telephoto, fixed, and variable are all associated with lenses. So what is the best lens or lenses to get? Honestly, one lens cannot do everything. Each lens in your set will serve a different purpose in the wedding. For example, during the ceremony its nice to have lens for the center camera thats is flexible enough to get a wide shot to show the entire alter but also be able push in tighter if need be as the ceremony progress. Throughout the wedding day if you need a longer reach to capture actions where you need a mid to close up shot from a far distance, then a telephoto lens would be your best option. A wide angle lens would be ideal for establishing shots of the venue, ceremony site, or anything to show the totality of the event. Just like the camera body, how the lens responds to light is crucial when looking for a lens. Aperture is a term to describe the amount of light the lens lets in. The best way to view this is think of a human eye. When it gets dark, the pupil opens up to let more light in so we can see. Contrary, when there is more light our pupils closes to restrict the amount of light coming in. Same concept as lenses. I won't be going into the different aspects of a lens because there are plenty of resources online to research. Important thing is that lower the number pertaining to an aperture, the more light the lens bring in.
The last pieces of equipment needed are going to be audio. Being able to capture good quality audio is an absolute must for a wedding. This includes wedding vows, messages, toasts, or any part where someone is directly speaking into a microphone. For the ceremony part, the most common way to capture audio directly is by mic'ing up the Groom and Officiant. Some videographers I know also mic the bride, which can be very tricky. The very least the Officiant and Groom needs to be mic'd up. This can be accomplished by using a pocket recorder with a lavalier mic or a radio frequency lavalier system. Pocket recorders are handy because they are very inexpensive (roughly $100-$200 depending on model) and you can buy multiple sets if you are on a budget. Wireless lavalier sets are much more expensive ($600-700 per set) but allows you monitor audio if your camera has that capability. The downside is that lavalier sets are subject to any interference because it relies on radio frequency for signal. Make sure any lavalier wires are tucked away in the jacket pocket so it is out of sight. Depending on the venue, there may be a sound system that you can plug into a feed directly from a mixer using an xlr or 1/4 inch cable. This is where an audio recorder such as as Tascam DR40 or a Zoom H4n would be handy. If there is a DJ then they are usually more than willing to let you tap into their system. This is perfect as a backup during the ceremony or the reception. If they do not have an input to tap into their system, then I would check if the speakers have an output in the back. Just make sure to adjust the levels so they aren't distorted. Clean signal is a must because you will save yourself a lot of time and headache if you need to clean up any audio in post.
Once you have these three areas covered, every gear is a bonus. Gimbals, steadicams, sliders, and any other support rigs just add an element of creativity to the production. An absolute must is being able to have a heavy duty tripod that can support the weight of the camera, lens, and any rig attached to it. I personally recommend a Manfrotto or Benro tripod with a fluid head where you can adjust the drag of the pan or tilt to make it as smooth as possible. Last thing you want is to have a shot where there is an abrupt movement.
Shooting a wedding can be a very daunting task even for a seasoned shooter but having the right equipment will ensure that you will have quality footage to work with. This article only provides a general guideline for those looking into shooting weddings for their first time. As you do more weddings you will have a better idea of what works for you and what doesn't, what limitations you have regarding your gear, how you can improve and what you need to accompany that. As with anything, budget is always a concern so my suggestion is to find a happy medium. You don't need to buy the latest and greatest equipment right away. Start off with what you need and don't be persuaded by others. Overtime you will continually build your gear list accordingly. I hope you found this article insightful and happy shooting!