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Should You Use A Cell Phone Camera For Real Estate Photography?

August 27th, 2012

Not to long ago a I was interviewed by an editor from The Residential Specialist magazine which is a magazine for the Council of Residential Specialists (CRS as it’s known by real estate agents). I feel honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the article they were doing because my wife Levi has had a CRS designation for many years and CRS is a very respected organization. I’ve been to many of their courses with Levi and they are always top quality.

After the initial interview the editor ask me for a list of do’s and don’ts for taking real estate photos with smartphones. Initially I was a bit stunned that some how I’d not communicated that smartphones weren’t the best choice for real estate photography. But after thinking about it I realized that with all the hype about the recent leap in quality of smartphone cameras it is understandable that agents may not understand the short comings.

I have to say that I am daily blown away by the quality of the images that my iPhone 4s turns out. I absolutely love it! Also Scott Hargis recently had a stunning comparison of a front-shot he had done with his iPhone 4s and the same shot he’d shot with his 5DMkII. Scott challenged his blog readers to identify which was which… I got it wrong! As Scott points out, “good light trumps everything else”.

So Scott’s example illustrates that it’s possible to take a good exterior shot with a smartphone. But on most interior shots you have to be creating good light and you need quality wide-angle glass and you can’t do either with a smartphone.

So here’s what I told the editor from The Residential Specialist:

I do not recommend trying to use any smart phone to shoot real estate photos because the two most important factors that contribute to quality interior photos are:

  1. A quality wide-angle lens with effective focal length between 16mm and 24mm.
  2. Good lighting with small flashes… even quality HDR/EF images need some small flash lighting to look good.

It is impossible to do either 1 and 2 above with a smartphone.

To me the show stopper for acceptable smartphone video is number 1 above. Sure there are clip-on wide-angle converters for smartphones (I have one for my iPhone) but in my opinion they are all very marginal quality.

So as Scott’s example illustrates, you may be able to get a great front shot with a smartphone, there’s much more to real estate photography than the front shot. It’s a whole different ballgame when you get inside. For now at least, Realtors are doing their home sellers a disservice by shooting stills or video inside with a smartphone.

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11 Responses to “Should You Use A Cell Phone Camera For Real Estate Photography?”

  • I cann’t see a vendor being impressed if his agent pulls out a mobile phone to photograph his home. To say the least it screams cheap, don’t really care.

  • Certainly for pro photographers a cell phone camera is unacceptable. From a purely economic perspective, one of the core reasons that professional photography should exist is that it’s a more cost-effective way of utilizing expensive assets. That is, if a photographer has a $5000 setup, then the amortized cost of that setup per job is far below what any individual could get with the same equipment. Thus, the more assets you have as a photographer, the better marginal value you can offer to your customers. I think it’s important for photographers to find way to communicate this value as well. Of course your skills as a photographer are important, but so is your equipment. The more of it you have, the better (in general). Nice DSLR, good glass, flashes, tripods, PAP equipment, software, photo editing staff, etc. All of that should be communicated to your customer base so that they thing “no way could I get close to that myself for any reasonable amount of money”.

  • I had a new agent who is just starting out go buy a really cheap digital camera at a big box store because she was told a digital camera is ALWAYS better than a smart phone.

    The camera she purchased had an extremely narrow field of vision and it was like 6mp. We compared iPhone shots (which she had) with the camera she purchased and the iPhone (with out any lens) too at least a 50% wider shot. Luckily the best part of her listing was the land, so lighting wasn’t an issue.

    I generally do not recommend someone use a smart phone, if they have money to buy a good digital camera do…Or hire a professional.

  • Well, I agree with the above when taking pics you’ll use for marketing, but I use my cell phone (Droid Razr, 8mp) camera a lot (along with an app like StampImage or GStamp to put the date/time and Lon/Lat on the pic) to send quick shots of the outside of a house to prospective buyers. It’s a way of keeping in touch with them, opens another point of contact, helps give them a sense of currency and that I am thinking of them.

  • @ Alan

    It may not be fair, but your statement is very true. The more expensive toys you have, the more professional you look. That’s why I offer 3-shot stitched “50 MegaPixel Panoramas”. j/k, but an agent would be impressed by that kind of number-tossing.

  • For some exterior shots with excellent lighting, which do not require a wideangle view, a top-of- the line smart phone might be acceptable, as long as the image would not be presented very large. However, even for realtors who have a good eye for composition and perspective (and most, it seems, do not), how many of them have the time to be at the property at the right time of day to get the good lighting or have the digital photo processing skills to turn a good capture into a strong final image? That said, I have seen a fair number of professional photographers who, with professional equipment and great daylight, cannot seem to make a compelling photograph; although, admittedly, most of these images have still been better than what most realtors can produce. So, in the end, yes, it is more about the skill of the photographer than the equipment. Better equipment simply provides more options and flexibility, and a substantial amount of flexibility is needed to achieve consistently superior results for architectural and interior subject matter, even for routine real-estate marketing purposes.

  • […] Photography for Real Estate blog have just posed a question very relevant to today’s topic: are cell phone cameras suitable for real estate photography? At first glance it seems an astonishing thing to ask, but seeing as cell phone cameras are always […]

  • Yesterday had to give my wife the bad news – that she didn’t want to hear. Daughter posted a very nicely composed exterior photo with her iPhone of her boyfriend’s parents swiss chalet on facebook and wife wanted me to get it enlarged and mounted. Ignoring what Facebook did to it cute app postcard processing daughter did, I had to point out all the artifacts in the shadows and even if I did my best to counter in Photoshop, would look terrible enlarged. Perhaps if daughter emailed me the original file…but I am in the dog house right now, compounded by using such big words like “artifacts.”

    If anything, it illustrates what can become unrealistic expectation. The iPhone does take great photos within it’s limits, but people don’t know the limits. (Can’t wait until I go visit thought!)

  • I suppose I’ll be a bit more harsh than most. The Iphone is the worst thing to ever happen to real estate photography! Certainly Apple stretched the boundaries of what a camera phone could do but that said the shooter didn’t get any better. They have no more knowledge of good light today than the day before they bought the Iphone phone. Out goes this army of underqualified agents who’s response is “my phone takes great pictures”. Cameras don’t take great pictures, the photographer takes great pictures. The Iphone doesn’t address hot spot in photos or the agent standing in the mirror in the bathroom, that comes from training.

    I say all these things both as having been paid for my photography services and a licensed real estate broker in Florida and licensed real estate agent in New Jersey. All day long agents fight for preservation of listing percentages, using a camera phone rather than employing professional photos is not sending the right message to sellers. It’s a branding message that your services are no better than the next guy.

    Steven Schafer
    http://www.Southjerseyhomes.info
    Balsley Losco Real Estate, Atlantic County NJ

  • Sorry – duplicate post due to human error in the first attempt!

    This is a very relevant article – we have just had this debate in our company. The use of mobile phone cameras and point and shoots to market even high-end properties is endemic in the UK. It’s something I feel is changing, but we are certainly a long way behind the rest of the world in recognising value professional photography can bring to the residential housing market. I’ve posted the article to our twitter feed. https://twitter.com/MillerMetcalfe

    1st post on this site, but a long time lurker!

    Thanks for the resource,

    Simon

  • Sounds like most of you really haven’t given the iPhone a true run for the money.
    I use my 4s and a couple softbox lights to shoot interiors for clients. Haven’t had a complaint yet.
    Most exterior shots are shot during the day or at twighlight. I’ve even succeeded with some night shots and some boost lighting.

    It’s not the size of the gear, people. It’s the desire, creativity and innovation of the shooter.

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