Choosing Gear To Get Started in Real Estate Photography For Least the Cost

September 14th, 2014

GettingStartedIt’s been a two years since I’ve written about choosing gear to get started in real estate photography so I thought do an update. First of all here are the basic decisions you must make:

  1. You need to use a DSLR. Forget about point-and-shoot and any kind of cell phones for real estate photography. The  underlying reason is you must have a quality wide angle lens and a DSLR is the only way you can do that. This first item is a mandate, not a choice!
  2. Canon or Nikon? Either manufacturer is fine. I recommend Canon or Nikon over other brands only because these two brands will maximize your choices for other accessories as you need them. Other brands will work, but you’ll just have fewer choices.
  3. New or used? There is a lot of good quality used equipment available on eBay, Amazon and other sites. This is a great way to save some money when you are getting started. However, there is always some risk with buying used equipment.

Here are some specific recommendations for Canon and Nikon gear:

  • Canon DSLRs: T5 is the newest and cheapest Canon cropped sensor DSLR it is very adequate for real estate photography as are T5i, T4i, T3i and most older Canon Rebel DSLRs.
  • Wide-angle lens for Canon DSLRs: The Canon 10-18mm is the newest and cheapest wide lens. Other alternatives are Canon 10-22mm, and Sigma 10-20mm. The new Canon 10-18mm may be the best real estate photography lens for the money ($299) at this time. For all the options see the PFRE lens page.
  • Nikon DSLRs: D3300 is the newest and cheapest Nikon cropped sensor DSLR and it is very adequate for real estate photograph as are the D3100, D3200, D5200, D7000, D90 etc.
  • Wide-angle lens to Nikon DSLRs: The best quality wide-angle for the price for Nikon cropped sensor DSLRs is the Sigma 10-20mm.  Other alternatives are Nikon 10-24mm, Sigma 8-16mm and Tokina 11-16mm. For all the options see the PFRE lens page.

If I had to pick the best value for your money (new Canon gear) right now it would be the Canon T5 with a 10-18mm lens. You can get this combo for $669 on Amazon. Note that this Canon DSLR and wide-angle lens for roughly $300 less than the Nikon combo below. This is a fairly recent development since Canon announced the 10-18mm lens and the T5 DSLR. The T5 has fewer features than the T5i check here to see if you are willing to live with fewer features.

If I had to pick the best value for you money (new Nikon gear) right now it would be the Nikon D3300 with the Sigma 10-20mm. You can get this combo for $945 on Amazon.

Kit Lenses: The prices above assume that you purchase DSLR bodies only. While a kit lens (usually a 18-55mm lens bundled with new DSLRs) make exterior shots look better, a kit lens is not absolutely essential. You can shoot exterior shots with a wide-angle lens racked to the longest focal length.

Miscellaneous items: Besides the DSLR and wide-angle lens you’ll also need a few other items:

  1. Sturdy tripod.
  2. One or more manual flashes depending on the shooting technique you decide to use.
  3. Flash trigger to get your flash off your camera.
  4. Light stand for your off camera flash.
  5. Copy of Adobe Lightroom software.
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21 Responses to “Choosing Gear To Get Started in Real Estate Photography For Least the Cost”

  • Great article. You can get great shots with relatively cheap equipment because the specifications that make cameras more expensive are not as important for this type of photography. Lightroom can fix almost all lens imperfections so you don’t have to get the fastest.

    For 99% of my shooting, I use 3 sb80 speed lights triggered with cactus triggers. From homes under 1000 square feet to 18,000. I have 8 speed lights just in case…

  • Excellent advice. I have been using the Canon Rebels since they first came out and the Sigma 10-20 which is just now developing some edge to edge sharpness problems. However, I must add the same advice I was given as a photography student at the LA Art Center College of Design many decades ago – it is not the equipment that achieve great shots but the eye and brain of the photographer. You must not only fully understand how your tools work and how to get the most out of them, but to understand light and composition. Photography is no more about equipment than winning racing drivers are about their cars or artists about their paint and brushes. Developing an eye and understanding what to emphasize and what to de-emphasize in any photo is of prime importance. And this is accomplished, once priorities are identified, by careful visual selection and framing as well as managing lighting. After all, photography means light and design and is as true today as when the first wet plates were invented.

  • I’ve been shooting real estate several years now, and really want to upgrade to the “race car” kit. I have a D300 and Sigma 10-20 right now. What are your recommendations for top of the line gear that isn’t too bulky? I’m thinking D800E or D810 with a 14-24?

  • @Emma -The Nikon 14-24mm lens has the reputation of being the best wide-angle glass that you can lay your hands on and the D810 has gotten good reviews since it was announced 3 months ago. You probably can’t do better than that combination.

  • What about the new mirrorless cameras such as the Sony A7 or Fuji XT-1? Will they replace the typical DSLR? If so, when?

  • David – The basic problem with mirrorless bodies right now is that top quality wide-angle lenses aren’t always available for them and if they are, they are very expensive. The key issue in real estate shooting is a wide-angle lens. How much the camera weighs is not a big factor in shooting real estate because the camera body is just one item that you are carrying.

    This post is about getting started for the least cost, not the lightest weight.

  • I think Photoshop should be an essential part of any gear list. Especially considering that you can get it bundled with Lightroom for only $10 a month. Advancement in any genre of photography (including real estate) will require some proficiency with Photoshop. Photoshop can do everything Lightroom can but Lightroom can’t do everything Photoshop can.

    Digital cameras and lenses are so good these days that it just doesn’t matter which one you pick. I started out shooting RE with a Nikon D50, a Sigma 10-20mm lens and a single Nikon SB-26 speedlight and not much has changed since, except my proficiency with Photoshop. I could go back to shooting with that old set-up tomorrow and no one would know the difference (unless they wanted to print larger than 6×9 :-).

  • I think the mirrorless gear needs a second look for RE shooters.

    I’ve been using a Panasonic GH3 with the Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f/4 (FF equiv. 14-28mm) with excellent results. In my experience, the Micro Four Thirds system works well for real estate–and it’s cost-effective as well. The GH3 (~$1100) or GH4 (~$1700) bodies plus the Lumix 7-14mm lens (~$1000) may be more expensive than the Nikon/Canon crop-sensor bodies, but they’re also more capable. More comparable, I think, to the Nikon/Canon pro bodies than either company’s crop-sensor offerings.

  • @David Dow – Actually Just today Sony finally announced a 16-35mm lens for the A7. Price is about $1350. So this is not “getting started” gear… It’s high end gear that competes with the Nikon D810 and 5DMkIII.

    @AL – Hi Aaron. Yes, I hear you, but I have a hard time telling beginning real estate photographers that Photoshop is essential. There are fewer and fewer reasons to leave Lightroom… Sky replacement, removing yourself from a mirror, removing a garbage can. Many of these things can be avoided by planning ahead.

    @Michael Gowin – I’m not saying mirrorless gear isn’t effective. This post is aimed at beginners getting started for the least cost. There are people starting out in this business that just don’t have a couple of grand to spend on a body and glass… It just doesn’t fit the “least cost criteria” in the title of this post!

  • @Larry — Fair enough. For low cost “point of entry” gear, yes, the CaNikon crop-sensor gear wins.

  • Larry,
    A good post, would be one that discusses the driving motivations for moving from entry-level gear to higher-level gear. Just what does the photographer get when going, RE specific, from an entry set up (i.e. T5 w/Sigma 10-20) to something like a 5DMkIII w/L-series glass?

    I have my own perspective, but I’d be interested in yours and others’ views.

    🙂

  • @JT – Yes, you are right that would be a good post. Fact is, the impact of the image has more to do with the photographer and the light than the gear, as Peter points out above. I love the example that Scott Hargis made a couple of years ago comparing his iPhone 4s to his 5DMKII see: http://www.scotthargisphoto.com/blog/good-light-vs-everything-else/

  • As always a great post Larry. I have been looking into different gear choices and since I hope to use my new camera for more than RE I am thinking about getting a better crop sensor body like the Canon 60D / 7D or Nikon D7100. One thing that really is making it hard for me to decide is the DR advantage of the exmor sensor in Nikon bodies such as the 13.7 DR of the D7100 vs the 11.7 DR of the 7D. I have been a fairly long time Canon user and was always happy with it and the lens costs are generally better than Nikon. But is it better to get the Nikon for the DR advantage? I assume the DR advantage will only show in outdoor photos since indoor photos will be bracketed anyways. I have two different systems in mind:

    Canon 60D / 7D – Canon 10-18mm
    Nikon D7100 – Sigma 10-20mm

    If it was your choice and money wasn’t an issue (between the two choices that is) which one would you pick?

    P.S.: After the necessary gear for RE I plan to add a general use lens like Tamron 17-50 f2.8 and 50mm f1.8 in which case Canon will be cheaper.

  • @Selim – I don’t think it’s all that important which system you choose. For real estate shooting the wide-angle lens you choose is the biggest factor. Everything else is minor. Getting too rapped up in technical analysis of each is on good for a short time.. in 6 months things will change. It is important to understand that once you make the choice, changing your mind is almost impossible because of the cost of your investment in glass!

  • For my first two years I used a Canon Rebel Xsi ($150 Used), Canon 10-22mm ($400 used)*Get the new 10-18mm instead for $300, Canon 50mm 1.8 ($70 used), 3 Yongnuo 560’s ($71×3 = $213), Phottix Stratos ii Triggers ($90), a Sunpak 620 ($19) as a light stand, and a Westcott Shoot-thru w/ black cover umbrella ($30). I use Lightroom and Photoshop ($10/mo) and photoshelter as my website and photo delivery ($30/mo). You could throw in a good $60 Manfrotto or similar tripod from Craigslist if you wanted to offer exterior twilights. This set-up would cost $932 + $40/mo. and will deliver excellent results for 99% of single family homes, apartment complexes, etc. I do think a Canon 40D would be a nice camera upgrade for an additional $50 or so. You can definitely build a successful business off of this set-up.

    After 2 years I upgraded to a Canon 6D and added another flash and light stand.

  • Hi guys! I was just wondering, does anybody use the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 Mark ii? It’s available for Canon, Nikon and Sony, and apparently it’s pretty sharp but suffers from flare and chromatic aberrations. If someone uses it, I was wondering is its CA easy to correct, and is the flare easy to avoid on the job? Also, is this lens’ compromises (flare, CAs and 1 mm missing on the short end – I don’t care about the longer end since I already have a 16-70 and a 16 mm prime) worth the extra sharpness? I could see that across the frame sharpness as being useful for stitching pictures together.

    An other question, does anybody have and uses a tilt-shift lens? Because I found a Nikon to E-mount adaptor that can be used for tilting and shifting, and it seems like it could be useful in some situations.

    Thanks a lot to whoever has answers to my questions!

  • I am also new to real estate photography, and would like a recommendation for the best wide angle lens for a Nikon D3000. If I read the info correctly for the Sigma 10-20 mm wide angle lens on the Amazon link, it is not compatible with my Nikon D3000. Thanks!

  • why don’t you ever talk about other brands? why don’t you ever talk about mirrorless?

  • Hey there…thanks so much for this site! I can see it will be a valuable resource as I grow my little RE photography business. I use a Nikon D3200 and I am thinking about getting a sigma 10-20. Someone mentioned that I should also get a UV filter for it. Is that advisable? Should I have UV filters for all my lenses (currently I only have one prime and the kit lens)

    Thanks again,
    Heather

  • @Heather, Yes, it’s a good idea to get UV filters for all your lenses just to protect the front element from scratches.

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