Wide-Angle Lenses For Real Estate Photography: How Wide is Wide?

December 6th, 2015

This post was originally posted in December of 2007 and has consistently the most popular post on the blog for every time period. I’ve talked to a lot Real Estate Photographers in the process of purchasing new DSLRs and noticed that there is a misunderstanding about what lenses are appropriate for real estate photography.

First of all there are two types of DSLRs:

  1. Full frame DSLRs that have digital sensors the same, or nearly the same size as a 35mm frame of film. Examples of full frame DSLRs are Canon 5DMkII or MkIII, Canon 6D and Nikon D3, Nikon D700, Nikon D810.
  2. Cropped sensor DSLRs that have sensors smaller than a 35mm film frame. Examples of APS or small sensor DSLRs are- D300, D90, D7100, 400D/Xti, T3i, T5i etc.

What does this have to do with wide-angle lenses? Everything! When you mount a lens, say for example an 18-55mm, on a full frame DSLR, it’s an 18-55mm lens just like you expect. But when you mount the 18-55mm lens on a cropped sensor DSLR the lens doesn’t act like an 18-55mm it acts like a 28.8-88mm lens! This is because the smaller sensor size of APS cameras have the effect of multiplying the focal length by a multiplier (1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon). The term used to refer to the focal length after the multiplier is 35mm effective focal length.

This focal length multiplier is a big deal for real estate photographers because this means the standard kit lens that comes on most DSLRs (18-55mm) isn’t optimal for real estate work. You may be able to squeak by in big rooms, but as soon as things get tight you’re in trouble because you won’t be able get the shot because your back is against the wall.

Real estate photographers find the effective focal lengths between 16mm and 24mm to be the “sweet spot” for shooting interiors. It’s best to have a zoom that covers this whole range between 16 and 24 but at a minimum you need to work at 24mm or below. This is why the Sigma 10-20mm lens (available for both Nikon and Canon) is so popular with real estate photographers because with a 1.6 multiplier it allows you to work between 16 and 32mm effective focal length and it’s an inexpensive alternative. For full frame DSLRs the Canon 17-40mm, Canon 16-35mm and Nikon 17-35mm lenses are popular choices for interiors.

What are the wide-angle alternatives for APS DSLRs? I’m only going to cover Canon and Nikon because I recommend that you stick with these two manufacturers. It will make your life easier and give you more flexibility and alternatives in the long run because 3rd party vendors provide accessories for these two brands.

The bottom line here is that you need to pay careful attention to which lens you choose for real estate work. It is the most important equipment decision you make for real estate photography. It’s way more important than which camera body you choose.

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11 Responses to “Wide-Angle Lenses For Real Estate Photography: How Wide is Wide?”

  • The Tokina for DX format is 11-16 now. It was affordable, got treated poorly for a year and still works great. Many of the reviews I read before purchasing placed it towards the top.

  • I’d add the Tokina 16-28 for full frame. Great lens with little distortion and sharp throughout.

  • I have at least two of everything.
    I used the Tokina (Nikon crop) 11-16mm f/2.8 for years, and also bought the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 for the larger range.

    Tokina makes great glass in almost all sizes, and these two are certainly no exception.

  • I bought the 11-16 Tokina for my Nikon D-7000 to replace my very sharp, but aging 12-24 Tokina lens. I found it was not sharp across the entire frame until stopped down to about f-8 (might have been a defective lens), but I also found that the focal length was not as usable for me at the long end. I returned it and bought the 12-28mm which I felt had a more usable range, especially for the exteriors and for shooting street and family photography.
    When I use my Nikon full frame, the 20mm f-2.8 lens works great and is very sharp. I’ve used my Nikon 28mm PC lens for exterior work, but unfortunately its not wide enough for interiors, so now this beautiful piece of glass sits idle in my closet.

    A PC lens would be my first choice for interiors and is a dream to use, but the Nikon 24mm PC is about $2,000. (I think Canon makes a 17mm PC). What I like about using a prime lens, is that it forces you to be more precise on your angles and focusing, and doesn’t tempt you to shoot too wide.
    When I shoot with my Fuji X-Pro 1 and my 10-24 lens, I sometimes get caught up in the moment of shooting rooms way too wide, which is also harder to light. Then in post processing, when I see furniture or walls distorted, I get upset and say, what the hell was I thinking. Fuji now makes a 14mm 2.8 tack sharp prime, which might just be a great interior lens for the X-Pro system.

  • I think it’s safe to say that since the original publishing of this article, the Sony a7 system can and should be considered. In many regards, it has surpassed Canon and Nikon. I’m currently using a Sony a7ii body with a 16-35mm Zeiss lens. I am an ambient light photographer, so I don’t have to worry about flash systems, although there’s plenty of product availability there too. The 16-35mm Zeiss lens is magical. The body has 5-axis stabilization and I can shoot handheld as slow as 1/2 second.

  • Another lens to consider for full frame cameras is the Sigma 12-24mm. There are some drawbacks such as soft edges at 12mm and unusual distortion, but for the most part you can take care of these in post with consistant shooting/processing. For example, I typically shoot wide open @ 12mm and I use a lens distortion preset and then I crop as needed. I end up delivering photos between 14mm to 20mm effective length with my cropping. But, I have yet for an agent to tell me, “that is too wide”.

    My dream wide angle lens is the Canon 11-24mm, but I have a list of gear ahead of that – like the Sony A7r II.

  • @Mark – How’s the A7ii’s EVF? I recently rented a Fuji X-T1 and disliked the narrow dynamic range of its EVF–even if it was somewhat faithfully replicating the sensor’s captured image. BTW – The 16-35mm Zeiss is rated quite well on an A7R by DxOMark.

  • What Mark said !!

  • @Gary, I haven’t had any complaints about the EVF, but I’m not terribly picky about such things. I rely on my EVF to show me the overall exposure and framing and I don’t worry too much about dynamic range. I do have zebra turned on, and that shows me highlights that are hitting a certain level (I have mine set to 100%, but it can be configured). My only complaint about the EVF and camera in general is the fact that the screen has limited articulation. It’s great for interiors where the camera is around belt-level, but it doesn’t work at all for exteriors where the camera is over my head. I’m currently using an external screen for exteriors, which sorta defeats the purpose of the compact camera system. Adding it to my wishlist for the a7m3.

  • I find it hard to understand why the BEST wide angle lenses like Canon TS 17mm and TS 24mm are not even mentioned. Also the new Canon L 11-24mm should not be forgotten. I have not used the 11-24 yet but the two TS lenses are simply amazing and definitely better in image quality (especially when it comes to distortion and sharpness) than the mentioned zoom lenses.

  • @Peter – 1- The lens table, referenced above, covers all the recommended real estate photography lenses, this post is more about the general concept of wide-angle lenses. 2- the Canon 11-24mm is designed for fullframe DSLRs but in my opinion is a bit over-kill for real estate.

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