What Is The Best Camera and Lens Combination For Real Estate Photography?

April 10th, 2016

TheBestI got a very challenging question from Annette in Pennsylvania:

I was searching your site for advise on the which is the best camera and lens combination for the highest quality images. I am in the $5000 and under price range. I will be doing Video in the future but want to produce the highest quality Architectural Photos I can. I shoot mostly HDR.

Annette, I have the feeling that there is more to your question than just what you said above. I think you may be asking what can I do to improve the quality of my interior images.

First of all, it’s important to understand that the amount you spend on your camera body and lens is a small component of the quality of your images. If you replace your current gear with a near $5,000 body and lens don’t expect your real estate clients to say, “oh, wow, your images look way better with your new camera and lens.” In fact, if you don’t tell them most probably won’t be able to see the difference. Particularly if you do HDR post-processing where has as much or more effect on the image quality as the camera and lens.

The other dimension of this question is what do you mean by “highest quality images”? Your images currently look very acceptable and many folks would tell you that spending time and energy on composition and lighting would do the most improve the quality of your images. To pursue this approach you could join and participate in the PFRE Flickr group and studying the PFRE contest groups (still and video) and the winners. You can usually see the gear that the winners use.

At this point, you could point out that many of the contest entrants and winners use high-end full frame DSLRs. But again, it’s not so much their gear that is making their work high quality. It’s their lighting and composition skills.

Now that we have all that out of the way, what are some good choices if you are going to spend under $5,000. I don’t think there’s a single simple best answer. Here are some of the popular alternatives:

  1. Canon 5DMkIII or 6D and Canon 16-35mm f/4L – $3900
  2. Nikon D750 and Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 – $3900
  3. Sony A7SII and Sony Zeiss 16-35 mm- $4200
  4. Sony A6000 and 12mm Rokinon – $950

I included #4 because it’s worth noting that Wayne Capili, who one the PFRE photographer of the year in 2008, gave up his Canon 6D and Canon lens similar to #1 for #4. Here are the details.

Each of these choices has their strong and weak points. #1 is very popular, on #2 the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 is probably the best quality wide-angle zoom on the planet, #3 is way better for video than the others and #4 is lightweight and gets the job done beautifully.

Post Script: A continuing discussion with Annette after I wrote this post revealed that my initial feeling about what she was asking was correct. She is really asking what can I do to improve the quality of my images? She already has a Canon 6D with a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II. Pretty high-quality gear. So I’m going to do a second post that addresses her real question: What can I do to improve the quality of my interior images? Stay tuned.

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15 Responses to “What Is The Best Camera and Lens Combination For Real Estate Photography?”

  • Annette,
    I am a Nikon user and have been using a Tokina 12-28 f-4 for most of my real estate work. But I’ve been transitioning to the Fuji X system (the X-Pro and the X-E2). I use their 10-24 f-4 mm super wide, which is very sharp, but a bit wide at 10mm (equal to a 15mm on a 35 full frame). it’s been the general consensus on this blog that 24mm is ideal on full frame. I found the 24mm not quite wide enough for me on many occasions. So, last Sunday while on assignment in NYC, I visited B&H Photo (what a shopping experience B&H is!!!!). I bought a 14mm f-2.8 (equal to about a 21mm on a full frame). it is incredibly sharp and blows away the Tokina 12-28 lens for contrast and sharpness. if I didn’t love the Fuji as much as I do, I would definitely consider the Sony Mirror less cameras.

  • @Annette, you have very good equipment now and if you are photographing real estate where the images will be seen primarily on the web, adding pixels or optical resolution isn’t going to be noticeable. It may be better to invest in YOU by signing up at Lynda.com, KelbyOne.com, purchasing courses at CreativeLive and other outlets for training. Photography is like being a doctor in the sense that there is always more to learn. It’s also not a bad thing to try other genres such as portrait or product photography as the skills learned in one area often transfer to another.

    Getting good at lighting will bring the quality of your images up considerably. Exposure Fusion (HDR) is good for minimizing the time spent on site at the expense of more time in post, but it has a characteristic look that very few people have a method that gets around its shortcomings. It takes me a certain amount of time per image that doesn’t change much between using EF and supplemental lighting (flash). I would rather spend the time on site where the customer sees me working. If I’m only spending a minimal amount of time at each home, my perceived value drops in the eyes of my customer.

    Additional lenses for a 6D: 24-70mm f2.8L and a 70-200mm f2.8L (or the f4 to save some money). Those additions with the 16-35mm covers just about everything. For more commercially oriented work, using a T/S lens is expected and is often useful.

  • @Annette:
    I’ve got the same gear as you and I’m very happy with my selection. I’ve heard rave reviews about the Sony Mirrorless system and photos out of the camera are exceptional – requiring little post work. But I think Larry is correct: it boils down to the basics – lighting and composition. While I am not an expert in both, I am consistently looking at other photographers work and trying to glean from them as much as I can to try and improve my chops. To that end, I’ve read Scott’s and Simon’s e-book on interior photography. Both books helped me improve my skill set. I’m not suggesting that you need improvement, but my point is it probably won’t hurt to re-visit some of these other techniques.

    The other interesting notation is photo shop work. I’m amazed that many of these photographers use photo shop – 4, 5, 6 layering techniques and then some. The results are out of this world!!! Sadly, my photo shop chops are lame and I’m trying to improve this skill set so I too can deliver a higher quality product. But before anyone starts throwing rocks at me, I’m not knocking photo shop nor anyone’s work who employs multiple layers. I’m simply stressing that some of the photos I’ve seen are not straight-out-of-the camera results. Some are, but there is always some tweaking or finessing going on behind closed doors in photo shop.

    Finally and if you are still dead-set on better gear, then I think some Medium Format Digital Cameras can be had for your price point. You will probably have to go used, but that is another option for you to explore.

  • Best gear for the job is a full frame Canon with a 17 and/or 24 mm TSE lens.
    If you are happy with 24 mm as your widest… Nikon will do nicely.
    I have always been a Nikon shooter but bought a 5D3 purposefully to get the 17 TSE.

    If you don’t use TSE lenses full frame bodies are a waste of money.
    You get more depth of field and plenty of resolution for the web and prints less than 16×20 with an APC sized sensor.

  • Why would anyone want to spend $5000 on camera gear when you can spend less than $1000? I’ve got the a6000 and a Tokina 12mm lens that I shoot 80% of my images with. Does a fantastic job. It’s light weight.

    I agree that the lens and camera don’t make as much of a difference as lighting and composition. Save the money.

  • Thank you all for your comments.
    After my conversations with Larry I realized I need to take my money and improve my skills (Lighting & Composition) which I am working on.
    It’s wonderful to be part of such a talented group of professionals and to be able to learn from your experience.
    Annette

  • I would agree with those above who stress everything but the equipment. Provided you have adequate equipment, the old saying “its not the camera that takes the pictures its the photographer.” And I agree also with the comment above that mentions that most of the real estate photographer will be severely cut down in pixel size anyway since most of it appears on websites both stills and video. So pixel quantity is less important than the ability to register the optimum range of exposure, the best composition, the best color and telling the best story of the room, house and property in each shot. This all calls for the best mental training and experience that allows you to use what equipment you have to achieve the best images that the camera will only capture once you have told it what to do. Shoot every photo in your head first, then deal with the camera and make it shoot what you have seem in your mind’s eye.

  • Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens on a full frame camera.

  • I completely agree with the above comments about improving your photographic skills.
    I have chased the quality monkey forever and have learned the expensive way that it is how I am using my gear that determines the final results.

    As for ultimate image quality, the vast bulk of images are never printed and rather viewed on the web. A $3000 camera with a $2000 lens is made equal to a $300 µ43 body and a $150 lens in the world of 1200pixel wide images. The winner of that war is the person with the experience, skill and creativity to make great images. Even when printed, consumer cameras can often stand up to scrutiny at startlingly large sizes.

  • Glass is the key. That being said I moved away from the Canon 6d in favor of Sony’s A7. Combined with a Metabones adapter I am still able to use my Canon 17-40 lens. Getting some killer images. So glad I moved to Sony. Under $2000 total, so there’s plenty left in your budget for a couple Yongnuno flashes, trigger, tablet, tripod, etc.

  • @Annette

    We travel in similar circles and we both do work for many of the same clients in Southern NJ. I know your work and have seen it again and again… I admire your work as well. It is against your work (and a few others in this area) that I compare my own work.

    Keep up the great work that you are doing!

  • I think any one of those photographers of the month winners would have won anyway with a crop sensor and kit lens myself. We’re not comparing pinhole cameras or collodion wet plates to dslrs, were comparing one dslr to another almost imperceptibly different dslr. I agree nice glass does help but honestly, for me it is all lighting, with an emphasis on the word all.

  • Earlier this year I have switched to a D750 combined with a Tamron 15-30. And I don’t regret this at all. This camera is way superior in terms of noise and dynamics (which is crucial for RE photos with bright window lights and dark corners of a room in the same frame) to what I had used before and especially to the equipment of my students at my RE photo workshops which are mostly DSLR’s and mirrorless cams from any brand. One exception in this respect may be the higher end Sony models. And I and my back absolutely love the tilt screen of this very camera, which makes it much more comfortable to shoot from a lower angle. The lens is at least on the same professional level as Nikon’s 14-24 but 1/3 cheaper. I don’t mind to have one millimeter less on the lower end since I try to shoot not lower than 18 to fight nasty wide angle distortions with objects at the edges of a frame. And I love having some reserve mils as a last resort at the same time. This combo cost me about 3000 Euros, but is worth every single cent.

  • I’m relatively new to the real estate game, but I’m finding that I’m getting along very well with my Panasonic G7, coupled with the 7-14 Lumix wide angle lens. There are a couple of features with this camera and lens that are truly superb for this work:
    – The viewing panel folds out and over, making viewing from above or from beside very easy. This is very useful in tight places and the image will flip on the screen if you need to pull it all the way around and upside down (kind of hard to describe).
    – The focus point is set by the touch sensitive screen. At my normal 9mm, the hyperfocal distance at f5.6 is 3.2 feet with a focus distance of 1.6 feet to infinity. (f5.6 in micro four thirds has the same depth of field as f11 with a full frame camera.) A touch on the screen at approximately the hyperfocal distance, or a little beyond, will give me 100% focus in any normal shot. Exposure is set for the touch spot as well and I can select an average bright spot or a shadow as needed. (We use a five-shot bracket system, so exposure is not highly critical.)
    – The viewing screen is WISIWIG. I can judge my white balance by just looking at the screen. If I see the white balance is way off – it’s not usually, the G7 has excellent white balance – I can easily set a custom white balance. But, I can see when it is off before I take my shots.
    – The 7-14 Panasonic lens has excellent distortion control. No correction in Lr is needed – I just have to get my vertical angles right to prevent key stoning. The G7 has a tilt/level guide that can be displayed in the screen, but I don’t find this overly useful – my eyes can work faster and easier.
    I also use a Yongnuo RF605C remote shutter, which helps with stabilization and allows me to get out of the shot if there is a troublesome mirror or shadow issue. Of course, this could be used with any camera.
    As for image quality, the company I work with only uses mid-sized JPGs so I don’t even take advantage of the full image quality the camera is capable of. I normally shoot at IS0 800 and there are no grain issues. This combination of camera, kit lens and the 7-14mm lens would cost about $1,500, which is a lot cheaper than any full frame DSLR with a super wide lens and I don’t think you would be able to work with a DSLR as easily as you can with the Panasonic.

  • @trevor ward

    I Have a6000 and was trying to find the tokina you refer to…dont see one for sony mount…are you using an adaptor? I need autofocus….Can u send link of lens you are referring to….thanks.

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