4 Basic Principles For Choosing a Real Estate Lens

June 26th, 2008

Several times a week I get asked if the “kit” lenses that come on low-end Nikon and Canon DSLRs would be good for real estate shooting. The answer is no they are not wide enough. More importantly the question reveals that the person asking doesn’t understand several of the basic principles for choosing a lens for real estate shooting. Here are the basic principles:

  1. For real estate shooting you need a lens that is between 16mm and 24mm (35mm effective focal length).
  2. The lower-end, non-full frame DSLRs have a focal length multiplier (1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon) because the sensors are smaller than a frame of 35mm film. The focal lengths specified on lenses are called 35mm equivalent focal length because it is assumed they will be used on image sensors the size of a 35mm film frame. So the wide-angle end of a kit lens (18mm) is really 27mm for Nikon and 28.8 for Canon… not wide enough.
  3. The implication of #2 above is that to get a focal length between 16 and 24 (35mm effective focal length) on a DSLR body that has a small sensor the lens must be in the 10mm to 20mm range. I’ve built a table that lists all the lenses that are real estate appropriate for Canon and Nikon bodies.
  4. Glass is the MOST important area to spend money when you are a real estate photographer. A high quality lens will not become obsolete as quickly as a body. So I recommend buying the best possible glass available. After all a few shoots will pay for a quality lens so a quality lens is a good business investment that has a relatively short pay-back time and will pay off in high quality images in the long run.

So the bottom line is if you are purchasing a low-end DSLR don’t bother with the kit lens that they try to sell you with the body (except for taking snaps of the kids) go with the best: Canon 10-22mm (possibly the 14mm if you can live without a zoom) or Nikon 14-24mm. You’ll be glad you did!

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19 Responses to “4 Basic Principles For Choosing a Real Estate Lens”

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  • Ive got the Sigma 12-24 for my Canon 5D and the Sigma 10-20 for my Sony a300, both are super lenses. My 5D is going to the repair shop, the shutter release developed a problem. When I press the release, it auto focuses and fires the shutter at the same time so images are usually out of focus. I had it checked out by a Canon rep and the release is malfunctioning and needs to be replaced.

    I have two dozen Minolta lenses from the last twenty-three years that’s left over from my film camera days. I got the Sony a300 for them and added the 10-20 zoom. All of those lenses work great with the Sony. The a300, long with the a350, has the best “live view” system of any DSLR, which I’ve found to be very useful. I will be photographing my first house next Tuesday and I’ll be using the Sony.

    When I compare the images from the 5D and a300, I find the resolution and low noise of the 5D superior. As for color reproduction, the a300 is more to my liking, it seems to be more natural, more like the Fuji S5 color, while the 5D color looks more like plastic to me. I think the Sony a300 will make a very good real estate photography camera.

    For the Nikon users here, Sony has been making camera sensors for Nikon since at least the D100 so please don’t put down Sony too much!

  • I’m very happy with my Sigma 10-20 for my Canon XTi. It is the perfect range for interior photography. Larry: your previous posts on this subject lead me to it. Thank you. I resisted, but now realize that real estate photography must include the ability to take great shots of properties with views. To that end, I now use the Canon 55-250mm with image stabilizer. These two lenses may be all I’ll ever need for RE work.

  • Jerry,
    I am in the same boat as you, had a ton of minolta glass left over from film days, hated to start over.. got the a100, now the a200 with sigma 10-20, and it is a superb RE combo. I, like you, prefer the colors and “look” of the alpha’s. The sigma 10-20 is great deal for someone not able to drop the $$ on L or G glass…

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  • 14mm doesn’t seem wide enough for me on cropped sensors: 21mm eq on Nikon&co, 22 on Canon. 80° horizontal FOV, a bit wider than a 24mm (on 135, 16mm on cropped) consumer zoom, too tight for small rooms.

  • And full frame is overkill for me : I bought a 5D + sigma 12-24, it’s only useful in bathrooms. Image quality is already too much with entry DSLRs, and high sensitivity is useless for interior photo, so my advice is to spend the less possible, go with cropped.

  • Marc – I included the Canon 14mm because I know several RE photographers that use it on cropped sensor bodies a love it.

  • 14mm is wide enough. 12mm is more flexible. 10mm is overkill, but quite useful for some really tight spaces (bathrooms, wine cellars, etc).

    I use the Sigma 10-20 & have no regrets. It’s a steal for $500.

  • I have been fortunate to have had the use of both canon and nikon equipment and used both branded as well as generic lenses for wide angle purposes. I have found the sigma wide angle zoom lenses with the bubble front to be very problematic with lens flare and edge to edge sharpness, hence I have reverted to the canon nikon equivalent for this type of work. Furthermore, I am reverting to Nikon as I prefer the colour balance and overall crispness for my work. Once I get my hands on a nikon 14-24 with a D3(full frame) I believe this will make the most cost effective package. I have read nothing but good news of this new nikon glass. I find most of the time 12mm(18mm on D2x) is what i use at about f7.1. It just works for me!
    The best piece of advice I can share is as stated in point 4 above. get the best lens you can afford. Estate agents always like to know they have the best equipment working for them…

  • I have recently purchased a D300 with a Nikkor Lens 18-200 mm VR as an all-purpose lens to shoot my own listing.
    I can see that I have sacrificed Aperture Ranges in retrospect.
    Did I make a gross error wasting my money by not purchasing an ExtraWide Format lens instead?

  • You mention the low end DSLR’s have a focal length multiplier. What about the Nikon Coolpix 8400 point and shoot? Does it have a multiplier? How does its converter compare? I hear alot of photographers rave about its capabilities considering it is a point and shoot. thanks in advance.

  • Larry G. – All digital cameras have focal length multipliers except full frame bodies like Nikon D3, and Canon 1Ds series.

    Converters get you to around 24mm effective focal length. Converters are OK but typically are not as high a quality as more expensive glass.

  • JR- 18×1.5=27 effective focal length— In my opinion 27mm is not a wide angle lens for interiors.

  • Larry,
    Thanks for the reply on the lens. I did the math and you have confirmed it. I have bought the wrong startup lens.
    Therefore, for the Nikon D300, which lens renders the BEST performance for an interior shot ranging from a living-room to a 2-piece bath? Given a cross-over point between price and performance?

  • Thanks for the rapid reply. Do you think 24mm is enough to take pictures of a smaller room, but still get most of the room in the picture? Or should I be looking at spending my childs education money and get a dslr? Keep in mind, my only purpose is real estate. I am a Realtor and trying to keep my expenses to a minimum without sacrificing my clients needs. I can get set up with a coolpix 8400 (used, with wide angle converter and sb-800 flash for about $500), or, a new dslr for about $2k. I guess the main question is — Is there a noticable difference to the “untrained eye” to justify the cost difference? The problem I am most concerned with is — taking pictures of a medium sized room, only to get 1/2 of it in a picture, therefore, the room ends up looking smaller than it really is on the internet.

  • JR- Probably one of the two Sigmas. The data is all at: … I’m not good at math;)

  • Larry G- What I’m saying is that with a 8400 24mm effective is about the widest angle you are going to be able to go with converter… that’s where a Nikon converter will take you. If you are going shoot RE photography I believe the best choice is a DSLR and wide angle.

  • I use a Tokina 12-24mm with Nikon D80 and I’m very happy with the quality.

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