How to Shoot Good Smartphone Video for Zillow

September 17th, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the limitations of shooting video on your smartphone for Zillow and the fact that Realtors want Zillow video because it gives listings on Zillow better exposure. I’ve always hated video walk throughs I see on Zillow until I saw the Zideo by Michele Sheiko who commented on the post. The term Zideo is Michele’s invention for Zillow video.

I think it is instructive for those who must shoot Zideo to look at what Michele has done to make her Zideo better than most. Frankly, it’s the best I’ve seen:

  1. She is using a quality wide angle lens for her iPhone (Zeiss ExoLens). Here is a quality wide angle lens for the Samsung Galaxy S7 that is similar to the Zeiss ExoLens, thanks to Joe Zekas. I’ve tried 6 different wide angle lenses for my iPhone and most of them are junk the Zeiss lens is the only one I’ve personally used that isn’t junk!
  2. She is using a Zhiyun Crane-M 3 Axis Brushless Handheld Gimbal. A gimbal smooths out the movement as she walks through the property.
  3. She walks and moves very slowly through the property. Nothing drives a viewer more crazy than fast camera movements.

Note: these quality wide angle lenses are heavy. I found out the hard way that some gimbals don’t have a high enough payload to work with smartphones that have heavy lenses. The Zhiyun Crane above does work with heavy smartphones or mirrorless cameras weighing less than or equal to 650 grams.

So if you are a real estate photographer who provides a service of smartphone video for Zillow listings, spend a few hundred dollars and buy a quality wide angle lens and Zhiyun Crane like Michele has so you can make decent looking Zillow videos.


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30 Responses to “How to Shoot Good Smartphone Video for Zillow”

  • Why not use a real camera to shoot the video. Using a smartphone for video is like doing stills with a smartphone. Why do it?

  • Lee Miller… The Zillow Walkthrough Video is different than the Spot Zillow has for a video or virtual tour. By adding a Zillow Tour the listing gets priority ranking and search results… also if a listing has been on the market for awhile and you add the Zillow tour it brings it back up as if it was a new listing and will give an old listing the priority ranking and search results. The reason to use a smart phone and the Zillow App is because you have to apply to be a Zillow Certified Photographer, do 3 (I think) to be certified. Than you have to shoot around 20 of the Zillow App versions (you can only do these with a smart phone and the Zillow app and they are limited to 2min). Then you can become a Zillow Preferred Photographer. A Zillow Preferred Photographer can shoot a high quality video with a “Real Camera” do all the graphics and editing you want put it in a drop box folder and Zillow will add it to the listing. I have been using the iPhone 7plus, a Moment wide angle lens and a DJI Mobile (with some US Quarters Taped to the gimbal to compensate for the weight of the wide angle lens. I have been accepted to the Zillow Preferred Photographer level but have not submitted one yet.

  • You mean they require you to use cell phone video instead of a good quality camera? I don’t understand the point. They want to limit the video quality? I must be missing something here!

  • Lee Miller… I am both a Zillow Certified and a Zillow Select Photographer (next level up). I resisted for a long time. You ask “why use a cell phone” and “They want to limit quality.” After working with Zillow for a while and asking the same question directly to several sources in Zillow here is the answer… They don’t give a crap about you as a photographer they want to engage Realtors in their program and want it simple for Realtors. It’s almost as simple as that.

    They designed a program where a Realtor could use their trusty phone (they all have them). They want Realtors to buy totally into Zillow and become Zillow premier agents. You see in the end Zillow does not want to get rid of Agents they want to displace Agencies. It’s as if Zillow was the Buyers Agent and all Agents are merely Listing Agents for Zillow.

    In the grand scheme of things, consider Facebook and Twitter. These platforms have almost replaced media news. They have become the presentation platform where many people get news. Now it may be fake news but they get it there. Zillow is positioning itself to become THE national Agency. They will have no need for MLS in the near future. Think Facebook replacing My Space. Is there any difference between Realtors posting to Zillow or the MLS?

    So the answer is, Zillow cares about Realtors not photographers. Realtors use cell phones. Realtors bring the listings. Zillow wants all Realtors to use Zillow directly. Zillow wants to make it easy for Realtors. Now Zillow won’t replace Photographers. They don’t give a crap about photographers. So embrace them, don’t fight them. Resistance is futile… Find a way to make money by supporting Realtors on Zillow.

  • Yikes, Frank. That is some scary stuff you’re preachin’. But it may be the smart realtor that doesn’t use his cell, but hires a real shooter, and then simply uploads that video via his cell phone app. It would look a hell of a lot better than a cell phone! I don’t know why anyone would choose to use a cell phone camera if they could avoid it!

  • Lee, don’t be fooled. Surprisingly the iPhone 7plus does a pretty good job with the video. Sure a bigger camera might be better, but what makes the video quality good is the use of a wide angle lens and a stabilizer. And what REALLY makes a video good is the person shooting it.

    Frank, I use nickels instead of quarters.

  • I shoot video walkthroughs as a supplement to the photos. Photos have a hard time conveying the layout of a house. While walking through with the video, you can more easily understand how each room is connected.,-oviedo_rb/

  • Sorry, but I can’t agree that the iPhone 7+ video looks pretty good. Maybe pretty good for consumer use, but pretty bad for selling real estate worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. To me it makes no sense. But to Zillow, I can see where they do not have quality in mind. They’re after quantity, and that means money for Zillow!

  • Frank & Trevor are spot on. Zillow is looking to create an army of agents and take out the agencies. And cell phone video is fine for a property listing. Let’s not forget this is for web use. I’m actually a wedding shooter and see tons of good videographers now using cell phones for some certain kinds of footage. If it’s good enough for’s good enough for a property. I mean, look at the photography that’s out there being used. We have to stop looking at some things as photographers and start being realistic. In my mind, RE video or even photography may not even be worth pursuing long term because most agents will just purchase a gimbal and do it via an app instead of hire professionals. Things are changing.

  • I’d like to also add, that these videos aren’t supposed to REPLACE a proper video. They are simply a WALK THROUGH. I only charge $25 if I’m already there for photos. The video literally takes me about 5-10 minutes to shoot and prep. The price is low enough to entice my agents to use the service in return for a higher ranking in the searches and it’s high enough to make it worth my time.

    If clients have larger homes and want to invest in a real marketing video, that’s when the bigger guns come out (and the bigger wallets).

  • @Frank and @Trevor,

    I am considering making a trial run for this. I am at least investigating the potential. Could you tell me what video editing software you prefer in your business. I am researching at this time.

  • Peggy, the zillow videos don’t let you “edit” the video in an editor. You use the zillow app on your smart phone to capture the video. You’re edit is either to accept the clip you just shot or to delete the clip you just shot. You have to plan your video before you start shooting. Again, keep in mind they REALLY want this to be so simple that any agent can grab their phone and go. That means no controls, no editing, nothing.

  • @frank that is an eloquent prediction of where US real estate marketing seems headed (in my mind too at least). Some of the anecdotal murmurings I hear about Northwest buyers and Zillow are flat mind-boggling: Almost 90% of NW shoppers flow through Zillow’s site at some point in their process… etc.. Timing is the great unknown of course, but it rarely hurts being on the right side of the fence!

  • @Dave & @Frank – An interesting bit of data about listings in the Puget Sound area is at: Alan Pope is an appraiser in the Puget Sound area that tracks listing statistics. The interesting thing that the above chart shows is that in the last three years 15% to 70% (this year) of the listings sold in King County were NOT on NWMLS. You have to ask yourself, how do buyers find them if they are not on the NWMLS? The answer is they are on Zillow! Zillow is well on its way to shutting down the NWMLS.

  • Am I the only one bothered about the fact that Zillow built their entire business on the backs of Real Estate photographers? What I mean is that Zillow wouldn’t exist without the images we as photographers are generating and for which they’ve paid NOTHING. Did any of you get asked for permission?

    Since day one, they’ve been completely duplicitous. They started by portraying themselves as wanting to help MLS’ networks getting more exposure for their members listings, if they could only get the content for free. Then they charge these members for leads that would otherwise come from MLS. Now they want eliminate the various MLS systems, agencies and competition at any cost. Their entire business model is based on the actual work of others, and underhanded dealings.

    But you and I should again supply them content for nothing, in the form of video this time, without us having any control over what it looks like? Really?

    The only reason that the Zillow walkthrough video exists, is because you are supplying it. If none of us did it, it would die. I can’t understand why you would let an predatory organization that essentially stole your content to make hundreds of millions, now dictate that you should also supply subpar products that will do nothing but lower your perceived value as a photographer.

    I get it, “it rarely hurts being on the right side of the fence!” Or, Why fight it, they’re going to win! Yes, they probably will, but it doesn’t mean we have to participate in a race to the bottom.

    When they no longer need you, they’ll toss you to the side, just as they are now working on bypassing the MLS’ of the nation. What will you do when they tell all “their agents”, that they no longer need any photo’s just the cell phone video’s and educate those agent’s on how to do that so it “looks good enough”? What if they put their own army of run and gun “photographers” out there? You want to be one of them?

    Zillow is not your friend, nor your customer. Like Frank said, “they don’t give a crap about you as a photographer”, they just want your work, for nothing!

    my 2 cents

  • Wow! Seems harsh George. I don’t think MLS or pays photographers to take photos either. Yet, my photos end up on those sites all the time. In addition to Zillow, are you also mad at MLS and for making money off of your photographs?

    To answer your question, NO. It doesn’t bother me that they are making money. I get paid by my real estate agent to take pictures of a home so that it can sell. It is understood by me that the agent will put that listing and those photos in as many places as possible in order to do their job. Do I wish I was paid more for contributing to such a large part of the marketing of the home? Yes. But then again, market supply and demand determines what is a fair price. If I don’t like it, I can certainly choose to do something else with my life. Or I can start my own website that helps people sell their homes.

  • @Sam – I agree with you that things are changing in fact, I just had an email conversation with Larry about this. It’s up to us as professional MLS photographers to determine where we fit in the mix. Educating realtors to the quality and personalized service we provide is essential. But, it might not be enough. We have to start looking at the long term realistically.

    @Trevor – If clients have larger homes and want to invest in a real marketing video, that’s when the bigger guns come out (and the bigger wallets).
    I’m curious how “often” this happens. My guess is not that often. Back in 2011, pre-Zideo, we were producing professional 3 min. property videos with all the bells and whistles and selling them at $250 a clip. We sold several to an agent who had a web tech insert the video into her website. But, for the most part, the videos were uploaded to YouTube and the links provided to the agent who had to figure out how to market it.

    What Zillow has done, whether we like it or not, is create a platform for video that is user-friendly on all counts. So, unless one of us has a few million $$ to create an alternative platform for upscale property video (I wish), when it comes to the MLS we’re stuck with Zillow.

  • Trevor,

    Harsh, no I don’t think so, it’s a fact.

    I think you are missing a significant point. MLS and are trade organizations of our clients and we are taking those photos specifically expecting them to be used on MLS. Zillow is not the same, and their predatory business model is something else all together. If you can’t see the difference, and if you like them and want to give them free stuff, that’s up to you. Personally, I don’t like them.

    I didn’t ask if it bothered you that they are making money. My point was that they are making a lot of money using our property with zero compensation and without our permission. It’s not their fault, it’s ours. We let them!

    As far as “market supply and demand determines what is a fair price”. That is true in many ways. However how we choose to respond to that depends on how you want to operate your business and what your business principles are.

    Advances in technology in the last 8-10 years has significantly lowered the bar of entry into “professional photography” and as such, there certainly is real “supply” of new photographers. What those photographers chose to charge, is what became the “market”.

    Back in the day, we spent years assisting and learning a craft that became lifelong careers, so we don’t simply “choose to do something else” easily because of the significant investment and commitment we have in our profession. Copyright and such things means something to us.

    I wonder how many of today’s participant will still be in the business 5 years from now. They won’t be, giving everything away while being asked to supply more and more.

  • I’ve been a select “Zideographer” for about 6 months. I find it’s a useful tool with some clear benefits and real limitations. First of all, I educate my agents about how it works, how it drives SEO, and the limitations in quality. I shoot it as an add-on, using my 6s, with a Moment lens, and a Zhiyun gimbal (with a few washers for balance). I charge one fee as an add-on, and double it if I have to come back to shoot it. I’ve found it really useful as a tool when the real selling point of the home is the exterior and property … I spend about 50-75% of the time outside and do a cursory walk-through to comply with Zillow’s rules. With a high-end home, I usually recommend against it because the quality of the stills far exceeds that of the video and may backfire. With homes that have a difficult flow, or that the agent thinks might take a while to move, I highly recommend it. I shoot it and then give the agent the choice to publish immediately or hold private. By holding it private, the agent has an additional tool in their marketing arsenal that they can pull out in a few weeks, perhaps coupled with a price drop, that will bump their listing to the top of the search engine as if it were new. As for Zillow not caring about photographers, my impression is that they are invested in getting the best images for their site. They’ve recently added a professional directory for photographers, hopefully guiding realtors and FSBO sellers to find us! FYI – you can get a 25% discount on Moment gear by using the code zillow+moment2017

  • @Peggy – look into becoming a Zillow Certified Photographer, read Larry’s July topic on this:

    As for real estate video editing software, I’ve always preferred VideoPad, it’s very user-friendly and gets the job done.

  • George,

    I don’t think I am missing the point. Isn’t a listing agent’s job to SELL A HOUSE? Part of that job is to list the house for sale. If a website called Zillow will list the house, and NOT charge the agent, the agent is getting free marketing, is she not? I don’t think agents are upset that their listing are showing up on Zillow. Either a customer sees their listing on Zillow or some other website. Maybe it shows up in a newspaper (remember those?). No matter how the buyer finds the home, the selling agent will make their 3% commission. I still don’t see who is losing money in this situation. Perhaps MLS and Realtor. But the photographer is getting paid and the realtor is getting paid.

    I don’t want to sound mean spirited, so this isn’t a personal attack. But people who have been in the real estate business for “years,” who are older, aren’t doing a very good job adapting to new technology and new ways of doing things. They complain that something isn’t right and their way of doing something is being disrupted. I’ve met listing agents who HATE Zillow. And they are all over 50 years old. Yet the fact is, most of the people I know who are in their 20s and 30s are using Zillow and to search for homes. My wife and I are shopping for a home right now. And we use Zillow and Realtor, combined with the MLS results from our agent. Zillow provides me as a buyer, with much more information than a MLS listing by itself.

    As for me as a photographer, I jumped all over the Zillow thing. I’ve found a way to market my services and sell my expertise to agents. Agents will always need to show their properties in the best light possible. That’s my job and that’s what I sell. If Zillow helps me help them and gives me a chance to make money doing it, it’s a win win situation.

    As I look down the horizon 10-15 years, I see real estate photographers being obsolete. The new 3D scanning systems do a pretty dang good job of making images. Not only that, but they let you walk through a house and really see how the rooms are connected. Going through a 360 degree virtual tour is a far superior experience than see a couple of photos. It will take some time for the old timers in the business to adapt. They will resist. But as this technology moves into the mainstream, there will be limited uses for my flashes, photoshop blending techniques and single view images. Perhaps it will only take less than 10 years.

    Remember, at one point in time, there was a huge demand for skilled, experience horse shoe installers.

  • In case no one knows, there’s a company currently based in Phila, PA called Houwzer. PhillyMag recently did a write-up on them:

    This is another wave of the future, no more commission sales.

  • Next topic: How to drive a nail with an adjustable wrench.

  • @Joanna Michl, There are plenty of brokers nationwide that will sell a home for a fixed fee or for a reduced commission. There have been some billboards in my area for flat rate brokers, but I can’t read the fine print on the bottom. The arguments for that type of arrangement always leaves out the agent’s role in filling out the stacks of documents and the expertise in guiding either or both parties through all of the requirements for a quick escrow. Agents and brokers may also not put any time, money and effort into marketing materials since they are earning less for each sale. Granted, there are also plenty of full commission agents that don’t either and sellers need to look at that before they sign a listing contract.

    Real Estate professionals are in the service business and you only get what you pay for with a service business. If a brokerage operates at a discount, chances may be good that all they are going to do is take a few photos with their cell phone and put the listing on the local MLS and not much more. They’ll also have to be handling a lot of homes at any given time to earn enough money which means that can’t be as responsive to their customer’s needs. It will work for some properties in some sales climates, but it can also fail stupendously too.

  • @Ken Brown – (Next topic) Thank you, I needed a good laugh. Very well put.
    We’re not all that concerned about Houwzer, it’s an interesting concept if it works and it probably will to some degree. You’re right that it can also fail and I see the main component of failure being the limitations involved in this kind of operation. As an example, the home this particular Houwzer agent was hosting was small and in a terrible location backing up to an interstate highway running below and the noise outside was awful. I could never live there. My guess is the typical listing would most likely be a property that is difficult to sell, has contingencies, is a foreclosure or bank-owned. Not your typical McMansion in an upscale neighborhood.

  • A terrible location right up against an interstate can be a great location since it’s a property that isn’t going to sell for much. Several of my friends started off with homes that were similar and it was a great boost into owning their own place. You do get used to the noise pretty quickly if you don’t fight it. Dual or multi-pane windows can help. My house is not going to be featured in any magazine, but it was stupid cheap and keeps the rain off of my computer.

    A mansion needs real marketing as buyers in the upper brackets can often be coming from across the country to take a job in the area. The pool of potential buyers is also much smaller. The middle-class market might be easy to lure into discount or flat rate brokers if there is a good number of local buyers. Again, if the market it slow, the net needs to be cast much wider to attract interest and that takes marketing that a broker cutting their margin to the bone might not be willing to invest in.

  • Somehow this thread was high jacked from taking good Zillow video to all the evils of Zillow. I think everyone who is a true full time photographer can adapt their model to shoot other venues such as the increasing demand for 360 business views for Google. For everyone else myself included you have to realize as a Realtor and a photographer you are neither full time in either sport and your opinions may just be biased wishful thinking. Everyone loves their favorite football Jersey but truly loves the cost of the one made in China. Zillow would might argue that if they could reduce the cost of home ownership by 6 percent that is a good thing. I don’t think that is their goal since they are and advertising company and their customers are real estate agents. I have heard from Zillow that the simple video manages to keep views on their site longer and that is their goal. They are actively promoting upward movement in quality photography because it benefits their site. If you can monitize this great, if not get ready to say “would you like fries with that” I just added Full Frame and I home staging 360 tours and I am growing a new audience again.

  • @Ken Brown – you could only hear the noise when you were outside the home, inside was quiet. So, you’re right about that. Unfortunately, I’m a fresh air freak so it wouldn’t work for me but I can see how it would make a good starter home for a young working couple who don’t open the windows or sit outside. That’s the only drawback with a place so close to an interstate hwy.

  • Can someone tell me how in Michelle’s Zideo she used dissolve’s between shots without editing? From my experience using the Zillow App, that can’t be done.

  • Hi All,

    I know this post is going on a year old. I hoping revive the conversation to see if anything has changed on the zillow video front. I own a professional photography business and I am being asked by Realtors to provide a zillow video product but they do not want to pay to be a premier agent. Look forward to hearing if the above still applies or if new equipment or tricks have been learned. I clicked on the equipment links above and I think there are newer models out now for everything. TIA!


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