Wide-Angle Lenses for Real Estate Photography: How Wide Is Wide?

December 4th, 2017

This post was originally posted in December of 2007 and has consistently been the most popular post on the blog for every time period. I’ve talked to a lot of real estate photographers in the process of purchasing new DSLRs and have noticed that there is a misunderstanding about which 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 the Canon 5DMKII, MKIII, Canon 6D, and the Nikon D3, Nikon D700, and Nikon D810.
  2. Cropped sensor DSLRs that have sensors smaller than a 35mm film frame. Examples of APS or small sensor DSLRs are the Nikon D300, D90, D7100, and Canon 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 would expect. But when you mount the same 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’ll be 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 16mm and 24mm 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 16mm 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.

  • For Canon DSLRs:  Canon 10-18mm, Canon 10-22mm, Sigma 10-20mm, Tokina 12-24mm, Tamron 11-18mm, Canon 14mm fixed focal length
  • For Nikon DSLRs: Nikon 12-24mm, Nikon 14-24mm, Sigma 10-20mm, Tokina 12-24mm, Tamron 11-18mm
  • For a more complete list of lenses appropriate for real estate photography see the lenses page.

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 will make for real estate photography. It’s much more important than which camera body you choose.

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10 Responses to “Wide-Angle Lenses for Real Estate Photography: How Wide Is Wide?”

  • A Nikon D5200 and a Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 works for me. I could careless about anyone’s point of view about my choice so keep it to yourself.

  • I would agree with all that Larry said. I used the Signature 10-20mm for a number of years and found I almost always used it at the 20mm and then would do my cropping in post after I had done my lens and perspective corrections. But early this year I realized it had started to go soft on the left hand side often up to 1/3 of the way into the image. And in starting to shoot video on my Canon 80D it just was not up to current functionality. I know the Tokina11-18mm I believe it is is popular with many videographers for real estate, the brand new Tamron 10-24mm caught my eye. I bought one last spring and have been delighted with it for both still and video. Fast and quiet auto focus motor, quite acceptable auto focus and auto exposure,. A firm enough zoom ring to smoothly make zooms for video, while it has a non metal body the mounting ring is metal. Yes at 10mm there is edge curvature but that mainly is gone at 12mm and the lens correction largely eliminates it in Photoshop (I believe LR uses the same lens correction as Photoshop). I just leave it on my camera body most of the time. It also has an amazing depth of field at almost wide open if you shoot at wide open. I don’t for stills but often have to for video. It is certainly head and shoulders ahead of my 2012 Sigma.

  • I feel the strong choices for crop sensors are the Tokina 11-20, Tokina 11-16, the new Tamron 10-24, and perhaps the Tokina 12-24.

    The money you are saving by going crop you could then invest in glass like the sigma 18-35 and sigma 50-100. There’s also the Tokina 14-20. It’s seriously scary how good the glass for crop has gotten in just the last few years. You’re hardly missing a beat quality wise anymore being crop in my opinion.

  • I shoot with a 5DmkII and Canon 17-40 and love that setup, usually somewhere in the 18-24 mm range

  • Just remember- if you use flash, the wider you go, the harder it is to light. And, the wider you go, the more distortion you get. Countertops can easily turn into battleships. My preferred range is about 20-24mm (FF) for most of my RE work, and that makes my life easier concerning lighting, plus it looks more natural.

  • I use a fisheye and that’s not wide enough for most agents…

  • I use a Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens – it’s beautiful, but I am careful not to use it wider than 18mm. Well, sometimes the immense width will help on a single point composition.

  • When I shot Nikon, I used the Tokina 12-24, but later bought the 12-28 which gave me a better range without having to change lenses. before drones, I had to use the Fisheye on my Nikon D-70 for my 40′ elevated pole shots and tried to remove distortion in post, which didn’t always work. the agents accepted it because it was the only way to capture the hi angle aerials without a helicopter.

    Now that I shoot with a Fuji XT-2, I use the beautiful 10-24. or my 14 mm. I tried using the 14mm as my main lens, but too many times on the interiors, I needed to go wider and had to change lenses.
    Now, I try to use the 14 on my pole images as it is much lighter and covers almost every condition.

    One agent also wanted me to use fisheye for her interiors, which I did to show her the distortion. Then, I shot it with my Tokina 12-24 which she liked much better. Glad I don’t have a fisheye for my Fuji.

  • You folks seem to have some pretty stellar equipment — a Good thing!

    For the dominant wide views — about 90% of my photos — I use the Olympus micro four thirds system and their 9-18mm zoom (translates to about 18mm on the wide end); not a bright lens (definitely use with flashes) but it yields really great, sharp and distortion-free results. Perhaps I am the odd man out here…but, happily, my clients are pretty thrilled.

  • Use a Laowa 12mm zero distortion lens and it works well on videos and stills.

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