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Is an f/2.8 Lens Essential for Real Estate Photography?

December 17th, 2018

canon11-18mmMichael, who is just starting out in real estate photography says:

I am trying to decide what equipment to purchase and am wondering how important minimum aperture is for a lens. I understand that f/2.8 is preferable in low light conditions but in low light conditions I will be using strobes. As you know, there is a big price difference between f/2.8 and f/3.5 or f/4 and the money saved on an f/4 lens can be put to lighting and other equipment.

If you are going to use the lens just for real estate photography, then there is not much point paying for a f/2.8 lens because when your lens is set at f/2.8, it has a relatively shallow depth of field that is much narrower than the rooms you will be shooting (not everything in the room will be in focus). When shooting real estate, you will typically shoot at f/5.6, f/7.1, or f/8, depending on the room and lighting so that everything will be in focus from a few feet to infinity. Low light is dealt with by shooting on a tripod and using a lower shutter speed to get the right exposure. You can study the details of the depth of field with calculators like the one found at http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html.

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13 Responses to “Is an f/2.8 Lens Essential for Real Estate Photography?”

  • I’ve spent 10 yrs rarely ever using my 50 or telephoto lenses for RE photography… f4 will be all you will need IF big ‘if’ you decide to provide some softer style detail shots in your offerings and you can get some decent bokeh with f4 and if you desire, increase the bokeh in Photoshop in post if you need.

    Every shot you need to take for basic RE, like Larry said will be 5.6 8 or 11 etc… 8, 11 do well on both crop and full frame. i have used Tokina lenses for 10yrs and they are f4 at minimum. i have never used the minimum outside of a detail shot and those are now done with my 50mm f1.8 amd still i rarely will go down past 5.6 or 8… but i have the option and have utilized 2 and 1.8 on occasion but it’s still not necessary – wait till you get down the road before you think about any of that lol!

    So basically you will be good to go with f4 minimum. Look instead at lens quality, sharpness , edge to edge fall off … diaphragms etc …i particularly despise the ultra wides that are bulbous on the front element (really round shape to the outer lens) they are prone to a lot of lens flare from lights and the sun etc… read reviews on several amd view photos …. ask questions here about what others like and gave used and check out LuminousLandscape.com and ken rockwell’s reviews or those that do in depth analysis woth the professional experience to back them up. Good luck and have FUN!

  • I never buy lenses just for specific purposes, they are too expensive for excellent glass. I buy lenses that I can use for stuff other than real estate because I shoot a lot of stuff, real estate just happens to be my bread basket. I use a chunk of my money that I make shooting RE to invest in good glass for shooting concerts, portraits, landscape, take on vacation – so I am able to make the best photos of whatever I want to shoot. You may not really need that 2.8 aperture to shoot a house, but if you are using that lens in a low light situation where you cannot set up lighting, you will be super glad you have it. Plus, most 2.8 lenses make much prettier pictures.

    So, my advice to you is to buy the very best glass you can afford. Your lenses will last much longer than any camera body you buy. They will also hold their value much better.

  • I take a lot of detail shots and 2.8 helps to isolate subjects, that being said if you are just getting started an F4 lens is all you need to get started. When I first got into this I used the Canon 17-40mm f4 lens and over time just added a few prime lenses.

    Good Luck!

  • Lowest aperture I shoot is f4 for commercial city realestate of restraunts etc when they want night shots at 9pm and they want me to freeze people walking in the photos. I have portrait lenses for portraits and f4 Canon lenses for real estate. After dammaging my f2.8 L lenses I moved to the f4 lenses and now see them as consumables just like my camera body. It’s now all about paying off my gear quickly and making a profit with good photos, instead of before when I was an unrealistic gear junky.

  • It’s very easy to go way overboard buying gear. Getting good lenses is important, but you can temper that a bit in the beginning by getting lenses that will give you acceptable results. If you aren’t doing other jobs where a fast and ultra wide lens is going to be needed, an f4 lens is as fast as you need. Most of the time I’m set to f7.1 or f8 and working from a tripod for RE. If I need more ambient light, I slow down the shutter since interiors don’t move too fast to get much motion blur.

    Buying from a reputable used dealer or finding gear locally that you can test before handing over the money is a good move. I bought my UW lens used a couple of years ago though Henry’s and if I were to sell it today, I’d be able to get just about the same money back out of it. BTW, it’s a Sigma 10-20mm. The same goes for my Canon 17-40 f4L. A fast 50mm is great for detail images. If you start thinking about something in the telephoto range, get the top of the line since that’s something you may wind up using for lots of things. A good 50mm in the f1.4-f1.8 range is pretty cheap and works well for portraits and details so that lens is a great general purpose tool where a really wide lens might only get used for your RE work when you are in tight spaces. If you are making money, having a few specialized lenses shouldn’t be a big deal. My advice is start with a wide angle lens (10-20mm on a crop sensor or 16/17-40/50mm on a full frame) and something a bit longer like a 24-105mm f4. Add a detail/portrait lens, such as a fast 50mm and then a 70-200mm f2.8 or a tilt-shift if you don’t find yourself wishing you had the longer telephoto that often. There is so much other stuff to buy that you should have a roadmap for your gear purchases and don’t forget training, workshops and coaching. You will get more out of the gear you have the more you learn.

  • The thing about fast glass is it will probably be at it sweet (sharpest) aperture about a stop below the slower glass. So now you get to shoot with your lens at its best aperture, but are getting double the light from your flashes.

    Double the light, still at the sharpest aperture.

    That is a huge advantage.

    Congrats to Michael if you are reading this!! 🙂

  • The FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM is really awesome. Highest-rated wide-angle zoom DxO has tested. IF you want to shoot at 2.8, you sure can with this one. or 4. or 5.6. or 16. 🙂

    https://www.dxomark.com/sony-fe-16-35mm-f28-gm-lens-review-highest-rated-wide-angle-zoom/

  • @Kelvin, That Sony lens is $2,200! It sounds a lot like Michael is new and trying to put together a minimum package to get started. A 7R3 and the 16-35mm f2.8 is so far over the top for RE it’s not even funny. But, let’s not forget he’s also going to need all sorts of other gear such as lighting, modifiers, cases, tripod/head, stands and some money left over to cover the costs to start up the business side. Unfortunately, these questions rarely have the sentence, “My budget is $xxxx”. Even if somebody were to state they have US$10,000 to spend, I wouldn’t suggest a camera/lens combo that is half the budget all by itself. I’d be more likely to suggest getting two Canon 5Dmkii’s or something similar in the Nikon lineup so they have a decent body to be getting on with and a spare should something go wrong. The number one killer of small businesses is cash flow. One slow month and they’re sunk even when they had a fair amount of startup money that they spent on equipment and didn’t leave anything in reserve to tie them over until the business could support itself.

  • I have always used a higher f-stop lens, on crop sensor the 10-20 variable and full frame (Nikon and Sony) a constant f4. Typically, shoot at f8-11 and it is not a depth of field issue which is insane with an UWA lens anyway. Rather, it is exposure and f8-11 is ideal. Remember, for clean windows, expose for exterior and raise the interior light. If you exposed with f2.8, your shutter speed would be elevated above or testing extremes of high speed sync for flash. Another issue is weight. If doing RE video, the lighter the lens the better on a stabilizer. Also, while not as apparent with tripod RE work, the 16-35 f4 FE makes an excellent walkaround lens and is the one that stays on my camera which I wouldn’t even think about with an f 2.8. Each year I am “forced” to go to Switzerland for 3 weeks to spoil the grandchild (who arrived here last night for the holidays…YEAH!). While prior years influenced my weight reduction from Nikon to Sony (borrowed an original A7 for daughter’s wedding trip in the Canary Islands), last year ran an experiment intentionally leaving the 24-70 at home, and relying on the 16-35 plus 55 and 85 primes. I am selling my 24-70 and may pick up a 24 1.4 GM or 25 f2 Batis prime, but that is not critical as the 16-35 covers the range, although I really enjoyed the almost retro experience using the primes.

  • @Ken Brown Yeah, it’s $2200, but it’s awesome. 🙂 The thing is, I’ve been in photography since the 80’s – portrait, commercial, all kinds of stuff… all before I attempted to go solo with RE photos. I’m not even sure I’d recommend RE for somebody just starting out, let alone whether a 2.8 is even a factor they should worry about. This biz requires every skill I ever learned doing 100’s of 1000’s of portraits and commercial assignments, not mention how many years it took just to learn to run a business in the black consistently, while conscientiously working enough hours to support a family with it. You really have to know an incredible amount of things to do RE work well…

    And one of those things is, you don’t NEED a 2.8 for anything… but you might want one, and sometimes, you want the best one. 🙂

  • Michael, I always stress my feelings about lenses to new photographers. when possible, invest in the best glass you can afford, you wont regret it and it will last you many years. Digital technology and bodies changes so quickly, (unlike in the film days) and you will want (not need) a new camera body as soon as it comes out (which is almost weekly).
    I switched from Nikon to the Fuji X system (a cropped sensor), and my Fuji 10-24mm f-4 is so impressive and sharp even wide open. But, I normally try to shoot at the sweet spot, which is stopped down about 1-2 stops. so, you can get excellent results with an f-4 lens. But, because I shoot other subjects besides RE, I do have many fast lenses, especially for portraits where you want the background to be soft and dreamy. or when shooting a concert my 1.4 and f-2 lens truly makes a difference. Also, because Fuji is quite a unique camera, not many companies make lenses for it. so I’m fairly locked into almost all their lenses, which are awesome.
    Depending on what camera system you pick, a 50mm f-1.8 or 1.4 kit lens (as Ken mentioned) is not super expensive and can make a good portrait lens on a cropped sensor camera.
    I used a Tokina 12-28 f-4 lens on my Nikon with excellent results. when I upgraded to the Tokina f-2.8, I was not as happy with the image quality as I was with the f-4 and traded it back for the f-4
    Also, invest in a very good tripod, head and quick release bracket, as that allows you to shoot in a dark room with long exposures and no movement. don’t forget a couple of reliable strobes and radio triggering system (also not too expensive).
    Keep receiving this blog and you will learn many secrets, get great feedback and advice on shooting RE. some response might be a tad brutally honest, but always in your best interest.

  • Michael, I forgot to mention, that the new sensors are so good, you can now increase your ISO quite a bit and get more power from your small strobes. The one issue I came across with hi-ISO, is the issue of not having a fast enough synch speed. I wish there was a leaf shutter available to give 1/500th synch speed as on my old Hasselblad’s.

  • I originally bought a Nikon 16-35 f4. Wanting a backup lens this year, I got a Tamron 15-30 2.8 Its heavier, the curved glass picks up more flare, and I miss the reach of the 35mm. I use it, but I really should have just bought another Nikon.

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