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Best Lenses for Architectural Photography [2021 Review]

In: 
Published: 18/02/2021

Due to the challenges of photographing tall buildings and large structures, architectural photographers understand the need for the right lenses. That means a range of considerations such as zoom, aperture, and other qualities. We rounded up the best lenses for architectural photography based on these features, among other things.

Our Top Lenses for Architectural Photography Reviews

After plenty of research and factoring in features such as types of lens, aperture, focal length, autofocus, and image stabilization, we found the following lenses to be the best for architectural photography. 

Brand
Best Wide Angle Lenses
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Best Tilt-Shift Lenses
Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED
Best Zoom Lenses
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
Product
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens - 9518B002 ,...
Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Fixed Zoom...
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Zoom...
Lens Type
Wide Angle
Wide Angle
Wide Angle
Maximum Focal Length
35 Millimeters
24 Millimeters
24 Millimeters
Rating
Best Wide Angle Lenses
Brand
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Product
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens - 9518B002 ,...
Lens Type
Wide Angle
Maximum Focal Length
35 Millimeters
Rating
Price
Best Tilt-Shift Lenses
Brand
Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED
Product
Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Fixed Zoom...
Lens Type
Wide Angle
Maximum Focal Length
24 Millimeters
Rating
Price
Best Zoom Lenses
Brand
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
Product
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Zoom...
Lens Type
Wide Angle
Maximum Focal Length
24 Millimeters
Rating
Price

Best Wide Angle Lenses for Architectural Photography

Wide-angle lenses are those with a focal length of less than 35mm. They make it easier to fit more into the frame and, therefore, good for capturing bigger architectural sites or cramped interiors. 

In this regard, here are our top wide-angle lenses for architectural photography: 

  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
  • Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G
  • Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens

With a focal length of 16-35mm, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens achieves a wide enough angle for your architectural snaps. This range is perfect for capturing whole structure views from shorter distances. 

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens - 9518B002 ,...

When combined with the f/4 aperture, the lens allows you to have clear photos for a broad range of viewpoints, even in low light. They feature a special coating that makes them safe to use outdoors without any possible harm. 

What We Like 

  • Impressive angle coverage and aperture
  • High image quality and detail
  • Coating to reduce glare and ghosting 
  • Comfortable zoom ring

What We Don’t  Like 

  • Lacks image stabilization
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens - 9518B002 ,...
  • Make sure this fits by entering your model number
  • Full-time manual focus permits critical focusing precision, even in AF mode. Help provide excellent...
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G

Although the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR and the Canon EF share the same focal length and aperture, it comes at a slightly lower price. So, whether you want something cheaper or you prefer Nikon over Canon, this one will be a great pick. 

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED Vibration...

This Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G lens offers you the ability to capture larger scenes without loss of detail with a decent 16-35mm focal range. 

You need that range to photograph most architectural structures, both inside and outside. This camera also includes a mechanism to minimize in-lens vibration for sharper images in all conditions, even when not using a tripod. 

Although the lens distorts images at 16mm, that can be corrected using on-camera settings or in post-processing. 

What We Like 

  • Adequately wide view for capturing larger architectural sites
  • Superb center sharpness 
  • Weather sealed 
  • Image stabilization to counter blurring. 

What We Don’t Like 

  • Aperture lag higher angles
  • Large-sized and heavy
Sale
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED Vibration...
  • Ideal for wide-angle and "normal" shots
  • Maximum aperture: f/4 ; Offers two focus modes, M/A (autofocus with manual override) and M (manual)
  • Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups

Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD

The Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD offers a wide view to capture large structures. It will also not distort images when shooting in handheld mode as it comes with an inbuilt image stabilizer just like the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR. 

Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 for Canon...

You can use it in harsh outdoor environments with its well-sealed, all-weather design similar to the one in the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR. Another feature worth noting is the compatibility with full-frame formats that makes large architectural landscapes easy to capture. 

There is also the ability to easily switch between auto and manual focus allowing you to snap crisp images.  

What We Like 

  • Wide enough aperture
  • Compatible with full-frame devices
  • Image stabilization
  • All-weather design 

What We Don’t Like 

  • Bulky
  • Incompatible with rear filters
Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 for Canon...
  • Super high-quality high-speed ultra-wide-angle zoom lens
  • Lens has triple lens coatings consisting of the newly developed ax coating, plus band and bar...
  • Dual MPU system for AF and VC

Best Tilt-Shift Lenses for Architectural Photography

Are you looking for the best tilt-shift lenses? We recommend the following: 

  • Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR
  • Canon TS-E

Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED

With a wide-angle view and tilting-shifting capability, the Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED lens is versatile and can produce clear architectural photos without perspective distortions.

Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Fixed Zoom...

It is much more expensive than its sister lens, the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR, so if you want something cheaper, you can consider that. However, this one comes with much better features like a wider shooting angle and a more robust design. 

The lens uses manual focusing, which lets you determine picture clarity to your preferences. In spite of its size, it is easy to use with a ribbed focus ring.  

What We Like 

  • Wide shooting angle
  • Manual focus 
  • Robust design

What We Don’t Like 

  • Somewhat large and heavy
Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED Fixed Zoom...
  • Three ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements offer superior sharpness and color correction by...
  • Three aspherical elements virtually eliminate coma and other types of lens aberration even at the...
  • The Nano Crystal Coat virtually eliminates internal Reflections across a wide range of wavelengths...

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8

The Canon TS-E is a mid-range, tilt-shift lens that lets you adjust architectural images manually so you can refine shots to your preferences. This results in sharp photos, especially when capturing the tiny details of buildings.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens for Canon...

This lens is pricier than our first Canon recommendation, the Canon EF. However, it has a longer focal length which means higher image magnification than the Canon EF. This makes it an ideal option if you are planning to capture building exteriors and tall structures. 

The tilt and shift feature gives your photographs a nicer perspective regardless of their height. 

What We Like 

  • Impressive perspectives
  • More detailed shots
  • Manual focal length adjust
  • Excellent for macro shooting 

What We Don’t Like 

  • No autofocus 
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens for Canon...
  • EF mount; tilt shift lens
  • Gaussian optics give high-quality delineation and true background blur
  • 90mm focal length

Rokinon TSL24M-N 24mm f/3.5

The Rokinon TSL24M-N is purely manual and gives you full control of the image setting. Couple that with the wide aperture, and you have a lens that you can train on large structures and take clear photos in low light.

Rokinon TSL24M-N 24mm f/3.5 Tilt Shift Lens for...

It shares the same focal length and aperture capabilities as the Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR, although you will have to pay more than double. 

The lens’s suitability for architectural photography is further enhanced by the full-frame support that allows you to use it with most high-end cameras. Finally, the lens also features a compact design for easier outdoor use and portability.

What We Like 

  • Great perspective control
  • Full frame support
  • Wide-angle shooting
  • Easy-grip focus ring

What We Don’t Like 

  • No image stabilization
  • Tuning knobs are too small
Rokinon TSL24M-N 24mm f/3.5 Tilt Shift Lens for...
  • 24mm focal length; maximum aperture f/3.5
  • angle of view: 83.5 degrees on full frame and 59.9 degrees on APS-C
  • Construction: 16 elements in 11 groups with 2 aspherical lenses

Best Zoom Lenses for Architectural Photography

If you are looking for a great zoom Lens, here are our favorite options: 

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 
  • Canon EF

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED

The wide-angle Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR lens uses an automatic focus which you can quickly override for greater control of your images. With this model’s focal length and aperture capability, you can easily zoom images without distorting their clarity. This makes it perfect for different light conditions including structures’ interiors.

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Zoom...

The lens is slightly less expensive compared to its sister the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G. For the reduced price, you get a shorter focal length with a closely similar design. 

Finally, this lens also sports a special multi-coat design that prevents flares and ghosting effects. This allows you to capture crisp images at different times of the day and from almost any position. 

What We Like 

  • Remarkable view angle
  • Great center resolution
  • Minimal flare and ghosting 
  • Lightweight design

What We Don’t Like 

  • Soft corners at higher angles 
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Zoom...
  • Ideal for landscapes, cityscapes, interiors, architecture and more.
  • Focal Length : 10- 24 mm, Close focusing to 0.8 feet
  • Renders a picture angle of 109 degrees through 61 degrees, equivalent to focal lengths of 15-36mm.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

You get a wide range of focal lengths with the Canon EF. In fact, this model has the widest focal length of any lenses in this guide, including its sister the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L. This means excellent zoom ability when capturing photos from different distances. 

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens

The aperture is perfect when snapping away outdoors, and capable of crisp images all throughout. When it comes to handling, the lens is fairly small and will give you no trouble to carry around, despite the telescopic body. 

What We Like 

  • Perfect zoom range
  • Sharp images
  • Compatible with full frames
  • Small and portable

What We Don’t Like 

  • No image stabilization
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens
  • 24 70 millimetre focal length, 38.4 112 millimetre equivalent focal length on Canon APS C cameras
  • F2.8 constant maximum aperture; F22 minimum, ring type ultrasonic type AF motor with full time...
  • 82 millimetre filters, closest focusing distance: 0.38 meter/1.25 feet

Features to Consider for the Best Lenses for Architectural Photography

Capturing images of large structures is very different from other types of photography. You want the structures to fit in the frame while also including the tiny details where possible. Here are some features to consider when buying lenses for architectural photography and achieve the best results. 

Camera lenses for architectural photography

Aperture

A lens’s aperture is a measure of how much it opens to let in light. It's normally a ratio of the lens’s focal length and aperture diameter. The aperture values will usually be indicated as f-number and marked on the lens body as f-stops. 

A lower value denotes a large aperture, a higher value means a smaller aperture. That in turn, means more light and less light respectively. 

In low light conditions, a large aperture is an advantage. Architectural photographers rarely need to capture moving images. They also often do not photograph in low light. The aperture of the lens, therefore, need not be too large. A value of f/2 is usually ideal for architectural photography. 

Focal Length 

The focal length is the distance from the image to the lens’s center. It's usually denoted by millimeters and indicated by the manufacturer. The focal length determines the angle of view and, consequently, its suitability for your architectural photography needs. 

Lenses are usually available as prime or variable focal length types. Each type offers its own advantages. A prime lens takes sharp and clear images and does not suffer the errors of wrong focal length adjustments. However, most architectural photography situations require zoom, which is available when the focal length can be varied. 

Ideally, an architectural photography lens should have a focal length of 16mm to 35 mm like the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR and Canon EF. That's usually enough for most shots involving large structures. You can also opt for versatility and more ambitious images by considering a lens that offers anything between 35mm to 200mm. 

Manual VS Auto Focus

A lens’s focal length adjustment can be manual or automatic. A manual mechanism such as that used by Nikon PC-E FX NIKKOR and Canon TS-E is, by far, the most ideal for your architectural photography requirements. It allows you full control of the image produced, and photos are more natural and to your preferred levels of sharpness. 

Man holding a camera

An autofocus feature uses an inbuilt mechanism to achieve the same feat. This is usually not necessary, plus the auto feature often does not achieve the correct focus. 

For best results, you may want to consider a lens that uses both manual and automatic focus adjustment such as the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8. This arrangement lets you take control of the mechanism at any time so your photos can suit your preferences. 

Lens Design

Here, we are referring to the overall look and feel of the lens or, in other words, its appeal and usability. The lens’s ruggedness determines how well it can cope with tough conditions and environments, too. Your best bet is a well-sealed lens that you can use in different conditions since most photos will be taken outdoors. 

A good lens for your architectural photography should also be well designed, with easy to use and reachable controls. While still on the issue of handling, a compact and lightweight lens is an advantage, since you will find it both comfortable to hold and easy to carry around. Some features, such as tilt-shift, often make a lens bulky. Do not sacrifice them for compactness.  

High-quality lenses tend to feature more metal than plastic. Plastic is also the tough type that will not break easily. These two features are important. Apart from ensuring durability, they make the lens to be more appealing visually. Such lenses are usually costly, though, and often include most of the features discussed here. 

Conclusion 

Choosing the right lenses for your architectural photography may seem daunting. With the ideas discussed in this buying guide, you will be making your decisions from a professional and informed viewpoint. You can choose from our top picks for each category.

That should make your buying process easier in addition to helping you find the right lens without having to sift through tons of options. 

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