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Choosing a Entry Level Camera For Real Estate Photography

Published: 15/03/2010
By: larry

I've promised several readers that I would update my popular two year old post that talks about what the important considerations are for choosing best entry level camera for real estate photography. Here are what I think are the most important considerations:

  1. Consider ultra wide-angle glass first: For real estate photography the range of effective focal lengths you will want is between 16mm and 24mm. Understand that low-end DSLRs have a 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon) multiplier effect on the focal lengths.
  2. Consider how you will be lighting: If you are going to use flash lighting how are you going to trigger your flashes? Optical? If you are going to use HDR or Exposure Fusion you'll want to be able to shoot a bracket of -2EV, 0EV, +2EV.
  3. Don't purchase "kit" lenses unless you are going to use them for something other than real estate. Kit lens (typically in the 18-35mm range (28.8-56mm effective focal length on a Canon body) are not wide enough for real estate.
  4. Consider used equipment for sale online: Check craigslist.org or ebay.com or amazon.com for used equipment.
  5. Consider if you to want to look professional: If you are shooting real estate professionally and you show up with a $300 point-and-shoot camera agents will think, "gee, if this doesn't take any special equipment I should do this myself". I heard a Joe McNally interview where Joe says he doesn't shoot big important jobs with small flashes because it doesn't look as professional as big studio lights.

Given these considerations I think there are several obvious least cost equipment choices:

  1. Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM: ($479) This is without a doubt the highest quality ultra wide-angle lens for the money on the market . There are a huge number of real estate photographers using this lens because with the 1.5 or 1.6 focal length multiplier the effective focal length in the sweet spot (15 and 32mm) for shooting interiors . This lens is available for Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony and Samsung bodies. There is a faster version of this lens (f/3.5) but it's another $200. The extra speed is useful but not essential for real estate shooting.
  2. Canon EOS Rebel XS: ($395) At this time this is Canon's low end DSLR. It has all the features you'll need as a real estate photographer.
  3. Nikon D3000 Digital: ($369) This is Nikon's low end DSLR that competes with the Canon Rebel XS.

I believe either of these low end bodies in combination with the Sigma 10-20mm lens make an excellent entry level real estate photographer choice. I think you could also use any of the low end Canon or Nikon bodies that you will find on the used camera market with the Sigma 10-20mm lens. The choice of the lens is far more important than the body and the lens will not be replaced with another model as fast as bodies are. Sure, a Pentax or Samsung body would also work  well too.

At this point I know there are readers out there about ready to protest that I didn't include point-and-shoot (compact) cameras. I have a list of compact cameras at the bottom of my "Cameras" page that I believe are appropriate for shooting real estate if you cannot afford a DSLR. Notice that the difference between a compact camera and the ones I recommend above is only about $400 these days. My favorite on this list is the Panasonic DMC-LX3. It has almost everything you need in a real estate camera. The main thing it is missing is the ability to go wider than 24mm. To me, the ability to go wider than 24mm is well worth $400.

11 comments on “Choosing a Entry Level Camera For Real Estate Photography”

  1. The Sigma 10-20 is a great lens and it's available for Sony too. When used with the Sony live view system, it makes a great RS camera system because of the tilting LCD screen. It's very easy to do poll photography with it, on a tripod, it reduces back pain from having to bend over so much to look into the optical finder and because of the way Sony make the LV system, it's very easy to do on screen WB.

  2. @Darren- You are exactly right, but it's around $300 more. There area all kinds of sharper ultra wide lenses with less distortion but they all cost more. For the purposes of this article I wanted to focus on least cost alternatives for getting started in real estate photography.

  3. I would also recommend renting before buying, if you don't have anyone who will let you borrow their compatible lens(es) and/or camera body.

    BorrowLenses.com and LensRentals.com are both reputable companies that have great customer service and their prices for renting equipment are pretty good (no, I don't work for them and I don't make any money off of referring them, but I feel that I have ultimately saved myself a LOT of money and headaches by renting rather than having buyer's remorse).

  4. Yes there are sharper lenses than the Sigma. I've made prints at sizes up to 24 x 36 that were sharp at normal viewing distances with my Sony 10MP camera and the Sigma lens at F/10. As for the distortion, Ptlens works great at removing it.

  5. Larry
    Without doubt the best investment I ever made was spending the bucks, downunder that Sigma 10-20mm was near on NZD$1000, but it was worth it. I started out with a D70, and currently operate D200, considering the next move currently to D300S or alternative, but just love that lens. I see Jerry mentions print size, in all reality in New Zealand the only time resolution comes into play is when we place a photo on one of those large Real Estate signboards, about 1000mm x 600mm, usually no larger. Even then the res from the Nikons is fine, and completely overkill for any website type of photo listing. For the money I don't think there is any better glass out there.

  6. The best entry point, based on price vs. features, is probably Olympus. Some system drawbacks, but plenty of innovative features and world-class glass. Full disclosure: not a fan-boy, but smart enough to get maximum ROI.

  7. I second Steve Kelley's recommendation for Olympus. I shoot with an E-3 with a 9-18mm (18-36mm equivalent) lens and it is light weight, great glass and produces terrific results.

  8. Anyone using a Nikon 10-24mm F3.5-4.5G?? I’ve been using it for a few months now and like it… But I have never put it up against anything else…

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