Posts that I've done in the past discussing gear to get started in real estate photography have been some of the most popular posts on the blog. Every year or so I like to revisit the subject. The underlying assumption here is that you want to get started with the lowest possible cost. First some general principles:
- Don't fool around with point-and-shoot (non-interchangeable lens) cameras: A primary gear driver in real estate photography is a good quality wide angle lens and this means you need a DSLR (interchangeable lenses). Don't even think about using a wide angle converter that screws on a point and shoot, most are total crap!
- Ultra wide-angle glass is the most important gear you need: For real estate photography, the range of effective focal lengths you will want is between 16mm and 24mm. Understand that low-end cropped sensor DSLRs have a 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon) multiplier effect on the effective focal lengths. Spending money on wide angle glass is far more important than spending it on a camera body. For a list of the possibilities see my lens table that shows all the major choices and a reader poll that lists what's popular with PFRE readers.
- Which DSLR body you use doesn't make much difference: What I mean is that compared to the wide angle lens you choose the DSLR body doesn't have all that much effect on your results. I assume that if you are going for the lowest possible cost you will be starting out with a cropped sensor DSLR. See my Camera table that lists all the current choices and has a reader poll that shows what is the most popular.
- Everyone needs at least one flash: (Yongnuo or Nikon SB80-DX) Lighting is a key issue in real estate photography. While most successful interior photographers eventually realize that multiple small flashes are the way to get the best results, many start out shooting brackets, process with Exposure Fusion and eventually grow into multiple flash technique. Even if you are going to are going to start out shooting brackets, a single flash improves your results noticeably. This is why I recommend even beginners have at least one flash unit. For processing a series of brackets I recommend using Exposure Fusion (sometimes called blending). I think it's best to stay away from HDR for interiors because it's just too hard and too much work to do it well. I only know a handful of people that manage to do HDR interior well, and many of them have moved to Exposure Fusion because it is not as time consuming in post-processing.
- "Kit" lenses (the cheap lenses that manufacturers bundle with low-end DSLRs are not wide enough for interiors. Kit lens typically are in the 18-35mm range (28.8-56mm effective focal length on a Canon body) are not wide enough for shooting interiors.
- Consider used equipment for sale online: Check craigslist.org or ebay.com or amazon.com for used equipment. There is a lot of good used gear available online. You can save hundreds of dollars by purchasing used gear.
- Get a sturdy tripod for your camera: A Manfrotto or other similar sturdy tripod is adequate.
- Get an inexpensive tripod to use for a flash stand so you can get your flash off your camera and move it around independently of the camera.
- Move your flash off your camera: To move your flash off your camera you'll need some kind of triggering device. My trigger page has a summary of the popular triggers used by real estate photographers and a reader poll that show's the popularity of each.
- Use a circular polarizing filter for exterior shots: A polarizing filter is a must for external shots, it makes clouds look great, gives a saturated look to colors.
Here are the basic decisions you must make:
- You need to use a DSLR. Forget about point-and-shoot and any kind of cell phones for real estate photography. The underlying reason is you must have a quality wide angle lens and a DSLR is the only way you can do that. This first item is a mandate, not a choice!
- Canon or Nikon? Either manufacturer is fine. I recommend Canon or Nikon over other brands only because these two brands will maximize your choices for other accessories as you need them. Other brands will work, but you'll just have fewer choices.
- New or used? There is a lot of good quality used equipment available on eBay, Amazon and other sites. This is a great way to save some money when you are getting started. However, there is always some risk with buying used equipment.
There is some classic real estate photography gear that's worth highlighting:
- Canon DSLRs: T5 is the newest and cheapest Canon cropped sensor DSLR it is very adequate for real estate photography as are T5i, T4i, T3i and most older Canon Rebel DSLRs.
- Nikon DSLRs: D3300 is the newest and cheapest Nikon cropped sensor DSLR and it is very adequate for real estate photograph as are the D3100, D3200, D5200, D7000, D90 etc.
- Canon 10-22mm wide angle lens: Even though this lens is close to twice as expensive as #2 this is the most popular wide angle lens for real estate photography. Its quality is outstanding. This lens is designed for cropped sensors like Canon Rebels and only works on Canon cropped sensor DSLRs.
- Canon 10-18mm wide angle lens (new 8/2014): The Canon 10-18mm is the newest and cheapest wide lens. This lens was introduced in the spring of 2014 and it's looking like this lens may well be as good as the Canon 10-22mm referenced above and is about have the price. As of 8/2014, the new Canon 10-18mm may be the best real estate photography lens for the money ($299) at this time.
- Another alternative to wide-angle lens for Canon DSLRs is the Sigma 10-20mm. For all the options see the PFRE lens page.
- Nikon 10-20mm F/4.5-5.6 (new 2017): This lens was introduced early in 2017 and for Nikon users, this may be your best choice.
- Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 wide angle lens: The best quality wide-angle for the price for Nikon cropped sensor DSLRs is the Sigma 10-20mm. This is the second most popular real estate photography lens. There's a version for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Sony and Samsung DSLR bodies. Its quality is good but not as good as the Canon 10-22mm.
- Other alternatives to wide-angle lens for Nikon DSLRs are: Nikon 10-24mm, Sigma 8-16mm and Tokina 11-16mm. For all the options see the PFRE lens page.
- Nikon SB-80dx flash: Even though they are hard to find because they are only available used these little guys are worth the $130 to $145 you'll have to pay for them because they have sensitive built-in optical triggers and have very fine power adjustment.
If I had to pick the best value for your money (new Canon gear) right now it would be the Canon T5 with a 10-18mm lens. You can get this combo for $669 on Amazon. Note that this Canon DSLR and wide-angle lens for roughly $300 less than the Nikon combo below. This is a fairly recent development since Canon announced the 10-18mm lens and the T5 DSLR. The T5 has fewer features than the T5i check here to see if you are willing to live with fewer features.
If I had to pick the best value for you money (new Nikon gear) right now it would be the Nikon D3300 with the Sigma 10-20mm. You can get this combo for $945 on Amazon.
Kit Lenses: The prices above assume that you purchase DSLR bodies only. While a kit lens (usually a 18-55mm lens bundled with new DSLRs) make exterior shots look better, a kit lens is not absolutely essential. You can shoot exterior shots with a wide-angle lens racked to the longest focal length.
Miscellaneous items: Besides the DSLR and wide-angle lens you'll also need a few other items:
- One or more manual flashes depending on the shooting technique you decide to use.
- Flash trigger to get your flash off your camera.
- Light stand for your off camera flash.
- Copy of Adobe Lightroom software.
Wayne's Capili Shows How He Travels Light Shooting Real Estate
The photo above is Wayne's (17.60" x 5.20" x 11.69") equipment case with the Sony A6000 that Wayne Capili pointed out to us all back in 2015. The following is a list of what's in it:
This isn't the cheapest kit but it is the lightest. Yet the quality of results you can gets with the A6000 is amazing! Just to show the results that Wayne get with this small kit, here is Wayne's A6000 Flickr portfolio. One PFRE reader said, "I discovered using the A6000 one year ago for RE photography. I saw how great it was the very first house I used it on. I got better color, wider dynamic range, much easier to carry around the house, and it reduced my photo time in the house and in post processing by 1/3. It’s a great real estate camera!" For anyone starting out in real estate, the A6000 would be a great way to go.
For those who don't know Wayne, he is the first ever PFRE Photographer of the year (in 2008). Also, it's worth noting that Wayne actually regularly uses the equipment on the above list. You can see this by looking at the EXIF info on his Flickr stream. He has recently also started using an A6300 and a Sony 10-18mm. A little-known tidbit that I picked up while having dinner in San Francisco last December with Wayne and Scott Hargis, is that Wayne has spent some time working with Ansel Adams! That's what happens to photographers who hang out in Monterey for a long time! Thanks Wayne for all your valuable contributions to the PFRE community!