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Does a Full Frame Camera Improve the Quality of Your Real Estate Photography?

Published: 12/10/2017
By: larry

I frequently get asked if it's important to upgrade from a cropped sensor camera to one with a full frame sensor for shooting real estate photography.

The video to the right, by Manny Ortiz, compares a Sony A9 full frame camera to a Sony A6500 cropped sensor camera. You can see that there is essentially no difference between the full frame and the cropped sensor images.

Will you be able to the difference if you upgrade? Sometimes but your clients typically can't tell the difference. For real estate photography, a full frame camera by itself does not noticeably improve your work. It's what goes on behind the camera that improves your work - the lighting, composition, and color.

In real estate photography, the lens can be an important factor. Many interior photographers like to use a tilt-shift lens which requires a full frame sensor to retain their wide angle effective focal length. But a tilt-shift lens is not essential.

So in general, for real estate photography, keep your costs down and stick with cropped sensor gear.

25 comments on “Does a Full Frame Camera Improve the Quality of Your Real Estate Photography?”

  1. I've made a lot of money with my crop sensor Nikon D7100 and Tokina lens.

    As usual, I think it boils down to whether you want to be an artist or business person. It's nice to hope or imagine that the better your work becomes the more real estate brokers will pay for it. Maybe. I'm not so sure.

    Images with my tilt shift lenses look A LOT better to me - but some of my highest volume best/most paying clients prefer the on location speed and 'look' of the lowly 7100.

  2. No difference in quality, and the crop sensor provides greater depth of field. Wayne Capili's work; he is one of, or the best, and shoots with a Sony A6000 and A6500.

  3. The new cropped sensor cameras are so incredible, I cant imagine needing a full frame camera for real estate work, except for tilt shift lenses.
    But, if you are shooting fine art or commercial work, and have the financial ability, you might consider a medium format camera. You will see a noticeable difference between cropped sensor and medium sensor cameras. The price of Medium format cameras have come way down, compared to years ago, but still not a cheap investment. I don't know if there are any super wide lenses available yet except for Fuji, which has a super wide zoom. Another issue with Medium format, is that you will also have to deal with enormous file sizes.

  4. What it does is impress the client because the camera is larger and more professional looking. It instills confidence in your work, and, may instill confidence in yourself as you become more professional as shown by your gear. We all know it is the eye behind the camera, but the client... Not as much.

  5. I could not agree with Manny more. Clients aren’t zooming into photos. A full frame sensor isn’t going to get you any clients, or make you any extra money in re Photography.

  6. The only reason I upgraded to the D750 from the D7100 is because I do a fair bit of portraiture. If I only did RE work, there's no way I would have spent that kind of money. High dollar FF is a waste for every day RE stuff. Better off getting a Sony a6xxx with some great glass.

  7. I'd love to have a camera with a full 35mm sensor for those tough jobs where I worry about noise in the shadows or trying to pull up dark finishes. The issue is that, from a business/reliability perspective, I need to carry two bodies and I'd like those bodies to share lenses, batteries and accessories. As noted, customers are probably not going to notice the difference in image quality between a cropped sensor camera and a full frame. That might change if the bulk of your clients are selling very high end homes and the photos might wind up being used in a sale book, but at the same time, I had a couple of magazine covers using a Canon 30D so it's possible to get images to print just fine from just about any modern semi-pro camera. More important is to have spares and lots of options for lighting in a kit rather than just the most top end camera and only one or two lenses. The backend is important too. A faster, more capable computer is more likely to contribute to the bottom line per dollar spent than upgrading a camera body.

    If I was busy enough and bringing in sacks of money every month, I'd likely get a pair of full frame bodies and upgrade all of my glass just because I really like working with top of the line gear. My tool box is about 90% high end and 10% Harbor Freight. I think that I would still have some super cheap flashes in my case and some DIY bits and pieces that I could buy commercially, but are too simple and fun to not make myself.

  8. For me, it’s all about the lens. I use full frame, a Canon 6D, but it’s because the format is a better match to my lenses. I use tilt/shift almost exclusively and want the full effect of them. I also got tired of figuring out the crop factor. Crop sensors produce good images, but having the dimensions of the sensor match the focal length of my lens investment make my workflow go more smoothly.

  9. Agree with the above. Certainly not needed especially when starting out. Learn to use a camera before considering it. I found that menu systems, functionality, touch screen, etc were more important factors in the overall use of the camera.

  10. - I need write-offs. Camera gear used for for business is 100% write-off-able in the same year you buy it. More write-offs = less taxes. It's YOU vs Uncle Sam.

    - That said and done, I just bought an A7rii with the 12-24 4, and whoa is it a fine piece of equipment.

    Yeah, in some respects, it's overkill, but here is where it isn't. The glass. One of the biggest things we fight against is the poopulatity of can lights throughout the houses, and with less-great glass, there is a crazy amount of ghosting adjacent to the the can, which doesn't look good, and is a PITA to fix in post. Good glass minimizes that problem. By contrast, my Sony 16-35 4 on the A7 exaggerates the ghosting for some reason. I've noticed that my Nikon 610 14-24 combo also minimizes can light ghosting. But, my Sony Nex 7 with the 16mm pancake is bad about it. My Canon 6D with the 17-40 is somewhere in between, not bad, not perfect.

    It's just one daily aspect where your equipment choices change how your images look.

  11. I’m going to step outside and go against the flow. It’s true that clients don’t know the difference between a crop sensor, full frame, good glass, bad glass or a lot of other things that may be important to the photographer. But they do know a good picture when they see it. When they comment that my pictures are always “so sharp”, they probably don’t realize it’s the combination of dynamic range, good glass, good contrast, proper processing AND a photographers experience that all combine to provide a good image. When you process an image, the quality of the file is revealed and good files provide better final results. I honestly believe that my D850 combined with Nikon glass give me an advantage over my competition. When amortized over the life of the product, it’s pennies per image.

  12. My Canon 70d is a workhorse. Love it. I have seen homes shot with a Canon 5d and OMG. It boils down to applying the skills we discuss everyday here at PFRE.

  13. When first starting out and you have no clients or only one client - does it make sense to spend a fortune on your equipment or does it make sense to buy the best that your budget can afford and grow with your business. Many times a budget can only afford an APC or a mirrorless, but today your choices are enormous compared to 10 years ago. That being said - let's address the issue for established real estate photographers. You need to be constantly improving that you images really begin to get a "look" or a "brand" that agents look to you to produce. A full frame camera in my opinion is the best for the range of lenses you should be using within the job to get the best wide angle, the best telephoto and the best tilt shifts which we use rather than wide angles. 24mm is an incredible lens on a full frame camera.

    Here is a story about what happened to us when we first joined ASMP and PPA and started going to local chapter meetings. We had a full frame camera Canon 5D at the time which along with the Canon 1Dx were two of the top choices for DSLR's at the time. But...what did we hear from other architectural photographers and commercial photographers -you will never be able to shoot as well as using a large or medium format camera and your clients can tell the difference between a better sized sensor and a full frame (forget the APC sensor - the 7D hadn't come out yet). Did we let that bother us - no...because the market we were after, the full Frame provided the best of the best images at an affordable price, and our images were beautiful because Brad was a great photographer and had a good eye for composition. Eventually these other people came to use the full frames in their daily business and kept the large format and medium format cameras for the advertising agency business that required the format. Its true that for large printed media such as billboards, bus stops and to some extent even brochures with full page images a full sensor might be better than an APC or mirrorless - or that a medium or large format is even better - but who actually is your client and what actually do you need to provide them.

    Moral of the story - I believe that your success as a real estate photographer is not so much which camera you use, but how good are your actual photography skills and your processing skills.

  14. This is a tough one for me. I shot real-estate with my Canon 70D for a long time (paired with a Canon 10-22) and was very happy with it. After a while of debating an upgrade I jumped to a Sony A7ii with a Sony 16-35... and I can tell you one thing... the quality difference was immediately obvious. As someone who shoots bracketed exposures (w/ no OCL), noise levels and DR mean a whole lot to me and this drastically improved. You can say that you can't see the difference an A6500 to an A9 but you're comparing on the top performing crop sensor camera's in the industry. Saying that "it's not worth it" or "you can't tell the difference" is far too broad of a statement. Kind of like shooting w/ the best full frame setup and comparing to a "low end" medium format camera and saying "well, the difference isn't obvious, must not be worth it". Kind of silly to me.

    Last, as people who shoot for a living I would think it's safe to assume that shooting real-estate isn't the only time we bring out our cameras. I use my camera for real-estate and I use it for many other things. Macro, landscape, astro, portraits, etc. These are some areas where FF has more potential to shine. And not for nothing, but if I'm going to be editing photos for hours a day... I want to look at something quality and know that I'm putting quality images out there... regardless if the client can see them through MLS or not. Hence why I send all my clients full resolution images along with a set of MLS resized images so they can see the difference for themselves.

  15. I'm with Dan and I mostly noticed upgrading to FF in dynamic range. Reed is right too, where a client does have an image in their head of what a "professional" camera should look like and the Sony crops are too small of a body size. Conversely, everyone else is correct in the aspect that the final product is what really matters.

  16. Dave Spencer wrote: "...I think it boils down to whether you want to be an artist or business person...."
    How does a full-frame sensor equate to being an artist?

    At any rate, glass is far more important than camera body. You can always spot the dilettantes because they're the first ones to line up to buy the newest, most expensive body...without even knowing what problem they're hoping to solve.

    Beyond that, though -- these blanket statements about how real estate clients can't tell the difference always make me smile. I'm sure YOUR clients can't tell the difference, but that doesn't mean none of them can. And I think it says a lot about the photographer and what kind of work they're producing, because ultimately that's what determines what kind of client you have. The clients who can tell the difference are the ones with the deep pockets, so if it's purely about business then I think a race to the top is the obvious choice.
    And I think that if you have any ambition whatsoever, then the most dangerous thing in the world is a laissez-faire attitude. Clients, as a whole, are disappointingly easy to satisfy, until you get to the really good clients who might surprise you by knowing even more than you do about photographs.

  17. @Scott Hargis; as a 'business person' (vs artist) I have literally more business than I can handle. I'm confident it doesn't have anything to do with what format I'm shooting. I can spend more on equipment for results I don't need (oh wait, I already did that!), but that doesn't strike me as smart business.

    And so, the crossroads; more skill/art, better product and charge more?

    Not for real estate. Not in my neck of the woods at least. Your idea that ***RE clients*** that can tell the difference will pay more is simply not the case, at least here in South Puget Sound.

    But as always, your post is thought provoking, to say the least 🙂

  18. My clients rely on my expertise in technical matters, since the vast majority are not experts in photography. Also, many of them are not experts in image aesthetics and rely on my expertise in that area as well. With that in mind, I think it would not be helpful for me say that clients won't not see the difference. They might see a difference and not tell me, or they might not recognize a difference consciously but might sense it intuitively. Of course we all need to make judgements about what we can offer for the fees we charge, in order to stay economically viable. For what I do, I prefer a full-frame camera for most applications. The greater ability to crop substantially with such a camera, over a smaller format, is one major consideration.

  19. I’m not even sure what the “differences” people are referring to even are. If they are there, it would great to see the differences side by side in a post on Flickr or something similar. This was the point of the posted video. It’s not about clients not being able to see differences, it’s about there effectively not being differences, until you do something silly like zoom in to a 1/8 inch area of the photo and blow it up. Even then it is hard to distinguish in cases I’ve seen.

    If you get a Nikon d500put a tokina 14-20 on it, take a beautiful photo of a kitchen. Then, get a d750 and a Tamron 15-30 and take the same photo, I don’t care how refined your client’s eye is, there just isn’t going to be any difference one way or another in those files: meaning a high end client may, for whatever reason, like the d500 file better, and he may like the d750 file better. But, they’re both going to be perfectly professional and deliverable images assuming your technique was equal across each image. The differences between the files is going to be so insignificant, it’s not even worth talking about, which was the point of the video. This discussion would be like spitting in the ocean and proclaiming you just augmented it’s volume... well, yeah sure, I suppose you did, but the increase was so insignificant it’s not even worth talking about.

  20. That video is a bs evaluation, mostly, at least the way most people above seem to be taking it. He is right to emphasize that the lighting and processing will contribute substantially to image quality, but the comment that clients will not notice is bs as a general statement; and the visual comparisons are hardly demanding ones. In fact, he admits that as you inspect the images closely at higher magnification, you will see noticeable differences which can affect how the images will look of enlarged or cropped considerably. Also, the example images are generally not that good for comparison of what might happen in more extreme situations, such as high contrast, where you might need to raise the shadow values considerably.

    Just not a good example all around. Can you make high quality images with smaller sensor cameras? Of course, but there are some limitations, which can be evident even when the amount of megapixels is the same.

  21. Larry, maybe you need to have a list of gear to buy if you just got a big insurance check/settlement/inheritance and money is no object. Be sure that any totals include two of most things so there is some back up.

  22. I prefer the build quality of the FF camera, at least with Nikon. I shot cropped with a D7100, and wore the traction off of the rubber wheels, printing off of the buttons, and broke a battery door, none of which have happened with my D750.

    Otherwise, I greatly prefer the cropped sensor cameras I used for weight and size of files.

    I agree, though, with a D750 and a right angle viewfinder, I get "Now that's a camera" comments that I never got before.

  23. Here is my "2 Cents"... I prefer a crop sensor and a camera that shoots at 1/250th so that outside of the windows are properly exposed at f6.3 and ISO 200. Now here is my reasoning for a crop sensor. I started off with a Sony a77 and a Tokina 11-16 and that combo takes amazing pictures with a large depth of field, corner to corner sharpness and a sync speed of 1/250 "Don't want to push my flashes by going into HSS". I then upgraded to a Sony a99 and a Zeiss 16-35 2.8 and it said the sync speed is 1/250 but I would get some of the shutter in the pictures at that speed so I shot at 1/200 and the depth of field was considerably shallower and had agents complain several times that corner sharpness, objects in the foreground were way too blurry and I wasn't about to start focus stacking my images and adding another 3-5 minutes of editing for every or most photos so I went back to shooting with my "now" a77ii and Tokina 11-16 and a 16-50 2.8 for exterior and detail shots and haven't gotten a complaint since.

    Now comes the math part. I bought my original a77 for $950 and a Tokina 11-16 used for $350 and a 16-50 2.8 used for $450ish on eBay for a total of $1750. The a99 cost $2600 "new and before taxes" and the Zeiss 16-35 f2.8 was $1200 used for a total of $3800, more than double the cost for the crop sensor set-up and only one lens covering a focal length of 16-35 where as the 11-16 and 16-50 covered an equivalent of "16.5-75mm" of tack sharp images with a larger depth of field. Remember folks we are not trying to shoot images with a shallow depth of field so a crop sensor is all you will ever need.

    I also shoot weddings so the the a99 wasn't a complete waste of money and the 2 memory card slots are necessary and paired with a 24-70 2.8 that beast was a money maker but majority of my business is real estate photography so my crop sensor cameras get the most use.

    I've since sold my a-mount cameras and most of the lenses and now shoot with an a6300 and I really miss the ergonomics and all the button placements, the shutter and aperture dials and the fully articulating screen on the a-mount cameras and hate that the a6300 doesn't have a sync speed of 1/250 but I suffer from Tendonitis "Tennis Elbow" and needed to get something lighter so I reluctantly made the compromise to switch over to e-mount cameras though I'm not sure I'll stay with Sony unless their next crop sensor camera is something like a Canon 7d or Nikon d500 with 2 cards slots and weather sealing cause I used to take my a-mount cameras to shoot people surfing and in the snow, rain and all types of terrible weather conditions and the "ONE" time I shot in the rain with the a6300 it got damaged so I need something that can handle the places I shoot at and Sony e-mount cameras and lenses are nowhere as robust as the soon to be extinct a-mount.

    In conclusion. Go with a crop sensor camera and buy one with weather sealing and if you plan on using this camera for weddings you'll need two card slots and your only choices are Canon 7d, 7dii, Nikon d500 and I believe Fuji makes a crop sensor camera with two slots but don't quote me on that I don't geek out on the newest and best stuff out there. If you're shooting with a Full Frame you really should consider buying a crop sensor camera for real estate and sports and a full frame for everything else because if you are getting paid to be a photographer you need a backup and it might as well be affordable have a high FPS, large depth of field and I have never found a situation where I've needed two full frame cameras.

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