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Getting Started In Real Estate Photography For The Least Cost

Published: 15/07/2016

A6000This subject has been one of the most popular subjects here on the PFRE blog for many years. Here is what I used to recommend. But over the last year or so things have changed. I feel the need to rewrite my recommendations. Here are the ground rules:

  1. Don't fool around with SmartPhones or non-interchangeable lens cameras because you need a wider angle lens than these typically have.
  2. A wide-angle lens is the most important gear you need: You need at least a 24mm (effective focal length) to shoot interiors and as wide as 15mm to 24mm effective focal length can be handy.
  3. Everyone needs at least one flash: Lighting is a key issue in real estate photography. The two primary lighting techniques are multiple manual flashes and LR/Enfuse (bracketing). Even if you use the later it's helpful to have at least one flash to control color casts. This is why I recommend even beginners have at least one flash unit.
  4. Get a sturdy tripod for your camera: Any solid, sturdy tripod is adequate. One with a 3-way adjustable head like #5 below is the best choice.

OK, given those basic ground rules here are my specific recommendations for good quality gear at a reasonable price:

  1. Sony A6000 body only - $548 and Rokinon 12mm wide angle lens - $399 or
  2. Sony A6000 with 16-50mm (24- 75mm effective) lens - $698
  3. Yongnuo YN-560 IV wireless flash - $69
  4. Yongnuo YN560-TX - $39.95
  5. Manfrotto MK290XTA3 - $180

#1 above is the best choice but #2 is workable if you are really tight on funds. There are other assorted items you'll too but these are the basics.

I used to recommend cropped sensor Canon and Nikon DSLRs for getting started in real estate photography but after using the above equipment I believe it is at least technically equivalent to Canon and Nikon cropped sensor gear and clearly superior in the aspect of size and weight.

Update 7/15/2016: My point in this post is not so much that real estate photographers can replace their Nikon and Canon gear with a mirrorless camera but it is now a LEAST COST alternative. You can get a new body/lens for $548 (#1) to $947 (#2).

Larry Lohrman

10 comments on “Getting Started In Real Estate Photography For The Least Cost”

  1. I'd like to put in a plug for Fuji along side of Sony for mirrorless. I've switched over to Fuji after using Nikon for the past 9 years. It's a fantastic system with very sharp, clean files and beautiful color. Plus the weight is a lot less. The electric viewfinders (EVF) in the mirrorless cameras are amazing. I can't imagine shooting without one now.

    The set up I'd recommend for starting out in real estate would be the following:

    Fuji XT10 - $799
    Fuji 10-24mm - $999
    or Fuji 14mm = $899
    Rokinon 12mm lens (I haven't used one so I can't say how good it is) $399

    You can get Fuji equipment cheaper through their sales which happen a couple of times per year or buy used.

    I agree with Larry's recommendation of Yongnuo's for flashes and transceiver. Easy and inexpensive system. Not always the most reliable so I'd recommend 2 flashes. It works great with Fuji as well.

  2. Carolyn,
    I purchased the Fuji X-E2 with the Rokinon 12mm f-2 lens for my elevated/pole photography. At f-2 it was not tack sharp, but when it is stopped down 2 stops, it has great depth of field and becomes a very good lens. I tried it for some interior shots and was impressed. This is a great inexpensive system for real estate photography. And because of the weight, you don't need as heavy a tripod.

    Now, I use the X-E2 for all my real estate work with either my 10-24, or my 14mm, so my 12mm Rokinon sits on my shelf. The 10-24 is a wonderful sharp lens, but the 14mm is extremely sharp, great contrast, and very lightweight.
    The Fuji X system, either my X-Pro 1 (which is now converted to Inferred only) or my X-E2, has actually made photography fun again. And if you purchase an X body with the fabulous 18-55 kit lens, it's even a better deal.

  3. I also purchased the inexpensive Yongnuo flash units YN560 IV from B&H. I've only used my Nikon SB-800s and 700s, but have had issues with them, are expensive to repair and the 800 is no longer made.
    So far the YN560 IVs have worked flawlessly (had one issue, but the company replaced one) and are a wonderful deal. I normally use a pocket wizard on each flash, since I have many for commercial work. A few weeks ago, I had a rush job, but didn't realize my pocket wizard case was in my house. I mounted the Yongonuo flash units on the stands, and as Scott recommends in his book, I set the flash to their optical flash settings (which took me for ever to remember how to do) and fired them with my on camera Nikon SB 700. They worked great, what a life saver. (Thanks Scott). at the price B&H charges, it is worth buying at least 3, but 4 is better and still cheaper than the Nikons, especially for real estate photography.

  4. I am selling off all of my Canon equipment in September to go with the new Fuji X-T2 for my architectural and RE photography. I recently rented the X-Pro2 and the results were outstanding. The Fuji files have better dynamic range and the images are much sharper coming out of the camera. I was actually stunned at how good an APS-C senor was to my full frame Canon. The Fuji X-T2 also shoots 4K video! My Canon 6D is now 4 years old and apparently Canon doesn't plan on any upgrades anytime in the near future. Besides, I will be hauling around half the weight as I am now when I go with Fuji. I am currently using a mix of Canon Speedlights and YongNuo YN560IV flash units. I will expand my YongNuo flash units and use the YN560-TX.

  5. I recently switched from a Canon 6D to the Olympus OM-D EM-1 and couldn't be happier. I'm using the Olympus 7-14 f2.8 lens and it is sharp corner to corner. The MFT format ensures great DOF even f5.6. Combined with several YN 560s, this is a great real estate kit.

  6. I would not hesitate on this one if I was just starting... Nikon D7000, maybe a refurbished one. A tokina wide angle and the tripod and stuff.

    I don't know why this never comes up, but don't you have to consider what you are delivering when buying a camera body? Do you deliver 3000 pixels on the long end? 8000? 20,0000? Well, if you never deliver more than 3000 or so, why wouldn't a 16 megapixel sensor do you just fine? And, your files load and save in ps quicker. You download your shoots quicker, easier to backup and transfer. You can get into compositing without bogging down your computer. So many advantages. I don't know why people shoot with larger sensors than what they deliver. Just a thought for people anyway.

  7. There is nothing wrong with starting off using used equipment. A crop body camera around 15mp works just fine for most RE photos. The place to spend money is on good quality lenses (f4 is fine. There is no reason to buy f2.8 lenses for RE). A very good tripod and geared head will last decades if taken care of. Having 2 used bodies is better than having just one new one. With any luck there will be room in the budget for computer upgrades and a couple more speedlights. A subscription to would not be a bad idea too.

    New gear is fun, but there are always demands on a budget for all of the little stuff that adds up quick. If the business is doing well and you want to stay with it, buying later model gear won't be a problem.

    I went with Canon since I had a couple of friends that were Canon shooters. This gave me a built in support network and I was able to buy gear from them as they upgraded. It doesn't matter what brand you use if it will do the job. Canon and Nikon being the dominate brands have the most third party accessories. Sony is coming up fast. At least they now use a standard hot shoe.

  8. I shoot Canon, Nikon and Sony. Full and cropped. Weird but it just sort of happen. The camera that never ceases to surprise me is the oldest & cheapest; a DX format Nikon D7100 w/ a Tokina 11-16. And, at today's price, they're under a grand - for both - brand new.

    Several of my YongNuo speed-lights have fallen off tops of doors more times than I can count. They hit a hard floor, explode into many pieces, and work perfectly after I put them back together on the spot. They've been used 6 days a week for over a year now - zero problems.

    I use 3 tripods almost every day. Paid $6 at Goodwill for my favorite.

    I think Photography is a lot like golf; it isn't the camera/ club...

  9. I'm having "tripod trouble". My equipment weighs in the range of 5.6 lbs and I have looked at hundreds of tripods over the last year. I quickly became overwhelmed by all the options and prices and stopped looking. But now I'm at the point where adding a tripod is critical. I clicked on the Manfrotto MK290XTA3 link above but it does not support the weight I need. I found an alternative Manfrotto model, Manfrotto MK290XTA3-2WUS 290, which indicates support of 5.6 lbs and there are several options, the priciest is the carbon (legs?) ball head for $250, which is fine. When I was looking a year ago, it looked like I needed to spend $350++ for a nice tripod.
    Do you think this model will work for me? There are NO camera or accessory retail shops anywhere near me to actually go look at these, I'm trying to order off Amazon and it's kind of a zoo, too many options. Any guidance would be most appreciated.

  10. Pamela - There is no one right tripod that is ideal for real estate photography. I think the thing to do is stick with a Manfrotto or Gitzo and buy the one that seems like a price that you are willing to invest.

    Frankly, I've never even paid any attention to how much my Canon 5D mkII and 16-35mm lens weighs or how much my tripod is "designed" to support. I Wouldn't worry about the weight specs.

    I spent more ($450) on my geared tripod head than I spent on the tripod ($250). I love the geared head!

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