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The Best Entry Level Real Estate Photography Combo

Published: 17/07/2008
By: larry

Last week after I did a post on THE Best Lens/Body combination for real estate photography I got questions and comments like, "What if you don't have a $4,500 budget... whats the best low-end combination?" Well, here's my thinking on the low end choices:

  1. If you sell real estate photography services you need a DSLR. Yes, you can usually get the job done with a non-DSLR but quality and credibility suffers.
  2. Think glass first: As with the upper-end you want to base your equipment choice around the glass. Decide what the best lens is for you and then go from there.
  3. Canon 10-22mm: I think right now the best ultra-wide angle lens for low-end DSLRs (APS-C sensors) is the Canon 10-22mm. It's roughly half the price of the Nikon 14-24mm yet gets a overall 8.96 out of 10 rating instead of the 10 out of 10 rating that the 14-24mm gets. This lens is designed for low-end DSLRs (with APS-C sensors).
  4. Canon Rebel line: Which Canon body you use the  Canon 10-22mm on is less important than the lens. Canon's Rebel line (350D, 400, 450D, XTi, etc) has been the top selling low-end DSLR line ever since there's been one. The reason is you get a lot for your money. You can get 350D bodies for under $500. Oh yea, don't bother getting kit lenses (18-55mm or whatever) unless you intend to use it for something other than real estate photography.
  5. Upgrade Warning: Don't expect to use the Canon 10-22mm on a full frame body some day when you upgrade your body to a full frame body because the 10-22mm is a APS-C only lens. The only lens wide enough to work for real estate shooting on both an APS-C sensor and a full frame sensor is the Sigma. It is rated lower in quality than the Canon 10-22mm but sometime down the road, when you decide to upgrade to a Canon 5D or it's successor, it will work on full frame bodies.
  6. High-end Lens/Low-end body Strategy: I discussed another interesting strategy recently with a reader who fell in love with the Nikon 14-24mm lens and was going to use it on a Nikon D40. This way you use the perfect lens on a body that you know you are going to upgrade some day. This is about $800 more expensive at the beginning than a Canon Rebel with a 10-20mm but saves upgrading the lens later on if and when you upgrade your body.

I didn't say this was going to be an easy choice. Which of these choices you make all depends on if you think of your budget as short term or long term.


  1. Canon Rebel + Canon 10-22m =    ~$1,200 No upgrade. Highest short term quality.
  2. Canon Rebel + Sigma 12-24mm = ~$1,200 Lenses work with upgraded full frame body are but lower quality.
  3. Nikon D40 +    Nikon 14-24mm = ~$2,000 Top quality lens now and in the future if you upgrade body.

Update Apr 2010: Be sure to see the update of on this subject here.

34 comments on “The Best Entry Level Real Estate Photography Combo”

  1. My Canon 5D will be sent in next week for repair of a bad shutter release. I've used my Sigma 12-24 on the original DRebel but I like the results I get with my Sony A300 and Sigma 10-20 much better. To me the Sony seems to have better color reproduction, a wider tonal range and less blocked up highlights.

  2. Having recently upgraded to the 5D and a 17-40 lens, I have blatantly kept the Tokina 12-24 on my previous/now reserve camera 30D, and never gave it a thought that it could work on my full frame (being a disciple of Scott on what he uses 🙂 ).
    Due to constant changing of lens on my 30D and previous problems with dust spots, I have sworn that the 17-40 is to be cemented on the 5D.
    Am I not giving the old reliable 12-24 a chance??
    I was quite happy with it, and didn't seem to get as much barrel distortion on the 17-40 as I do now.
    Is there anyone out there that has shot the 5D with the 17-40 and the Tokina 12-24??
    I did a have a shootout when I first got the 5D, against the 30D with the 12-24; and I saw that the sharpness didn't compare, so that's when I said - the 17-40 doesn't come off!!!
    Should I risk a few dust spots????....:-)
    Milton the Ostrich.

  3. On Larry's recommendation I recently got a Rebel and Canon 10-22mm lens and I absolutely love it. I topped it off with the Speedlight 580 and my shooting and editing time have significantly decreased. I can see the need for more lighting options, especially in larger rooms, but at this time my shooting time is so quick I don't mind a little extra editing to brighten up the corners of large rooms. This home was my first effort with the new camera:
    Notice the big "sold" banner! Thanks so much for your advice and this blog Larry, keep it up! Sara in Edmonton, Canada.

  4. @Sabrina- Great post that you did for Realtor cameras. I think you're right about having a list of inexpensive non-DSLRs to suggest to Realtors. I'd like to do a post to highlight your list.

    @Sara- Glad to hear the 10-22mm is working out for you. Your shoot looks great... interesting shot looking across the sink. You must have done that one with a timer.

  5. The Sigma 12-24mm will work on full frame, the Tokina 12-24mm won't.

    I wouldn't advice buying full frame lens for small sensors. Dedicated are smaller, lighter, cheaper. When upgrading, sell the older one and live with the whole full frame burdens.

    For me, the cheaper D40/D40x + Sigma 10-20 (Autofocus, wider, below 900USD combo) or Tokina 11-16 (f/2.8, less distortion - same as canons, but no AF without screw drive, below 1000USD combo) would be better. And the Canon UI isn't as fast and pleasant. I just bought both kits.

  6. Marc- You are right about the Tokina... I didn't read the spec carefully enough. Thank you for keeping me accurate.

  7. The 10-22 Canon on any APS-C body is very, very good- almost zero distortion at 10mm, and SHARP! The tiny Ricoh Caplio GX100 with 19mm converter is amazingly good, too, but has quite visible barrel distortion at the wide end. It is correctable in CS3 or other distortion program. The huge advantage where I use the Ricoh is that it can be programmed to take time lapse photos every 5 seconds, and I hoist it up atop a long pole to get ideal roof level shots of houses up a slope. Set it going, wave it about in the general direction for a minute or so, and you'll get at least one or two very usable aerial perspective images. It takes a tiny bit of practice, but results are excellent. Noise above 200 ISO is visible, but usually no problem using ISO 100 in daylight.

  8. In all of these discussions no consideration has been given to other brands and what they offer.

    As a starting point, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an Olympus E510 (or 520 as they become available in the next few weeks) and the ZD 11-22mm.

    The upgrade path is the absolutely stunning ZD 7-14mm lens - of which the Nikon 12-24 comes reasonable close to in terms of quality but at quite a bit more $ and of course the E3 Body.

    An entry kit - e510 + 11-22 will set you back around $1100, while a much better kit the E3 +7-14 is a tad over $3K. In both cases you are much better off than other brands in terms of cost and quality.

    Doing this sort of work you would probably want Both of these lenses eventually anyway.

    The Real advantage of Olympus in Real estate is the 4/3 ratio of the photos and nearly all RE Sites use 800x600 images, which means NO CROPPING.

  9. @Marc Lacoste - The Tokina 12-24 ATX Pro *will* work on a full-size sensor... one of the reasons I bought it; the Sigma 10-20 and Tamron 11-18 will not. I've used it on both my Nikon D50 and my N70 35mm film camera; on the "full frame" (film in my case) there is vignetting @12-13, but 14-24 looks great, and 14mm is pretty darn wide on a full frame.

  10. I agree. The Rebel and Canon 10-22 are perfect for the amateur real estate photographer. It's too bad that the 10-22 won't work with a full frame. But if you upgrade you can just hang on to the Rebel.

  11. If I'm relying mostly on my SB80s for off-cam flashes, can I not trigger them with my Xti's on-board flash in M mode (as opposed to using my 580EX on cam)? I could try myself, but haven't yet!

  12. yeah, but often i bounce the 580, with a Stofen and/or the diffuser panel. but if I were just using an on-cam flash for direct, low-power flash, I suppose the Xti's pop-up flash would suffice.

  13. Thank you Paul. I was hoping someone would mention Olympus.
    I have an E-520.
    Your argument of the advantage of 4/3 ratio is a worthy one.

  14. Just wondering if there are any updated recommendations since this blog is over a year old now. Debating right now between a high-end, wide-angle point and shoot or one of these entry level DSLR's. Anything new coming down the pike? Thanks!

  15. Yes, this article, although great is almost 2 years old now. Would be awesome to see an update. Please?

  16. @Steve and Robert- You are right, I need to update this post... I promise to do it in the next day or two.

  17. @Justin- While the LX3 is good for a compact camera, for serious real estate photography a low-end DSLR will serve better. Two examples are:

    1- The LX#s 24mm effective focal length will work in most shots but a Sigma 10-20mm on a DSLR will give much more flexibility in all interior shooting situations.
    2-For those doing HDR or Exposure Fusion the LX3 auto bracketing I believe only does -1EV, 0EV, +1EV which is not adequate for most HDR and blended shots.

  18. Good points Larry, and I think it depends on your budget and what you're trying to accomplish. If you want to do really high-end real estate photography, then and SLR is the way to go. I however believe that for most applications, you can get by quite well with a camera like the LX3 at 24mm. To reply to your comments:
    1. The LX3 is only $399, whereas any good SLR camera with a wide lens like that will run well over $1000 at best, unless you buy used.
    2. The new version of firmware on the LX3 now supports -3EV, 0EV, +3EV, which is plenty for HDR (I use +-2EV). I'm currently working on a review of this camera, as well as all the basic equipment that anybody wanting to get started with shooting real estate photography will need. I'll make sure to update this post when I get it completed.
    BTW, I don't work for Panasonic or anything! 🙂 I have my own virtual tour company and the LX3 is the camera that I'm recommending to our real estate agents and vt photographers.

  19. Any news on that update Larry? Your advice is truly valued. Buying a combo in next day or so : )

  20. There have been a few mentions of Olympus 4/3 (Four Thirds) system and (specifically) the 11-22mm. In my experience this is the perfect setup, and literally nothing else compares. The underlying reasons are fundamental to the design of the Four Thirds system.

    First, the Olympus sensor size and 4:3 aspect ratio are far better for architectural/interior work than the "traditional" 3:2 aspect ratio of all other DSLRs. Regarding sensor size, there is no point in ever using anything larger than this, it only forces you to use more glass (and carry more weight and spend more dollars) to get the same shot.

    Regarding aspect ratio, the well kown "35mm problem" is that 3:2 rectangle is too long. For landscapes it's not too bad, but for architeture and interiors it's just a total waste. You wind up cropping the ends off the rectangle, wasting pixels at the ends and (worse) wasting the expensive glass it required to put light on them. This "problem" 3:2 aspect ratio came about many years ago when 35mm cinema film was re-purposed (by rotating it 90 degrees and "stacking" two 4:3 movie frames into a single 3:2 photo image) -- which made the very first cheap film cameras possible.

    3:2 is not an aspect ratio any camera designer would have willingly chosen, it was purely for marketing expediency.

    Finally, because the Olympus Four Thirds system was designed to make much more efficient use of the most expensive components (sensors and lenses), you can buy an ultra-high performance setup for less than half of what you'll pay for an equivalent performing Canon or Nikon body/lens combo.

    I am surprised that more real-estate photographers haven't picked up on these, but now you know!

  21. I disagree. The area of a Four Thirds sensor is only 26% that of a full-frame sensor. All things being equal, to achieve the same resolution, smaller pixels must be used in a smaller sensor, or they must be packed closer together, or they must be layered on top of each other (as in Foveon sensors). Smaller pixels capture less light than larger ones, so the signal generated by each smaller pixel has to be amplified more. This generates higher signal noise and results in increased chromatic and colour noise and lower dynamic range. That's generally not a problem when the lighting's even in a scene but shooting interiors can often be anything but that. In my opinion, this one disadvantage more than outweighs the main advantages of the Four Third system (cost and weight). Cropping is not that big a deal.

  22. Dave,

    Feel free to disagree, but none of the points you raised are relevant in the context of our topic, which is "The Best Entry Level Real Estate Photography Combo".

    The issues you raise around noise only arise at extremely high ISOs, which are never necessary in Real Estate photography (unless you are silly enough to be shooting in the dark, in which case you don't belong in the business).

    Note that if you try to build a Full-Frame body-lens combo that gets you out to an effective focal length of 22mm, AND you want a high-quality lens (rated 9.5 or higher on this site) , you will spend over $3,000-$5,000 for your body and lens.

    In the Four-Thirds system you can get the incredible 11-22mm Zuiko and a perfectly nice E-500 body (with that lovely Kodak sensor) for under $1,000.

    Since the biggest screen our Clients will ever look at to see these photos is barely even 2 megapixels, and the dynamic range that can be displayed on that screen is nowhere near what an old E-500 can do, I just find the whole argument for Full Frame in the Real Estate context to be silly.

  23. Sample interior shots from back in 2008, using the Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm and an (even older) E-300 8 megapixel body. Back then, ISO 800 was as high as these would go.

    Notice, the 11-22mm is perfectly rectilinear at every focal length. That right there is the single most critical aspect for shooting real estate, and in that regard the 11-22mm is the best lens available at any price.

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