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What Is The Best Focal Length For Shooting Interiors?

Published: 07/11/2016
By: larry

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-8-57-10-pmAaron in OH asked:

Today's post brought up a question about wide angle lens' and video that I have. Basically, what is the best focal length for filming video of interiors?

I shoot stills with a Sony A7ii and Sony 10-18 mm (15-27mm FF). I film video with the Osmo Pro (X5) and the Olympus 12mm (24mm FF). I know that you have discussed 24mm being the sweet spot for interiors and I could not agree with that more. Despite how much I educate clients, they always want everything as wide as possible and I work with that as much as possible. I prefer 20mm (FF) for filming and after upgrading from the Osmo x3 (20mm FF) to the x5 I am really missing the loss of 4mm. At 24mm I seem to loose most of the floor and ceiling. The footage between the x3 and x5 is a night and day difference and I know photography and videography is about trade-offs at this point.

Then, I see videos in my area such as this, which seems to be used with an ultra wide lens for such a small home. So again, what is the best focal length for filming video interiors?

I am also asking because I will ditch the x5 and just buy a gimbal for my DSLR if I need to obtain a wider shot.

There is no BEST or RIGHT focal length for shooting (still or video) interiors. What is best is what your client likes best or what creates a strong composition. If you want to get an image published in Architectural Digest or if you want to win the PFRE Still contest you will not want to shoot "UFWA" as Scott Hargis says when you shoot ultra wide. If your client is a designer who is trained in the arts, you probably won't want to shoot ultra wide because that doesn't create a strong visual composition like they are looking for. But, if you want to please the average real estate listing agent whose iPhone won't shoot wider than 28mm effective then you will probably want to rack it out as wide as you can go because like you say, that's what they want.

I don't think it's worth your time to "educate clients" in the arts. Be flexible and do what it takes to create satisfied clients whether your clients are agents or interior designers. But as a photographer, understand and be able to see the difference between UFWA and an interior image with a great composition like what Scott HargisTony ColangeloBrandon CooperJason Roehner or Barry MacKenzie would shoot. As you learn to compose like this you will want to do it all the time!

BTW, note that UFWA is now an official a term in the Urban Dictionary. But Scott says they have the definition backward! UFWA is a bad thing, not a good thing! I guess it all depends on your point of view.

11 comments on “What Is The Best Focal Length For Shooting Interiors?”

  1. First off the X5 is not shooting 24mm when you are in video mode. This is similiar to other micro 4/3 cameras like the GH4. I just figured this out recently as well. I know this applies in 4k mode not really sure about 1080p video mode. But the crop factor goes from 2 to 2.2 - 2.3 (depending on whether its 4096x2160 or 3840x2160) so its closer to 26.4-27.6mm. Thats a huge difference between the x3 20mm setup. But your gonna run into this issue on most m4/3 cameras. Not really sure

  2. UFWA doesn't work very well with small screen devices. The easiest way to steer an agent away from insisting on stupid-wide is to let them know that everybody trying to watch the video on their phones are going to click off to something else.

  3. With Very High resolution stills (20mp+) or 4K video, shooting as wide as possible does have a benefit in that you can crop in.

    In the real estate industry where the upper limits of full resolution are rarely utilized, this can serve to kill 2 birds with 1 stone. If they want very wide angle photo of a space because that is their request you have that, and a simple crop will allow you to focus into an area much tighter.

    Since with interiors you are often backed up into a corner in anything but much larger spaces, the argument for perspective benefits of a longer lens are not present.

    Most all video is mastered in 1080p or for web 720p is plenty ample so if you capture in 4k you can easily reframe in post, however lots of cameras will have some sort of crop to prevent pixel binning as you enter 4k so its best to know your system inside and out.

  4. Hi Aaron,
    I think unfortunately Larry is right. Unless you are shooting for interior designers you will have no way of avoiding ultra wide compositions and the realtors always do want to show the space as big as possible. And since the viewers are looking at multiple properties at the same time they will think that the property shot with a 24mm focal length is not as big as the others and the realtor and also you will lose.
    We are filming all our interiors with 2 setups, GH4 with a 7-14mm lens mostly at the 7mm end and A7s with the 16-35mm mostly at the 16mm end. For photos we use the Nikon 14-24mm lens and as you guessed mostly at the 14mm end. Yes, the composition somtimes get a little distorted, mostly the elements close to the camera but we are able to show each room in it's full glory and that is what our clients want.
    We did get away one time with shooting the GH4 with the 12-35mm lens (my videographer had an unrested evening and got confused with the lenses) but every other time we shoot wide.
    I have just seen a very promising video about an affordable and good quality handheld stabilizer for mirrorless cameras, that might be a solution if you like the Osmo style shooting. I sure will buy it and test it out.

  5. @Zoltan

    What is your videographer currently using for stabilization? I picked up a GlideCam to use with my A7ii but I'm having a difficult time with it. Would love something a bit easier (and possibly lighter) to operate.

  6. Thank you all! @ AJ. You are completely right, as the crop changes for every different level of video. Looks like 1920x1080 is the widest. Here is a link that describes it very well.

    @ Ken. I couldn't agree more.

    @ Michael. yeah, sadly 4k just bogs down my CPU (soon to be upgraded) like crazy. Even with all the research I did for this rig, I guess some things are left to be discovered with use.

    @ Zoltan. Thanks for sharing! I am going to research this gimbal. I think I am just going to sway towards the DJI Ronin to play it safe with my a7ii and Sony x70. I feel that I should have just bought it in the first place but you live and learn. Sadly, this was an expensive lesson lol.

    Thank you again for all of your feedback, advice and recommendations. This is a great community!

  7. I tend to shoot my video footage tighter than my stills. I try to get to 35mm on the video footage, as the focal length compresses the scene more accurately for video purposes. With good composition, you can "have you cake and eat it too" with a wide angle still, but video for me isn't as forgiving. I can overcome a tighter FOV with effective pans and camera movements in video, as opposed to trying to get it all in one wide angle bite.

  8. @ Daniel

    We are using the Ronin-M of course, I think it is the most sensible choice. It wasn't my first stabilizer though. I bought the Glidecam H2000 but I could not get it to work the way I wanted even after paying people to teach me how to balance it right. When I am looking at videos of people who use the Glidcam for years I still notice the left-right swing which I wanted to eliminate so I sold mine.
    Then I got a secondhand Defy G5 for about $800 which again did not work well enough. My third stabilizer was the Came-TV Mini2 which I managed to make some great videos with (the size of it is awesome) but it still not 100 reliable.
    So my life was in a constant limbo until I finally bit the bullet and bought a brand new Ronin-M. I must say that this is the Sh.. Always and always works exactly as it should be working. Making a video is a creative process and my creativity can not flow if I have to worry about my gear. The Ronin is just a workhorse like my Nikon cameras. No compromises.
    The only reason I am looking for a second stabilizer the the one I mentioned before because I like to travel light and I would like to film some events sometimes (for my real estate corporat clients) and the Ronin is a bit cumbersome for walking amongst people.
    Also I am trying to find a good mirroless camera which could be used both for my photography and video (romancing with the A6500) and it would be wonderful if I can put in my light camera bag my camera, 2-3 lenses, 3 flashes, a stabilizer and a small slider (want to try the Edelkrone Wing).
    That's my gear goal right now. So while my videographer would work on our major videos I could offer our less to do clinets a better photo+video+drone deal and get it all knocked out 3-6 hours depending on the size of the property.
    I'll let you guys know how that goes :))

  9. Great questions and great replies - very informative. This web site is a very valuable platform for real estate photographers - keep up the good

  10. I LOVE the term UFWA and am going to start using that when talking to my agents about photos (around here they will get a kick out of it). I had to actually enter a new definition to Urban Dictionary. I can't believe the photographer who put it there, must be one of the bad ones.

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