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Wide-Angle Lenses for Real Estate Photography: How Wide Is Wide?

Published: 31/08/2018

A wide-angle lens is something everyone getting into real estate must get before anything else because you can't get by shooting interiors with off-the-shelf kit lenses that come with cameras!

I've talked to several Real Estate Photographers recently in the process of purchasing new DSLRs and noticed that there is a misunderstanding about what lenses are appropriate for real estate photography on the new DSLRs.

First of all there are two types of DSLRs:

  1. Full frame DSLRs that have digital sensors the same, or nearly the same size as a 35mm frame of film. Examples of full frame DSLRs are Canon 1Ds, 1Ds-MKI, MKII or MKIII, Canon 5D and Nikon D3.
  2. APS DSLRs that have sensors smaller than a 35mm film frame. Examples of APS or small sensor DSLRs are- D300, D200, D40, D80, D70, D50, 40D, 400D/XTI, 30D, 20D etc.

What does this have to do with wide-angle lenses? Everything! When you mount a lens, say for example a 18-55mm, on a full frame DSLR, it's a 18-55mm lens just like you expect. But when you mount the 18-55mm lens on a APS DSLR the lens doesn't act like a 18-55mm it acts like a 28.8-88mm lens! This is because the smaller sensor size of APS cameras have the effect of multiplying the focal length by a focal length multiplier (1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon). The term used to refer to the the focal length after the multiplier is 35mm effective focal length.

When talking about wide-angle lenses, it's important to understand that the sensor size of the camera the lens is mounted on has an effect on the angle of view of the lens:

  1. Full-frame cameras have digital sensors the same or effectively the same size as a 35mm frame of film. Examples of full-frame bodies are the Canon 5DMKIV, Nikon D750, and Sony A7RIII. Lenses mounted on these cameras effectively have the same focal length that they would if they were mounted on a 35mm film camera thus the term "35mm effective focal length."
  2. Cropped sensor cameras have sensors smaller than a 35mm film frame. Examples of cropped or small sensor camera bodies are the Canon T6I, Nikon D7300, Sony A6000. Smaller sensors have a multiplying effect (Canon 1.6; Nikon and Sony, 1.5) on the effective focal length so they have a multiplier that must be multiplied by the lens focal length to get the 35mm effective focal length.

A practical example of this is if you put a lens like a 12mm Rokinon on a Sony A6000, you must multiply the 12mm by the Sony cropped sensor multiplier (1.5) to get the effective focal length (18mm). So we say the effective focal length of the 12mm Rokinon on a Sony A6000 is 18mm.

This focal length multiplier is a big deal for real estate photographers because this means the standard kit lens that comes with most off-the-shelf cameras is not optimal for real estate work because after you multiply the effective focal length multiplier for the camera you are using, the lens may not have as wide a view as you think.

Real estate photographers find the effective focal lengths roughly between 16mm and 24mm to be the "sweet spot" for shooting interiors . It's best to have a zoom that covers this whole range between 16 and 24 but at a minimum, you need to work at 24mm or below. This is why the Sigma 10-20mm lens (available for both Nikon and Canon) is so popular with real estate photographers because with a 1.6 multiplier, it allows you to work between 16 and 32mm effective focal length and it's an inexpensive alternative. For full-frame cameras, the Canon 17-40mm, Canon 16-35mm, and Nikon 17-35mm lenses are popular choices for interiors.

What are the wide-angle alternatives for APS DSLRs? I'm only going to cover Canon and Nikon because I recommend that you stick with these two manufacturers. It will make your life easier and give you more flexibility and alternatives in the long run because 3rd party vendors provide accessories for these two brands.

Notice that I put the Canon 14mm fixed lens on the Canon list. This lens is legendary for it's lack of barrel distortion. It is pricey but as high a quality as you'll find. Zoom lenses all have varying degrees of barrel distortion that can be removed in Photoshop or other photo-editing software.

There are many wide-angle prime lenses that will work but for real estate, a zoom that covers the range of 16mm to 24mm, 35mm effective focal length will serve you best. Many get by with a good 24-70mm zoom lens, but you really need something wider than that sooner rather than later.

The bottom line here is that you need to pay careful attention to which lens you choose for real estate work. It may be the most important equipment decision you make for real estate photography. It's way more important than which camera body you choose.

Larry Lohrman

12 comments on “Wide-Angle Lenses for Real Estate Photography: How Wide Is Wide?”

  1. What signs do you look for when choosing the focal length that tells you for this given view of this particular room you are "TOO" wide?

  2. @Tim - TOO wide is a very personal thing. Some readers shoot around 24mm. Some don't go wider than 17 or 18mm. In the end, you need to be sensitive to your clients. What is popular in your area and what does your client want?

    One thing you see in very wide shots is perspective distortion in the corners of the image. Round objects in corners turn into oval shapes.

  3. @Larry, I have received critiques on PFRE for the angle being too wide causing perspective distortion as you said. Which I really appreciate the feedback and I try to look at the work of the best RE Photographers with my new insights in an effort to understand and apply to my work.

    A problem I have found is that these perspective distortions are very hard to see in the viewfinder and even in "Live View" so what may look good in the field is not so good in LR even after doing "Auto" / "Transform". So I have started to be more aware when framing the shot and try to back off to 17-20mm whenever possible shoot 24mm way more often than 14mm.

    So, again just looking for some knowledge from the Pros on PFRE, thanks everyone.

  4. I've always used Tokina glass on my cropped sensor bodies. My first was the 11mm-16mm f2.8 and I'm currently using the 11mm-20mm f2.8.
    When I first started out I would shoot as wide as I could, but slowly I learned to shoot tight. (as I recall it was on Larry's advice)
    I now start out at 20mm and open up slightly to include areas as needed. Bathrooms and other small areas I go the reverse, starting out at 11mm. (I REFUSE to shoot "on the vertical"!)

    When I made the change to a tighter perspective, I "sold it" to my clients by saying.....
    Prospective buyers start off on the wrong foot when they enter a listing and say "this is smaller than it looked in the pictures"

    Some clients left but many new clients found my work attractive and have come on board.

  5. I always (98% of the time) shoot indoor pictures at 16mm. I think it is important to take in as much of a room as possible. I agree that the distortion on the ends is not good, so I reduce it in post (assisted by two hand-made distortionometers).

  6. Years ago, I started shooting real estate with a Nikon D-70, and a Tokina 12-24 f-4 lens. Many agents wanted me to make the rooms look as large as I could, so I shot mostly at the 12mm. I found my images too distorted and it was harder to light a large area. But, I thought that's what the agents wanted. Once I joined Larry's blog, I started shooting differently. I lit interiors differently, shot tighter and found my images had a nicer feel to them. Now, after attending Brandon and Tony's workshop in Atlanta, I am shooting even tighter and my compositions more precise. I shoot with cropped sensor Fuji cameras, (Fuji Xt-2 and X-Pro2) and their 14mm and 10-24 lenses. Most of the time, I try to keep my focal length between 20mm and 24mm (full frame equivalent). It took my realtors a while to understand that wider is not better. I tried only using the 14mm prime, as it forces you to make the best composition without zooming too wide. Unfortunately, too many times I had to change to a wider lens, so I keep my 10-24 mounted all the time, and try to force myself to move back, rather than zoom out when possible. because of the light weight of the 14mm, I use it mostly for my pole camera images.

  7. Well Russell, I recently tried this with a realtor and the response was, "we don't care—we want to get them in the door"... And now they're saying I need to get a "wider angle lens". Currently I'm using the 10-22 on my crop sensor Canon. Canon doesn't make anything wider—has anyone had experience with something like the Sigma 8-16 DC?

  8. Collin, an effective 16mm from your 10mm focal range should be wife enough. You may have to find yourself shooting from outside a doorway or inside a closet but I can't imagine anything much wider. Have you tried these positions?

  9. Edge distortion? Shooting stupid-wide, er I mean ultra-wide- or more aptly coined UFW, also does a great job of drastically shrinking important things in the middle of your image like; gorgeous windows, beautiful kitchen islands, expansive backyard decks, stunning fireplaces... etc...

    Make the room look big?!? How in heaven's name does that help sell a house. Or a showing?!? Hint: They already know how big it is, they entered the size in their search criteria.

  10. @Collin, you made need to replace some clients. It's really hard to fix stupid and life is too short to try very much. Another big downside of really wide shots is that they are tough to see on a small screen. People have to zoom in to see details and that's just going to lose them really fast. They might zoom in to a few photos if they are already really interested in the home due to the price and location, but they aren't going to zoom every single photo. It's far easier to flick through a stack of tighter photos. A good composition is going to show the most interesting aspects of a room. A wide photo that captures more of the walls, ceiling and floor doesn't add anything.

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