Hundreds of different camera models are available on the market, and it is easy to get lost in the technical jargon of their descriptions, especially if you are a beginner and not so familiar with professional photography gear. We will break it down for you and shed some light on the topic so your purchase decision will be much more straightforward. But are you really in need of a camera? Maybe your smartphone will do?
How to choose a camera and lens for real estate photography?
Cameras vs. Smartphones
The first question you might ask is: Do I really need to invest in professional equipment? As technology advanced, phones gradually got smaller, and the list of features got bigger. It also applies to smartphone cameras – they got so much more sophisticated in the past few years, with companies beefing up photo resolution, adding more lenses, and integrating photo storage options that keep you snapping without fear of filling your camera roll. Nowadays, only 7.5% of photos are taken with cameras – phones now rule photography, which works similarly in the real estate photography niche.
You are probably used to relying on a smartphone as a mobile visual notebook. A smartphone is an amazing and easy-to-use tool in ideal room conditions, with perfect weather and full lighting. If you own a new model, the photos will be good enough quality to use.
However, achieving a perfect shot is impossible without a sufficiently wide-angle lens and a tripod. You should be aware of the lack of features that allow for manual adjustments. A camera allows for adjusting parameters such as aperture, shutter speed, sensor sensitivity, white balance, and warmth according to the needs of the interior, lighting, or weather. Controlling focus and depth of field is important when selecting a specific part of a room to photograph. Shutter and aperture settings allow you to monitor what's happening with the image. In your smartphone, these options are limited, and full manual mode, compared with that of a camera, is impossible (or extremely difficult to use in real-life conditions). Cameras also have an efficient image stabilization system that reduces vibrations when taking handheld photos.
Success also lies in exposure and lighting: When dealing with high-contrast scenes, there is a significant difference between the light outside the window and inside the room, so we must decide what we want to expose properly.
Nowadays, most phones can produce good images in such situations (or you can download numerous apps and software to help), but you need to configure them correctly in the device settings. However, not every phone can handle this task effectively. The tonal range of the sensor in a digital camera is much higher than in a mobile phone, so the camera will do better in all difficult lighting situations.
Another aspect of lighting is connected with the white balance: photos that are too warm and yellowish or too blue don't present well in listings, discouraging potential clients from further exploring the offer. Cameras are equipped with automatic white balance systems and sensors that instinctively adjust to the light in the shooting location.
In reality, mobile image quality depends on how advanced the phone is, but there are plenty of models that you can use, and they will be sufficient. Taking photos with your mobile on the go means that the images are straight away, and you can instantly upload them to your website, but the quality of your images can make or break a sale.
How to choose the right camera for real estate photography
Real estate photography presents unique challenges and demands, from dealing with various lighting conditions to showcasing spacious interiors effectively. Therefore, your camera and lens choices should align with these requirements. What kind of things should you watch out for?
If you are upgrading from your mobile phone to a camera, you might be surprised that your purchase consists of 2 elements: camera body and lenses. Of course, most digital cameras are sold as sets, where you get the “body” and “kit” lens (of basic functionality, not necessarily ideal for real estate photography). However, when you check the top-of-the-range models, you usually have to make your own “set” by picking the lens separately. It is important to take that into account when you calculate your budget. The memory card is also not included, so be prepared to buy one - or better two ;).
DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) or mirrorless camera
The first dilemma would be which type of camera you should get: DSLR or mirrorless? But what does it mean?
DSLR cameras have a mirror mechanism inside the camera body. When you take a photo, the mirror flips up to allow light to hit the image sensor. The optical viewfinder in a DSLR camera shows you the exact view through the camera's lens via a mirror system. Because of that, DSLR cameras tend to be larger and heavier.
Mirrorless cameras lack the mirror mechanism. Instead of a mirror, light hits the image sensor directly, and you frame your shot using an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the camera's LCD screen. Mirrorless cameras are generally more compact and lightweight, relying on electronic displays for composing images.
We recommend buying mirrorless cameras for their versatility and portability, which might be very important in your daily real estate duties.
Virtually every digital camera has a sensor. It is one of its most crucial components because it captures the light and converts it into digital information, which forms the basis of your photographs or videos. The type and size of the sensor can vary significantly between different camera models, but the presence of a sensor is a fundamental characteristic.
The second step in choosing the right camera for real estate photography is understanding sensor sizes. There are two main types of sensors: crop sensors (APS-C sensors) and full-frame sensors. APS-C sensors are smaller than full-frame. The exact dimensions of APS-C sensors vary slightly depending on the manufacturer, but they are typically around 22mm x 15mm. Full-frame sensors are larger, approximately 36mm x 24mm, equivalent to a 35mm film frame size.
Here is a simple illustration of this:
What does it mean for you? When you choose an APS-C camera, your field of view is narrower than a full-frame sensor camera, which allows for capturing more of the scene in your frame. In real estate photography, it is an advantage. Of course, APS-C cameras can produce excellent image quality, especially in good lighting conditions. Still, this is not always the case, as you often photograph in low-light conditions, so expect more noise and fewer details at higher ISO settings compared to full-frame sensors due to their smaller size. The choice between APS-C and a full-frame camera ultimately depends on your photography needs, budget, and personal preferences. That’s why we recommend a full-frame camera, even an older model.
While real estate photography does require a semi-specific setup, there is no need to start out with the best and most expensive equipment. One of the areas that starts your budget-conscious decisions is equipping yourself with a full-frame mirrorless camera body and wide-angle lens. But as you are spoilt for choice, let’s see what kind of camera features should be important for you.
“Must have” real estate camera features
- Interchangeable lens - cameras with interchangeable lenses allow you to detach one lens and replace it with another, depending on your photographic needs. Interchangeable lenses enable photographers to adapt to various shooting situations, as different lenses have unique characteristics that make them suitable for specific types of photography. For example, wide-angle lenses are ideal for landscapes and real estate photography, while telephoto lenses are great for wildlife or sports photography.
There is such a thing as lens compatibility: lenses are typically designed to work with a range of lenses produced by the camera manufacturer and sometimes third-party lens manufacturers.
There are two main categories of interchangeable lenses: prime lenses and zoom lenses. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length, meaning they don't zoom in or out. Zoom lenses, on the other hand, provide variable focal lengths, allowing you to zoom in and out, making them versatile for various situations.
Auto modes – means that you can leave some shots to the camera’s ‘brain.’ Auto modes in cameras refer to settings and features that automate various aspects of photography, allowing even novice photographers to capture images without extensive knowledge of camera settings. These modes are designed to simplify the photographic process. Common auto modes you might use in real estate photography include:
- Auto Mode (A or Auto): In this mode, the camera takes full control over exposure settings, making it ideal for beginners or those who want a "point-and-shoot" experience.
- Program Mode (P): It is similar to Auto mode, but it allows the photographer to adjust some settings like exposure, ISO, and white balance while still maintaining automatic control over shutter speed and aperture.
- Aperture Priority Mode (Av or A): In this mode, you can set the desired aperture (f-stop), and the camera adjusts the shutter speed accordingly to achieve proper exposure. It's useful when you want to control depth of field (blurry background or sharp focus) while letting the camera handle other settings.
- Manual shooting modes – if you’re interested in learning about photography, a camera with a manual shooting mode is essential. Also, some real estate shots require manual mode only. In manual mode, you have complete control over all exposure settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO allowing precise adjustments to achieve the desired creative effects.
- Bracketing - it is a technique where a series of photos are taken at different exposure settings for the same subject or scene. These multiple shots typically include one photo at the "correct" or metered exposure, along with others that are intentionally underexposed (dark) and overexposed (bright).
- Rotating/tilting LCD screen – The main purpose of such a screen is to provide flexibility in composing shots. It allows you to frame photos or videos from various angles without having to contort yourself or the camera physically. This is particularly useful for shooting from low or high angles, achieving creative perspectives, experimenting with your compositions, or taking photos in small spaces.
- Image stabilization – It reduces the effects of camera shake and vibrations, resulting in sharper images and smoother videos. Image stabilization is particularly useful in situations where the camera is handheld and you may not have the luxury of using a tripod or other stabilization equipment. As a benefit, you get sharper images which allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds, which is beneficial for low-light photography where longer exposures are necessary. IS is invaluable for shooting smooth and stable videos. It minimizes the jittery or shaky appearance often seen in handheld footage.
- White balance modes - having some pre-defined lighting situations is good, as you will often encounter mixed light during shooting (natural light and artificial lighting fixtures). Auto White Balance Mode is convenient for everyday shooting because the camera automatically analyzes the scene's lighting and adjusts the white balance settings accordingly. Most cameras have also other white balance modes: Daylight (Sunny), Cloudy (Shade), Fluorescent, Flash, Incandescent, and Custom to help you work faster in different light settings.
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC – They are all wireless connectivity features, that help you to transfer images wirelessly to other devices, and online services, and/or control the camera remotely.
“Nice have” real estate camera features
- Full-frame mirrorless camera. We could probably tell you that most APS-C cameras would do, but things go forward really fast, and you want to have great quality, sharp, and rich-in-detail photos.
- High ISO performance – helps you capture images in low light without using a flash. The higher the number, the less light situations you can handle. However, photos taken at the highest ISO values, like 12800 (or higher), will still have noticeably lower quality. Instead, it's better to use a longer exposure time, which requires built-in stabilization or a tripod.
- Dual memory card slots – These dual slots allow photographers to use two memory cards simultaneously to extend the storage space or have an instant backup. You can configure the camera to write the same data to both memory cards, in case one card fails or becomes corrupted, minimizing the risk of data loss. But it is only really relevant if you’re a professional.
- Mic input/output – required if you’re serious about video recording. It is used when you want to capture high-quality audio with an external microphone.
- Touch screen – using smartphone gestures on your camera can be fun. They allow for intuitive control of camera settings, quick menu navigation, and touch-to-focus functionality when capturing photos or videos. Touch screens can also facilitate reviewing and zooming in on images during playback, so if you want to check if you got that photo of the kitchen all right, go ahead.
- Weatherproofing / dustproofing – These features allow to safeguard of the internal components of a camera against environmental factors like moisture, dust, and even splashes of water, so very useful if you travel a lot or shoot in all weather.
- Long battery life - It is a crucial feature, especially when shooting in remote locations or for extended periods. Battery life refers to the amount of time a camera can operate on a single battery charge. Practically speaking, you don’t want to carry a charger or multiple battery packs around.
- 4k video - 4K video in cameras refers to the ability of a digital camera to record video at a resolution of approximately 3840x2160 pixels, which is roughly four times the resolution of standard high-definition (HD) video. It is useful if you are sure you want to record films.
Marketing gimmicks - you don't need these camera features
- Blazing-fast autofocus. First, architecture work is primarily done on a tripod because both of the most popular and effective workflows depend on taking multiple exposures of each scene and blending them together to create the best result. Secondly, it’s not wildlife or sport photography, where every split second matters. The house is not “going” anywhere. because of this, your camera body does not require a class-leading dynamic range.
- More than 20-megapixel resolution. The resolution of digital cameras is measured in megapixels – one megapixel = one million pixels. When it comes to digital cameras, many megapixels matter most when ‘cropping into’ a photo or if you plan to print large pictures. Photos with more megapixels have more detail but are consequently larger in file size, meaning they can take longer to edit, send, store, and handle in general. Most cameras can choose lower resolutions if desired, which can be handy when sharing to smart devices online. In reality, even a camera with 12-15 megapixels will be great. Even most amateur and semi-professional ones offer around 24-megapixel resolution, which, by the way, we believe to be the optimal baseline for making professional architecture-based imagery, giving you a little room to crop as needed (although it is best to frame your shot so that no cropping is required). On the other hand, think of storage and post-production: do you have enough drive or cloud space to work on gigabytes of data, which is unavoidable if you opt for a 30-60 megapixel resolution camera?
- High frame rate – meaning that you can shoot multiple consecutive photos. Again, it can be useful for capturing fast-moving action - not real estate photography.
- Eye/face tracking autofocus system – advanced autofocus technology that’s limited to mirrorless cameras. It automatically and continuously tracks and focuses on a subject's eyes or face. This feature significantly improves the accuracy and speed of autofocus, making it easier for photographers to capture sharp and well-focused portraits and other subjects. Again, not useful from your perspective.
- RAW image format – This format captures and stores uncompressed, unprocessed image data directly from a camera's image sensor. Unlike common image formats like JPEG, which are processed in-camera and compressed to reduce file size, RAW files preserve all the sensor data, providing you with greater flexibility and control during post-processing. You can adjust white balance, and color depth, apply lens correction, and more.
The best cameras and lenses for real estate photography
Regarding what digital camera you should buy, there’s no one-size-fits-all option. It all comes down to your needs, so it doesn’t have to be the most advanced model. It just needs some features, as mentioned in the “must-have “section.
As hundreds of models are available on the market, we give examples from three brands, Nikon, Canon, and Sony, as the most popular (also regarding accessories and compatible additional equipment). Regardless of your choice, beware that it will connect you to the brand for some time, as there are specially dedicated lenses, filters, batteries, cables, etc., to each system.
Camera lens for real estate photography
When shopping for your first camera, it’s important to check both the availability and the pricing of lenses. The main requirement when choosing a lens for real estate work is that it is wide and ultra-wide. On an APS-C body, the longest focal length that is usable is 14mm (20mm full-frame equivalent) because the lower the number, the more “distorted photos” you get. Popular are rectilinear wide-angle lenses, even though they can capture a very wide view, they don't distort perspective and maintain object proportions.
When choosing a camera lens, pay attention to:
- Lens compatibility: There are own-brand or ‘native’ lenses that are usually the most expensive and arguably the best quality options, and there are often several third-party options, too.
- Lens mount: The lens mount is the interface between the camera body and the lens. Different camera brands and models use specific lens mounts, so ensuring that the lens you choose is compatible with your camera's mount is crucial.
- Prime or zoom lenses: Zoom lenses will be much more practical, as they allow you to zoom in and out, making them versatile for a range of situations. Also, you don’t have to fork out for many different prime lenses with different focal lengths.
- Aperture: Lenses have different maximum aperture sizes, which control the amount of light entering the camera. The aperture is indicated by the “f” symbol on the lenses. A wider aperture (lower f-number) allows for better low-light performance and shallower depth of field, ideal for creating background blur (bokeh). Because of that, the latter ones are much more expensive (yes, you pay for the extra “light”). In real estate photography, you usually work with a tripod, so there is no need to buy lenses with f2,8 or lower numbers. On top of that, you usually work with f4-f11 to get sharp and full of details images.
- Image stabilization: Some lenses come with built-in image stabilization to reduce the effects of camera shake, especially at longer focal lengths or slower shutter speeds. This is a nice to have feature.
You should avoid fisheye lenses (e.g., Samyang 8 mm). These are not so useful in interior photography due to perspective distortion. If you want to see the world through such a lens, look through the peephole of a door, which is often a popular "fisheye" view. For semi-professional or professional use, they should be considered more of a curiosity for outdoor excursions.
Best camera and lens combos for real estate photography
- Nikon Z5 body with Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2, and Nikon 17-28mm f/2.8 lens
- Nikon Z6 II with Nikkor 14-30mm f/4 S lens
- Nikon Z7 II with Nikkor14-30mm f/4 S lens
- Canon EOS RP or Canon EOS R7 (if you can spend a bit more) with Canon RF15-30mm F4.5-6.3 lens
- Canon EOS R with Canon RF14-35mm F4 L
- Canon EOS R5 or Canon EOS R6 (if you can stretch your budget) with Canon RF 14-35mm F4 L
- Sony A7R II with Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS lens or Sigma 16-28mm F2.8
- Sony A7R III with Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS or
- Sony A7R IV with Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G
Key accessories for real estate photography
A polarizing filter is indispensable when it comes to interior photography. What does it do? In short, it reduces reflections and light glares from transparent and non-metallic surfaces while enhancing color saturation. Polarizing filters can reduce reflections from windows and enhance colors. The effects are particularly noticeable when photographing buildings in full sunlight or during interior sessions with many light-reflecting surfaces, such as in bathrooms (tiles, shower cabins, mirrors) or well-lit living rooms.
You should also remember that a polarizing filter reduces the light entering the lens; therefore, you must use a longer exposure time to achieve the same exposure. Nowadays, good polarizing filters are quite affordable. Marumi Slim series products are recommended. Before purchasing, check the filter thread size on your lens. The larger the diameter, the more expensive the filters will be. Therefore, the most expensive filters are often square ones mounted in the Cokin system (used on lenses that don't have the ability to screw on filters). At the same time, the cheapest are circular filters, e.g., with a 49mm diameter.
Tripod for real estate photography
A sturdy tripod is crucial for maintaining stability and capturing sharp images, especially in low-light conditions. Firstly, it captures multiple exposures of the same frame correctly and without movement. Secondly, a tripod helps you frame and level the photo accurately.
Look for one with adjustable legs and a ball head for flexibility in framing shots. Invest in equipment from reputable brands such as Manfrotto, Benro, Velbon, 3LT, Triopo, or Peak Design.
The ability to correct axes is most important when choosing a tripod head. It should allow us to manipulate in three levels (RPY angles - roll/pitch/yaw). This involves moving the camera and correcting its deviation, height (primarily through the tripod), and tilt. Why is this so important? Primarily to avoid perspective and line corrections in the photo editing software after the session. However, keep in mind that individual rooms may have slight variations in leveling, and continuously check the level on the tripod or in the camera and make adjustments as needed.
If you know that you will use the tripod for interior photography and outdoor trips, consider the weight of the entire set and its ease of portability.
Remote shutter release
A remote shutter release, or intervalometer, can help minimize camera shake when taking long-exposure shots or bracketed photos for HDR processing. It is also useful if you photograph a small space, such as a bathroom, and don’t want to be visible in the shoot. Of course, numerous free apps nowadays can change your mobile phone into a remote shutter release, so it is not necessary.
Flash and lighting equipment
Proper lighting is essential for interior photography. Consider using external flashes, softboxes, or speed lights to balance out natural and artificial lighting. Off-camera flash setups can reduce harsh shadows and create a more balanced illumination. A basic manual flash is more than sufficient to achieve the desired effects.
How to use the flash? It's best to point its head upwards at a slight angle towards you. If you're near a wall, use it as a natural light bounce source. In that case, direct the flash at a greater angle toward the wall, aiming the head at the intersection of the wall and ceiling. The light bounced from there and then dispersed throughout the room. Apart from dedicated solutions (Nikon, Canon), check out Yongnuo 560 III. It's a durable flash with hundreds if not thousands of flashes under its belt, so it's dependable.
Remember that while having high-quality gear is important, skill and knowledge in photography techniques, composition, and post-processing are equally crucial. Even with the best and most expensive equipment, you won't achieve the desired effect without the right knowledge. Learning how to effectively use your gear and consistently produce appealing real estate photos is essential for success in this field.