Real Estate Photography – not all cameras are created equal

Commercial real estate photography

Commercial real estate space for lease in Manchester NH
Real estate photo taken with full frame image sensor and 17mm lens

commercial real estate photography

Commercial real estate space for lease in Manchester NH
Real estate photo taken with APS-C size image sensor and 17mm lens


Real estate photography today is more important now than ever before.  Over 95% of people looking to purchase residential and commercial properties use the internet to aid their search.  The properties with the best photos command the most attention.  In my last blog “Real Estate Photography – the good the bad the ugly”  I talked about what it takes to produce great real estate photography.  I narrowed it down to three factors – experience, equipment and photo software.  In this blog I’d like to talk about the equipment needed, specifically the camera and lens.  Seems pretty straight forward, buy a good camera with a lens, read the manual and go picture taking.  But there seems to be a bit of confusion about which camera and lens combination is best for real estate photography.  I’ll try to demystify some of the problems that arise when different cameras and lenses are used for real estate today.  By the way, this blog grew exponentially from what I had originally intended and I apologize in advance for its length.

Photography today is ubiquitous.  You have a smart phone?  You’re a photographer.  But most people know that a device used for communication is not going to compete with a device designed for image capture when image capture is the objective.  On the flip side a camera makes a pretty lousy phone.  With that in mind, many realtors spend good money on good camera equipment and their family photo memories reflect this.  So why is it that everyday memories are captured with great success yet when they aim the same camera toward real estate subjects the pictures are mediocre at best?  Its not entirely their fault.  Real estate photography is tricky business even for professionals.  The camera equipment the pros use is different from the cameras most others use.  Why?  Expense mostly.  A good camera for real estate starts around $2,500 – without a lens.  A good lens for real estate photography can run you $650 to $3,000.  On the other hand, a decent point and shoot camera starts around $300 and a good digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera can be had for around $500, with a lens.  All three camera types will take great photographs of everyday events but lets examine some of the features this price differential affords the consumer.  I happen to use Canon cameras, am familiar with their features and because of this fact will use them in my examples.  Just for the record, I am not disputing the fact that other manufacturers make great cameras for multiple applications including real estate photography, because they do.

In the early 1900’s 35mm still cameras were introduced and became the standard of the twentieth century.  When people talked about lenses on cameras they compared lens perspective as it compared to their eyesight’s perspective.  A “normal” lens or 50mm had about the same perspective as the human eye.  Objects relative to each other when photographed with a 50mm lens appeared to have the same spacial relationship in a picture as they would appear if we were looking at them.  Wide angle lenses offered a wider angle of view than a “normal” lens but objects didn’t maintain the same perspective.  The perspective was exaggerated.  Things that were close to the lens looked huge while things further away looked smaller than they would to the human eye. Because 35mm film was a standard we could compare lenses relative to each other.  If a 50mm lens was considered “normal” then a 35mm lens was considered to be wide angle and a 21mm lens was considered to be ultra wide angle.  These lenses offered wide angles of view but exaggerated perspectives.  On the other side of the range a 90mm lens was considered to be a medium telephoto, a 135mm lens considered to be telephoto and lenses beyond 200mm were considered extreme telephotos.  These lenses had a very narrow angle of view but magnified distant objects and made them appear closer.  In real estate photography, wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses are employed to convey as much of an exterior or interior space as is possible.  I shoot with a 17mm lens – ultra wide angle – and wouldn’t recommend anything less than a 24mm lens as it compares to 35mm photography.

The photos above represent the angle of view captured by two different cameras using the same lens.  Both cameras recorded the same scene from the same position.  Wait a minute.  Did he just say “same lens, different cameras?”  The photographs above look like they were taken using the same camera but with different lenses, right?.  Nope, the lens used was the same – a 17mm Canon lens.  The top photo was taken using a professional grade camera with a full frame image sensor – about the same size as a frame of 35mm film.  A Canon 1dsMkII to be exact – cost when introduced about $7,000 in June of 2004.  The second photo was taken with a consumer camera with professional features (aka a pro-sumer camera) with a APS-C size image sensor – about 33% smaller than a frame of 35mm film.  This camera was a  Canon Rebel T4i – cost when introduced about $700 in June of 2012.  The differences are many but for this comparison, the biggest difference between the two cameras, beside the $6,200 price tag, is the image sensor size.  The image sensor in the more expensive camera is approximately 33% bigger.  I am going to give you the short version of what this means.  If you want a more in-depth explanation, this article by from TechRadar does a great job of explaining sensor size in cameras.  You can read the article by clicking on this link: Sensor size explained. If the Canon 1dsMkII has an image sensor that is approximately 33% bigger than the Canon Rebel 4Ti then the converse is also true.  The Rebel 4Ti sensor is approximately 33% smaller than the 1dsMkII.  What that means in respect to taking pictures is, if I want the angle of view to be the same in both pictures, I’ll need to use a lens on the Rebel that offers a 33% wider angle of view to match the perspective of the Canon 1dsMkII.  Again, the lens I used was 17mm.  If I want the same result from the camera with the smaller image sensor I would have to use a lens that was 10.625mm –  a lens that captures a wider angle of view than the 17mm lens.  To put it another way, if I want to mimic the photograph taken with the Rebel (smaller image sensor) and 17mm lens with the 1dsMkII (larger image sensor) I’d have to use a lens on the 1dsMkII that was approximately 27.2mm – a narrower angle of view.  If trying to wrap your head around this makes you insane, you’re not alone.  I purchased the Canon Rebel 4Ti with a zoom lens that goes from 18mm at its widest to 135mm at its maximum zoom.  This would offer the equivalent view of a zoom lens that was 28.8mm at its widest to a maximum zoom of 216mm on the larger sensor camera.  If you want to take real estate photos with a camera with an APS-C sized sensor, like the Canon Rebel, you will have to purchase a very very wide angle lens.  Canon offers a 10mm – 22mm lens for about $650 on today’s market that would do the job.  So, for about $1,400 you can purchase a camera and lens that will give you a decent foundation for real estate photography today.

Image sensor size is an important consideration when making a camera equipment purchase for real estate.  Of course, knowing how to use the camera is also important but don’t worry.  If you would rather stick to taking the family photos I would be happy to photograph your real estate properties for you!

Thanks for reading – Chuck