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What Type of Lens for Real Estate Photography

by Alec Druggan on Oct 9, 2019

When shooting real estate, you might not be sure of what lens to use. Different lenses have different strengths, and the best lenses for real estate photography have particularities that you may not be familiar with. What are the best lenses for a budding professional real estate photographer?

Certainly, a professional real estate photographer has a lot of choices when it comes to lenses. Different lenses will represent a similar space in distinct ways, so how can you choose the right lens to best sell a space? 

This guide will take a look at what lens should be on your camera body. We’ll cover which size angle lens will benefit you, what distinct features to look for, and how best to use these lenses to shoot real estate.

Depending on your camera body, be it cropped or full frame, lens options will vary. Instead of delving into the exact lenses for certain camera manufacturers, look for specifications of lenses. The lens is much more important than the camera sensor in professional real estate photography!

To help you best understand which lenses to invest in, this is what this guide will cover:

  • Types of lenses used in real estate photography
  • The cost of professional real estate photography lenses
  • Buyer’s guide to choosing the best lenses in real estate photography
  • Equipment necessary for real estate photography

That’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in! First, if you want to get into real estate photography, break in with this guide!

Digital camera with lens and blurred woodgrain background

Types of Lenses Used in Real Estate Photography

Generally, real estate photographers favor wide lenses for almost all use cases. On a full frame body, this typically means mid double-digit focal length. These lenses are considered ultra-wide angle lenses.

Ultra-wide lenses come in variants of both zoom and prime lenses. Prime lenses also come in tilt-shift lens versions. These are incredible for real estate photographers.

When looking to get into real estate photography, look at this freelance photographer guide.

Why Would You Use a Zoom Lens?

There are several reasons you might pick a zoom lens over a prime lens. Versatility is always number one, as zoom lenses are by definition more versatile. 

Another reason that you would pick up a zoom lens would be so that you have to carry less gear. A singular wide angle lens that can zoom covers as much ground as two, or even three, wide angle prime lenses

You might want to shoot through something using a more normal lens, like this:

Interior real estate shot of industrial loft space

Why Would You Choose a Prime Lens?

Prime lenses are an especially strong choice because they often have lower prices, larger maximum apertures, and sharper image quality. For real estate photographers, increased sharpness and lower prices are both great for business.

In terms of sharpness, a lower end prime lens will do better than a similar zoom lens because the lens’ internal elements do not move. This results in better positioning and less variance from the manufacturer. 

Because prime lenses do not need to be able to shift, they can also be cheaper. Since you’ll be taking stationary photographs of real estate that require a large depth of field, aperture doesn’t matter. Instead, look for lenses with better sharpness across a variety of fstops.

Lastly, lens weight can be a big deal. A lighter lens can be held by a lighter tripod, so pay attention to the weight of your gear. You might be better off with several prime lenses than a single zoom for a job.

Tilt-shift Prime Lenses

Tilt-shift lenses are a great tool for real estate photographers. What tilt-shift lenses do is change the angle of the focal plane relative to the camera body. This sounds super technical, so let’s break it down a bit.

A photo of a building which isn’t parallel to the building will result in a warping of the building in which it doesn’t appear straight.

A tilt shift lens will correct this issue for you in-camera by shifting your plane of view and retaining a level camera. This image below shows an example of the strange angle buildings can take on when captured with a regular lens:

Exterior home shot with slight vertical warping

You can correct this slight warping by changing the focal plane relative to your camera body when you release the shutter. Ensuring your angles are correct in your photographs is important so that clients can properly visualize the space. This is what a tilt shift lens can do for your real estate photography:

Exterior home shot using tilt shift lens

These tilt shift lenses are expensive, and they must be manually-focused. There are some ways to work around these issues and use autofocus lenses instead. Furthermore, this will allow you to not need to invest in glass which is as expensive.

The best way to get around the use of tilt shift lenses is to use the transform tool, like the one available in Adobe Lightroom CC. Here is an example of that shot from earlier and the corrected version of the image I created through some simple photo editing:

Corrected vertical warping of previous image via photo editing software

Sadly, there is a downside to doing this transform process outside of camera. You will end up cropping pictures and losing resolution from your camera’s sensor. As long as your camera’s sensor has enough megapixels, this won’t be too much of a problem!

Lastly, you may need to shoot slightly wider as your image will be cropped. If you don’t care about aspect ratio as much, this isn’t a big deal. 

How to Make the Best Use of Your Lenses

No matter the lenses you elect as best for your work, there are specific ways in which you should use them. You also need to understand why these specialized lenses are better for real estate photography than other, more typical lenses.

Ultra-wide angle lenses makes spaces look larger. The human eye sees things between 35 and 50 millimeters in focal range, relative to a full frame sensor. The lower focal lengths of ultra-wide lenses expand what we think we see, so spaces seem quite a bit larger in photos than they actually are.

Ultra-wide lenses are wide enough to show several different areas of a house in the same shot, as shown in this creative interior:

White interior staircase shot with ultra wide angle lens

You can also use these lenses to make inside spaces appear taller. In a space with limited height, you can shoot from a lower viewpoint. Pay attention that you are still including the tops of furniture, but use the spacing to your advantage to make the ceiling touch the sky.

This creative framing also applies to some of the most important images — those outside the house. In these images, you can use wider lenses to get closer to the house so that the building seems bigger. You can end up shooting the building in a way that the sides and height of the house seem larger, especially compared to their surroundings.

Common Lenses and Focal Lengths for Professional Real Estate Photographers

There are several common lenses which professional real estate photographers use. Obviously, the types of lenses mentioned above are generally the most common. But, there are some other typical lenses you can use for real estate work.

A single, main, workhorse lens is important. Knowing how to use one lens and making it your bread and butter is just as important as having a variety of lenses, if not more so. 

For most, that lens will take shape of something akin to a 16-35mm focal length lens, with an aperture of around f/4. Another similar option would be a 16mm, 18mm, 24mm, or similar focal length prime lens. In the tilt shift lens world, this is usually a 17mm or 24mm lens.

Using a slower aperture can push some elements out of focus, but not in a completely bokeh style. Here is an example:

Coffee table with centerpiece and couch in background shot with normal lens

Choosing the right lens to practice on is important. Don’t stray too far from the norm to be creative. When getting a start, it is important that you show you are just as good as your baseline competition.

Once you have proven yourself at the baseline, you can involve more creative methods. Some clients will love this, but others might want you to stick to a more conventional approach. You should be able to do both so that you can work with a variety of clients.

Cost of Real Estate Photography Lenses

Any high end, professional lenses, are going to be expensive. They often include a load of features that you may or may not need, so pay attention to these and decide what you can actually use. You don’t want to overpay on a lens simply for features that you won’t use in your field.

Make sure you shoot using a RAW file format, or else you won’t get the most out of your lens. Artificial lighting can mess with all sorts of aspects in your photos, but shooting in RAW will help. Make sure your lighting is always perfect with this tutorial.

These are some common features of lenses that can highly impact the price of the lens:

  • Prime vs. Zoom lenses
  • Specialty lenses
  • Lens sharpness
  • Widest maximum apertures
  • Native or third party lenses
  • Image stabilization

In this section, we are going to thoroughly breakdown each of these points. Then, you can judge if these options are something worth having in your real estate photography kit — and worth paying for.

Prime vs. Zoom Lenses

As mentioned above, a prime lens is usually cheaper than a zoom lens. If you can limit yourself to one focal length, this is especially true. However, there are times when a good zoom lens can be more price efficient in the long-run.

An example of this is the typical ~16-35mm or even ultra wide angle lenses, like a ~12-24mm or ~8-14mm zoom. These lenses provide much more versatility than prime lenses. A 12-24mm means that you don’t need both an ultra wide angle lens and a regular wide angle lens in your prime setup.

If you think a single zoom lens could cover your entire range of necessary focal lengths, it might not be worth investing in several prime lenses. Instead, work with a single zoom lens and keep your kits cost and weight down!

Hand holding DSLR camera with sky in the background

Specialty Lenses

Tilt shift lenses are the most common specialty lenses for real estate photographers. Tilt shift lenses are incredibly practical for the very reasons I mentioned above. However, they also suffer from several issues that might impact you.

High quality tilt shift lenses are generally expensive, especially for prime lenses. A tilt shift prime lens costs more than a prime lens of similar sharpness — often by an order of magnitude. You can attain a relatively similar image using a regular prime lens without spending as much, so weigh your options before you purchase.

Another difference is that the majority of tilt shift lenses are not weather sealed. Weather sealing might not be something you need. However, in some particularly cold or wet climates, the added security to your lenses might be something you desire as a real estate photographer.

Tilt shift lenses generally do not come equipped with autofocus — another weakness for some photographers. If you need to work at a faster pace, a tilt shift lens may not be the one for you. If, instead, you have ample time and will be paid for your extended effort, then you might enjoy using a tilt shift lens to capture perfect shots in-camera. 

I recommend renting a tilt shift lens and seeing if it works with your style and workflow. If you’re sold on it, you’ll be glad to know most of these lenses are incredibly sharp and accurate. If not, you’ve just saved yourself quite a bit of money.

Lens Sharpness

You want the sharpest lens, especially when photographing architecture. Look at sharpness calculators like DXOmark online, and see what rating they give the lens you have your eye on before you buy. 

Keep an eye on lenses with high resolving power. Resolving power is, essentially, how many megapixels a lens can actually capture. A lens with low resolving power might appear equal on two cameras with 20 and 30 megapixels respectively.

Keeping in mind resolving power, you will be able to future-proof your camera bodies. By buying a lens that is overkill now, you know that it will work perfectly on your next body a couple years down the line. A lens will last through several camera bodies, if maintained and kept responsibly.

Buy sharp lenses to start, because they do nothing but improve image quality

Widest Maximum Apertures

Widest maximum apertures are considered necessary for a lot of professional photography work. Specifically, photography genres like sports and wildlife photography require a super fast lens. 

For real estate photography, however, you don’t need a massive aperture. It might actually hurt you, as some of these lenses sacrifice image quality in order to achieve a large aperture.

There are lenses with apertures as low as f/0.95 that pale in comparison to cheaper, more robustly built, tighter aperture alternatives when it comes to image quality.

Furthermore, you likely won’t even be shooting at the widest maximum aperture of your lens. A large depth of field is important in showcasing real estate, as is image sharpness. Both of these are often most present at the smallest aperture before diffraction.

Basically, you’ll be shooting in f/8 or f/11. At this aperture, it really doesn’t matter if your lens can stop down to f/1.2, f/1.4, or f/2.8. The added weight and possible lower image quality aren’t worth the higher price tag.

This image shows a large depth of field on a wide angle lens:

Home exterior at sunset shot with large depth of field on a wide angle lens

Native or Third Party Lenses

Native lenses are lenses made by the manufacturer of your camera. For example, a Canon lens for a Canon camera, Nikon lenses for Nikon, and so on. There are some benefits and downfalls to buying native or third party lenses.

A major benefit of first party lenses is manufacturer support. You know your lens will always work on your camera, and if it doesn’t, you’ll be able to go to the company and get it replaced. However, as third party lens companies have become popular, this advantage has dwindled.

Another advantage of first party glass is usually technical quality. The lens is meant to produce the best image on the specific body, and it will. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the majority of lenses do best on their native mounts.

A disadvantage is price. Native lenses cost more for a variety of reasons. If you can get the same image out of a third party lens, don’t let the brand name tear you from it.

Image Stabilization

If your work requires photographing in poorly-lit spaces without a tripod, Image Stabilization is necessary for capturing quality images. 

How many shooting conditions could you benefit from an extra stop or even two stops of light? If you typically shoot well lit interiors and exteriors and make full use of lighting, you won’t need Image Stabilization.

If you are often shooting rooms or buildings with poor lighting, then being able to tighten down your aperture thanks to Image Stabilization will only help.

Image Stabilization is not necessary for the majority of real estate photographers, but it might be perfect for your niche. 

Buyer’s Guide to Choose the Best Lens for Real Estate Photography

If you’re looking to buy a single lens to start your real estate photography career, which should you buy? Where should you look? How do you balance price and quality?

These questions are all important ones to ask before you purchase your first lens. Some might be able to invest in a multiple lens kit to start, while others might be limited to a single high quality lens.

I heavily suggest starting with one high-quality lens over multiple random lenses. Once you’ve chosen that lens, just like almost everything in life, the most valuable skill is practice.

Let’s dive into finding the perfect lens for you!

How Do You Choose the Best Real Estate Photography Lens for You?

First, take a look at your market. Is it mainly apartments, mid sized house, or large mansions? Look at listings and deduce what real estate companies will task you with shooting.

In apartments, space is of the largest importance. Taking photos that reflect a large amount of space to the viewer is important. Look for wider angle lenses, something equivalent to ~16mm on a full frame sensor.

You might want to invest in an ultra wide zoom lens, so that you have more flexibility when shooting here. A wider zoom lens is going to let you get those great interior shots. You can also shoot wide from a hallway to make the viewer feel as though they are inside a room already. 

If you are shooting primarily houses, you might end up wanting a bit more range of focal lengths. You’re still going to want that ultra wide angle lens, especially to show off estates and larger houses. You might want a slightly focally longer prime lens to punch in on some smaller detailing. 

Where Can You Find the Best Lenses for Real Estate Photography in 2019?

There are many places where you can get your lenses, so it’s important to know your options. First, you can order directly from camera or lens retailers. Then, there are endorsed or “official” retailers, and finally, the gray market.

Camera or lens retailers are the people that make the lenses. Ordering directly from Nikon, Sony, Canon, or another brand will be more expensive, but will offer great support. Instead of buying new, these sites have renewed pages.

Renewed or refurbished lenses are another great option. They will be in mint condition, and reflect no usage from previous owners. They also tend to have great warranties.

There is very little reason not to buy manufacturer refurbished lenses. They might not always be in stock, as they are not something that they produce, rather the effect of returned or open box lenses. 

Official retailers will generally have the same pricing as the original manufacturers. They might have separate sales that can lower prices significantly for the buyer. They also might have the benefit of better warranty support.

For example, many working professionals will buy from sites like Amazon.com. Why? Because Amazon support is often faster and better when it comes to broken gear. 

Lastly, the gray market. On sites like eBay, you can find great deals on brand new lenses. The reason they are so cheap is that they are imported and will not generally be covered under warranty. For more expensive lenses, you might not want to take this risk.

What Are the Most Affordable Lenses for Real Estate Photography?

The most affordable lenses are going to be modern manual focus primes. Companies like Rokinon, Samyang, or Seven Artisans make exceptional glass for low prices.

These lenses have no electronics, so the manufacturers are able to keep prices low. These lenses often don’t even communicate their apertures to the cameras they are mounted to. With these lenses, you’ll likely have to manually focus and expose.

However, these lenses are often both incredibly sharp and some versions well built. Look into these lenses and see if you can find one that fits your camera and is of decent quality.

Another option is the used market. Lenses last a long time, so buying used from a reputable retailer like B and H or Adorama can save you a lot of money. Buying off of a gray market site can also save you money, although the used gear there is always risk.

Lastly, remember that one great lens is all you need. Don’t buy several cheap lenses thinking it will make you a better photographer. Buy one and use it until you know you need another.

Equipment Needed for Real Estate Photography 

There are a couple key pieces of gear which are fundamental to real estate photographers. The obvious are the camera and lens, and to some extent the tripod. Outside of those, additional lenses, lights, rangefinders, and remote shutter hardware are used extensively.

Then, it is also necessary to have access to a computer, Lightroom and Photoshop, or one of their alternatives. Being able to edit photos well is as important to selling them as taking them in the first place.

What Should a Professional Real Estate Photographer Use?

In terms of equipment, this is a very vague subject. Camera and lenses of the highest quality they need, obviously. Beyond that, there are many different things professional real estate photographers find useful.

Specialized gradient lens filters can help you correctly expose a scene. Many achieve the same with bracketed exposures for high dynamic range images.

You can use off camera flashes to light scenes, and then blend exposures. This method is often used by professional photographers. The images are all photoshopped together, resulting in a perfectly lit final composite image.

Sturdy tripods and heads are super important to creating a great image as well. Especially when blending exposures, any slight movement in your camera can be a problem. Invest in a great tripod once, and it might last you your career.

Good photo editing computers and software make editing a breeze. As a working professional, making sure everything works for you is important. Don’t let any part of your workflow be a hindrance if it doesn’t have to be.

The Cost of Professional Real Estate Photography Equipment

A high end camera with a large megapixel count is expensive. You may find yourself in need of a new camera or upgrade every couple of years. These cameras, like the Nikon D850, Canon 5DS, and Sony A7R line, are important for big listings.

They are not necessary, however, and many working professionals prefer to work without such large files. Look at cameras that have relatively high megapixel counts and use a professional RAW file format

Several great lenses will cost you, but you do have some flexibility. Whether you prefer zooms, primes, or tilt shift prime lenses, having several for all the shots you need is expensive. The benefit of buying high quality is how much time you can use them.

Tripods and heads are something that can last decades, and you don’t ever want to be without one. Get a pair of amazing ones and never worry about not having access at a shoot. The best of the best come from expensive companies like Really Right Stuff.

Computers and software are expensive. Pros work with both iOS and Windows, so choose whichever you’re already most comfortable with. Maintaining computer storage is very important, as is having a great monitor.

Software can cost a lot of money, especially with Adobe’s pricing model. Professionals might also need other Adobe programs, creating high upkeep costs.

Lighting is the last area where you might spend a pretty penny. Profoto makes what is widely considered the standard of lighting. It also comes with a hefty price, with a full setup able to cost five figures.

The Bare Minimum Required for Real Estate Photography

The list of expensive stuff above can really slash your wallet, but for most work, it is unnecessary.

Sure, having all the best gear can make your photos that much better. But if you haven’t spent years practicing your craft, it might not make anywhere near the difference it makes for the best. 

A camera and lens are the starting point. The newest full frame mirrorless cameras and DSLRs cost a fraction of what they used to. As do the crop sensor versions if you want to keep prices low.

As I keep repeating, one great lens is all you need. It can be a manual focussing prime lens, as long as it is sharp and you can deliver. Your work is in your hands, a camera and lens is all you need to take the photos.

Lastly, you need to be able to edit. Try Adobe alternatives! The downside of Adobe alternatives is that tutorials are not as widely shared, since they aren’t the industry standard.

Or, stick with the tried and true Adobe classics like Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s up to you!

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