Asking Santa for a new camera for Real Estate Photography? Keep reading . . .
With about a gazillion different digital cameras out there, how do you even begin to narrow down the choices? With my experience as a professional real estate photographer, hopefully I can provide you with some useful guidelines of the features that are the most important for photographing your properties.
The More MegaPixels the Better . . . Right?
No, not necessarily. Though MegaPixels may appear to be the "muscle" of a digital camera . . .
(imagine the following conversation)
"Nice little unit you got there, Chuck. How many megapixels under the hood?"
"She's running at a full 15. I can dial her down as low as 3 or 4 if I want to conserve storage space when the game goes into overtime. But otherwise, she can take the heat if I run her full out most of the time."
. . . they are really just a measure of maximum image resolution. Resolution becomes significant when you determine the final size an image is going to be printed or displayed at. Monitors have relatively low resolution compared to prints (72 dots per inch vs 300 dpi). A 10 megapixel (or 10 million pixel) image typically measures 3648x2736 pixels (multiply it out). In screen size this equates to an image that is about 50 inches by 38 inches! Overkill, for sure. In print, this same image would be about 9 inches by 12 inches--larger than a sheet of paper, such as your typical brochure.
Without boring you with the math (which you can do yourself with the information above) if you typically make 4x6 prints, a 10MP image will not give you any more noticeable quality than a 3MP image! That's right. 3MP is all you need for your typical 4x6 print. Now if you want to have some room for cropping or a larger image on the front of your brochure, it's best to go bigger. Suffice it to say, though, that an 8 or 10MP camera will be more than enough, unless you are wanting to go poster size.
Instead of paying for more megapixels, look for brands that are also known for having high quality image sensors (e.g. Canon, Nikon, Panasonic/Leica). It seems the megapixel race may be over, as many newer models have held back on the overall number of megapixels, in favor of improving things like low light image quality and dynamic range (the ability of a camera to capture a larger range of shadows to brightness and retain detail in those areas).
Wide Angle Lens
How many times have you seen photos of a home like this?
Clearly, the typical 35mm equivalent lens just doesn't do the job when it comes to real estate. Look for a camera that has a minimum of 24-28mm equivalent viewing angle. Better yet, a DSLR with lenses that are purchased separately give you the most flexibility in this area. 14mm to 24mm is the ideal sweet spot for interiors. However, DSLR's and their accompanying lenses also cost a whole lot more cash! If Santa is feeling generous, this is the way to go. If not, you need a "wide angle" lens on a point and shoot. Luckily, there are more and more models that fit this requirement. Some cameras even have a "wide angle adapter" that can be purchased separately. While not coming anywhere close to the quality of a DSLR, they may do the trick. Beware, though, of lens distortion--correct it with photo editing software (see below).
In order to avoid pictures like this . . .
. . . it is imperative to shoot with a flash. Despite all of the automatic scene settings and face recognition technology built into today's cameras, none of them yet compare to the experience of the human eye! Your eye can see across a much larger range of brightness (dynamic range, from above) and can more readily adapt as it scans a scene than any camera out there. There are times when the "smarts" in your camera are just not good enough. And when it comes to exposure--especially in interiors--this is the case more often than not!
Shooting interiors is one of the . . . yes THE . . . most challenging lighting situations. The brightness of a window can be 100-1000 times brighter than the room. If you point your camera towards the window, it will expose for that area leaving the room in the dark--something we've all seen over and over on the MLS system.
The ideal camera is one with a "hot shoe" mount for adding a more powerful flash than the ones that are typically built-in. This feature is going to be much trickier to find in a point and shoot and will definitely be at the upper end of the price range. However, at least look for a unit that has flash compensation allowing you to manually bump up the power of the flash by one or two stops. (Of course, you need to know how to force your flash to come on!)
Along the same lines, a camera that also has exposure compensation gives you additional control over the lighting. On most units with this feature, there is usually a little +/- button that allows you to adjust the exposure reading of the camera. Another definite asset for real estate photography.
Lastly, having some kind of photo editing software in your arsenal is a definite plus (Picasa is free!). Like we've already talked about, cameras don't always get it right. Adjusting things like white balance and removing color casts from different kinds of lights (incandescent, fluorescent) is important when you want paint colors to read true. Do you really want the buyer thinking the walls are peach when they are really beige??
And I'm sure we've all also experienced the results of a camera that was not held perfectly level. Being able to straighten the room out goes a long way to making your photos look and feel a whole lot more professional!
My last tidbit of advice is when you get that camera, PLEASE read the manual. No, it's not a real page-turner or suspense thriller, but you cannot possibly take decent pictures-- even with the most expensive equipment--if you do not know how to use it! An average camera in the right hands will produce much better pictures than a high-end camera in the hands of someone who clearly doesn't have a clue of what they are doing. You are wasting your money if you buy beyond your ability level. (Suggestion . . . hire someone instead!)
Any questions? Ask away! Happy shopping, and HO HO HO.