If you're interested in getting into real estate or architectural photography there are a number of things to consider, the main one being the type of gear you should use.
Today I will showcase a number of photos of the same house taken with different cameras and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each one. Note that the photos were taken at different angles and times.
To start, I'll get right to the point and talk about the preferred gear to use and end with the least preferred gear you can use that, with a little bit of work, can give you decent photos.
The photo above is an example of the optimal gear that is preferred not only for real estate photography, but architectural photography as well.
This was taken with a full frame Canon 6D. Generally speaking full frame gives the best image quality...in the right hands, especially for low light shooting. The lens used was a Rokinon 24mm f3.5 tilt shift lens which is manual focus only. Without going into too much detail about what a tilt shift lens is, let's just say it's a niche lens that every real estate and architectural photographer should own. You adjust the tilt on the lens to tweak the plane of focus and maximize depth of field. The shift feature of the lens is what I used for the above photo and what that does is allow for perspective control and adjustment. In this case I set the dial to the extreme left, took a shot, then to the middle and took a shot, then to the extreme right and took a shot. Then it was stitched together in Photoshop to provide a nice distortion-free panorama shot. Note that in order to get all three shots with the same exposure, manual mode was used.
Adjustments were also done to increase the tonal contrast and tweak the color. The photo was also sharpened to bring out the details.
An important point to consider if you want to take accurate photos of a property is the tripod and the ball head used. If you want light and sturdy, better invest in a carbon fiber tripod. The only head I will use for this type of photography is a geared head for micro or fine adjustments. This is so important for architectural photography. I used an older Gitzo aluminum tripod for this and the following photos and it's very stable although if I'm going from job to job, I'll use a carbon fiber tripod to cut down on any weight I can.
So what are the weaknesses? Cost is one, and you certainly get what you pay for here. Another is the weight - it's a bigger camera than your run of the mill point and shoot.
The above photo was also taken with a Canon 6D but with a different lens - a Tokina 16-28mm. It was taken at about 17mm so a bit wider than the tilt shift lens. This is a lens I would use indoors more often. The wide end at 16mm gives the allowance you need to get a shot of the whole room in a tight space. Sometimes this kind of ultra wide angle lens makes a room look bigger than what it actually is...some realtors prefer this, some don't.
So the good thing about this lens is if I do have some room to play with, I can move back a bit and zoom in say to 24mm and minimize distortions while still getting the whole room in the frame.
This photo is a blend of six different exposures. The Canon 6D does have a built-in HDR function that will take a series of photos and combine them into a High Dynamic Range photo. But for me, it's about the control - I need to blend them manually to get just the right look.
As you can see with this lens, distortion is almost nil. This is one of my favorite ultra wide angle lens to use that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
The photo above was taken with a Canon SL2. This has an APS-C sized sensor which means whatever lens you use for this camera has to be multiplied by 1.6 to get the full frame equivalent focal length. The lens used for this shot was the Canon 10-22mm STM and by multiplying the focal length I used for this photo (10mm x 1.6) we get 16mm, which is the same wide end of the Tokina 16-28mm I talked about in the above paragraph.
As you can see the image quality is still decent coming from this smaller sensor. And the lens is definitely wide enough and also with minimal distortions. There are quite a few real estate photographers happily using this lens.
Because of the time of day (very bright) I was worried that the dynamic range would not be enough to account for blown highlights so I took five different exposures and blended them in Photoshop which resulted in a more accurate tonal range.
Strengths would be that it is definitely a more affordable camera, light with quick auto focus and with great battery life. I can't say too much about weaknesses. The only one I can think of is lower dynamic range compared to a full frame and because it's a crop sensor, tilt shift lens would not work as well.
Please excuse the above photo, but it's an example of what you can encounter when you do not frame your photo properly using a wide angle lens.
This photo was taken with an Olympus E-M5 Mark 2 and M.Zuiko 9-18mm wide angle lens. The sensor on this camera is a 4/3 sensor which is smaller than APS-C but still very close in image quality. This model has a dedicated HDR button (I didn't use it) which takes three quick shots in succession and processes a High Dynamic Range photo in-camera. Also, lens distortion is accounted for in-camera as well which means less time editing at the computer.
A definite strength is a small, powerful piece of kit with great image quality, portability, lens selection and handy features that can help you save time. There's even a keystone correction feature built-in that basically allows you to adjust and correct for image distortion before you take the shot.
Getting back to that HDR button - I think it's a very handy option if you're in a rush but personally, I'd rather use the option of having 5 to 7 bracketed exposures then take those into Photoshop where I have total control of how they are blended. Come to think of it, I don't think I used exposure bracketing here as well. I must have been in a real rush then at the time but it does pretty well for a single shot with minor post processing.
Weaknesses? I'd say cost - this type of camera is small but packs powerful features. There's a premium for that. Lenses can range from cheap to very pricey. Choices for everyone.
The above was taken at 24mm with a Canon SX50 which is a small sensor, fixed zoom lens camera. Actually, it's a great camera for birding because it zooms in really far. But as a real estate camera it can hold its own in image quality in the right light. Once it ventures indoors, it needs a little help from off-camera flash or exposure bracketing.
This was a series of three photos taken (exposure bracketed) then digitally blended in Photoshop. For use on the web, it's perfectly fine but for print in an architectural or high end real estate magazine - stick with full frame.
Strengths - you can find these on the internet cheap nowadays and if you know a little bit about flash photography and post editing and you know the limits of this camera, this can do just fine for real estate photography. It's is light, portable and at the wide end it's 24mm which is fine.
Weaknesses - image quality in low light not as good. Can blow highlights so get a bigger memory card to hold all those exposure bracketed shots and learn how to blend them in Photoshop.
This last photo is an example of what can be achieved using old technology. This was from a circa 2006 Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ-50. It is well known as a great bridge camera with a small, older CCD sensor. The lens on this camera has a wide end of 35mm, already stated at full frame equivalency on the lens. Speaking of which is made by the venerable Leica company.
Now 35mm at the wide end is actually not wide enough so I attached a Raynox .6x wide angle adapter bringing it wider at around 24mm. As you can see it does just fine for older tech. I just had to make sure I shot it in RAW to retain as much information as possible so I had some head room to adjust it in post editing.
Strengths - if you know what you're doing and again know the limits of your camera, you can do fine with older technology. Something like this can be found really cheap on the internet if you're on a tight budget. The lens is really nice and in good light pictures come out with nice colors and are sharp.
Weaknesses - image quality not so great in low light. You need to shoot RAW and account for noise. You will definitely need some post processing skills to maximize image quality. And finally, the LCD screen is tiny, so be ready to cope with that and make sure you have your reading glasses on if you need them. Indoors you may need to use flash photography or use a tripod and expose for highlights, midtones, and shadows (three shots) then blend in Photoshop.
So in closing, if you can afford the best by all means use it especially if you plan to do architectural photography as well. But just as I showed, you can use lesser cameras at a cost savings as long as you know the limits of the camera and can get the best out of its files in post processing.
Just remember, at the end of the day it's mainly about the photographer not just the gear and as long as we know our tools and limits we can then focus on giving our clients the best service in terms of quality, reliability and time savings.