Buyer’s Guide: 2011 Digital CamerasIt’s easier than ever to showcase listings in photos and video with the 2011 class of digital cameras. Review our guide to find the right one for you.By Michael Antoniak March 2011
In This Guide
- What Matters for Real Estate
- Shopping Glossary
- What Your Peers Are Using
- Product Slide Show
- Shop by Budget
Want that picture-perfect solution for showcasing your listings in photos — and video?
The latest line-up of digital cameras, some just arriving on store shelves, pack the combination of optics performance and automation to make it easier than ever to capture stunning stills and movies. Factor in the aggressive pricing that’s pervading all tiers of the digital camera market, and you’ve got ample reasons to consider buying one of these versatile new models, no matter how old your current camera is.
Ultimately, any camera is only as good as the person behind the lens. For the showcase images sellers expect and buyers respond to, your camera should be a perfect fit to your hand, skills, and photographic aspirations.
Savvy sellers presume you’ll promote their property on the Web with virtual tours and brief videos. Most of the newest cameras are up to both tasks, able to capture high-resolution photos and record HD video, giving you one handy device for all your imaging needs.
Another standard feature is a wide-angle lens. Thankfully, all the cameras included in this year’s product guide now boast a 28 mm–equivalent lens or wider. For Real Estate Photography, consider that a requisite: Only with a wide-angle can you get close enough to fit an entire home or room in a picture and give buyers some idea of all that’s there.
But your wide-angle options no longer end with the lens: Software built into many cameras can automatically stitch together a series of images to build a seamless panoramic photo. When there’s a great view or an expansive interior or exterior, such dramatic shots effectively convey that appeal.
A few cameras can even capture 3-D images of scenes. Viewing those, at least for now, requires a special 3-D television or monitor. Still, it’s a novelty today that could become an effective marketing tool for distinct properties in the future
Such impressive features are products of continued refinements in the image sensors, advances in lens optics, and increasingly sophisticated software controlling these cameras. The best-in-class single lens reflex cameras now boast 18 megapixel image sensors, while compacts go as high as 16 MP. There are comparable advances in optical zoom. In the expanding class of multizoom compacts, a 16X optical zoom seems almost routine, and a few cameras now boast zoom ranges as high as 32X.
But it’s the software built into these cameras that ultimately makes them such versatile tools — provided you take time to explore your camera’s features and master its operation. Set any camera in its automatic mode, half-press the shutter to set the focus, then click, and the camera can take care of the rest. But when you’re ready to improve your photographic skills, some models now include internal guides to teach you how to take better pictures right on the camera’s liquid-crystal display.
Practically all of today’s digital cameras can take great pictures and acceptable video. Accordingly, deciding which gets your dollar requires you to assess your skills and creative goals as a photographer, identify which features will allow you to make more compelling presentations of your listings, and set a budget range.
A prime selling point of new models is usually the megapixel rating of cameras, but it’s not that relevant to your needs; 10 MP is more than adequate for images destined either for the Web or print flyers and marketing materials.
Before you shop, take a good look at your smartphone. As digital cameras are improving, so are the imaging capabilities now standard to many phones. Yours may be good enough for a quick photo or video to e-mail to clients. Its imaging capabilities should suggest what additional features you’ll want from a dedicated camera.
Even today’s no-frills models — some selling for less than $100 — offer at least 10 MP image resolution, a 3X zoom, and VGA video recording. That combination can get anyone started with property photos or equip you with a very affordable second camera to keep in your car.
As you move out of the low end, features and options open up in all directions. For real estate, shopping points include higher-quality lens optics, wider zoom ranges, HD video recording capabilities, and features and settings that take the guesswork out of the photographic process. The size and quality of the LCD screen — especially in bright sunlight — are critical; most compact cameras no longer offer a viewfinder for framing photos. Touchscreen LCDs, which mimic smartphone controls, may seem a convenience worth having. With video, the ability to use zoom while recording is a feature you might find valuable, but it’s not standard in all cameras.
As you move to the upper end of the market, you’ll find a mix of automated features with manual control, allowing you more options. Serious amateurs and aspiring pro shooters will still want all the versatility of a digital SLR. If you’re new to that category, be aware that the price of any DSLR kit — a lens and body — is typically your starting point. You’ll want to consider extra lenses to take full advantage of your DSLR.
Whatever your budget and whatever type of camera you’re considering, you’ll serve yourself well by actually visiting a camera or electronics store and trying several models before making your decision. As much as the features vary, so do the design and styling of the cameras and the set-up of user controls.
lens mm equivalent: While SLR cameras use full-sized lenses, compact cameras’ lenses are much smaller. To let you know how much of the scene they’re grabbing, compact camera manufacturers provide the equivalent full-size measurement. Smaller lengths provide wider views.
DSLR: A digital single-lens-reflex camera includes both the ability to change lenses and the ability to see what you’re photographing through the lens into a viewfinder via a mirror that lifts when you snap your photo.
f-stop: The f-stop (f/2 for example) describes the size of the lens aperture that allows light into the camera. Because it’s a ratio, the lower the f-stop number, the more light that camera can gather. A lens at f/2 allows twice as much light as a lens at f/4.
Four Thirds: An interchangeable lens standard, its lack of a mirror and viewfinder allows for more compact camera bodies and lenses while offering the versatility of a full-sized SLR.
Image stabilization: A feature that compensates for the slight movement of a camera when a picture is taken, reducing blur and providing a sharper image.
HD video: High-definition video equaling today’s HD televisions and monitors. Depending on the camera, HD video may be recorded at 720 or 1080 lines of resolution.
Megapixel: Expressed as a number representing millions of pixels, the megapixel rating describes the amount of information gathered by the camera’s image sensor. The higher the MP rating, the larger the prints that can be produced from that camera. (Read this explanation how MP rating determines print size.)
Optical zoom: The ability of a lens to bring a scene closer, as opposed to digital zoom, which merely enlarges the pixels that the sensor sees.
Stitching: Combining one or more images to create a single panoramic or wide-angle view. With in-camera or automatic stitching, the camera matches and combines several shots into a single, seamless image.
Touchscreen LCD: A touch-sensitive monitor that lets you control the camera’s settings and operation and review and edit images and recordings.
Wide-angle lens: A lens that captures a wider view than a normal lens. A compact camera’s wide-angle lens will be described as equivalent to a 28 mm lens or shorter on a full-sized camera.
“Focus on the Lens”
“Megapixels are overrated. The most important things you want in a digital camera are great optics and a fast, wide-angle lens,” says Glenn Ritchie, e-PRO, of First Team Real Estate in Fullerton, Calif. He should know: Before his real estate career, Richie was a professional photographer. His current camera is Panasonic’s Lumix LX5 with a 24 mm–equivalent wide-angle lens, purchased last year.
“Try and tell a story about the house with your camera,” he advises real estate professionals who may not share his background. “Step back and analyze each shot before you take it; think in terms of how you want it to look and how what you see will appear in the picture.”
He offers these simple tips: Remove clutter; learn how to properly focus the camera; don’t shoot interiors against bright windows; steady your hand or use a tripod; and use elements within the scene to frame the picture. “When shooting the exterior, go in midday and you can’t go wrong, as far as lighting goes,” he says.
“The Photo Enthusiast”
Loreena Yeo, broker/owner of 3:16 Team Realty in Frisco, Texas, keeps two cameras: Sony’s DSC-TX 1 compact and Canon’s EOS Rebel T1 DSLR. The Sony compact is always with her for quick photos and recording video tours. “When I want to take pictures to promote a listing, I bring along my digital SLR and wide-angle lenses,” Yeo says.
A serious photographer, she’ll spend an hour taking more than 100 photos, inside and outside, in her quest for a few pictures that convey the home’s appeal. “A lot of [real estate pros] take every picture from eye level, and that’s not always the best shot,” she explains. “Just bend your knees a little and try different angles, and you’ll be surprised by the results.”
She recommends evaluating your aspirations as a photographer before buying your next camera. “If you don’t know a lot about photography or aren’t that interested, start with a good point-and-shoot with a wide-angle lens, and you’ll probably be happy with the video and stills.”
Considering a digital SLR? Decide whether you’re ready for that kind of commitment. “By the time you add the cost of camera body, several lenses, and software like Photoshop, you’re really talking about an investment of at least $2,500, so you want to make sure you really are that serious,” she cautions.