Do we need a wide angle lens

What focal length do I need for real estate photos?

If you want to photograph an interior in full format, you often have to choose a large angle of view. This is provided by a wide-angle lens, recognizable by a small focal length value. However, such a strong wide angle also has negative effects - photos appear to be more spacious, images appear distorted and the image quality at the edges of the image is poor.

  • So how far can you go?
  • Which focal length fits which camera?
  • Which lenses are recommended?

In my workshops on the subject of real estate photography, these questions always come up when it comes to the right equipment. So I wrote down some basic ideas. At the end of the article I will also give recommendations for lenses with a suitable focal length and good quality.

Why wide angle?

When we enter a normally sized room, for example a rectangular room 4 mx 3.5 m, we can immediately see the room in its entirety with our eyes. This is because we have two organs of vision that are next to each other, they are arranged at a slight angle to the sides in the skull and the light-sensitive elements (pupils) are also mobile. We thus arrive at a field of view of over 200 °. In a fraction of a second, our brain can process overlaps in the information from both eyes, compensate for distortions and thus save a “corrected” image.

That is why the photographer's choice is wide-angle lenses. Because they can show a large angle of view. However, the comparison to the human field of vision is sad: With extreme wide-angle focal length we just come to a horizontal angle in landscape format of around 125 °. In addition, recordings produced with it are full of aberrations that do not provide us with a realistic image of the space being photographed: Distortions and distortions as well as blurred image edges without straight edges are the order of the day.

Different horizontal angles of view (landscape format) in a standard room (4 x 3.5 m) in comparison. Man and camera (full format) are each in position for the frequently used corner perspective.
1) human field of vision (including peripheral perception)
2) Normal focal length 50 mm - only a fraction of the space is shown.
3) Lower standard zoom and frequent smartphone focal length 28 mm - The goal of showing at least three walls is not achieved.
4) Upper superzoom focal length 24 mm - informative recording possible
5) Lower superzoom focal length 18 mm - informative recording possible
6) Ultrazoom focal length 14 mm - recording possible, strong distortions are to be expected.

For this reason, architecture and real estate photographers are always looking for the best compromise. If you want to depict a normal room holistically, you need a wide-angle lens, but you must not exaggerate your selection in order to make the image appear realistic.

Focal length and crop factor

Different focal lengths provide different viewing angles. Therefore, a distinction is essentially made between three main categories:

  • The so-called normal focal length is 50 mm. One such Normal lens provides roughly the image scale that we perceive with one eye.
  • A lens with a longer focal length is called Telephoto lens designated. It shows a smaller section of the picture, enlarges the subject, objects appear closer. Lenses with a very long focal length are also known as super telephoto.
  • A lens with a smaller focal length is a Wide angle lens. It shows a larger image section, reduces the subject, objects appear further away. Lenses with a very small focal length are also known as super wide-angle, those with extremely small focal lengths as ultra-wide-angle.

This information initially only refers to cameras with a large, so-called Full format-Sensor. Its dimensions correspond roughly to the format of slides or negatives from analogue photo times (24 x 36 mm). However, many modern cameras have built in sensors with smaller dimensions for reasons of cost and space. Other values ​​apply to the focal length categories. If you still want to orient yourself to the standard categories (wide angle, normal, telephoto), you can offset the focal length read on the lens with a reduction factor and thus compare it well. This value is also known as Crop factor (crop, English for cutout).

  • The factor for that DX-Sensors of the cameras from the entry-level segment from Nikon and Sony is 1.5.
  • For the APS-CSensors of the simpler Canon SLR cameras, it is 1.6.
  • For sensors in Micro four thirdsCameras are calculated by a factor of 2.
  • For Smartphones depending on the model, it is around 10.

This is why the same focal length specifications on different types of cameras produce different angles of view. To make it easier to understand, the calculated values ​​are rounded.

Overview of the focal length categories taking into account the sensor size

DX format (Nikon, Sony) / APS-C format (Canon)

There are now lenses that are calculated for the smaller sensor sizes (and still have optically correct focal lengths for the full format). If you use this on cameras with a larger sensor, only a small image circle is displayed. This leaves a black border (3). On the other hand, lenses for large sensors can also be operated on cameras with smaller sensors. In this case, only a part in the middle of the image projected into the camera is used (2).

Connection variants full format (FX) and DX / APS-C format
1. Image circle of the lens matching the camera sensor (FX + FX or DX + DX): The round image circle of the lens is optimally used by the rectangular camera sensor.
2. DX camera and FX lens: Only a section of the image circle of the lens is used by the smaller sensor. This causes a section to be enlarged.
3. FX camera and DX lens: The small image circle of the DX lens cannot use the entire surface of the large sensor. Shadows on the short edges of the picture are possible.

Zoom or fixed focal length?

Many professional photographers swear by the use of prime lenses. Although the focal length on the lens cannot be adjusted - it is fixed - such lenses often produce the best picture quality. They have fewer moving elements and therefore make better use of the space available in the lens to control the light beams. However, you would need several suitable lenses for different scenarios (e.g. different room sizes).

That is why there are zoom lenses in which you can adjust the focal length, i.e. the angle of view on the lens, within a specified range. With these optics, the photographer is much more flexible, but accepts a slight loss of quality in the image. (Admittedly - these are often only visible to the photo professional.) Since real estate professionals have to photograph many different scenarios and they like to travel without heavy luggage, a single one is really good Wide angle zoom lens the basic requirement. In addition, additional lenses can be added later for special tasks (details, panoramas).

What focal length for real estate photos?

So if you want to take full-format images of an average-sized room, then the smallest focal length should have the following value:

  • Full format: between 18 and 24 mm
  • DX / APS-C format: between 12 and 18 mm
  • MFT format: between 9 and 12 mm

With this focal length range, for example, interiors can be created according to all the principles of photography (camera alignment, image composition, etc.) as well as in the technically acceptable range (edge ​​curvature, color fringing, blurring at the image edge). The last-mentioned errors become smaller and smaller when a larger focal length is selected. Therefore, a small increase in the focal length is sometimes enough.

Tip 1: If you buy a lens with one slightly larger focal length range than mentioned above (for example 10 - 24 mm for DX), you can easily eliminate the image errors at the maximum focal length by only taking photos from 12 mm. For an absolute emergency you still have a 2 mm focal length available as a reserve.

Tip 2: There are also so-called Super zoom lenseswhich cover a very large range of focal lengths, from wide-angle to telephoto lenses. However, these have two disadvantages for real estate photos: 1. The lower limit in the wide-angle range usually does not come close to the required angle of view. 2. Because of the many lens elements for the many focal lengths, the quality often suffers at the required extreme settings.

What about smartphones?

Smartphones usually have a focal length that is around 28 mm compared to the full frame, depending on the model. Therefore, current models are hardly suitable for real estate photography.

Recommendations for good camera lenses for real estate photography

Maybe one thing in advance. When you buy a new camera, it's best to get it without standard optics. These so called kit lenses are often from poor quality. Then use the savings for a really good wide-angle zoom that suits your system. An old photographer saying goes: "A good lens is at least as expensive as the camera body." This is also based on the consideration that one lens can often continue to be used across several camera generations from the same manufacturer and the same camera class. For example, my first Nikon lens from 1991 is also working on my professional SLR camera and is still producing first-class photos.

These are the recommendations, arranged according to the zoom lenses most commonly used for real estate (excluding Sony). The links lead to detailed information on Amazon.de.

Full frame (FX)

Nikon

for example for the following cameras:
D4, D5, D610, D750, D810, D850

Canon

for example for the following cameras:
1DXII, 5DIII, 5DIV, 5DS, 6DII

Sony

for example for the following cameras:
A7 series, A9, RX1R, RX1RII

DX / APS-C format

Nikon

for example for the following cameras:
D500, D3000 / D5000 / D7000 series

Canon

for example for the following cameras:
7DII, 70D, 80D, 100D, 200D, 700D, 750D, 760D, 1200D

Sony

for example for the following cameras:
A3000, A5000, A5100, A6000, A6300, A6500

Micro Four Thirds Format (MFT)

Olympus / Panasonic

for example for the following cameras:
GH4, GH5, E-M1, E-M10, E-M20

Further equipment recommendations

I post and update a number of gear recommendations on this website. You can find them on the following pages: