Updated: Aug 13, 2020
In this post we are going to dive into a question that I see that comes up all of the time: “what is the best lens to use for real estate photography?”
So there are some good options out there as far as lenses go for real estate photographers but which one is right for you? In this post, I’m going to break down the pros and cons on some of the most popular Sony lenses for RE photographers. If you’re not a Sony user don’t go away just yet because many of the characteristics we are going to discuss have to do with focal length and are relevant across brands so there will be value in this post for you as well. I am a full time real estate photographer with 10 years experience and I shoot over 1000 listings a year so I’ve really spent a lot of time with these lenses and have gotten to know what’s good and bad about them from a real estate photography standpoint. The three main lenses we are going to discuss are the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM, the Sony Zeiss 16-35 f/4, the Sony 12-24 f/4 G lens and the Tamron 17-28 f/2.8.
Before we get into it, let me start by saying there are a ton of reviews out there on these lenses already testing them on their technical aspects and I will summarize some of that info here but this site is all about real estate photography and this review will be about how well these lenses perform doing the tasks that we need them for as real estate photographers.
Sony 16-35mm F/2.8 GM
So this is the 16-35 f/2.8 Sony GM and (spoiler alert) this is my current go to lens. It is also the most expensive lens of the bunch by far at $2200. Is it worth it? That is highly debated and we will get into the reasons why.
Out of the sharpness tests that I’ve seen, the GM is the sharpest overall lens out of this bunch. A couple of the other lenses may be slightly sharper at certain apertures but the GM stays pretty consistently sharp throughout the entire zoom range and at almost all apertures. The same cannot be said about the rest of the lenses in this group. And you may say, “But why does that matter? We’re shooting real estate, I’m always shooting at around f/8”. For the most part, you are right, but that’s not true for video. Since our shutter speed is pretty much staying put for video, we are using a wide range of apertures. Also, the f/2.8 aperture also comes in handy with photography as well in getting some detail shots with some bokeh. Agents really love it. In addition, this is the only lens in the group that has the AF/MF switch. A small thing but it definitely comes in handy and is a nice feature. Also, as you might expect, the GM has the best build quality of all of these lenses. It is a robust beast! I can definitely tell you as well that the GM also handles flaring considerably better than the other lenses because of the special coatings it has. This is especially good for us for those exterior shots when we cannot avoid having to shoot directly into the sun. Because this lens has less quality limitations on it like the others do is the main reason why I think it was worth it for me to make the leap and get this lens. I don’t know about any of you but for me, the demand for RE videos has been skyrocketing recently and I’m predicting it’s only going to continue to do so in the coming years. Also, this is my full time profession and I want the best tool for the job and I believe it is this lens. Period. It is expensive but I believe that justifies it. Do you disagree? Leave a comment below!
So as far as cons go for this lens, I’d say the biggest is the price as I mentioned. A $2200 price tag is pretty cost prohibitive for a lot of people, especially if you’re just starting out. In fact, if you are just starting out I wouldn’t recommend jumping to this lens straightaway. I would start with one of the less expensive ones and as your business grows and expands and becomes full time then consider making the jump. Another downside of this lens is the size and weight. It’s the biggest of all of these lenses. If you are using it for real estate videos and throwing it on a gimbal then you are going to need one of the more robust gimbals like the Ronin S or Zhiyun Crane 2 to be able to support it. I don’t find that the size really wears me out though or annoys me and I am willing to sacrifice size for quality any day so I don’t personally find it to be that big an issue. Also, there is no built-in stabilization in this lens. This is a non issue for real estate photographers for photography as we are always shooting on a tripod however for video it is definitely important. Most A7 series cameras have 5 axis image stabilization built in so I find that does most of the heavy lifting anyway. I’ve used both stabilized and unstabilized lenses shooting video on a gimbal and haven’t noticed any difference on how stable my shots were between the two honestly. Maybe if you shot handheld it would make more of a difference but we aren’t doing that in real estate videos anyway.
Sont 16-35mm F/4 Zeiss:
Another popular choice for real estate photographers is the 16-35 f/4 Zeiss. I used this lens for many years before finally getting the GM and it is a pretty solid choice and not a bad price coming in at around $1250. It performs fairly well and is significantly smaller and lighter than the GM. It definitely did the job for me for a long time but there are some drawbacks to it, mostly in the video department but some with photos as well. The lens is pretty sharp around f/8 which is the aperture I use for the vast majority of time while shooting photos. So for RE photos, it’s mostly great. No real complaints there as long as you are shooting mostly wide. It does get significantly softer when zooming in past around 24mm. If you’re shooting anything wide open at f/4, like for example when shooting video, get ready for some loss of sharpness there as well. The GM is considerably sharper at f/4. Build quality is good but obviously not as good as the GM and the metal casing scratches quite easily. The lens also comes equipped with OSS, Sony’s built-in lens stabilization. Not sure how much of an advantage that is in our world. As I stated earlier, IBIS does most of the work and I haven’t noticed any difference in the stability of my video shots between this lens and the GM which does not have OSS. The cost is big plus being a thousand dollars cheaper than the GM. If you’re just getting started or not doing REP full time I think this lens is probably the way to go. It gets the job done and does a nice job doing it and it is affordable.
Sony 12-24mm f/4 G:
Next up we have the Sony 12-24mm f/4 G lens priced at around $1675. Some REPs go with this lens because it goes wider at 12mm which is my main gripe with it. In my opinion, it is simply too wide and too extreme. At 12mm, things just look really far away. The 16-35 focal range just has a more natural and pleasing look to me. Also, if your camera is not perfectly level, like when shooting video for example, the distortion is crazy. The lens is pretty much useless for video unless the camera is locked off on a tripod, not moving and perfectly level which is not doing any of us any good. It also has a bulbous front element which means you’re not screwing any filters on it. If you ever wanted to explore using a polarizer filter like a lot of real estate photographers do, it's not happening with this lens. Also, it is over $400 more expensive than the 16-35 f/4 and has more drawbacks for REPs as far as I’m concerned. If you were debating between this and the 16-35 f/4, the 16-35 would be the clear winner in my opinion.
Tamron 17-28 F/2.8:
The last lens we are going to talk about is the Tamron 17-28 f/2.8. Full disclosure, I do not own this lens nor have I used it but as it is a wide angle lens that may appeal to real estate photographers so I definitely wanted to mention it here. I’ve done the research on specs and real world testing of the lens so that I can talk to you about how it stacks up against the other lenses we have talked about. I can tell you that it is the smallest and lightest lens and the most inexpensive lens at $899 which are attractive qualities. The fast f/2.8 is attractive for video and some detail semi shallow depth of field photos like we discussed with the GM. From the image quality tests I’ve seen on this lens, it appears as if the lens is sharpest on the wide open side at f/2.8 through f/4 which is sort of odd. This is obviously less than ideal for us being the majority of our photography is done around f/8 because we want a large depth of field for RE. Probably my biggest problem with the lens (and why I never tried it or considered it) is its limited focal range. 17mm on the wide end would really bother me. Being that I am so accustomed to the 16-35, I would really miss that extra 1mm. Maybe that sounds crazy but it is true. I’m frequently trying to squeeze just that little bit more room out of my 16-35 by backing and shrinking my tripod up into a corner to get just a little wider. Not to mention only going to 28mm on the long end. I would definitely miss my 35mm long end. It’s just too limiting for me. Also the zoom and focus rings are reversed as compared to the Sony lenses and I would be constantly reaching for the wrong one which would drive me nuts. From what I see, the lens would be good for throwing on a gimbal for making RE videos because it is small and lightweight and sharp wide open but if you're like me you probably want a lens that’s ideal for both photos and video and the best all around solution.
So that concludes the lenses that I am going to discuss in this post. Do you have any experience with these lenses? What are your thoughts on them? Do you have a favorite lens that you use for real estate photography that I didn’t mention in this video? Please leave a comment down below and tell us about it! Lastly, if you are interested in purchasing any of these lenses or any other gear that I recommend please consider using the links provided below. It doesn’t cost you anything extra but helps support this site and the YouTube channel and the making a future valuable content. Thanks!
16-35 f/2.8 GM: https://amzn.to/3i8Yc4a
16-35 f/4 Zeiss: https://amzn.to/2XA9MgY
12-24 f/4 G: https://amzn.to/3knF4BE
17-28 f/2.8 Tamron: https://amzn.to/2PrV9rw