Point & Prosper Ready to boost your marketing with help from a digital camera? Here’s everything you need to know about camera features, options and accessories.
These days, the digital camera is as indispensable to a sales associate as the cell phone. You probably snap dozens of photos of each property, then print them, e-mail them, post them to Web pages and perhaps even archive them for later reference. Which is why you want to outfit yourself with a digital camera that’s ideally suited to the rigors of real estate.
Stroll the aisles of your local electronics superstore and you’re likely to see dozens upon dozens of cameras, all touting confusing features like megapixels, optical zoom and movie mode—and priced anywhere from $100 to $1,000. What features should you look for? What accessories will you need? And how much should you expect to spend? Read on and find out. Is Bigger Better?
Digital cameras come in all shapes and sizes. You can find large single lens reflex (SLR) models that use interchangeable lenses and flashes, just like the pros use. On the other end of the scale, ultracompact cameras offer a surprising amount of power, yet slip easily into a shirt pocket or purse. And, of course, there are plenty of models in between, with enough different prices and capabilities to make your head spin.
For most sales associates, there are few advantages to spending big bucks on a big SLR camera. The photos you’re taking are for fliers, Web sites and the like, not for the pages of a glossy magazine. So, consider the convenience of a pocket-friendly model. It’ll be there when you need it and no more intrusive than a deck of cards when you don’t.
Models like the Casio Exilim EX-S600 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 rank among the slimmest digital cameras on the market today, offering plenty of megapixels (see below), spacious screens for framing and reviewing your photos and reasonable price tags: $299.99 and $349.95, respectively. What the Heck Is a Megapixel?
In the early days, the best way to judge a digital camera was by its megapixel count: the number of dots (a.k.a. pixels) its image sensor could capture. More dots equaled better picture quality, so you always bought the camera with the highest megapixels. Today, it’s almost a nonissue, as even entry-level cameras offer 5 megapixels or better. That’s more than enough resolution to produce film-caliber larger prints.
Even so, overall picture quality depends on more than just resolution. The quality of the lens, the design of the image sensor and other factors ultimately determine how bright, accurate, sharp and colorful your photos will be. You might see a 6-megapixel model selling for $99 and think you’re getting a fabulous deal over the 6-megapixel model priced at $300, but remember: you get what you pay for. You can’t judge a camera by megapixels alone. What Does Size Have to Do With It?
Before digital cameras came along, you’d frame your shots by squinting into a tiny optical viewfinder. Today, you use the LCD screen on the back of the camera. In fact, some cameras have done away with the viewfinder altogether (much to the chagrin of seasoned photographers), leaving only the LCD.
Viewfinders aside, look for a camera with at least a 2-inch screen. Some models have 2.5-inchers, while a few push the envelope to 3 inches. Although that might not sound like a big deal, even a little bit of extra space goes a long way toward improving viewability.
Put simply, the larger the LCD, the easier it is on your eyes. What’s more, a big screen makes your camera more useful as a photo viewer, meaning that in a pinch you could hand it to a client or customer and let him or her review your snapshots of a property.
Ironically, some of the smallest digital cameras have the largest LCD screens. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX50K, for example, measures just 1 inch thick and has credit card dimensions, yet still manages to pack in a 3-inch display. Zoom, Zoom Along
Although most real estate photography happens at close range —individual rooms, outdoor features, etc.— no discussion of digital cameras would be complete without zoom. Most models tout two different kinds: optical and digital. The former is the important one, as it relies entirely on the lens —the optics of the camera— for magnification.
Digital zoom merely enlarges the center portion of the image, resulting in photos captured at a lower resolution than the camera’s available maximum. Granted, if you’re starting with, say, 7-megapixel resolution, and digital zoom leaves you with a 3-megapixel photo, that’s not a terrible compromise.
While it’s always best to follow the photographer’s maxim—zoom with your feet—you may want to consider a camera with a powerful zoom, as you never know when you might need to shoot from afar. Most pocket-sized cameras top out at 3X, though the Casio Exilim EX-V7 recently raised the bar to 7X while retaining the camera line’s renowned superslim dimensions.
So-called full body cameras like the Kodak EasyShare P712 typically offer zooms ranging from 8X to 12X, while digital SLRs (which have interchangeable lenses) can zoom even higher. Get Out the Popcorn
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a movie is worth millions. Instead of showing prospective buyers a batch of boring stills, show them a live walk-through of the property. [For more information about marketing with movies see, “Bam! Kick It Up a Notch on page 43.] Many digital cameras can record “minimovies,” which you can then play back on the LCD screen, your computer or even a TV.
Look for cameras that can record at the TV-friendly resolution of 640x480 pixels. Some models top out at 320x240, which results in small, grainy video. You should also avoid models that limit you to 30- or 60-second recording segments. Ideally, the camera should be able to record video for as long as there’s space remaining on the memory card.
The Samsung L73, for instance, has a maximum resolution of 800x600 and is able to capture up to 2 hours’ worth of video on a 1-gigabyte (GB) memory card. No Strings Attached
Wouldn’t it be great if you could snap a batch of property photos, walk into your local Starbucks and upload the photos to the Web— straight from your camera? That’s the promise of a handful of models with built-in Wi-Fi wireless capabilities, which can e-mail or upload photos anywhere there’s a hot spot.
The Kodak EasyShare One/6MP and Nikon CoolPix S7c both offer this enviable capability. You can even print wirelessly, though the EasyShare can do so only with Kodak’s EasyShare Printer Dock Plus Series 3. Needless to say, wireless cameras (cameras that allow you to print and download photos without being plugged in) are still in their infancy, but they’re already showing plenty of promise. Memory Makers
Most digital cameras come with a small amount of internal memory, enough to store only a handful of photos. That’s why the first purchase you need to make (after your digital camera) is a memory card. First, determine what kind of card your camera requires. Compact models generally rely on Secure Digital (SD) cards, though some accept Memory Stick or xD media. Full body and digital-SLR cameras typically use Compact Flash (CF) cards.
The key concern is capacity: the larger the card, the more photos it can hold. At a bare minimum, choose a 512-megabyte (MB) card. Ideally, however, you should opt for a 1-GB or 2-GB card, which will give you enough space to store hundreds of photos.
Prices for these cards vary, depending on type and capacity, but you can expect to pay around $20 for a 1-GB SD card and $50 for a 2-GB card. If you’re comfortable shopping online, check sites like eCost.com and TigerDirect.com. At press time, both were offering 1-GB SD cards that were free after a mail-in rebate. Organize It
Camera-wielding real estate professionals quickly learn the unspoken curse of filmless photography. After just a few months of shooting, you can wind up with hundreds, even thousands of digital snapshots. It’s easy enough to copy all these photos from your camera to your hard drive, but then what? How do you keep this huge library organized?
Try a photo management program like Google Picasa (picasa.google.com
). It combines a friendly, uncluttered interface with surprisingly sophisticated features like image correction, photo blogging and CD slideshows. It’s a great place to start, especially if you have photos littered across your hard drive and no effective means of organizing them. Best of all, Picasa costs nothing. It’s free to download and free to use.
In the end, it’s pretty easy to choose a camera that’s well suited to real estate photography. Look for a model with a spacious LCD, a movie mode and a compact, pocket-friendly design. Then add a high-capacity storage card and round it out with a good photo management program.
Prices for the latest and greatest models that meet these requirements range from $300 to $400. If you want to spend less, look for deals on last year’s models, most of which can be had without compromise.
After all, you just need a camera that takes good snapshots of your properties, and these days almost any model will fill the bill.
Rick Broida is a freelance writer and the co-author of “How to Do Everything with Your Palm Powered Device,” 6th edition. Broida does not have any affiliation with the companies mentioned. The Florida Association of Realtors and Florida Realtor® magazine do not endorse any products mentioned in this article.