Best Cameras For Starting Out in Architectural Photography

What cameras and lenses do you need to take quality images of houses, buildings, other and structures?

The focus of architectural photography is to show the shapes and spaces of different structures. Its objective is to beautifully capture the designs through quality images, and as a specialty, it has unique characteristics.

If you are interested in architectural photography, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the tools you’ll need for this demanding profession, which requires accuracy and discipline to achieve good results. Photographer Jesús Granada (@jesusgranada), who has been commissioned by over 700 architectural studios and offices to capture their ideas in photo format, shares different equipment options to consider according to your budget and expectations.

These are the essential tools you’ll need to get started in architectural photography:

Architectural photography requires great accuracy and being very thorough.
Architectural photography requires great accuracy and being very thorough.

Compact Camera

A compact camera, or point-and-shoot camera, is a simple camera without a detachable lens. Compact cameras are usually easier to operate than SLR cameras. They are also less expensive. Their functionality is often limited compared to SLRs, although they are generally lighter and easier to carry, making them ideal for travel.

An example of this type of camera is the Sony Cyber-shot W80.

Sony Cyber-shot W80 camera.
Sony Cyber-shot W80 camera.

Semi-professional Camera

If you are on a tight budget, perhaps you'll be most interested in a semi-professional camera. These cameras usually have a decent but not excessively large number of megapixels–between 10 and 20. If you look at the technical specifications, you will see that these cameras will have relatively small sensors. Also, as they are made for photographers who tend to use them while traveling, they are relatively small and not very heavy. The downside is that their battery life is half that of a professional camera. A real bonus is that they are much cheaper than professional cameras.

An example of this camera is the Sony Cyber-shot H9.

Sony Cyber-shot H9 camera.
Sony Cyber-shot H9 camera.

Digital Reflex Camera

Reflex cameras are named so because they have a mirror that reflects the light coming from the scene you’re photographing and directs it towards the viewfinder, i.e., towards the photographer's eye. When shooting on an SLR, the scene the photographer sees through the optical viewfinder is the same as the one captured by the camera: there are no parallax errors. You can also shoot in manual mode, and its lenses are interchangeable.

All digital SLR cameras allow you to shoot in RAW format. This file format contains minimally processed data from the image sensor, without loss of information due to compression. RAW images are sometimes likened to analog film negatives. They cannot be published immediately; they must first be developed. The main advantage of the RAW format is that the photographer can decide how to develop and process their photographs.

There is a range of SLR cameras available, with some being more suitable for professional photographers and others more oriented towards amateur photographers.

An example of this type of amateur-oriented camera is the Canon EOS 400E.

Canon EOS 400E camera.
Canon EOS 400E camera.

Professional DSLR Camera

The professional range is designed to meet the needs of a photographer who has to work in lots of different circumstances. Today, a professional DSLR does have a resolution lower than 18 megapixels. On the other hand, the sensor is usually larger, the battery holds double or triple that of an amateur SLR, and therefore, the camera itself is a bit bigger.

An example of this type of camera is the Nikon D700.

Another top model from this market is Canon's 5D MarkIII with Canon’s tilt-shift lenses.
If you are interested in exploring this model, the expert recommends that you check out these lenses.

Canon TS-E 24mm 1:3.5 L II
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L
Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8

Nikon D700 camera.
Nikon D700 camera.

Tilt-shift lenses

Architectural photographers usually use wide-angle and standard lenses since a wide view and low dispersion are required. The key is taking your photos at the right distance. This will not always be possible, which is why you have the option of tilt-shift lenses.

These lenses can move on their axis, vertically or horizontally, and reproduce some of the movements of large-format cameras. They allow us to photograph the building without tilting the camera and thus distorting the image.
Ideally, we should have lenses ranging from 16mm to 200mm. Then, we can position the camera in the spot from which we’re most interested in taking our photograph, knowing that the image will come out well.

Tilt-shift lens.
Tilt-shift lens.

Large-format camera

This camera, which has evolved from the very first cameras in history, is ideal for architecture. Before the digital era, the only way to properly take architectural photographs was using this type of camera.

Many still prefer them because they allow you to correct any lines or light leaks using the different movements permitted by their mounts. In the original photos, you already have vertical lines without any leaks, totally parallel. The disadvantage of this type of camera is its size, weight and, above all, how much it costs. You also have to learn how to use it, as it has nothing to do with SLRs.

Jesús Granada with a large-format camera.
Jesús Granada with a large-format camera.

Want to learn more about tools for architectural photography equipment and to use them? Sign up for Jesús Granada's course, Immersion in Architectural Photography.

English version by @eloiseedgington.

You may also like:

20 Architecture and Design Blogs and Magazines You Should Follow
Great Architectural Photographers
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