Choosing a DSLR Camera for Architectural Photography – An Architect’s Guide (Part 1)

For the gear I use, see below…

In this video I discuss the DSLR camera equipment I use in my architecture practice, three primary concerns for architectural photography, and how to choose camera equipment that best addresses the concerns of an architect or architecture student.

Why choose a DSLR?
1) Image quality. DSLR resolutions for the cameras I reviewed were right around 20MP+ which allow for large format printing and high image quality. iPhones currently top out at 8MP, although the new iphone7 includes a 21MP camera, storage for photos on my phone was problematic and there were other reasons which tipped in the DSLR’s favor too. Keep reading…
2) I wanted more versatility in my image captures. The interchangeable lenses on a DSLR offer this built-in versatility. Wide angle for tight spaces, macros for detail shots, big apertures for nice bokeh – or blurred backgrounds – on videos.
3) Low light performance. DSLRs provide a range of larger aperture lenses and the manual adjustment of white balance, aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings.
4) Video capabilities – I wanted to experiment with making short films, documenting design work and the experience of space.

What are the concerns of architectural photographers?
1) Field of view/capture angle – generally architectural photography requires wider lenses to properly capture spaces.
2) Perspective distortion. Converging lines when the camera is tilted upward. Tilt-shift lenses can cost thousands of dollars though. Part 2 discusses how I address this concern for less than $10.
3) Light management. The ability to change white balance and manual exposure settings is necessary to document both interior and exterior work accurately.

How to choose?
1) Price: we all have a budget and one of the biggest factors affecting price is a camera’s sensor – the device that actually captures the image. Cameras in my price range (around 1K) have what are called crop sensors. This means they’re smaller than their full-frame cousins – found on cameras like the Canon 6D. Smaller sensors reduce the price of the camera, but it doesn’t mean they’re lower quality. You’ll want to pay attention to the effect that a smaller sensor has on the effective focal length of the lenses you’ll purchase. This means you’ll multiply the lens focal length by 1.6 to get the effective focal length when used on a crop sensor camera body. For example, a 24MM lens has an effective focal length of 38MM on a crop sensor camera.
– Mid-level DSLR camera bodies will run roughly 1K.
Lens prices vary greatly, but expect to pay 1/3 of the body cost for a comparable high quality lens. I wanted a versatile camera body with room to grow into and upgrade lenses as I had the budget. Part 2 of the video describes the exact lenses I chose.

2) Manufacturer: choose a manufacturer with good market saturation for equipment availability (used and new, today and in the future), support (tutorials, troubleshooting, etc.) and price. If you’re looking to upgrade into tilt-shift lenses Canon and Nikon bodies will offer the best upgrade paths.

3) Lenses. Two primary types: Zoom + Prime.
A zoom lens allows you to change the focal length without changing the distance between you and the subject.
Prime is designed to work at only one focal length. This means if you want to adjust what’s in your field of view – what’s in the frame – you must move the camera body. In general the quality of prime lenses is usually higher because they’re optimized for one focal length and there are fewer moving parts and pieces. Most professional photographers have a collection of prime lenses and swap them out depending on the situation.

If you have the budget for only one lens to get started a zoom is usually a good choice. They come bundled in kits with the camera body. However, if you have a little more money to work with, consider getting a wider angle prime and a zoom or macro prime. Prime lenses are designed to work at one focal length and will provide better image quality than a zoom.

4) Accessories. Add a tripod and you level the playing field with respect to mid-range DSLRs.

Please watch: “Inside My Sketchbook + An Architect’s Sketching Tools”



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