In last week’s post we looked at the absolute minimum gear you need for architectural photography, which is any camera you can get your hands on, and a way to keep that camera still, ie a tripod. Now we’re going to move onto the camera itself. Our starting point is understanding the different types of cameras and what their pros and cons are related to architectural photography.
Point and Shoot
This is your most basic type of camera. Almost everything is automatic and their pros are being small and cheap. In any serious discussion about architectural photography these wouldn’t even get a look in, but in a world of user generated content and social media the rules are changing. I’m an advocate of telling the story no matter what type of camera you have. That said, point and shoot cameras have a stack of limitations and you’re going to reach a learning boundary with them very quickly. They have lower resolution, poor low light performance, no way of changing lenses, and little in the way to control settings.
There are a couple point and shoot cameras however that do stand out from the pack and have many more features than you’d expect from a point and shoot such as the Canon G12 and Nikon P7000.
It may seem ridiculous to include iPhones in this lineup, but after I interviewed architect Francesca Perani (We’ll post that soon) I completely get it. The iphone is not just a point and shoot, it’s a little computer that allows you to capture images perfect for the web and then trick them up with some fun effects and share them instantly. The value is being different, and the ease in which you can do it is what makes the iphone a real option in communicating your architecture to the world. Iphones also have a range of accessory lenses so you can get focal lengths that you might not otherwise get from a point and shoot. It all adds up to a creative and versatile tool. Stay tuned for more on this.
Micro 4/3 cameras
These are the new generation cameras by brands like Olympus, Panasonic and Sony. They provide a camera system with interchangeable lenses on a body more like a point and shoot. They do away with a DSLR’s mechanical shutter system, which accounts for their smaller size and almost silent action. They do have several wide angle lenses which lend themselves to architectural photography, but the system itself is limited. You won’t find any raving reviews about their lenses and you won’t find any tilt shift lenses. So if you go down the 4/3 route, understand that you will only be able to progress so far before you need to swap systems, which is an expensive learning path.
Companies like Fuji and Olympus have released a few cameras which are called bridging cameras. They’re meant to be an easy stepping stone from the automatic world of point and shoot cameras to the full blown manual settings of a DSLR. In many ways they look and function (from the outside) like a DSLR. They are very affordable (Often under $1000), especially for the features they offer which can include manual controls for aperture and shutter speed and RAW image files. They can often be used with a wide variety of accessories like filters, and flashes as well. They however have fixed lenses, which are not particularly high quality, and often with focal lengths that won’t suit all your architectural photography needs. The biggest problem with fixed lens cameras is that once you’re skill level increases and you want to use different lenses that you need to replace the whole camera and probably the accessories you’ve bought for it along the way. Basically it’s a dead end spend.
DSLRs are the cameras most people think of when they think of professional cameras. DSLR stands for “Digital Single Lens Reflex” which doesn’t mean much to the general public. Their most notable feature is the ability to change lenses. If you’re new to photography this may not seem all that exciting, but in time you’ll learn that the lens can be more important than the camera body. Key lenses in architectural photography are what’s called tilt shift lenses. They allow you to manage perspective and parallel lines of buildings. There are only two brands which I know that have Tilt Shift Lenses in their line up, which are Canon and Nikon. So my advice is to stick with them. Actually my advice overall is that if you have any inkling that your going to progress with architectural photography, forget about all the other types of cameras and just get an entry level Nikon or Canon DSLR. These entry level DSLRs pack almost every feature you’re going to want for architectural photography, have a family of great lenses behind them, match mega pixels with some of their big brother models and for what they cost are really good cameras.
Medium format cameras
Ok, it’s time to go mortgage your house. These cameras aren’t cheap. A medium format body (No lenses, just the body) can cost you $20k or $40k. In the days of film photography, these larger formats were prized by architectural photographers, but in the digital world it’s becoming less clear. In the context of this article though, that debate doesn’t even come into the equation. They are just too expensive to be considered.