Buying a camera for Architectural photography PART 1

Buying a Camera for Architectural Photography

Sometimes I’m asked what would be a good camera for architectural photography.

How will you use the camera? is the first question to ask when you are thinking about buying. Most people have diverse interests. They will what a camera that matches those interests. For many it is pictures of friends, family, landscapes, travel, a bit of architecture and occasional sunset. Portability is a bonus, and expense a concern.

My personal belief is that the best type of camera is one that you can pop in a pocket and bring with you everywhere.  The old joke is : ” The best camera is the camera you have with you”. For this reason smart phone cameras have much to offer. I have listed the types of suitable camera and their advantages and disadvantages.

My recommendations  :

  1. 1. Smart phone
  2. 2. Compact digital camera
  3. 3. Micro 4/3 ( Four Thirds)
  4. 4. Cropped frame Digital SLR
  5. 5. Full Frame Digital SLR

For most photography I would recommend getting the most portable camera that you feel comfortable with. The reason is that many people leave their “good” camera behind on day trips because of the weight of the camera. A heavy camera and a bag of lens with a tripod can weight up to 10kg. Photography should be about creative image making not weight lifting.

1. Smart Phone

Smart phones bring high resolution, high quality images to everyone. They make sharing images and editing images a pleasure. They do have some limitations:

  • Smart phones use a very small image chip, because of this they will always have a very long depth of field ( this can be a good thing for some photography).
  • The user interface on smart phones can be a bit difficult to use, a dedicated camera functions better as a camera.
  • The camera function on smart phones can be very slow also, not so good for candid pictures.
  • The optics on smart phones are never as good as a dedicated camera.
  • Smart phones can be expensive costing from 200 to 1000 euro/ dollars.
  • Smart phones have to be charged every day, most dedicated cameras will have a good battery life.

They do have some advantages over traditional cameras:

  • All images will have GPS data embedded in the images, this is an advantage if you are trying to find images or locations at a later date
  • Many smart phones will provide automatic backup to the cloud for all your images
  • The remote cloud access means that you can access your images from any location
  • Many people bring their phone everywhere
  • The ability to share and edit images is a very attractive feature that allows social engagement
  • The small chip will give a very long depth of field, this can be great if you are photographing an architectural model ( its not so good for portraiture)


2. Compact Digital Camera

Most digital compact cameras produce amazing images. Compact digital cameras present a huge advantage of portability. Personally I feel this is of huge importance, how many times have I left my “good” camera at home because I didn’t want to carry it with a bag of lens around all day. Many of the top line compact cameras will offer comparable image quality to a digital SLR. A summary of compact camera advantages:

  • Compact, this means that you’re more likely to bring it with you
  • Sealed chip and lens unit, this means that dust will not get into the chip
  • Many cameras offer a zoom that will give a good range of focal lengths from wide angle to telephoto .
  • The best brands offer fantastic image quality, Olympus, Nikon, Fuji, Sony, Canon
  • Many offer built in “effects” modes, producing convincing black and white, retro or positive film effects.
  • Many will have a built in flash

The disadvantages of a compact camera are:

  • Many compact cameras don’t offer a zoom that is sufficiently wide angle lens to be of use to those interested architecture ( but many will have a panorama function)
  • The zoom lens in a compact camera tend to be mechanically powered which can sometimes be very slow to operate
  • Optically the lenses tend to be very good, however the chip size on a compact camera is not the best for portraiture
  • The mental connection between photography and cameras and photography has been replaced by a connection between a mental photography and the smart phone. Nowadays when we want to remember that we want to take ” good” photography we have to actively compel ourselves to bring the “good” camera. As a result the good camera is frequently left behind.
  • At present compact cameras don’t tend to have the social, cloud backup features of smart phones, but that is changing

3,4,5 Micro 4/3 rds cameras, Cropped and Full frame Digital camera

All of these types of cameras offer better camera and optical performance, but the big trade-off is portability, weight and convenience. Personally I feel that the trade-off can be too high. DSLR’s are sometimes so expensive/heavy/complicated that they discourage use.
The big advantages of DSLR’s are:

  • Superior optics ( but only if you invest in good lenses).
  • Bigger chip, is better for portrait photography.
  • Higher resolution.
  • A full system of accessories etc.
  • They are a serious camera, if you’re using one there is a tenacity to dedicate more time and concentration to the photography.

The disadvantages are:

  • Expense.
  • Not portable.
  • To get the best out of the camera they frequently require a tripod.
  • Generally no flash on the higher end models.
  • To get the very best out of the image they require a considered and methodical approach to image making.
  • If the lens is detachable the chip can get covered in dust.

In summary of the above, if you want to upgrade your architectural photography I would recommend a good compact camera over a DSLR. Others will disagree no doubt. If you have about 30000 euro to burn you could also opt for someone from this company.

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