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New cameras for the Bloodhounds: My take is that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 offers a lot of bang for the buck

“If your car keys are with you, your camera should be with you.” That’s one of the mantras I preach at Realtors when I speak in public. The language of real estate is photography, and you cannot do your job properly if you can’t communicate what you’re seeing to your clients.

Having a camera along solves a multitude of dilemmas. I see a lot of houses for out of state buyers, so the web sites I build for them can provide invaluable details about candidate homes. But there are all kinds of other benefits to always having a camera with you when you’re out of the office: Documenting benefits and drawbacks of specific neighborhoods, capturing on-the-spot images of red flag issues before the inspector transmits his report, etc.

“But,” you may be be straining to expostulate, “my phone has a camera.” Believe me, I know. I see its output in the MLS way too often. Your phone has a bad camera, with a cheesy little lens — its focal length much too long for real estate — and a cheesy little image size. Someday phone cameras may be adequate for day-to-day real estate work, but that day is not today.

We have a Kodak Digital SLR for listings and other high-end work, but, until lately, we have each carried a Fujifilm Finepix E500 for everyday photos. This was a reasonable price/performance compromise when we got them. They’re light in weight and they’re powered by AA batteries, so there was never any threat of running out of juice. The lens is only 28mm at its widest, which is adequate but not ideal. But those cameras were workhorses. Cathleen and I both rolled them over, call it around 15,000 photos each over the past four years.

But all things come to an end. Cathy lost her Finepix recently, and mine is exhibiting the kind of noisome behavior that argues that it’s about to fail permanently.

Time to go shopping. I’ve been following the Panasonic Lumix line of point-and-shoot digital cameras since I first heard about them in a post by Jeff Turner, a long time ago. I got to see one in action just lately, with buyers. Everything’s a trade-off, and we’re tossing nickels around like manhole covers right now. But we needed to upgrade, and the Lumix DMC-ZR1 seems to offer a lot of bang for the buck.

What are we buying? The picture above is worth a thousand words: We want that 25mm lens. There are 24mm lenses out there, but they cost more. And, of course, on DSLRs you can get down to 10mm — but that costs a lot more. What we’re buying are everyday cameras intended to ride around with us every day. We need small, cheap and reliable, not the biggest, best and most budget-busting. We have the big Kodak for high-end work. These cameras are intended to pound out thousands of photos a year.

But guess what? With a 12.1 megapixel maximum resolution, the Lumix cameras can deliver the high-end goods, if we need them to. And they will shoot HD video, as well, so we can leave the Flip video cameras at home.

On, the price was about $222 each, not bad for the feature set. Not a huge financial heartbreak if you drop it or lose it, for that matter. The cameras should be here next week. I’ll post some photos to give an idea of image quality.

More on real estate photography from the BloodhoundBlog archives: Choosing a camera, Composition is salesmanship, More on camera choices, What do you do with great property photos?, Photos from the whatever-it-takes school of listing. There is plenty more organized under the Photography category.


16 Comments so far

  1. Michael Wurzer November 24th, 2009 2:00 pm

    I hadn’t bought a personal use camera for years, but just this last Saturday bought a Sony DSC-H20B for $220. The strong points for me were a 10x optical zoom, a burst mode, and HD video. My daughter has a chamber concert tonight and I can’t wait to try it out there.

  2. Michael Wurzer November 24th, 2009 2:02 pm

    Oops, small typo, the price was $230, not $220.

  3. Greg Swann November 24th, 2009 2:11 pm

    Oh, very cool. The Flip Camera revolution has made video simpler than ever. That’s a nice still/video solution for family photos.

    Hey, Michael: Here’s wishing your family and everyone at FBS a great Thanksgiving! You’ve certainly given us a lot to be thankful for.

  4. Michael Wurzer November 24th, 2009 3:32 pm

    I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving, too, Greg!

  5. Wade Munday November 24th, 2009 4:39 pm

    Ran into a real estate investor today that was carrying an old Polariod Instamatic camera. Talk about old school.

    Didn’t think you could buy film for those antiques anymore.

    Anyway, the guy owns 20 rental properties and was out looking for more. So, I guess there’s a lot to be said for “old school”

    Quick check on Amazon and found that Polariod has a new digital camera that prints pictures as well, Polariod PoGo. Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks (no pun intended)

  6. Greg Swann November 24th, 2009 5:50 pm

    > I guess there’s a lot to be said for “old school”

    Sure. You can staple the photo to the listing sheet, for one thing. Lo tech don’t mean no tech.

  7. joshua lepanto November 24th, 2009 8:43 pm

    cool!!! i am also planning to buy a camera but not sure what brand/model to buy… i hope you can post the pictures taken using this model… thanks…

  8. Jeff Brown November 25th, 2009 8:07 am

    Thanks Greg — I was unaware of how big a bang for my buck cameras have become. Time for a new one. I’ll be able to hugely increase the tasks for about 60% of the price of my current workhorse.

  9. Greg Swann November 25th, 2009 8:33 am

    Are you doing anything with video, Jeff? Yours is a business that could do very well with it, both general video posts going through top-level stuff and private on-the-ground videos for active clients. Plus which, you’re a good show.

  10. Jolenta Averill November 25th, 2009 9:04 am

    Hi Greg, Thanks for the timely post! I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. I just cranked out my first video blog post (emphasis on the word crank as the first one is for sure has GOT to be the hardest!) and received a good deal of feedback that the audio quality could have been better. I filmed it with my two year-old Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 (a 28mm) without an external mic which is where I probably went wrong (heck, I didn’t even know you could attach a mic to a digital camera!). Anyway, I saw your post and you got me thinking. Is my camera obsolete? Should I upgrade to the new Lumix and forget about adding an external mic (just one more thing to keep track of, right?)? I do all my own photos and my clients seem pretty happy with my work but then again, I’m not a huge listing agent and certainly don’t take thousands of pictures like you guys do. Feel free to look at the featured properties on my home page if you’re even remotely inclined to give me some feedback on the quality of my photography. I’d also love to hear what you think about my foray into video. Here’s the link if you have 3 minutes:
    Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for this wonderful site!

  11. Greg Swann November 25th, 2009 9:41 am

    Video: Overall quality was good, and the transitions were excellent. Your correspondents are right about your audio, and the camera added background noise of its own.

    For what it’s worth, I think scripting is your enemy. I would have liked the video better if you had been more conversational and more engaging with the audience. YouTube is garage-band media, and I think it works against us if we try too hard to be “professional.”

    People aren’t watching to get the latest real estate news, they’re watching to see if they want to do business with you. You’re a striking woman, a huge advantage. If you treat the lens on the camera as a client across the table from you, engaging with it just as you would with that person, I think you’ll make a stronger impression.

    Photos: Very good. Well lit and nicely detailed. You’re getting some pixelization, which may be too much compression or may be a silent cry for a new camera.

    This post and this one talk about the kinds of things Cathleen does to pull interesting photos out of our listings.

    Here’s my greatest praise for your photos: You take a lot of them. Makes a huge difference to me, and we believe it makes a huge difference to buyers.

  12. Jeremy Linder November 25th, 2009 12:36 pm

    I’ve had (I believe) the slightly older brother to the camera you purchased- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 with the 25mm lens- for almost a year now. It’s just a 10 mp unit, but takes decent photos and the slightly wider lens than most point and shoot digitals makes a huge difference when taking interior photos. I’ve been nothing but pleased with my Panasonic, but hope to step up to a DSLR in the future. The point and shoot cameras are pretty good and very user friendly, but you can’t beat the photo quality and ability to compensate for different lighting situations with a DSLR.

  13. Al Lorenz November 25th, 2009 1:27 pm

    I picked up one of the Lumix two weeks ago. It works fine. The colors require less adjusting than my old Canon but I do miss having a viewfinder. It is not always easy to see the display well when I’m stretching up in a corner or in sunshine.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. Jolenta Averill November 25th, 2009 3:27 pm

    Hi Greg, I really felt a burst of energy with your reply because I KNEW that was the single biggest problem with my video but no one, until you, has had the guts to say it. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it makes me to think of doing it the other way (just being myself) but it was so impossibly difficult to do it the way I did that I don’t think I’ll have any other choice next time. Maybe I’ll just down a coupla shots next time before I turn on the camera. It is so hard for me to be conversational unless I’m with an actual client! Anyway, thanks for the feedback on the video and the photos (I’m really touched that you took the time to do that so thank you). I just bought a couple of 1000 watt lights on a stand that is really helping with the lighting but I wonder if that becomes unnecessary if I go with an SLR like Jeremy Linder suggested. Hmmmm. The Lumix that I currently have is a 28mm which is semi wide angle and good (better than a real wide angle my clients say, due to less distortion) and it’s got a 10x zoom which isn’t bad. I wonder if my settings should be changed to a higher quality and that’s what caused the pixelation. I never read the manual so that really isn’t helping! 😉
    Thanks again for your input. I’m a newbie at photography and even more so at video so I appreciate your viewpoint.

  15. Greg Swann November 25th, 2009 3:41 pm

    For the videos, if it helps, put someone you like and trust right behind the camera. You want to make direct eye contact with the lens, because then you’re talking directly to the viewer. A shot or two might help, but you could do an excellent video drinking red wine by candlelight, with maybe a light right behind your head to give you a halo. It’s all about making the client comfortable — this is something Jeff Brown can do standing on his bald head — so do what you need to do to make yourself comfortable being who you are. And remember, with video, audio or photography, nobody knows anything about the failed attempts you threw away. Just keep working until you get what you want. And doing well this time is how you will do even better next time.

  16. Greg Swann November 25th, 2009 3:57 pm

    Regarding digital SLR cameras, every serious lister should have one. This post is about everyday cameras, which I think Realtors should carry every day. But for the marketing photos for a listing, you need the best quality images you can afford. A 24mm lens may give you a little bit of barrel or pin-cushion distortion, but not so much as to make the photos seems annoying or fake. But the benefit of a very wide-angle lens is that it will make rooms seem much, much bigger. There’s a drama to wide-angle shots that you just can’t get with longer lenses.

    As Al intimates, it’s worth while to latch on to fairly robust photo-editing software, and to learn how to use it. But: It’s very easy to get bogged down tweaking photos, so strive to get the image you want — lighting, cropping, composition — from the camera, rather than by post-processing back home. My preference is to take a lot of photos and then edit by culling the rejects, rather than trying to use PhotoShop to bring out something that’s just not there.

    Another good reason to work with a very robust camera for listing photos: High dynamic range images. We’re not there yet, but the software for making breath-taking photos gets easier to use year by year.