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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.

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