Virtual Tour Camera in Real Estate Photography [All You Need to Know]
In today’s modern age of technology, businesses are promoting products and services far beyond traditional means. When it comes to the world of real estate, utilizing a virtual camera to provide 3D tours are now growing in popularity and offering potential buyers a different kind of experience.
Not only are they great for visualizing the spaces and how they flow together, but 3D tours are also perfect for providing a detailed documentation of the floor plans, measurements, and everything that the property has to offer.
If you are one of the real estate agents or photographers looking in to producing your own real estate virtual tours, then this guide is perfect for you.
How Do You Shoot Virtual Tours?
A 3D virtual tour is made up of multiple 360-degree images, also known as photospheres, panoramas, or panos that are connected together. The viewer can then navigate from one 360-degree image to the other in order in a seamless virtual space in order to see the full spectrum of the property.
To achieve the 3D perspective, you will need to use a specific camera or camera lens that can take the shots as needed, and then utilize virtual tour software to stitch it all together. This will not result in a video, as some may confuse for a virtual tour. Instead, you will have one whole interactive experience that you can freely navigate through at different angles.
If you plan to start shooting virtual tours, first invest in the right camera and technology.
Do You Need a 360 Camera To Make A Virtual Tour?
You do not necessarily need a 360 camera to make a virtual tour. In fact, you can opt to use your DSLR camera or your mobile phone.
A handful of today’s mobile phones have the ability to shoot in panoramic mode. Especially when you have a device with great camera specs and lenses, you can easily get these shots with as much detail and depth of field as you would on other professional cameras. The downside is most mobile phones do not have a built-in measurement technology to ensure your 360-degree images are stitched seamlessly. They also have a smaller field of view compared to lenses on 360-degree cameras and DSLR cameras.
Just like using a DSLR, you will also need a few tools to make the job a success. We recommend investing in a mobile phone rotator, which generally acts similar to the panoramic tripod head discussed above. Automated rotators are designed to take several photos, in various rotation positions, but are usually unable to be rotated upwards so expect to have part of the ceiling missing from your virtual tour.
Mobile phones generally take a little longer to completely get the shots because of the limits the technology poses.
Some photographers opt to shoot their virtual tours using a DSLR camera. To effectively pull this off, you will need to invest in a DSLR camera that has a built-in automatic bracketing mode, a timer, and an image resolution of at least 24 megapixels. On top of that, you will need a wide-angle lens to capture as much field of view as you can in one shot. Ensure that you find a lens that performs well in varying lighting conditions.
Last but not the least, you need to get a sturdy tripod with a panoramic tripod head. While the tripod legs keep your camera in place and each image leveled, the tripod head will seamlessly rotate to get multiple images. It is a unique tool that is designed specifically for shooting 360-degree images using a DSLR camera. We highly suggest investing in one that you can control remotely and measures where you need to move in order to prevent unbalanced panoramic shots.
360 cameras are around for a reason. They were designed with virtual tours in mind and cater to the needs of many professional photographers that intend to stitch the images together, They make the process faster, easier, and often times, they are quicker to import to the virtual tour software.
What Technology Is Used For Virtual Tours?
There are 3 main technologies used in creating virtual tours, namely:
#1 Your chosen camera and its compatible tripod, stand, or rotator.
#2 Measurement software
#3 Stitching and image editing software
We have already covered the first in the section above, now we move on to measurement software.
MEASUREMENT SOFTWARE IN 3D TOURS
There are different methods in extracting the space structure and measurements from the data captured in your 360-degree images. This space structure is essential in creating accurately measured floor plans, which are important for the ultimate 3D tour experience.
The Matterport 3D Camera as well as the Qccipital 3D scanner utilizes structured light. This technology collects 3D point cloud directly, which can easily formulate floor plans. The margin of error for this technology is a mere 1%.
3D Structure from Images
Through the use of Artificial Intelligence or human processing, the 3D structure of the different spaces photographed can be extracted from both regular and 360-degree images. After factoring in independent measurement data such as camera tripod height and ceiling height, scaled floor plans can then be designed from the given 3D structure.
Technologies that can be used to achieve this are InsideMaps, Cupix, Zillow 3D Home, and Matterport. Keep in mind that the margin of her is between 4 to 8 percent.
Systems that are Lidar-based utilize time-of-flight laser measurement to produce accurate laser point clouds. This data can be used to create floor plans with utmost accuracy, more than the other measurement technology discussed above.
Some systems that utilize this are Leica BLK360, Apple iPhones with lidar, and iGUIDE cameras. The margin of error with Lidar-based systems are only 0.1% for Leica, 0.5% for iGUIDE, and about a 1% margin for iPhones with lidar.
This is because the time-of-flight laser measurement error does not rely on the distance it measures – it is a constant variable. No matter how spacious or cramped the room is, its measured size may only be inaccurate by the same fixed amount throughout the entire stitched image.
Square Footage Accuracy
Property square footage is obtained from floor plans, which could result in a percentage error twice the percentage error in the floor plan measurement itself. When combining the above technology with square footage accuracy, structured light systems will typically have a 2 percent margin of error in square footage, while lidar systems will still be below 2 percent.
This is important to note, as 2 percent is the maximum allowable square footage error in most property measurement standards.
STITCHING AND IMAGE EDITING SOFTWARE
Depending on your camera of choice, there are some devices that have built-in software packages or an editing system that can stitch the images together and have them ready for publishing in one gadget. Some others also have their very own apps that you need to download and connect with the device in order to edit your photos.
Otherwise, there are some systems you can invest in or download a free version of to bring your 3D images to life. The three most common software for this are:
Adobe Lightroom is a photographer’s favorite editing software, and while stitching together 360-degree images is not what it was primarily built for, it does have very effective built-in capabilities that get the job done.
It has the ability to work directly with RAW files, which is a great advantage since all of the details in your image will be properly secured no matter how tedious the process may be. It can also work with HDR panoramas and use content aware fill to smoothen out rough edges.
Furthermore, the developers have been regularly adding in extra features for panorama stitching, which we can only expect to get more advanced as the years progress.
Another classic software is the Adobe Photoshop, which safe to say is the gold standard of image editing apps. Similar to Lightroom, its main objective is not necessarily stitching together panoramic images, but it can still effectively serve that purpose.
Photoshop’s very own panorama-stitching feature (or Photo Merge) works similar to that of Lightroom’s, but will a few more editing options along the way.
The PTGui Pro is the go-to panorama stitching system of many professional photographers. It has many features that assist in making a great image such as masking out unwanted elements, manually editing control points, the ability to straighten out horizons, and the capability to work with large, heavy, multi-row panoramas.
PTGui Pro also has is its ability to work with HDR panoramas and spherical panoramas, which are essential in real estate 3D virtual tours. The system gives you maximum control over how you edit and stitch together your images.
Virtual Tour Cameras - Our Top Picks!
Now for one of the most important elements of your virtual tour shoot: the camera. Below, we have gathered our top picks ranging from DSLR, 360 cameras, and mobile phone tools to give you a sneak peak as to what is best for your needs, preferences, and budget.
Ricoh Theta Z1
The Ricoh Theta Z1 is regarded as one of the best 360 cameras on the market today, and is also by far the most popular one among new and experienced users. It takes roughly about 15 minutes for each high quality panorama shot and requires only a tripod – which already comes with the purchase! It also has its own auto-calibration function to ensure you get straight and well-angled shots each time.
It is the perfect all in one 360 camera as it features two 1 inch sensors that allow it to process more light, can shoot in RAW DNG that allows it to work with more details, and even has a plugin for Adobe Lightroom, allowing for easy stitching and image editing. It is able to shoot both photographs and videos in stunning 8k resolution. Its dual lenses on each side give it the ability to deliver a virtually seamless panoramic image, with little to no stitching required!
The Ricoh Theta Z1 also gives the option to use automatic HDR, which produces amazing results each time. It is relatively easy to use, but it does have a few flaws, such as:
- It is not the most affordable option,
- It does not have a MicroSD Slot
- No touch screen
- No removable battery
Ricoh Theta X
Another option from Ricoh is their Theta X model. When compared to the more popular Z1 model, the Theta X lacks in the quality of the sensors, but it does compensate with user-friendly features such as a large touch screen, a slot for your MicroSD card, and a removable battery.
It can still do a great job at taking 360-degree images as it shoots in a very large 60MP – the highest of any 360 camera as of this writing. It also has the automatic HDR feature, and can still capture a great amount of detail.
Kandao QooCam 8K
The Kandao QooCam 8K packs a powerful sensor and is the first 360 camera that can shoot in 8K resolution video. It also a great option for shooting panoramic photos in DNG 8 format. The DNG 8 format stacks a total of eight DNG images together and creates one impressively high dynamic range image.
You can image the amount of detail and balanced exposure you can achieve with this combination.
The QooCam can be set up in just about any angle and supports all-around image capturing. It also has the ability to connect with webcams, and supports live streaming for events, online gaming tournaments, vlogging, and the like. This feature makes it the very first 360 camera to allow direct sharing on your social media platforms,
The Kandao QooCam camera has its very own editing software and smartphone app to assist you in shooting high quality panoramic images and stitching them together.
Its battery life is about 45 minutes, and it takes roughly 5 minuets to achieve one panoramic shot.
Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere
The Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere is the best budget option there is in the market today. It retails for about $200 but does not compromise on quality. In fact, the results you get with the Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere are up to standard with other c360 camera options that are twice its price tag.
The device itself is highly portable due to its size and shape. It has a convenient MicroUSB port for charging, an SD card slot, and a tripod thread on the bottom. You can tell that despite its affordability and size, it does not lack in fundamental features.
This 360 camera has an impressive 23.9 megapixel sensor, and it automatically analyzes your environment in order to adjust the color and white balance settings and naturally adapt to your given lighting. Should you prefer not to turn on automatic features, you can also opt for manual mode, which gives you full control over the camera settings.
The Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere has other notable benefits such as its ability to shoot in RAW format, its six axis stabilization, its bracketing capabilities, and much more. The main downside to the camera is its lack of a removable battery, but it can run up to 90 minutes per charge, which is ample time to get in a lot of 360 images.
When it comes to panoramic images, it unfortunately does not have its own stitching system built in to the device, but Xiaomi has developed their own software, which you can download on your Mac or Window
Matterport Pro 2 3D Camera
Matterport’s Pro 2 3D camera was designed specifically for the real estate industry.
Its system is built around the needs of property listings, which not only stop at purchasing the camera.
When acquiring a Matterport camera, you also need to avail of their services.
This camera is absolutely perfect for scanning spaces – no matter the size of the listing. It boasts a 99% accuracy rate and also serves a professional photo resolution at 134.2 megapixels.
The device has a total of three lenses, and can be rotated in to 6 different positions, resulting in 18 source images stitched into one high quality 360 degree image.
Nikon D7200 DX-Format with a Panorama Rig
The Nikon D7200 sports a 24.2 megapixel DX-Format CMOS Sensor. It also features the all new EXPEED 4 image-processing engine,
which ensures your image has less noise despite low-light conditions. It has a large buffer,built-in WiFi with NFC, and a pretty good battery life.
However, it most notable feature is the improved autofocus system, which is still offered at 51 AF points, but now all of which are sensitive to -3EV. Its large buffer size is also one to highlight as it now allows a more seamless burst shooting and bracketing mode.
When shooting with a DSLR for panoramic images, you will also want to invest in a panoramic rig or tripod head.
Asteroom Rotation Kit For Mobile Phones
A lot of today’s mobile phones can do a decent job in capturing 360 images. It all depends on the kind of interface you are comfortable with and the budget you have. Some brands to consider when investing in a mobile phone are Apple, Google, and Samsung. Once you have narrowed down your budget range, check their camera specs and see if the megapixels offered can deliver high quality 360 shots.
Once you have your chose mobile phone, invest in a rotation kit to capture a seamless 360-degree image. We recommend the Asteroom 360 Camera, 3D Virtual Tour Real Estate Kit. This kit helps turn any smartphone into a 360 degree camera in as little as 15 minutes.
The kit includes a tripod, digital camera rotator, and clip-on fisheye lens.
Once you have your shots, you can download their app on either iOS or Android, and convert your images into full blown virtual tours in as little as 1 to 2 days. The virtual tours that their app offers include a 3D Dollhouse, image retouch, and a 2D floor plan. You also have the option to utilize HDR format, create teaser videos, check viewer analytics, and more.