Best cameras for real estate 3D virtual tours & 360 pictures?

Pros & Cons for 360 camera, along with my best DSLR camera.

Hey everyone I’m Josh, a San Diego based 3D Virtual Tour provider and aerial photographer. Whether you landed here because you are interested in how I create the content I have or you are interested in one of the numerous genres of photography, you came to the right place. This post is part of a series on the gear, software, and accessories that I selected to use after extensive research. I hope to save you countless hours of your time and potentially thousands of dollars by investing in the right gear or correct photographer. This specific post will cover the cameras that I use for 3D virtual tour creation, 360 photography, and traditional still photography.

I tend to make a habit of obsessively researching things before I purchase them. I often fall down the Youtube rabbit hole of reviews for longer then I’m willing to admit… My goal is to give you a glimpse into my gear bag and to jump-start your decision process if you are considering purchasing the cameras and drones. Or if you are in the market for a photographer and want a better idea of what they are or should be using.

Matterport Pro 2 3D Camera

Matterport Pro 2 3D Camera
The gold standard for Real Estate 3D Virtual Tours

Are you looking for a camera to create 3D virtual tours for real estate, business, or construction? For my 3D virtual tour creation in San Diego, I turn to the Matterport Pro 2 Camera. It’s hard to beat it’s 134 Megapixels and onboard 3D infrared sensor. The 3D tour quality is razor-sharp, seamless, and loaded with various options. This camera is in a league of its own when you factor in Matterport’s virtual tour creation process. It’s very user friendly and easy to use. Overall, the Matterport system is easy to learn and use. Matterport 3D Tours can be seamlessly enjoyed in Virtual Reality as well.

Matterport 3D virtual tours set themselves apart with several key features. The interactive 3D dollhouse creates an interactive 3D virtual replica of your home/business that needs to be seen to truly appreciate. The cameras infrared sensors allow it to create a nearly perfectly true to scale 3D model of your space. Matterport 3D tours have a built-in measurement mode that allows views to measure the size of anything within the 3D tour. For example, you’ll be able to check if a couch will fit along a wall, the height of the ceilings, or even the size of a doorway all while exploring your 3D tour. Click here to check out the dollhouse and other 3D tour features.

Matterport 3D Dollhouse view for residential real estate
Interactive 3D Dollhouse View

Simply put the Matterport Pro 2 3D camera takes beautiful 360 images of your space. Other 360 cameras may take great pictures that make your space look good. But, the Pro 2 raises the bar. Normally the more you zoom in on an image the more the picture quality degrades. The Pro 2 images don’t suffer that fate. The images stay sharp, vibrant, and remain a photo-realistic representation of your space.

Cons

The biggest drawback for the Matterport Pro 2 is the lack of creative freedom using the camera creates. Meaning, the camera can only be used within Matterport’s software. You aren’t able to use the Matterport camera with a different virtual tour software or for other creative works if you desire. Another negative of the Matterport Pro 2 3D Camera is the cost. At $3500, not including a tripod or case, it is almost 4x the price of some of it’s closest competitors. It’s worth mentioning this camera is bulky and has some weight to it, especially in a case, with accessories. The Theta Z1 and Insta360 cameras are smaller than an iPhone. The Matterport Pro 2 in a small case without the tripod won’t even fit in a large backpack.

Conclusion

Matterport floor plan generated for your 3D Virtual Tour
Floor Plan generated for your space

The Matterport Pro 2 camera is a professional system for 3D virtual tour creation. It’s not the camera you’d buy to use for social media content or other creative works. This is a professional top tier 3D virtual tour creation machine and it’s exemplary at its job. The image quality is superior compared to competitors like Theta Z1 and Insta360 One R. However, if factors such as price, creative freedom, and portability are deal-breakers it may not be the camera you are looking for or it simply won’t be your only 360 camera.
Click here for more information on the Matterport Pro 2 camera.

Sony A7RIII Mirrorless Digital Camera

Sony A7RIII Mirrorless DSLR camera
Sony A7RIII Mirrorless DSLR

Researching digital cameras can be daunting. There are so many choices, terms, and types. The good news is there isn’t always just one right answer. My research left me debating between the Sony A7RIII and the Nikon D850. I choose the Sony because it’s a little more compact and is easier to travel with while boasting nearly all the features of the bigger Nikon. That said, the A7RIII is far from a small pocket-sized point and shoot camera. Even more so when you start adding a bigger lens on it. It’s just more compact compared to the amazing, yet monstrous Nikon D850.

Speaking of lenses, as of the writing of this post there are some amazing lens choices for it and that catalog continues to grow. I’m currently using two aftermarket lens and the kit lens that I got with the camera. For wide-angle shooting, I have a Sigma F 1.4 16mm For mid-range is the Sony kit lens 28mm-70mm F 3.5-5.6. Lastly, I have the newest Tamron 70mm-180mm F2.8. These three lenses do an excellent job covering my needs and then some.

Curious how the A7RIII handles low light photography? Wonder no more! Here are a couple of examples of my first couple of attempts at night photography with it.

Astrophotography at Lake Cuyamaca, San Diego
Click image for full size – Astrophotography at Lake Cuyamaca, San Diego
Bioluminescence at Sunset Cliffs, San Diego
Click image for full size – Bioluminescence at Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

While some of the polish of these pictures was from careful professional editing, the camera’s ability to capture so many details that weren’t even visible to the naked eye is astonishing.

The A7RIII has automatic eye focusing and tracking. This means when you press a button the camera will automatically find and focus on your subject’s eyes. It will then track their eyes the subject moves around. As long as your subject stays facing the camera and within the range of the Auto Focus. I’ve typically had no problem when using this feature with subjects between 25’-50’ away. Sony says this feature works on tracking some animal’s eyes as well. I have yet to test it though.

Portrait Photography Mission Trails, San Diego
The auto eye focus had no problem tracking her eyes as she walked towards me down path, even in the bright sunlight.

One can’t talk about the upside of this camera without mentioning its viewfinder. The digital viewfinder is razor-sharp and spot-on accurate. It truly is a joy to use. It’s so good that it makes the mediocre touch screen seem worse than it is. The Pixel counters will be pleased to hear it has 42MP worth of them. There’s no shortage of detail with this camera. The colors and dynamic range captured are astonishing.

Cons

The price of lenses is one concern that is frequently talked about with the newest generation of Sony mirrorless cameras. Fortunately, this will become less of an issue as Sony and aftermarket lens makers continue to expand their line-ups for mirrorless digital cameras. While there are many great lens currently available for this camera, that list is dwarfed by the massive catalog the Nikon D850 has built up over the years.

While the A7RIII isn’t too difficult to get familiar with, it is much less user friendly than its point and shoot counterparts or using the camera on a smartphone. The touch screen could learn a thing or two from smartphones too. It lacks sensitivity and finesse when attempting to utilize it. The good thing is you don’t need to use it much. The mediocre touch screen doesn’t detract from the amazing pictures you’ll be taking.

Conclusion

San Diego Night Skyline from Coronado
San Diego Night Skyline from Coronado

The Sony A7RIII is a professional grade DSLR camera that takes amazing pictures and videos. It has a dizzying amount (in a good way) of customization options and settings. Built-in image stabilization makes it easier to take great shots without a tripod. At $2499 without a lens, this 42 Mega-Pixel beast is ready to help you share some amazing stories! Most professional photographers will agree that mirrorless digital cameras are the future of DSLRs. The Sony A7RIII Mirrorless Digital Camera is making the future now.

Theta Z1 360 Camera

Ricoh Theta Z1 Tiny Planet New York Mets Citi Field
Citi Field – Home of the New York Mets

Since the Ricoh Theta Z1 came out in early 2019 it quickly became known as the king of the sub $1000 360 cameras. Critics exclaimed it was the DSLR of 360 cameras. It’s hard to disagree with them as it is truly a great camera. It’s dual 1” sensors allow it to take up to 23 Megapixel images. People often ask, “What’s the best 360 camera for virtual tours?” Outside of the Matterport Pro 2 camera, I’d pick the Z1 any day. While the Matterport Pro 2 has better quality images, the Z1 isn’t that far behind. The Z1 isn’t restricted to particular software. You can use your Z1 on most virtual tour software platforms, including Matterport’s software. This creative freedom may seal the deal for people deciding between those two cameras for virtual tour creation. I’ll discuss software in detail in a future blog.

Unlike some of its competitors, the Theta Z1 has the capability of shooting pictures in RAW mode. This is a great option to have available because it allows for an overall better image after editing. Along with the RAW mode, the Z1 offers a healthy list of manually adjustable settings for users that want more control over their images. If manual control isn’t needed then you’d be happy to hear the Z1 takes amazing auto mode HDR pictures. Just place the camera for the shot and press the button on the app and you can create something like this tiny planet within moments!

Ricoh Theta Z1 Tiny Planet San Diego Portrait Photography
Tiny planets can be used for portraits too!

The Theta Z1 is small and easy to carry around in your pocket. It’s about 40% smaller overall than an iPhone 11. There have been times when I forgot it was in my pocket at the end of the day! I promise you’ll never have this problem with the Matterport Pro 2 camera, seeing as it doesn’t even fit in a backpack.

Cons

Ricoh continues to make improvements to the functionality and support of this camera. However, the interface and workflow lack the simplicity and polish of Insta360 products. The Z1’s interface and workflow are more technical and less intuitive when compared to the insta360 One R. While this isn’t a deal-breaker for most, it’s worth noting that it takes more getting used to. Again, Ricoh continues to improve the Z1 and this gripe may not be an issue soon.

There is no denying the image quality of the Theta Z1. However, it does come at a price. That price happens to be $1000. Which is only a fraction of the price of the Matterport Pro 2 if you are doing virtual tours. But, the Z1 does have competition in that market. For the past couple of years, people have happily used the Insta360 One X at a 1/3 of the price for virtual tour creation. Granted the quality difference is noticeable, but depending on your needs it may be more than sufficient. The Insta360 One R is one of the new kids on the block at just under half the price of the Z1. Its modular design gives it a jack of all trades versatility. I’ll dive into more detail about it below.

Insta360 One R Tiny Planet Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field – Home of the Chicago Cubs

There are two potentially deal-breaking flaws for the Z1. One is the built-in non-removable battery. This means you can’t swap out batteries when it’s running low on power. You need to plug in the camera to recharge the battery. This can become problematic if you plan on running the camera consistently for over an hour. It’s possible to overcome this issue by keeping a portable USB charger handy, but that’s obviously less convenient than just swapping out the battery as you would in most cameras. Some real estate virtual tour businesses strap a battery pack on the tripod and keep it connected to external power all the time.

The second potential deal-breaker is the Z1 requires you to use it’s built-in hard drive only. This camera doesn’t use removable memory cards like most other cameras out there. You are limited to the capacity of the camera’s hard drive. Ricoh claims it’s 19 Giga-bytes is good for 40 mins of 4k video or 2400 pictures. The limited space makes this camera difficult to rely on as a video camera. However, 2400 360 pictures are more than enough room for a few days of shooting like a madman. For reference, a typical 3D virtual tour in San Diego that I shoot on a 2000 square foot home is on average fifty-five 360 images.

Conclusion

If you are looking for the best 360 camera specifically for 360 pictures and aren’t concerned with price or other compromises stop reading and buy a Theta Z1! It’s awesome RAW and HDR modes are more than worth it. If you can manage its sub 1hr battery life and lack of expandable storage it’s the best buy on the market for top quality 360 photos. Unfortunately, it leaves a lot to be desired for 360 videos because the battery dies too fast and the hard drive is too small for videos. The Ricoh Theta Z1 cost $999.

Insta360 One R and Aerial Mod

Insta360 One R aerial edition

As I mentioned above the Insta 360 One R is a new kid on the block. Its modular design makes the camera seem more like a transformer than a 360 cam. It can shoot 5.7K 360 video and vibrant 360 pictures with its 360 mod. It can function similarly to a GoPro with its standard 4K mod. If you want even higher quality pictures you can swap to the 1-inch mod. Want to shoot 3D videos? It has a mod for that too. But my favorite mod so far is the aerial mod. Which turns your drone into an invisible flying 360 camera!

The aerial mod for the One R consist of two 180 camera lens that works together to provide a 360 view. You can connect the two lens back to back and use them as a standard 360 camera on the ground. Or you can place each lens in the harness that attaches to your drone and take to the skies. The aerial mod is the best value add on the One R has because of it’s versatility. The One R has a standard 360 mod doesn’t work with Insta360’s drone harness, because the two 180 cameras are fused together. They can’t be separated as the drone harness requires. In short, if you have/want a drone, want an Insta360 One R and aren’t sure which mods to get buy the aerial edition. I’ll cover the One R aerial edition in more detail in my next blog discussing drones.

Insta360 One R aerial edition on DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Insta360 One R aerial edition on DJI Mavic 2 Pro

The Insta360 One R has a free awesome and intuitive app that stitches your 360 photos and video for you on the spot, allowing you to preview them quickly. The company recently created an Adobe Premiere Pro plug-in to make your video editing even easier. The app is packed with features to edit, personalize, and post your content. Insta360 continues to make dramatic improvements for their products and is constantly pushing free updates via its firmware. I have no doubt this camera system will continue to improve with time.

Cons

Parallax issues may be a deal-breaker when using this camera for virtual tours or tighter spaces. Parallax issues occur when an object is to close to the 360 camera for the lens to get a clear picture of it. Instead, the image appears distorted where the convergence of the two 180 images meet. This convergence point is often referred to as a “Stitching Line”.  Parallax is more prominent on the One R than the Z1 because of the camera’s stubby build.

360 Cameras are two 180 camera lens placed back to back to capture a 360 image. The more space between the two 180 lens backs, the bigger the parallax issues. The Insta360 One R is wider, with more space between the two 180 lenses than the Z1. Hence increasing space needed from objects to avoid the parallax issue. The difference between these two cameras in regards to parallax is only noticeable is tighter spaces because objects are closer to the camera. A small bathroom is more likely to suffer from parallax issues than a large living room. This negative may not be noticeable or relevant to the vast majority of users depending on their needs.

Conclusion

Insta360 One R Tiny Planet Detroit Tigers
Comerica Park – Home of the Detroit Tigers

I mentioned earlier that Insta360 does an excellent job with software updates. Sometimes those software updates cause issues for your device, similar to smartphone updates. Issues may include temporary overheating of the camera, crashes, freezes, etc. The best way to deal with this issue is to not be the first guinea pig for the new updates… But, if your camera does experience any of the above issues removing the battery tends to fix them nearly every time.

I’m going to write a full review of the Insta360 in the future because there’s so much to cover with all the different mods to it and I’ve only been using it for a couple of months. I’m looking forward to more 360/VR video creation on the ground and in the skies with it as well! With the ability to attach various mods the possibilities for this camera are nearly endless.

Oculus Quest

Oculus Quest VR Headset
Oculus Quest VR Headset

Lastly, a gear post for a real estate 3D virtual tour creator wouldn’t be complete without discussing my Virtual Reality headset of choice. The Oculus Quest provides an awesome compromise between price and capability when compared to other VR sets on the market. The Quest is a stand-alone headset that can be used without being connected to a computer. Just like it’s cheaper sibling the Oculus Go. This allows you to use the quest anywhere you go. As I’ve mentioned several times in this post, real estate 3D tours are game-changing. Experiencing 3D tours in a high-end VR set like the quest takes that experience to a whole new level.

Virtual Reality allows you to explore a space as if you are there. It’s easy to forget where you are once you are immersed in the experience! Standing in the living room of a home you are interested in buying and being able to view every detail of the 360 images as if you’re there is an experience one needs to see for themselves. The ability to view listings, businesses, or even tourist attractions that may be thousands of miles away from the comfort of your own home is remarkable. Real estate agents can show clients numerous homes from their office in the time it would take to drive to one. Businesses can display products to scale and in 3D allowing the customer the ultimate preview ability. Car dealerships are already doing virtual test drives. The music industry has joined the fray with VR concerts. (Imagine Dragons Live Concert)

Oculus Quest VR Headset controlers NES Mario
8-Bit Mario hanging out with the Oculus Quest VR Headset

Cons

It’s impossible to talk about virtual reality without discussing the most notable negative. Motion/VR sickness. Most people experience a form of motion sickness after some time when using a VR device. For some people, it may take 30 minutes of blissful enjoyment to feel an onset. For others, it might take five minutes before they notice it. It depends on individual tolerances to motion sickness.

I’m very susceptible to motion sickness. Being a passenger in cars, boats, planes, etc gets me queasy faster than most. Fortunately, the Quest high resolution, motion controls, and overall experience help reduce the effects for me. Additionally, repeated and ongoing usage of VR helps negate the side effects in time as well. Essentially, the usage of exposure therapy shows dramatic improvements. I use the Quest for high action aviation games which rank high on the VR discomfort scales. Fortunately, experiencing real estate 3D virtual tours is far less likely to induce motion sickness due to their docile nature.

Conclusion

Virtual Reality has been considered a science fiction fantasy for years. There’s no doubt that VR is the future of gaming and numerous other industries. Our society is relying on the internet and digital spaces more and more as time goes on. In 2020 we have seen a massive leap into digitizing activities we have normally done in person. Schools, various jobs, and business quickly adapted to the challenges of not being able to operate in person. Programs like Zoom and Google hangouts played a role in doing so. VR is the next step that will turn those virtual spaces into a reality. Message me if you’d like to see a real estate 3D virtual tour in San Diego from an Oculus Quest VR headset or if you would like me to create a 3D virtual tour for you.

Hopefully, this post provided you with some insight into some of the cameras that are available for your Real Estate 3D virtual tour and photography needs. Stay tuned for the next post aerial photography and the drones I’m using. Let me know in the comments below if you’d like to hear more about any of these items covered or anything else!

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