If a photo says a thousand words, then a 360 photo is the whole book. There is no better way to visual the internal area of any real estate than with an interactive 360 photo, and now it’s possible for anyone to shoot super-high quality 360 photos for real estate. Virtual tours are becoming an increasingly popular tool for realtors to show off their most impressive listings, but how easy is it to create these VR tours and what camera should you use?
There are now dozens of all-in-one 360 cameras that make shooting 360 photo and video extremely simple, but if you’re not familiar with the product category you may find it hard to choose the right one. Thankfully I’ve used an tested pretty much all 360 cameras and I can tell you now that you only need to choose between two.
The Two 360 Cameras Most Suitable for Real Estate Virtual Tours:
Ricoh Theta V
Available on Amazon
15MP Photos | 4K Video | HDR auto Bracketing | DSLR Optic Technology
Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere
Available from Gearbest.com
23MP Photos | 3.5K Video | Low Price | RAW Images
Why these cameras you ask? They each have specific features that make them excellent for taking photos and a few others that make creating virtual tours easier too. Most other 360 cameras focus heavily on video, which is great, but not really important when creating virtual tours for real estate.
I’m now going to show you three examples of a 360 photo taken inside of a flat (mine), two are from the above cameras and one is taken with a DSLR panoramic rig. DSLR panoramic rigs were traditionally how 360 photos were created prior to the all-in-one devices. These rigs are quite expensive, require a lot of shooting and editing time and need specialist software, however the quality is excellent if you get it right.
Can the all-in-one cameras like the Mi Sphere and Theta V match up to the DSRL panoramic rig in terms of quality? Probably not, but creating a virtual tour with one takes far, far less time and is do-able for anyone who knows how to work a smartphone. Let’s have a look at those comparisons between the three systems, their positives, negatives and total cost.
DSLR Panorama Rig
Price : $$$$$
Time for Each Panorama: 30 mins +
Equipment Required: DSLR, Wide Angel Lens, Tripod, Panoramic Tripod Head
Software Required: Adobe Lightroom, Stitching Program (PTGui)
Example 360 Photo:
The quality of the image is undoubtable, not to mention the brightness and colour accuracy. DLSR rigs allow you to create such high quality panoramas because the lenses are very good at capturing light and detail. You are also taking 8-10 separate photos and manually stitching them into a single one, which means there is no loss of quality.
Some drawbacks to this, apart from the large amount of time it takes, is that there can be stitching errors visible in the image. You can spot a few here if you look carefully, for example at the bottom of the door. These errors are caused when you haven’t quite lined up two images properly, most of the time they can be fixed but require you to spend more time in editing. If you have a lot of photos to take in your tour, you could find yourself spending hours editing and stitching images together.
To achieve this you’ll need to invest in some software packages, particularly a stitching program such as PTGui. This along with the price of the equipment makes this an expensive as well as time consuming way to shoot real estate virtual tours, but certainly produces the best results. For this shot I used a Samyang Fish Eye Lens, which is actually one of the cheaper fish eye lenses suitable for 360 photography.
- Highest Quality Image
- Not Overexposed or blurred
- Time Intensive
- Requires Skill to Get Right
- Tripod More Visible
- No Video Option
Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere
Price : $$
Time for Each Panorama: 15 Mins
Equipment Required: Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere Camera, Tripod
Software Required: Adobe Lightroom
Example 360 Photo:
The Xiaomi Mijia Mi Sphere is a fairly cheap 360 camera that can shoot impressive 24 megapixel images. The camera has been widely praised for its photo taking abilities which is why it’s one of the two options for shooting real estate virtual tours. The Mi Sphere shoots 360 photos with just the tap of a button and no manual stitching is required.
The above photo was created using three separate images, shot with the bracketing mode feature on the camera. This mode forces the Mi Sphere to shoot a dark, normal and bright image, you then combine them to create an overall superior quality panorama. Unfortunately the camera itself can’t combine the images together, so you’ll need to do this manually with a program like lightroom.
The quality of the image is a downgrade from the DSLR rig and there is some blurriness in the background, but overall it does a decent job and someone who is a better editor than me could easily make this a much more dynamic image, but again this is more editing time. For just over $200 the Mi Sphere is certainly the most cost effective way to create indoor virtual tours.
- Easy to Use
- Bracketing Option
- High Resolution Image
- Some Blurriness
- Less Dynamic
- Merging of Photos Needs External Software
Ricoh Theta V
Price : $$$
Time for Each Panorama: 5 Minutes
Equipment Required: Ricoh Theta V, Tripod
Software Required: None
Example 360 Photo:
I chose the Ricoh Theta V as one of my options for real estate virtual tours because of its excellent photography credentials. The Theta V is the latest in a long line of 360 camera from Ricoh and this one is by far their best. The Theta V utilises technology usually found in DSLR’s that enable it to capture more detail accurately. The most important feature on this camera is the auto HDR photo mode, this allows you to combine three separate images into a single one at the push of a button. You won’t need any extra software or to do anything manually, which makes the Theta V the easiest camera to use out of the three tested here.
The example image, produced by the Theta V using the auto-HDR mode, is actually very impressive. The photo is dynamic, colorful. vibrant with hardly any blurring or stitching errors. I’d say the image quality is superior to the Mi Sphere but not quite as good as the DSLR. Remember this photo was taken instantly with the touch of a button, all I needed to do was upload it. The Theta V itself is expensive for an all in one camera, but much cheaper than a DSLR rig.
- Great Looking Images
- No Extra Software Required
- Very Easy to Use
- 4K Video
- Camera Unit Fairly Expensive
So which 360 camera is the best for real estate virtual tours? It depends what you want to achieve. If you need to absolute best quality then you’ll still need to use a DLSR rig. If you can sacrifice a bit of quality, then the Ricoh Theta V is an excellent option that will save you a huge amount of time. If cost is an issue then the Mi Sphere will do a decent job for a very low price.
If I had to choose, I’d pick the Ricoh Theta V as an excellent compromise between quality, time taken and price. You can get the Theta V from Amazon for around $429 and it can also shoot 4K 360 video.
No matter which camera you choose, the investment will be worth it. I’ve had countless enquiries from real estate agents asking about 360 photo, video and virtual tours and I think it’s going to become a standard part of the industry within the next few years.