No other tech tool has been more widely adopted by real estate professionals than the digital camera. While the recent NAR survey of its members showed a paltry percentage had adopted wireless email devices, the digital camera ranked near ubiquitous with agents. And while some sales professionals still only see the camera as a route to bankruptcy (i.e., printing flyers and postcards) the fact remains that today’s digital cameras make it possible to market properties better, faster and cheaper than ever before.
Even though most digital cameras will last for years, newer models make a compelling case for upgrading your camera. Features such as larger LCD screens, better resolution and easier photo transfers easily outweigh the cost of buying a new model. Even in a smaller package, today’s digital cameras offer larger features – like multimedia movie modes and panoramic modes – that savvy sales professionals can turn into marketing opportunities. With great models in the $300-500 range, it may be time for top performing agents to look at the options.
For starters, today’s digital cameras are much smaller than models from a couple of years ago. Some of us might think that means they’ve become harder to use – with smaller buttons and menus – but the camera companies have become very clever. Critical items like the shutter button remain large and easily accessible; but other buttons have disappeared altogether, helping to reduce the camera’s size. Instead, most selections such as resolution size, flash options and digital effects have become electronic options on the LCD screen. So less buttons and sliders but more choices, in an electronic menu. By changing from a physical configuration of buttons and sliders to an on-screen menu, the camera companies have also been able to increase the amount of LCD space on the back of each camera. For example, the Canon PowerShot SD 750 has a 3-inch LCD screen on the back – easily an inch larger than models a year ago. Not only does the larger LCD make it easier to stage a shot, but the real value of the larger LCD isn’t for taking photos: it’s for showing photos to buyers you meet on the street. So the larger LCD really transforms the camera into a portable virtual showing tool for agents. Imagine bumping into a buyer and showing them photos of your listings – and any other listings you may have visited – without having to pop open your laptop or drive them around town. Suddenly your digital camera saves you time and money marketing listings – and you didn’t even need a printer!
Next, consider the latest upgrades in camera resolution. Many models boast 7, 8 or even 10 mega pixels. Now, let’s be clear: the most common reason you would want higher resolution photographs would be for printing images. And sure, there are plenty of us who are still committed to making the ink-cartridge companies richer. But that’s not the most important reason to be excited about higher resolution cameras. The benefit isn’t for still photography but for movie modes. Higher resolution cameras translate those improvements into better multimedia clips. Whereas older models could take a fairly decent but almost always small-size movie clip, newer models make it possible to take higher quality clips that can be expanded full screen without losing their quality.
With VGA and higher movie settings, your digital camera can empower better virtual tours on the Internet and presentations on your laptop. No more 2 x 3 inch movie clips. Rich, full-screen tours of up to three minutes – including sound and narration – are now everyday opportunities with newer cameras. And since you’re using the same camera for still shots and movies, you can get multimedia online faster because you don’t have to wait for someone to come out to your listing with a tripod and fisheye lens. Just point, shoot, walk and narrate: your movies can be online within minutes.
Speaking of lenses, newer cameras have virtually eliminated the need for add-on lenses. Not only does this keep the camera size small, but it lowers cost by putting commonly requested lense features into the base units. For example, many agents frequently require “wide angle” shots for their listings. Sure, they could take two photos of the same room, but for some reason, they feel the need to go iguana in their marketing. So, to accommodate this, newer cameras feature an electronic “panoramic” mode. Agents start by shooting the right side of the room; the camera then “freezes” that portion on the screen and splits the screen down the middle. The agent then realigns the shot to the left of the room, matching up the split-middle, and shoots again. The camera instantly “stitches” the two halves together creating one wide-angle shot. No lenses needed: it’s all electronic.
In addition to better photo taking tools, digital camera companies have also worked hard on improving photo transfer and distribution tools. Gone are the days when cameras needed docking stations or cradles. And even the everyday USB cord is being replaced with more convenient ways of getting photos out of your camera. For users with newer laptops that feature memory-stick readers, the most convenient method of getting photos out of your camera is simply to pop out the camera’s memory stick and pop it into the laptop. The memory stick acts like a big “floppy disk” storage device. Users simply drag and drop photos from the memory stick directly into emails, flyer software or a folder on their computer. Kodak has gone a step further and decided to eliminate the “hardware” part altogether: no cords, no memory stick transfer, nothing manual. Simply press a button on the Kodak EasyShare One and photos are sent via WiFi wirelessly to your computer. And since Kodak uses the standard WiFi protocols, the camera can even transfer photos directly to compatible printers and even the Internet over public hotspots (like in a coffee shop or hotel conference center). Wireless-enabled cameras act much like your cell phone’s camera with the ability to distribute images along networks in the office or on the road.
If all of these cool feature upgrades aren’t enough, then consider the latest trend in digital photography: Web broadcasts. Some new models from Pentax and Vivatar are leading the industry with integrated web-cam features, making it possible to use your digital camera as a video conferencing tool over the web. For these models, a small tabletop tripod is recommended, but a simple USB connection enables users to point the cameras at themselves and enhance their instant messaging sessions with multimedia broadcasts. With a broadband Internet connection, web-cam enabled models will transmit about 30 frames per second – more than enough for a decent video experience with clients and prospects.
For the past few years, the Internet has dominated the buzz for real estate marketing opportunities. Yet it remains the digital camera that makes so much of our Internet marketing interesting and compelling. Adding 20 photos to our listings and delivering real-movie-style virtual tours is what makes online marketing more than just a few paragraphs of classifieds text. Offline, the digital camera continues to be the critical tool for empowering our marketing as well. From showings in your pocket to video tours on your laptop, modern digital cameras are sure to delight your customers and clients.