Virtual Tour Starter Kit
If you want to get started shooting high quality Virtual Tours right away, but don’t want to break the bank, this is the way to go. I’ve narrowed down the list of gear to include all of the things you need and nothing you don’t. This kit will give you amazing results at around $1300.
Samyang 8mm f/3.5 for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji
Just starting out and on a tight budget? No worries! The Samyang 8mm f/3.5 will give you what you need. I’ve taken this baby for a spin and was impressed by the results. It is a manual focus and manual aperture lens, so you’ll have to take that into consideration. But in my opinion, that minor inconvenience is a small price to pay for what you get: a good optical quality lens at a really good price. In addition, when shooting virtual tours, you won’t be using autofocus much at all. At under $300 you’re not going to get top-of-the-line image quality, but it will work well for low-budget virtual tours. One thing to note is that this is a DX lens, meaning that on full-frame cameras, you will have to use the cropped-sensor mode. Not a huge deal, but still worth mentioning. The lens is available in every major camera mount.
Sigma 15mm f/2.8 for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus and Pentax
This is a very nice offering from Sigma. At around $600 they’ve got a great product that compares to higher-priced fisheye lenses from other manufacturers. I haven’t shot with this lens but I do own three other Sigma lenses and they’ve all be sharp as a knife sharpened by a professional knife-sharpener. Yes, that’s sharp! All around great reviews, and it’s super wide on a full frame camera, giving you a quicker workflow for virtual tours. Instead of needing to shoot
This is the lens that I’ve been using for virtual tours since I started. At around $650, it’s pricier than the Sigma but will give you a wider angle on a cropped frame camera. Super sharp, handles lens flare well. Pretty good construction, although it’s not necessarily built like a tank. The distortion is minimal, which is very important when stitching images together. It does show a bit of chromatic aberration in the corners, but I’ve been able to easily fix that in Lightroom, as seen in this post. All in all, if you want great performance but want to keep the budget reasonable, this is a sure shot.
The Nikkor 16mm fisheye is as good as it gets for Nikon users. It’s designed for full-frame cameras and will give you a 180 degree field of view (meaning you need to take less images than the 10.5mm to make a full 360 virtual tour.) The metal body means it’s built to take a beating. The optics are superior to the previously mentioned lenses. The only question is: Is it worth it? The $200-300 price difference is significant, and the optical benefits of using it for virtual tours aren’t huge. However, saving the time in your workflow, as well as being able to put the full frame capabilities of your DSLR to use may justify the cost. Ultimately it depends on your budget, but if you can afford it, I’d say go for it!
Sigma has a special place in my heart, as their lenses are almost always as good or better than the Canon or Nikon versions, but at a fraction of the price. This is a super wide lens that works on full-frame cameras. At 8mm, this is a circular fisheye that covers 180 degrees in every direction, so if you’re shooting with a full frame camera, you will be able to reduce the number of shots needed to make a virtual tour significantly. Instead of needing to take 10 photos for each scene with a 10.5mm fisheye on a crop frame, you cover the entire 360x 180 it in six shots if shooting on a full frame.
Canon’s flagship fisheye. The L series has a great reputation for sharpness and build quality. Prices are around $1,200 right now, which is pretty high. You’re paying a premium for the ability to zoom, but if you’re buying a lens strictly for the purpose of making virtual tours, you don’t need that. If you’re a Canon shooter who’s in the market for a lens to shoot virtual tours AND other subjects, go ahead and grab this one. However, if you want to save money and are only planning on shooting virtual tours, definitely grab the Sigma 8mm instead.
- Phlearn – I consider Photoshop to be a pretty essential part of making virtual tours. Whether it’s getting rid of unwanted cockroaches or changing the color of the sky, it doesn’t hurt to know your way around Photoshop. The software can be daunting at first, but Aaron makes learning photoshop fun and easy, and has created some awesome tutorials. Check out the Photoshop 101 and 201 PRO tutorials if you’re just getting started.
- Bluehost – If you’re starting a virtual tour company, you’re going to need a website and a hosting account. I’ve tried a couple of different hosting providers, and in my opinion, Bluehost is the best value. Amazing customer service, fast speeds, and hosting plans that start at $3.95/month. I use Bluehost for all of my websites, including the one you’re looking at right now!