Technology Solutions

Digital Cameras Are an Essential Tool for Today's Broker

Due to their ability to communicate a vast amount of information about a property at a glance, photographs have been a critical element in the marketing of commercial real estate properties for decades. For many years, traditional film cameras were a commercial real estate professional's best friend. The advent of digital cameras in the 1990s offered brokers better results in a fraction of the time, but at a much higher price than traditional photography. Today's technology allows for higher-quality cameras at more reasonable prices, making digital cameras a mainstream tool for many brokers.

Digital cameras now are smaller in size, lighter weight, and offer high resolution images, quicker downloading speeds, and extended battery life. Commercial real estate professionals no longer can afford to ignore the advantages digital camera technology can bring to their business.

Resolution The newest breed of digital cameras offers clarity only once imagined. Resolution is a camera's ability to record detail and is measured in pixels. Megapixel is the resolution standard for digital cameras, and today cameras range from 1 to 5 or more megapixels. Different resolutions can be used for different images; the resolution level depends upon the intended use of the image. For example, a low resolution of 72 pixels per inch is recommended for photos to be used online. However, photos for printed materials, such as direct mail pieces, should be taken at a higher resolution -- at least 300 pixels per inch.

Almost all of today's digital cameras have the option of shooting with high or low compression, which ultimately affects resolution. Compression causes data to be lost from image files; therefore, photo quality decreases the more images are compressed. However, high compression allows more space for images to be saved on the camera's storage device. Users should assess how they plan to use the digital shots and decide if they prefer taking more images of lower quality or fewer, high-quality photos.

Storage Additional storage capacity solves the question of compression quite easily. Early digital cameras were very limited in storage, in some cases only allowing users to store a few high-resolution images. However, today's cameras offer more storage capabilities. Depending upon the resolution of the images, most cameras on the market today can store between 20 and 200 images, and up to 400 images may be stored on a disk.

Most of today's cameras also come with removable storage cards, also referred to as memory sticks, that range from 8 megabytes to more than 1 gigabyte. Memory cards allow users to store anywhere from 10 to 4,000 images depending on the resolution and compression selected. Storage cards come in a variety of sizes and are available at a very reasonable cost -- usually under $100.

Many digital cameras have LCD screens that allow users to view the photos immediately after they are shot. Users then can delete the photos that are unusable and save only those they will use -- another way to save storage space. The downside to LCD screens is that they significantly drain battery power. However, they are a popular feature.

Features Once-expensive features such as zoom lenses and flashes now can be found on digital cameras priced below $225, such as the Toshiba PDR-M24, which retails for around $215. Flash options are available for a multitude of interior and exterior lighting scenarios, and most cameras include a red-eye reduction feature.

Through the use of better technology and power-saving options, battery life, once the downside of digital cameras, has been extended significantly and continues to improve. Depending upon the camera, users generally have a choice of rechargeable batteries or one-time use batteries.

Probably the feature that has improved the most over the last few years is how photos are transferred from the camera to the computer for processing. Some camera manufacturers suggest simply removing the storage medium, such as a disk or memory card, and putting it into the appropriate storage drive in the computer, which is an easy and somewhat reliable way to transfer digital images. A better concept is the docking station, which plugs into the computer's USB port and also acts as a battery charger. When the camera is placed on the recharging dock, the pictures automatically transfer to the computer, thereby eliminating the need for cables, disks, and drives.

Software Photo-editing software usually comes with digital cameras at no additional cost. Every imaginable photographic effect -- brightness, contrast, clarity, filters, and more -- now can be found on even the most basic photo-editing package.

Commercial real estate professionals can use this software to remove graffiti or other unsightly marks from their buildings before publishing a photo in sales or leasing packages, so long as they remember to disclose that the graffiti exists. In addition, photos that would have been discarded in the past due to their poor quality now can be adjusted for brightness and contrast.

Advanced Cameras In the future, digital camera technology will be integrated into a number of portable devices. Converged devices that integrate digital or even video cameras with personal computers or personal digital assistants already exist. The resolution on these devices currently is not very good, but it will improve over time.

Another recently announced advancement is cellular technology built into digital cameras, which enables users to automatically e-mail photos or send them to a predetermined Web site. The two companies taking the lead in this area are Ricoh, which manufactures this type of camera, and ActivePhoto, which provides the Web site and back-end processing for this technology.

When it comes to digital photography, commercial real estate professionals have numerous options on the market at a reasonable price. Today's cameras are easier to use than ever before and offer improved features, reliability, and resolution. Brokers can make the best use of their time and professional skills with digital cameras for a fraction of the time -- and price -- of traditional film photography.

Jim Young

Jim Young is founder of the Jamesan Group, a real estate technology service company in Carlsbad, Calif.; CEO of REApplications, an application service provider; and co-producer of te Realcomm conference. Contact him at (760) 729-4312 or


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