Since Covid the popularity and demand for 360 Virtual Viewings has exploded. Prior to Covid, Virtual Viewings were something a select few proactive property people were doing to stand out from the crowd. As a Property Photography company, it was a service that we offered but the demand for traditional photography still outstripped it at least 4 to 1. However, Covid has flipped everything on it’s head.
When portals such as Rightmove give your listing a special flag advertising the fact that your advert has a virtual tour, you know things have hit the mainstream.
Can You Create Your Own Virtual Tours?
As someone who speaks on the property investing circuit, I often get asked, how practical is it to create your own 360 Virtual Viewings. My answer is the same for when I am asked if people can take their own property photos or dress their own properties. The answer is simple, if you have the equipment and knowledge, then yes, you can do it yourself. However, should you? Now that is a question only you can answer. It depends on a number of factors including how your property business is setup, your strengths, your business plan, your available time. Could your time be better spent elsewhere? Do you have the resources and knowledge?
We provide Photography, 360 Virtual Viewings and Dressing services to clients who believe their time is best spent elsewhere, such as sourcing their next property deal or managing their portfolio. However, for property businesses who want to take those services in house, it is perfectly doable with the right equipment and training.
The Steps to Creating 360 Virtual Viewings
What do you need to create your own 3D 360 Virtual Viewings? Let me answer that question by breaking it down into steps.
The first thing you need to do is capture the 360 photos to use in your virtual viewings. There are many cameras on the market that can do this. At the expensive end you have Matterport. I believe the cameras are around £3,500. In the right hands, the cameras create beautiful high-quality scans of the properties. However, if the cost of the cameras does not put you off, you are tied to using Matterports tour creation and hosting. If you are ok with that, then the Matterport solution is a good one. In fact, it is the solution employed by our Slough office.
However, the price of the Matterport camera puts off many investors and property agents. An alternative is using a 360 camera and there are loads on the market. The Ricoh Theta Z1 is a popular choice at around £899. This is a great quality camera and is used by many pro photographers for property virtual viewings. However, for many it is still too expensive. Also, do you really need to pay that much?
We believe the answer to that question is – no. The camera that our Reading & Manchester offices use is the Xiaomi Mi Sphere. This is also the camera that is sold by one of the main tour creation platforms, so we are not alone in our love for this camera. The reason we like it so much is, as long as you set the camera up properly, you get fantastic quality 360 images at an amazingly low price. We sell this camera for £274. Compared to the Ricoh Theta Z1 this is amazing value. The one thing we didn’t like about the Xiaomi Mi Sphere camera was the lack of help and support to get started with it. However, we have solved this by creating a comprehensive video training course specifically for people wanting to create Virtual Viewings.
Once you have your camera, there is some other kit you will need. I imagine that this is similar for all cameras but what I say here specifically relates to the Xiaomi Mi Sphere.
You will need a memory card (micro SD card) for the camera. The memory card is where the photos are stored when you capture them. We recommend getting a high-performance card. The reason for this is, if you use a cheaper and slower card, you will find the camera gets warm very quickly, limiting the amount of time you can use the camera for. This is easily solved by using an appropriate card like the SanDisk Extreme Pro 128 GB.
Tripod or Light Stand
You will also need a tripod to put the camera on but we have found that most tripods are too bulky and blackout too much of the shot. We use light stands instead. They do the same job but are more compact, lighter and cheaper.
There are 3 things to look out for on your light stand:
- Go for a light stand that is around 2m (2.1m is fine too).
- Clips not screws. As you can see in the photo below, the extension of the height of the tripod is controlled with clips. If you get a light stand that has screw locks rather than clips, they protrude a lot more and show up in your 360 photos.
3. The screw thread where you attach the camera needs to be a 1/4-inch universal tripod mounting interface like below.
Once you have the kit, you then need to learn how to use it! With the Xiaomi Mi Sphere that used to be easier said than done, as the documentation that comes with the camera is rubbish and the help online is not much better. That is why we have created a comprehensive training course on how to use this camera to create 3D 360 Virtual Viewings. People who buy the cameras through us get the training for free. However, if you have bought your camera from elsewhere, you can buy the training here: https://geni.us/e0iob.
Tour Creation Software
Now that you have the kit and know how to use it, capturing the images is easy. The next thing you need to do is turn them into a 3D 360 Virtual Viewing. This can be done in several ways. There are many online platforms offering this service. Two of them are www.madesnappy.co.uk and www.kuula.co. However, if you create your tours on this sort of platform, you are usually then tied to that platform and have to continue to pay subscription or hosting fees all the time you want the 360 tours to be accessible. An alternative is to buy software for your own website and host it there. That way you are not paying ongoing subscriptions or hosting fees to someone else. Also, if the platform suddenly disappears, will you lose all of your tours?
Creating your own tours through your own website is especially easy if you have a wordpress website. WordPress plugins such as Ipanorama and WPVR can be added to your website and used to create the virtual viewings directly on your own website. In our training that comes free with the Xiaomi Mi Sphere when purchased through us we walk you through step by step how to create the tours on both the Ipanorama and WPVR systems.
About the Author
Paul Darvell is the founder of Landlord Photography, a specialist Property Photography provider.