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What is a Professional Camera
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April 2014   Better Pictures   Nikon   Canon    Fuji    LEICA   All Reviews

What is a Professional Photographer

How to Go Pro

Photography is not a Profession

The Seven Levels


Introduction         top

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Everyone has different definitions. Even funnier, professional cameras are more often owned by hobbyists than by professional photographers!

People bicker over shades of meaning of "professional," but the real issue is that they're each discussing different levels. Professional means three different things when applied towards a camera, an occupation or a person's behavior.


Cameras Used by Professional Photographers

Professional photographers photograph to make money.

They use whatever cameras make them the most money. The less expensive the camera, the better.

Today, with digital cameras effectively being disposable as the technology advances, I see loads of professional photographers using D70s and D50s to shoot paying jobs.

A few thousand extra dollars not squandered on a D4s keeps that money in their pockets.


Professional Cameras

A professional camera is defined by its durability and utility.

Durability means a professional camera must not have plastic parts that wear, like plastic battery doors, plastic CF card doors, plastic door catches, plastic filter threads, plastic rewind cranks, plastic lens mounts or plastic top or bottom covers. Pro cameras are all metal to take a beating.

Professional cameras must have utility. They have to be easy to use and provide instant access to all adjustments. Today that means a professional camera must provide direct access at least to each of exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance and quality settings. Direct access means access via a dedicated single-function button for each adjustment. Access only by menu or by multi-function button doesn't count.

Native Flash sync speed has to be at least 1/250, ideally 1/500 or 1/1,000. Slow sync speeds make it difficult to get enough flash range, and make it impossible to stop action. Trick modes like Nikon's FP mode don't count. See my Flash sync page for details.

The camera has to be part of a larger system with future compatibility and expandability. The lenses must cover every possible need for what we need to shoot today, not just a promise for tomorrow.

In the case of DSLRs, professional cameras must have a microphone for taking voice notes as we shoot. We need to take notes on what's in each photo, especially for news photographers.

The only professional DSLRs are the Nikon D1 series, D2 series, D3 series, D4, D4s and the Canon 1D series. The rest, and all of those from other brands, are merely consumer cameras.

Oddly, professional cameras are more often owned by professionals like physicians, CPAs, engineers and lawyers than they are by photographers. Professional photographers don't spend money if they don't have to - it's a business. Photography is not a profession, although many photographers behave professionally.



It's easy to separate the pro cameras from the glittery toys. If it has a slower sync than 1/250 or if you have to spin a knob or go through a menu to get to an ISO or WB setting, you have an amateur camera.

Professionals often use amateur cameras.

Don't worry about it.


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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