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What is a Professional Camera
2006 KenRockwell.com
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See also:

     How to Go Pro

     Photography is not a Profession

     What is a Professional Photographer

     The Seven Levels


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


Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.


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 D3 keeps that money in their pockets.

Professional Cameras

Rockwell's first law tells us that if something has to be marked "Professional," that it probably isn't. My dad taught me that decades ago when shopping for magnetic recording tape. All the crummy stuff was marked "Professional Quality" and of course the good stuff didn't have to be.

I define a professional camera by its durability and utility. If it says "professional," it probably isn't.

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 or plastic lens mounts.

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 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, today, not tomorrow.

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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If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

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It also helps me keep adding to this site when you get your goodies through these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Ritz, and J&R. I use them and recommend them all personally.

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