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Just what does ‘Pro’ mean for camera equipment?

  |   Article, Articles and reviews, Photography Business, Photography Ideas   |   3 Comments

Should I only buy ‘pro’ cameras?

Does it help me become a better photographer?

So, when does ‘pro’ gear become worthwhile?


Photography in Seattle

Keith in Seattle

As a working photographer, I need to be able to rely on the equipment I use on jobs. Someone is paying for my time and what I’m taking photos of may not be repeatable.

The kind of kit people usually refer to as ‘Pro’ is typically better built and made for heavier use as a work tool.

I want equipment that I can trust – so I look for ‘Pro’ kit?

Well… no, I’ll admit that I dislike the term ‘Pro’ – it’s become just a marketing label to indicate more expensive or more complex ;-)

I’m looking for tools that help me do my job, tools that help my business create the product it sells. As with many other tradespeople, ‘pro’ photographers are producing products to be sold, and like a master carpenter, I like to know I’ve reliable chisels, and that I know the right chisel for the job.

camera bag with two shift lenses

A Canon 1Ds mk3, TS-E24mm and TS-E17mm in the bag – over £8,000 of kit

If anyone has the money and inclination, then buy what you like – compared with many hobbies, spending £5000 on some kit is not that expensive (sailing and cars come to mind)

Unlike some, I do believe that having a better camera and lens can enable you to produce better photos. The big caveats are that:

  1. You know how to use the equipment
  2. You understand how the technology affects the types of images you can get
  3. The image is going to be used in a context where the difference will show

The most obvious example is where I’m not going using my iPhone, when I know a client wants a 60″ x 40″ architectural print… ;-)

Note that I’d never say you can’t take good pictures on a rubbish camera, just that their overall usefulness may be rather limited – Lomography, yep, heard of that… ;-)

Let’s envisage 2 camera setups

  1. Canon EOS 7D (8 frames per second(fps), fairly good autofocus (AF)) with EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
  2. Canon EOS1100D ( 2 fps, basic AF) with Canon EF400mm f/5.6L USM

The experienced nature photographer could get good photos with either setup, but will likely get a higher proportion with the much more expensive kit (the 400/2.8 is over £8000)

The photographer new to nature photography will also benefit from the more expensive kit, since the image stabilisation (IS) and higher FPS will give them more sharp photos (they just may not be very good)

The difference is that the experienced and knowledgeable photographer will derive much more benefit from using specialised equipment. Experience becomes a multiplier for the technical advantages.

The lenses I’ve got in the photo above only really come into their own when you know how to use their special features (see –using tilt and shift)

As a working ‘pro’ photographer, the tricky bit is deciding which new expensive bit of kit will really be of benefit for our business… but that’s another question altogether (see the photographer in the orange hat)

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3 Comments
  • Stuart Carter | Aug 18, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Great article, Keith!

    I swear that many amateurs have much better kit than I have. The reason being that they buy what they fancy, and I measure predicted return on investment for each item.

    That said, I don’t compromise on quality of kit, just quantity! My 5D MkII saves my behind regularly at ISO1600 or higher!

  • Tom | Aug 16, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Thanks for the article, Keith, and indeed for the blog as a whole.

    There is one point in the digital world that is different from the past, and that is that these days the camera is a determinant of the eventual image, of course. 15 years ago you could take three cameras – 500N, 30, 1n, say – load them with the same film, put the same lens on them and take essentially the same image with all three. The differences between them determined how difficult it would be to take that image, and how likely the camera was to keep on taking images in tough conditions, but theoretically the user of the cheapest body could take “the best photo ever”. Amateurs knew that, so the push towards using a pro body was much less – a serious amateur might use an EOS30 and aspire to an EOS3, but not a 1V. It’s different today, of course: if use, say, a 1DMk4, a 5DIII and a 650D, you will get different images even if you use the same lens. As an amateur I know that the release of a new body opens up the possibility of achieving better images in a way that wasn’t the case previously, and it seems that the bodies that can produce the best images are those defined as ‘Pro’ bodies. Hence the interest and the drive…..

  • Bob | Aug 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Hi Kieth, I’m in agreement with you. Long time ago I read that the differnce between pro equipement and the rest was build quality, reliability and price! In todays market it seems that the marketing guys like to make the photographer think the next generation DSLR camera is the best – and the more expensive, the more megapixels the better. Anything before that has become obsolete and incapable of producing a ‘good’ picture. I still have a fuji s1 pro that works fine – don’t use it on a paying job because of its age and not sure if its reliable enough. I have found through experience, and a few wise words from more experienced photographers, I have settled on a kit that suits my needs.

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