What is a Professional Camera?

I was showing some photos and I got the usual “compliment”

You must have a good camera.

What made this compliment different is that the person kept on with:

It must be a professional camera.

The standard answer is “it's not the camera, it's the photographer that makes the photographs”, but we all know that it's not true even among photographers. Most photographers think that they will have better photos with a full frame camera than with an APS-C. Even WPPI, the wedding and portrait photographers international, recommends full frame cameras.

There are professional cameras and there are professional photographers. Getty/iStock even restrict the photos they will accept to only specific cameras and the list of authorized cameras usually get updated once a year.

So what make a pro cameras?

  • Some people say that it must be a full frame camera. Anything else is for the “wanna be.” But this raise the question of formats. What about medium format? You know the Hasselblads, the Phase Ones, the Mamiyas of the world. They are are not full frame. Should they qualify as professional cameras? Obviously yes, mine's bigger than yours, so it must be better.
  • Can you do “real” street photography if you are not using a Leica M camera? Eric Kim, who does street photography workshops, at the end of each workshop makes everybody place their cameras on the table, then somebody uses an iPhone to take a photo of the participants and he posts it. 8 out of the 10 people in the group use Leica M cameras.
  • Currently, Nikon has only 2 profesional cameras: The D4 and the D800. What happened to the D700, the D3/D3s, even the “lowly” D300/D300s? They don't count anymore.
  • Currently Canon has only 2 professional cameras: The D5Mk3 and the 1Dx. Actually the 5DMk2 is still a professional camera but for video only. What about the 1DMk4, the 7D…
  • Lets not start the “I'm better than you because I use film…”
  • What about the most used camera? The smart phone. Photos taken with smart phones look great on smart phones. On a small screen, since you can't see any detail, everything looks good, but print it and now things start to look very different.

Syv's rules for a professional camera

  • The camera must have 2 wheels, one to control the aperture and the other one to control the shutter speed. If there is only one wheel, the photographer must go through some menu that is too much interference and leads to too many missed photos or not doing the proper correction/adjustment.
  • The camera should be somewhat “weather resistant.” Often I had to be in the rain to make the photos or I had to wait in the rain. In Los Angeles or Las Vegas, there is a lot less rain, but there is plenty more of sand, dust…
  • An excellent focusing system. Now matter how fancy the camera is, if the image is not in focus, it doesn't help. Notice how very few Leica street photographers use their lens wide open?
  • There must be a store/company, not too far away, that rents extra lenses, extra accessories, extra flashes… for that camera. Can't buy everything and stay in business…

We just had hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast with New York, New Jersey… New York is the hub of photography, with tens of thousands of extremely talented professional photographers and the big center of the publishing industry with Time, Conde Nast…

Where are the iconic images of hurricane Sandy? Nowhere to be found! Why? This time, the publishing industry decided to save money and to rely on crowd sourcing with the public providing the images with their iPhones instead of using professionals.