Professional vs Amateur Digital Cameras


Where do you draw the line?

In today’s market there are digital cameras of every size and shape that do just about everything imaginable. In skilled hands, nearly all of them can take beautiful photographs. However, some of them are considered professional and some of them are for the hobbyist. There are a few distinctions between amateur and professional cameras.

The strictest distinction between an amateur and a professional camera is the lens type. SLR (single lens reflex) cameras have the ability to swap lenses. Point and shoot cameras have a fixed lens that cannot be removed. All point and shoot cameras are amateur cameras. However, not all SLRs are professional cameras. Professional SLRs all have approximately the same size lens fitting. If you buy a camera with very small lenses you can be sure that this is a nonprofessional SLR. Many cameras today also balance on the line between amateur and professional cameras. This is where the debate becomes more a matter of opinion than a technical one.

There are some technical aspects that all very serious professional cameras share. They have a vertical grip, high burst rate, direct plug for studio lights with out using an adapter, titanium or other heavy construction and a big price tag.

These high-end professional cameras currently range between 8 and 16 mega pixels. They are also very impressive to look at. Carrying a large impressive camera lends a lot of credibility to any photographer just as carrying a small SLR can cause paying clients to wonder about the professionalism of their photographer.

Just below this type of camera is the range of professional cameras that are more affordable and are considered multi use cameras. Companies like Nikon and Canon have developed lines of “amateur-professional” cameras like the Canon Rebels and the Nikon D series.

Both of these types of cameras have professional grade light metering and focusing, can shoot in bursts, can be attached to studio strobes via a hot shoe adapter and take great photos. They are usually made of plastics and lighter metals and are affordable for most photographers who are serious enough to need a real SLR. These semi-pro cameras currently range between 6 and 8.5 mega Pixels.

The final distinction between a professional and amateur camera is the user. I am a professional photographer and a minimalist. I don’t believe in paying for a lot of equipment that I don’t need. I shoot with an 8.3 mega pixel Canon Rebel XT.

Although it’s a bit small for my taste it’s more than enough mega pixels to make beautiful prints for my clients even if they order posters. The light metering is exceptional and it has all of the features any portrait photographer needs. In my hands, this is definitely a professional camera. In the hands of an amateur who is shooting primarily on auto and just wants a nicer quality camera it would be a high-end amateur camera.

I suspect there will always be a debate about what exactly differentiates the amateur from the professional camera but in the end the photographic results speak for themselves. Professional images are clean, clear, crisp and have beautiful composition. If this is the result you’re getting from your digital SLR then go ahead and call it a professional camera. You earned it.

Laura has a Master’s degree in photography and owner of Beyond Photography in Bellingham, Washington.

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