Un-Blurring The Lines: When Can You Rightfully Call A Product “Pro” Gear?

To get a handle on the issue at hand we first have to define a "pro photographer." In the simplest terms, a professional is someone who makes money at what they do. But pros can also have another day job entirely, or do the odd photographic job on nights and weekends to help pay the rent. Indeed, many pro photographers started working for nothing or next to nothing monetarily, and did the job for the experience and contacts it provided (see also, "photo assistant"). But being a pro can have nothing to do with earning money and everything to do with attitude, with approaching the art and craft of photography seriously and making it a calling, a way to express your creative impulse. That attitude understands that certain gear makes the grade and is an aid, and not a hindrance, to the task at hand.

In olden days I started out photographing weddings and events with a 35mm SLR; it's all I had and I trust I made the best of it. But when I saw the work of pros who worked with medium format I knew that I had to take the money earned and move up in size. True, medium format did not a better photographer make, but all things being equal it made a profound difference in formals and potential print size and sales. But then so-called "wedding photojournalism" came into being, and 35mm became the format of choice, now replaced with D-SLRs. Did style and technology come together to spell the defeat of medium format in the wedding trade? Or did pros recognize that certain D-SLRs made the pro-gear grade, and adapt their approach accordingly?

While fine cameras, few pros I know would show up at the banquet hall with a Canon Rebel or Nikon D40. First off, they would probably have the same gear as quite a few of the guests, not a good thing. Second, pros need cameras that can take abuse, and that last through many, many jobs. If you check the specs on "shutter firings" you'll see pro-rated cameras have hundreds of thousands of cycles built-in; amateur cameras have substantially less. (Quick tip: Buying a used camera from a pro is like buying a used car from a stock car driver.) Third, and as important, pro cameras can deliver optimum image quality due to enhanced image processing, and a myriad of options that allow for image customization.

The same can be said for lighting gear. True, a built-in flash can be a handy item, but it will never match the quality, or output, of a shoe-mount flash, or better yet, off-camera lighting that's modified to enhance the portrait or still life subject.

In short, pro gear should live up to your expectations and not make you compromise in the application of your craft. It should challenge you to learn more to improve your image quality. It should help you maximize your time so that you can spend it producing the kind of images you want, and not fight you every step of the way to always make up for its deficiencies.

True, pro gear can get expensive. Unfortunately, the efficiencies of scale in terms of production rarely gets applied to pro gear as it often does to mass-produced, amateur products. And some gear pronounced as "pro" surely becomes obsolete a lot quicker than it did in the days of metal bodied medium format film cameras.

While marketers may try to blur the lines, there is so much information available, and so many sources for research about products, that those willing to make the investment in money for their gear are wise enough to also make the investment in time to help them make the right choices. We try our best to do our part here at Shutterbug to be a part of that decision-making process, and to help you un-blur the lines.