Why owning a DSLR doesn’t make you a professional and why a professional doesn’t need a DSLR

In the photography industry, there are a lot of misconceptions. Most are from our customers or those unfamiliar with photography. Of them are the assumption that owning a DSLR or other camera with interchangeable lenses automatically makes you a professional or know what you’re doing and the assumption that a professional must own a DSLR or similar camera. These assumptions are similar to the idea that I own power tools and therefore must be a carpenter or I just have a hammer and nails but can’t build anything. A talented individual can succeed in his craft with any tools and someone that doesn’t know what he’s doing will not succeed with the best tools.

Notice the key words there: tools. That’s all a DSLR is, it’s a tool a photographer uses. So are the lenses, lights, light modifiers, filters, tripod, etc. Each piece is designed to do a certain type of task. Not all tools are of the same quality or as robust, but not everyone needs the best or most robust tools. The misconception that you need the best camera to be a good photographer feeds the assumption that someone with a nice camera must be a professional. It also feeds the idea that the skill or quality of the photographer is measured by how expensive or features a camera has — whether it’s a top-of-the-line camera or not.

The reality is that once you know how to take pictures and get familiar with a camera, you can do professional work with virtually any camera. At this point, the camera you use is a matter of preference. Some of us might prefer a lesser camera for the challenge of using it or the extra features of a more expensive camera might never be used. There are even professional photographers that only use an iPhone or other smartphone.

A recent discussion I had seen argued that the smartphone is one of the most important and most influential inventions for photography as an industry. The analogy that was used was the transition from large format photography as the norm 50-100 years ago to 35mm film as a growing standard. A similar transition is happening today between larger sensor cameras and smartphones with much of the same rhetoric. The argument in the large format to 35mm film was that the smaller image format would be inferior. It would lack detail and dynamic range. This is true, but it didn’t matter to the industry. In fact, 35mm film allowed more people to become photographers due to cost and portability. This in turn allowed for different styles of photography to emerge and new artists to experiment with photography. It also pushed more photography services that were more difficult with large format photography.

The same is happening today between larger sensor digital cameras and the smartphone. The smartphone has allowed even more people to become photographers, but, more importantly, they have allowed people to share their photography easier and be able to capture images at any moment. Detail and dynamic range still suffers from the smaller format, just like 35mm was worse than large format film.

With that said, there is a growing number of photographers sticking to their smartphone as their camera and that’s OK. Industry is advancing in this direction and apps and other software brings more to the artistic vision of the photographer at a faster pace. Smartphone sensors keep improving image quality and smartphones are allowing more people experiment in this industry.

On the other hand, there is also a growing number of people that find an interest in photography and feel pressured to buy a DSLR to be a respected or talented photographer. There is nothing wrong with owning a DSLR and learning with one. What is wrong is having a mindset that the DSLR will make you a professional. The camera is just a tool. Composition, lighting, and other aspects of photography still apply. The camera can’t magically make your skills better.

With that said, don’t buy the “best” camera on the market for the sake of starting a business or start a business because you have “the best camera.” The camera you use must meet your needs. That includes having the right features, not having features that will go unused, and having the right price. It is much more cost-effective to buy a cheaper camera that meets your needs and spend the extra money on a nicer lens instead of putting all of the money on the most expensive camera you can afford.

Going back to the idea that the camera is just a tool and talented photographers can shoot with any camera successfully, DigitalRev TV proves this with a series of videos titled “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera Challenge.” Professional photographers are tasked to a photo shoot with a cheap camera. There are challenges overcoming the camera limitations, but the skill of the photographer is still utilized. You can watch several of them here.

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