This is a fascinating question, which most amateur photographers have asked ourselves at some point.
The common idea is that the higher the range (price) of a camera, the better its photos. And for that reason, the photographs taken by professionals are always better than the ones we take with our mid-range cameras.
This is False
Professional photographers generally take better photos because they are good photographers, not because they are professional photographers: they know the technique, they know the limits of their equipment, they know how to choose the best framing, they use the right lighting, or they look for the moments when natural light it is more conducive, etc., etc., etc.
There are no professional cameras.
Some professionals use several tools to do their job.
The camera is one more tool, perhaps the most visible, but most of the time, it is not the factor that makes the difference when it comes to the final result.
Can an amateur photographer take better photos than a professional photographer?
Yes, of course. The difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is not in each’s technical or artistic ability or in the material they use.
The difference is that a professional photographer acquires a commitment to his clients, to offer the service with a certain level of quality, in certain circumstances, adjusting to a predetermined calendar and for a price that allows him to obtain an economic benefit that is also reasonable for the customer.
To fulfill this commitment, the professional photographer will look for a team that allows him to streamline and optimize his entire workflow.
You will be looking for reliable equipment that enables you to work in circumstances where you are sometimes not in control and in situations that require a swift and efficient response.
What are the ranges (concerning cameras)?
The ranges are related to the profile of the customer to whom a specific camera model is directed. In other words, it is a subjective commercial classification that sometimes responds more to commercial and marketing interests than to objective criteria.
In the case of reflex cameras (or mirrorless / EVIL), the following divisions are usually made:
- Entry range: They are cameras aimed at amateur users starting in the world of photography. Cheap SLR cameras are recommended.
- Intermediate-range: There are also subdivisions within this mid-range, but they are cameras aimed at amateur users and more advanced amateurs. Recommended Cameras for Hobbyists.
- Advanced / semi-professional mid-range: Include functions and features more geared towards professional use
- Professional range: Here would be the cameras that include the most advanced technology of the moment, with the best features, qualities of materials and manufacturing, ergonomics, etc. The flagships of each manufacturer. Oriented to professional use.
For this type of camera (SLR, EVIL/mirrorless, mid-high-end compact…), for a similar technological level in their sensors, the difference between the ranges in terms of image quality is relatively small.
In other words, an entry-level SLR camera, in most situations, will take photos very, very similar to a professional-class SLR, indistinguishable for practical purposes in most cases.
So if the image quality is similar, what do higher-end cameras bring?
We are going to see in the following sections some characteristics that usually make the difference between ranges.
What characteristics usually make the difference between one range and another?
As we have said, the ranges are commercial classifications; having or not any of these characteristics does not mean that the model automatically enters the corresponding spectrum. It is the set of features that must be valued.
Quick access buttons, dials, and controls
Cameras more geared towards professional use tend to include more controls, dials, and quick access buttons.
The idea is that a professional has to be able to respond quickly to changing situations.
For example, wasting several seconds to make a configuration change can mean missing that special moment that makes the difference in a report during an event.
Adding more controls and buttons to a camera means that the body will probably have to be larger, there are more mechanical elements, the design is more complex, etc. That is, it makes the product more expensive.
Entry-level cameras simplify and reduce the number of physical checks to lower the price of the product.
The sensor’s size dramatically influences the cost of manufacture (it is not a linear relationship).
On the other hand, larger sensors allow more light to be captured, and their performance is usually better (less noise, more excellent dynamic range, etc.)
Historically, DSLR manufacturers decided to mount two types of sensors.
- The Full Frame sensors, which corresponded to the negative 35mm film’s size, offered the best performance, but they were costly and were oriented to the professional sector.
- The smaller APS-C sensors made it possible to lower manufacturing costs and were intended for the entry and intermediate ranges.
From Olympus and Kodak, the Four Thirds system also appeared, with sensors slightly smaller than the APS-C, designed to offer a piece of more compact and lightweight equipment. Later, the system evolved into the Micro 4/3 from Olympus and Panasonic, intended for mirrorless cameras.
At present, although the size of the sensor is still a factor to consider, it is not such a decisive criterion.
Technological advancement has allowed smaller sensors to perform very well.
Professional-range SLRs usually mount Full Frame sensors, but there are also cameras aimed at professional use with APS-C and micro 4/3 sensors.
The autofocus system’s speed and precision are some of the most important and valued features of a camera.
In SLR cameras, a specialized sensor is used, separate from the image sensor, which enables phase-detection focusing. It is a high-speed and accurate system.
What are the general differences between the input range and the higher ranges?
- Higher ranges typically have more phase-detection focus points. This involves larger focus sensors with more complex electronics.
- Higher ranges often include focus sensors with higher sensitivity, increasing the chances of achieving fast and accurate focus in worse lighting conditions.
- Lower ranges tend to mount older technology focusing systems (to reuse systems already tested in previous higher range models)
Mirrorless cameras (such as EVIL and advanced compacts) do not have a separate sensor for the focus system but instead use the image sensor itself to perform the autofocus process.
Today, image sensor-based focusing systems are increasingly advanced, faster, and more precise and have the advantage of eliminating much of the complexity of independent sensor-based systems.
Besides, as these systems work with the image of the scene, they can apply all kinds of algorithms and recognition processes:
- Face detection and tracking systems
- Eye detection and tracking systems
- Face recognition to track a specific person within a group
As with SLRs, the professional ranges of mirrorless cameras offer their most advanced focus, recognition, and object tracking systems.
High-end cameras often include the latest technology.
On the one hand, it offers a competitive advantage over cameras from other manufacturers. And on the other hand, it differentiates itself from previous models and makes it worth the photographer’s effort to renew their equipment.
Similarly, the lower ranges often reuse systems and technology from older models in higher capacities. In this way, manufacturers can reuse components that have already been tested, reducing costs. This usually happens with image sensors, processors, focusing systems, additional electronics, etc.
Construction and reliability
This is a section that is very important for professional photographers. The camera is their work tool; if the camera doesn’t work, they can’t do their job.
On the other hand, a photographer sometimes has to carry out projects in very adverse conditions: rain, snow, sand, dust, splashes in individual events, etc.
Cameras for professional use have to guarantee proper operation even under adverse conditions:
- They are built with more robust materials, for example, metal alloys instead of plastic.
- They are sealed against dust and splashes.
- The controls and dials are more vital to ensure proper operation over the lifetime.
- The moving mechanisms as the shutter also providing means lifetimes greater.
Besides, professionals often use larger and heavier lenses. The cameras have to be very robust to ensure a perfect hold and that the camera is not damaged due to mechanical stresses, especially in the area of the mount.
As we move down the range, materials and manufacturing processes are geared towards reducing costs to offer more attractive prices.
The entry and intermediate ranges do not usually have sealed bodies, making the manufacturing process very expensive.
Another critical feature for a professional photographer is the backup function via a double storage card slot.
There is always the risk that a card will break down and stop working. Imagine that a wedding photographer loses the entire session due to a faulty card.
Dual-slot cameras allow for a separate backup of each photo. This characteristic is usually only in cameras aimed at professional use.
What range is right for me?
In general, it is not a good idea to use a gamut when choosing a camera.
Buying a camera is quite a significant investment, and the jump in price from one range to the next does not correspond to a proportional increase in the camera’s performance.
Assess what features you will need in your day-to-day life and in what situations you will use the camera. You will have to find a balance between the benefits you need and the budget you are willing to invest.
Just because a camera is more advanced or geared towards professional use does not mean that it is the best or the most suitable for a specific user.
For most hobbyists and advanced hobbyists, the current mid-range models (SLR, EVIL/mirrorless, or advanced compact ) more than cover most of their needs and fall short of taking advantage of the camera’s full potential.