BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007

Pro vs. 'Beginner' Camera?

I've noticed "beginner" rated cameras that have more "pro" features (higher MP mostly). Are there more distinguishing features that qualifies a "pro" unit from beginner or intermediate? And does it really make a difference when it comes to quality shooting?
I am an "intermediate" aspiring to be "pro" - at least on a beginning rung of that ladder. I currently shoot with an Olympus e500 8MP - wanting to move that unit to "backup" status and add a more sophisticated unit. I would like to move to 15MP with IS - a strong zoom with macro, neutral density and polarizing filters and would greatly welcome guidance. I am even thinking of waiting until a more "pro" unit with 25-30MP might be justifiable as a business expense...

To love this question, log in above
7/12/2009 9:34:27 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  The first things that makes a camera classified as a pro unit is usually pixel count and if the body is made of metal (aluminum, titanium...) and not plastic.
But other stuff is a higher sync speed, faster frame rate, and a wider ISO range, and typically you have more effort put into a pro body to have the best picture quality. And usually pro models don't have a pop-up flash, because a pro wouldn't find it useful.
But that's part of marketing. To make a living is to be a professional. And to make a living, do you need to have the most pixels and most expensive camera? That's relative.

To love this comment, log in above
7/12/2009 1:51:23 PM

Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007
  Thanks, Gregory --

This is all most helpful - appreciate!


To love this comment, log in above
7/12/2009 3:21:33 PM

Ken Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/11/2005
Contact Ken
Ken's Gallery
  Christine, you could probably extend this to lenses. There's also a big difference optically and in light sensitivity, between the "kit" lenses and the more pro lenses that can cost $1000 or more!

To love this comment, log in above
7/12/2009 4:03:07 PM

Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007
  Thank you, Ken -- great advice - so appreciated!

I just toured your gallery - WOW! SO impressive! We seem to share the same fav subjects - feel like I've just been to the best class just from observing all that totally works (and rocks!) with your images. I notice you shoot with a Canon - looking at that very closely - even more so now!

Again, thank you so much for the PRO guidance...


To love this comment, log in above
7/12/2009 4:34:55 PM

doug Nelson   Amateur cameras have scene modes and other gimmicks to get photographers out of thinking for themselves. You've shown yourself to be way beyond needing these crutches. As long as you can control shutter and aperture, ISO, white balance, can opt for RAW output, and can hold the camera steady - either by hand or with a tripod - it matters a lot less whether your SLR is a "pro" model. I don't know of a bottom-of-the-line or mid-level SLR that doesn't give you total control in these areas.
Take a look at what Henri Cartier-Bresson was able to accomplish without capturing 5 or more frames per second, and no auto focus.

To love this comment, log in above
7/13/2009 9:03:49 AM

Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007
  Thanks for your kind words and great advice, Doug - SO appreciated!

Guess patience isn't long suit, but do feel gratified to have grown so passionate about this art within the 1.5 years I've been shooting with heart and soul.

Cheers and again, thanks!


To love this comment, log in above
7/13/2009 9:52:39 AM

Bruce A. Dart   Hi Christine and all,
A lot of accurate information here. I've been a professional for the past 30 years -- long before digital. In the early days, the difference in equipment was obvious -- medium format, large strobes, etc. Now the average consumer can and does purchase the same equipment we use. The difference now has to be how we use it and the things we do that others haven't learned yet. That said, I think the pursuit of megapixels is somewhat (and I'd qualify that a bit) comparable to a Tim the Toolman episode where he hooked up a Chevy 427 engine to power his lawnmower.
Power!! More POWER!! LOL. Certainly I now need and use more megabytes in my computer than any of us ever dreamed possible and who knows what we will be using in the near future. However, like the color papers that never could print the full range of luminance captured on the film, how much of the information are we really using to make an 8x10? or even a 24x30? If National Geographic uses a 100 mb file to print posters the size of our front door, how much do we REALLY need? Do the new printers actually use that big of a file to print? I routinely use a 28 mb file to have 24x30 prints made from my lab with no problem and I doubt if three times that file size would help a lot. I realize photographers debate this forever but the point is we can make wonderful images without the most megapixels available. I occasionally make some fairly big prints but don't ever anticipate needing one the size of my front door!! Heart and soul indeed is what photography is about. Feeling that, seeing that, and ultimately recording it is much more important than all the "pro" features. I have more features on my camera now than I will ever use. Photoshop has more features than most pros will ever understand. It's nice that it's there if you reach that point but enjoy the journey along the way. Best wishes.
Bruce Dart (

To love this comment, log in above
7/15/2009 6:52:58 AM

Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007
  Fabulous advice from a true pro, Bruce -- I appreciate your honesty, time and humility. Your photos are awesome as well, of course...

Thank you again and again!


To love this comment, log in above
7/15/2009 7:06:52 AM

Bruce A. Dart   Thank you! I hope that about $85,000 and 30 years of seminars hasn't been wasted and that I actually learned a lot. I photograph people for a living but in the past few years have devoted more time to landscape and nature photos. One important aspect is to have fun and enjoy what you are doing. We sometimes lose sight of that in our "serious" mode.

To love this comment, log in above
7/15/2009 8:36:39 AM

Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007
  Truer words were never spoken, Bruce...



To love this comment, log in above
7/15/2009 4:29:25 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
Contact Carlton
Carlton's Gallery
  Hi Christine,
You have some wonderful photos in your gallery. I too like the more solid build of the Canon 40D/1Ds bodies but the XSi use the same sensor as the 40D and I have seen some great photos created by the plastic body cameras. I think the lenses are more important than the camera bodies because on average a person will upgrade to a newer camera body every 2 years but those L lenses will last for many years to come. I have 2 L lenses that I bought when I started shooting digitally and now 4 camera bodies later, I am still shooting with them (and 3 other L lenses that I have added to my collection).
my .02,

To love this comment, log in above
7/15/2009 7:00:06 PM

Greg McCroskery
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/27/2003
Bruce's answer reflects the understanding of a seasoned pro photographer. The megapixel race is totally out of reason for most professional applications. I have been shooting professionally for 25yrs and understand the kind of quality my clients expect. I currently shoot using the Olympus E-3 and it does everything I need for it to do with 10.3 MP. I have no problem printing 24X30 and 30X40 portrait prints that look great. While it is very important to use equipment that is reliable and lenses that are sharp and contrasty, the real issue has to do with the skill and artistry of the person pressing the shutter button. Most top professional photographers will produce incredible result with a point and shoot camera.

I wish you all the best in your career endeavors.

God Bless,

To love this comment, log in above
7/15/2009 7:47:52 PM

Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007
  Carlton - Thank you for your comments - I am so new to this or uninformed, I am not certain I understand what "L" lenses are, but am sure my mission to find out will take me to even greater insight in the process! :-) Appreciate your kind words about my work - I may easily say the same about yours!
Greg -- Your insight is great as well - your camera seems to be "pro" quality - think the newest version of that model is up to 12 MP now. I see no reason to strive for higher than that - agree that more is not necessarily better in that category. I do believe I need to look for greater than my current 8 though and definitely need to shop for a good macro lense. I LOVE your macro work, Greg - that cover photo of what looks to be passion flower with dragonfly is STUNNING - with the clarity and blurred background, that represents the quality I'm striving for. I am learning a lot in my first 1.5 years of shooting seriously - what a passion, isn't it?
Thanks again for sharing - appreciate all the education!



To love this comment, log in above
7/16/2009 10:39:18 AM

Dan W. Dooley
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2005
  Christine, I'm going to approach it from a different angle. Don't get hung up on pixels. That's the most common criteria and the first one thought of but in truth, is the least significant. This statement is made with "qualifiers" which I'll come back to. Like the old days of the CB radio craze. Remember those? "This is a better radio because it's got a bigger S-meter." Wrong!

You make a decision on a pro level camera when you find your level of photographic work outstripping the camera you have. Too many people want to jump right in to a high end SLR and they don't even know what "SLR" stands for. When you find yourself improving with your own photography to the point where you find that there are things you want to do and you discover that the camera you have cannot perform those tasks, you'll know exactly what you need and you'll look for a camera which gives you the tools to do those things.

To give you the most honest and common sense answer, and one which few will want to hear, if a person has to ask what to look for in a camera, that person does NOT need a pro level camera. The adage is this, or should be if it's not, a skilled photographer can make pro level photographs with the simplest of cameras while a beginner will take cell phone quality pictures with the best of pro level cameras. Not implying that you're in that later catagory, but just to make the point that the camera is only the tool. It does not create great photography. It is the skill and understanding of the photographer that makes the difference.

The pro level camera will give you more tools (I didn't say "features") to allow you to control the picture. Features, as some have implied in their answers, tend to be more for "ease of use" or fancy affects and those are not pro attributes. The degree that a camera allows you to control the shot to produce the affect YOU want, and not what the camera decides for you puts the camera into the pro class.

If you're needing to make huge poster prints, then you need lots of megapixels. If not something on the order of 8 to 10 mp will give you pro level pictures.


To love this comment, log in above
7/16/2009 4:24:02 PM

Christine Zipps
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/30/2007
  WOW - that's some great info in your response, Dan. I so agree with all your points. I have identified the features I need in my next camera to serve me for a long time, I'm sure and it is not in pro category... I hope to be considered pro status one of these days without it, actually - always have more levels to stretch toward, right?

LOVE your work, btw -- great stuff!

Many thanks again for making the time to share your insight and expertise.

Happy trails,


To love this comment, log in above
7/17/2009 9:38:59 AM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.