How Much Does a Professional Camera Cost?

In Gear by Frank Gallagher24 Comments

A range of pro camera bodies.

The focus of this article is on how much a pro camera body will cost and the short answer is between $3,000 and tens of thousands of dollars.  There are a lot of choices out there, from pro-level DSLR bodies to medium format.  It all depends on what your needs are.

Do you need a pro-level camera?

First, ask yourself if you really need a pro camera body.  We all want the best equipment we can afford but it’s important to realize that good technique, great light and solid compositional skills will make a bigger difference than a new camera.  After all, photos from smart phone cameras have been published in photography magazines.  So, don’t let the lack of a pro camera body hold you back.  In fact, a lot of professional photographers don’t use “pro” cameras and find that prosumer models like Nikon’s D750 or Canon’s 6D meet all their needs at a significantly lower price point.

However, once you have the camera body of your dreams, you’d better have good glass.  That’s why many photographers buy high-quality lenses

Nikon D850

before they upgrade the camera body.  It’s hard to take full advantage of the capabilities of a pro camera with a kit lens.  On the other hand, good glass can improve your results with an average camera body.  In any case, your upgrade budget should include having the lenses you need for your photography style.  So, add at least $1,000 per lens, used.  More like $1,500 – $2,000 new.

What makes pro cameras different?

Pro bodies cost more because they offer a number of things you can’t get in entry- or consumer-level cameras.  Pro bodies are built like tanks—they’re durable and weather sealed.  They have a minimum of plastic parts, like battery or memory card doors instead using metal for these pieces.  They can take abuse and are built to last.  Some have shutter mechanisms rated to last for 400,000 cycles!

Pro bodies also have high burst rates and large buffers.  They can take multiple shots per second and continuously shoot for a while before running out of memory.  This can be important when you’re shooting a burst to make sure you capture the decisive moment when the player catches the ball or the groom kisses the bride or the keynote speaker makes that gesture.

As you move up to a pro body, you’re also likely to be getting improved ability to capture low-light images and better autofocus systems.  In some cases, you’ll also bet better options for shooting tethered for fashion shots or product photography.  They often have better LCD monitors on the back, sometimes with touch operation.  They have more buttons and dials, so more key functions are easily accessed without having to go through a menu.  And you may get dual memory card slots, GPS or WiFi.

Finally, pro cameras are typically part of a deep ecosystem that has lots of different lenses, gadgets and gizmos and quick, reliable repair options.

Features currently in pro cameras will gradually work their way down to prosumer and then to consumer level cameras.  Just like new features in automobiles first appear in the most expensive brands, then gradually start showing up in mid-range cars.  However, in an effort to keep entry-level cameras affordable, some of the advanced features won't trickle down that far.

There are three categories of pro bodies, tailored to the needs of different types of photographers:  Prosumer, Pro and Medium Format.

Prosumer

Canon 5D Mark IV

The least expensive, coming in around $3,000 are sometimes called prosumer cameras as they appeal to both professionals and advanced amateurs.  Canon’s 5D MkIV, Nikon’s D850 (see review here) and Sony’s new A7riii fall into this category.  The Sony isn't out as this is being written, but you can get more details about it here.  These are terrific all-round cameras.  Some photographers might also include the Nikon D750, Fuji’s X-Pro2 and other bodies in this category, but the examples below will give you a good idea of what features are in the category.

CameraCanon 5D Mk IV
Cost (body only)$3,299
Sensor MP30.4
Native ISO100-3200
Frame Rate7 frames per second
Buffer21 RAW images
Auto Focus61 points, 41 cross-type
Added features4K HD video, GPS, WiFi, Intervalometer
Weight1.77 lbs./800 grams
CameraNikon D850
Cost (body only)#3296.95
Sensor MP47.5 MP
Native ISO64-25,600
Frame Rate5 frames per second
Buffer22 shots
Auto Focus153 points w/ 99 cross-type
Added Features4K HD video, WiFi, touch panel LCD
Weight2 lbs./905 grams

Pro Bodies

Canon’s 1 Dx MkII and Nikon’s D5 are top-of-the-line, pro cameras, clocking in at around $6,000.

Nikon D5

Counterintuitively, they have sensors with lower MP counts than prosumer models.  Fewer pixels in the same sensor surface size allows a camera like the 1Dx or D5 to clear the sensor faster, which leads to a faster frame rate and the ability to hold more images in the buffer while the camera processes them and places the images onto your memory cards.  Canon and Nikon are the major players in this market level and these are their flagship cameras.

CameraCanon 1 Dx Mark II
Cost (body only)$5,699
Senson MP20.2
Native ISO100-51,200
Frame Rateup to 16 frames per second
Buffer170 shots
Auto Focus61 point with 41 cross-type
Added Features4K HD video, touch panel LCD screen
Weight3.4 lbs/1530 grams
CameraNikon D5
Cost (body only)$6496.95
Sensor MP20.8
Native ISO100-102,400
Frame Rateup to 14 frames per second
Buffer200 shots
Auto Focus153 points, 99 cross-type
Added Features4K HD video, touch panel LCD
Weight3.1 lbs./1415 grams

Medium Format

Medium format cameras, often favored by the fashion industry but used in a wide variety of situations, including landscape, have a much wider price range, ranging from Pentax’s 645 at less than $6,000 to Hasselblad’s 100 MP monster, the H6D-100c at about $30,000!

CameraPentax 645
Cost (body only)$5495
Sensor MP50 MP
Native ISO100-25,600
Frame Rate3 frames per second
Buffer10 shots
Auto Focus27 points, 25 contrast detection and 3 for low light
Added FeaturesHD video, WiFi, intervalometer
Weight54.7 oz./1.55 kg

As you can see, there is a camera for everyone, whether you're a hobbyist and want to stay with a consumer-level camera, whether you're getting more serious about your photography and want to move into a prosumer camera or whether you need everything a pro-level camera offers.  If you can afford it, there's a camera body out there for you!  As for me?  I'm pretty happy with my D750.  But I have to admit casting covetous eyes at the D850!

What about you?  What are your must-have features and do you need a pro camera for your photography?

 


About the Author

Frank Gallagher

Frank Gallagher is a full-time photographer who lives in the Washington, DC area, specializing in working with nonprofit organizations. In addition to writing about photography, he is one of the leaders of the DC-area NANPA Nature Photography Meetup group and manages the NANPA blog, as well as edits their annual Expressions magazine. He enjoys landscape and wildlife photography, travel and spending time with his wife exploring new places and rediscovering old ones.

Comments

  1. he is one of the leaders of the DC-area NANPA Nature Photography Meetup group. By day a non-profit foundation executive, he enjoys landscape photography, travel and spending time

  2. The cheapest model that will give you your coordinates and a compass feature is the Garmin eTrex H. The compass on this unit reads from the satellites, so you must be walking for the compass reading to update.

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  4. Not sure how long ago this was published, so I’m hoping it was recent enough for somebody to reply. I’m young and really want to start taking good pictures, maybe continue doing it as a side job as an adult. Should I start off with something simple? Do you have any cameras to recommend for me?

    1. Author

      Hello Elizabeth

      Many of the writers here at Improve Photography started with low-end to intermediate level cameras and gradually built up to the pro-level gear. You could start with something like the Nikon D3400 or D5600, the Sony a5100, or the Canon Rebel series (T5i or T6i), for example. If you have the money (or buy used gear) the Nikon D7200, D750, Sony a6000 series or Canon 60D for example, are good bets. Each is capable of taking serious, quality images. What’s more important is technique and your lens. I think you’d quickly outgrow the “kit” lens that comes with most low-level cameras and would recommend that you put your money in good quality lenses which you’ll keep for many years. The low-level camera you might sell or trade in for the next level up when you find it keeps you from doing something you want to do. You might also want to look at Fuji, Olympus or Panasonic. Consider which brand you feel most comfortable with as you’ll probably want to stay with them so you can keep the expensive lenses as you get better cameras. Google “best entry level cameras 2018” for some reviews and we hope you’ll enjoy your photographic journey.

  5. You might also want to look at Fuji, Olympus or Panasonic. Consider which brand you feel most comfortable with as you’ll probably want to stay with them so you can keep the expensive lenses as you get better cameras. Google “best entry level cameras 2018” for some reviews and we hope you’ll enjoy your photographic journey.

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  8. I think you’d quickly outgrow the “kit” lens that comes with most low-level cameras and would recommend that you put your money in good quality lenses which you’ll keep for many years. The low-level camera you might sell or trade in for the next level up when you find it keeps you from doing something you want to do. You might also want to look at Fuji, Olympus or Panasonic. Consider which brand you feel most comfortable with as you’ll probably want to stay with them so you can keep the expensive lenses as you get better cameras.

  9. You might also want to look at Fuji, Olympus or Panasonic. Consider which brand you feel most comfortable with as you’ll probably want to stay with them so you can keep the expensive lenses as you get better cameras.

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