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
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.
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.
|Camera||Canon 5D Mk IV|
|Cost (body only)||$3,299|
|Frame Rate||7 frames per second|
|Buffer||21 RAW images|
|Auto Focus||61 points, 41 cross-type|
|Added features||4K HD video, GPS, WiFi, Intervalometer|
|Weight||1.77 lbs./800 grams|
|Cost (body only)||#3296.95|
|Sensor MP||47.5 MP|
|Frame Rate||5 frames per second|
|Auto Focus||153 points w/ 99 cross-type|
|Added Features||4K HD video, WiFi, touch panel LCD|
|Weight||2 lbs./905 grams|
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.
|Camera||Canon 1 Dx Mark II|
|Cost (body only)||$5,699|
|Frame Rate||up to 16 frames per second|
|Auto Focus||61 point with 41 cross-type|
|Added Features||4K HD video, touch panel LCD screen|
|Weight||3.4 lbs/1530 grams|
|Cost (body only)||$6496.95|
|Frame Rate||up to 14 frames per second|
|Auto Focus||153 points, 99 cross-type|
|Added Features||4K HD video, touch panel LCD|
|Weight||3.1 lbs./1415 grams|
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!
|Cost (body only)||$5495|
|Sensor MP||50 MP|
|Frame Rate||3 frames per second|
|Auto Focus||27 points, 25 contrast detection and 3 for low light|
|Added Features||HD video, WiFi, intervalometer|
|Weight||54.7 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?