PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux


Semi-pro, grrr

Somebody looked at my camera this weekend and called me a “semi-pro” photographer. She meant it as a compliment and I welcomed it as that, but I hate the term. I think Will Ferrel’s movie by that name evokes the right feelings. I would infinitely prefer to be called a passionate photographer.

At the most, the term “semi-pro” ought to indicate the status of/or suitability for a part-time job. I suppose that applies to me as a photographer (indeed I was there to shoot a wedding, though I wasn’t paid) but how this relates to my camera and/or lenses I don’t see. I didn’t buy this camera to work, and never used it that way before.

As it pertains to photography equipment, I think the term “pro” is weak enough that “semi-pro” is just absurd. Where does “art” equipment come in? What if I had showed up with an FE-2 instead of a D700? – I really considered going with that.

Coarse-grained labels like T-shirt sizes (small, medium, large) simplify the message for marketing. Camera industry watchers tend to speak this way too and so the system exhibits a self-reinforcing behavior: traits that the market identify with “pro” equipment become purified over time (exaggerated) to make sure products are met with the right labels. If it’s small and light (or not black) it’s for beginners, then if it’s a colossal fear-striking instrument it’s for professionals.

The model that is promoted by internet photography forum dwellers is one of linear progression like this:

Beginner -> Amateur -> Semi-Professional -> Professional

If you’ll let me, I’m going to transpose this progression with the real hidden meaning based on how the labeled equipment feels to me:

Embarrasment -> Curiosity -> Frustration -> Resignation

Let me explain how a forum dweller progresses:

  • At first you’re ashamed of what your camera produces, you’ve got no idea how to make it work because it’s designed to look like magic, probably nobody could make it work.
  • Then you get a more serious camera and you discover all those wonderful features that make photography actually work reliably, except there’s no depth.
  • So eventually you outgrow that camera and you move up to progressively bigger equipment, there’s always a faster lens or sensor out there that you must have.
  • Finally you just groan under the load of 15 lbs of heavy byzantine tools that don’t perform as well per dollar, on the belief that there’s just no other option.

What if there were high-end products that wouldn’t immediately be perceived as “pro” or “semi-pro”?  What if the “curiosity” stage just kept on going?

How do you characterize the K7D? -- I wish it’s not semi-pro, but it probably is.
What about the E-P1? -- too bad it’s not so great for manual lenses.
What about a digital rangefinder? -- we need alternatives…

I try very hard to walk the line of eternal curiosity.  It's a minefield out there laid down by labels like "semi pro".

- Olivier

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. That is quite a write up. I seem to have gone through the same set of stages myself and am still wondering where I am….

  2. I dunno. The E-P1 with it’s wealth of adapters, looks to be pretty interesting as you can try so many different lenses on it. M4/3, 4/3, F-mount, M-mount, etc. I still won’t buy it because I’m saving up for a new DSLR.

    Note, I’ve given up on a D700 as I think it’s too expensive. I’m waiting for the alleged D300s.

  3. Gen,

    I’m not sure how that relates to this topic.

    The E-P1 does extend the “cusiosity” phase I believe, but those adapters don’t really fit well with the camera’s operation. The high crop factor and arms’ length LCD focussing won’t really do justice to the lenses you might want to put on the adapters. You can try lots of lenses but it’ll be pretty unproductive.

  4. ‘Pro’ labels are pretty silly, and ‘semi-pro’ more so. Though I am sometimes assumed to be clueless because I use a D60, especially by other photogs carrying oversized gear at live music events (which I like shooting). Their cameras may be better in some ways, but they’re also expensive and unwieldy, particularly when hanging off the back of those slow f/2.8 zooms. 😉

    Equating camera size with professionalism is partly driven by Anglo-American reviewers, who never fail to criticise small bodies like the Rebel for having small grips. I wonder if these reviewers are baffled when faced with gripping a pencil. Good ergonomics are not so closely tied to size as is commonly imagined. I still feel more comfortable with my Nikon FM2 than my D60, and the FM2 is basically brick-shaped.

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