I will be attending a music festival (Lollapalooza) this weekend, and according to the site's FAQ page, attendees are not allowed to bring in "professional" recording equipment.

From the site:


  • Non-Professional Recording Equipment (Point & Shoot Cameras, Flip Video Cameras, etc.)

Not Allowed:

  • Professional Recording (Photo, Video, Audio) Equipment (NO Detachable Zoom Lenses, Tripods or Other Commerical Equipment

This made me think about what makes a camera and its user, a professional or hobbyist.

My questions are:

What makes a camera and its equipment "professional"? For amateurs and hobbyists?

Is it cost? The detachable lens? Would professionals not use point & shoot cameras? Megapixels?

It's horrible that DSLRs are not being allowed in a public park for these private events to protect the image/copyright of the performers, but what clear distinction can we come to a consensus on as to what is "professional"?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this is a community wiki type question, but too late to change it back I believe. \$\endgroup\$
    – Reid
    Aug 6, 2010 at 5:23
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I thought it was pretty subjective and there may not be a clear answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – spong
    Aug 6, 2010 at 5:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The question on its own is fairly subjective, but the example you describe is very typical of festivals and performances generally, and has a fairly concrete answer: does it look big and fancy? Yes? "Professional." \$\endgroup\$
    – ex-ms
    Aug 6, 2010 at 10:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like the question as to whetehr this is subjective is itself subjective :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – justintime
    Aug 7, 2010 at 9:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since this question got activity recently I think it's interesting to note the answers so far do not cover the one most likely reason why venues restrict 'pro' cameras. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2014 at 8:16

7 Answers 7


It's a meaningless distinction. It depends on who's saying it, and what's "professional" to one venue might not be to another.

In this case, it's pretty clear they won't let you bring in a DSLR, because it has a detachable lens. Good luck educating them on the distinction between prime and zoom.

I totally share your frustration. It's obvious from their "policy" that whatever their goals w.r.t. photography are - if they in fact do have coherent goals - they are pretty incompetently expressed. I have no problem with event organizers setting a photography policy, but not if it's incoherent and ignorant of what photography is and what photographers do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you're missing a possible reason. Money. Trying to sell a DSLR high quality photo is much easier than a crappy iPhone photo, to say a newsletter or something. I gather it's also because they would have hired or given media passes to their own professionals to do precisely that. I could also throw in the argument of "go and enjoy the damn show." \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2011 at 2:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nick Bedford : I'd go with my Canon A400, make the best photos I can (and believe it, it's not all camera, but skills too) and then place the card in the DSLR and go sell them. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 22, 2011 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know that Andrei, but you cannot deny a compact is simply not capable of taking photographs at the quality of DSLR's, regardless of photographer skill level. There's the technical distinction there too. I find it quite easy to spot a photograph from a compact and one from a DSLR most of the time. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 22, 2011 at 23:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ While the distinction is meaningless in some sense, I think their goals are pretty clear: let people bring cameras in to record their moment, but preserve the venue/artist's control over high-quality close-ups of the performers. The "zoom lens" part is ignorant, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wayne
    Dec 6, 2014 at 16:34

There are two questions:

What makes a camera "professional", to a photographer?


What makes a camera "professional" to everyone else?

In this case these people clearly don't know anything about photography as their definition of "professional" is based on pretty stupid criteria.

For example: Detachable Zoom Lenses aren't allowed, so how about detachable prime lenses? Obviously the minimum wage highschool dropouts they'll have working security won't know the difference...

The definition of professional is nuanced. Anything a professional photographer uses, is professional gear, by definition. Professional means "someone who makes a living through photography." This has no implication about skill, or quality.

In terms of gear, professional "equipment" is gear designed for rugged use. It's built with very high quality control, to very exact specifications, highly durable, and offers a bevy of features that your regular hobbyist might not ever want or need. If you are someone who makes a living taking photos, and your cameras cannot ever be allowed to fail, then you buy a professional body. This is almost always reflected in the price, but if you need performance, you pay for it.

In the hands of a skilled photographer, any camera is capable of producing images that can grace magazine covers. fstoppers did a photo shoot using only an iPhone camera. And if some random person picks up a new 1Ds, there is a strong likelihood that the pictures will suck.

There will be many professionals who swear by non-professional grade bodies. And certainly they have a point. President Obama's Presidential Portrait was taken with a 5D Mark II. However the 5D II has only a 9-point AF system compared to the 1Ds Mark III 45 point AF system with like 36 high resolution cross-types at f4 or better.

So to recap: professional means professional grade: high durability, high standard of quality, crazy feature set, and full control.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice distinction. Well put. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Aug 6, 2010 at 14:26

remember that at places like that, the "rules" are generally enforced by rentacops. So there isn't a lot of training and they can be widely varying depending on which door you go in. So expect ambiguity. Many times, it "it looks professional" to whoever looks at it, that's all that matters, and there's no real appeal channel.

I've been involved in helping foster rational camera policies for a couple of venues over the years (once having been on the wrong end of a subjective enforcement that got a bit nasty). With the organizations I've dealt with, the way they teach the ushers to evaluate cameras for "no professional" generally runs to:

No interchangeable lenses (i.e., no SLR/DLSR).

No lenses over six inches long.

no "big" lenses (i.e. large front lens elements, implying fast lenses)

no tripods or monopods.

with modern gear, you can get really good (and publishable) images with gear that meets these criteria. Panasonic/Lumix does a super zoom that does well in sports venues that limit you to "oint and shoots" because it looks like one. Increasingly, when things like iPhones can turn out high quality images and video, this is a losing battle (but that doesn't help you today).

What they're trying to do is manage professional images from photogs that aren't credentialed. It's increasingly a losing battle, but the things that'll set them off are high magnification, fast lenses, and if they know what they're looking for, units that are good at low-noise in low-light situations because ultimately that's what a concert's going to be. So leave your IS lenses at home..

  • \$\begingroup\$ The extent to which the some peoples' use of cameras affects other people's enjoyment of the show may be affected by those people's perception of the photographer. If the photographer holds a cheap camera in the air and snaps some pictures in the general direction of the stage, the impression will be "Hey, that person is enjoying the show and wants a souvenir". By contrast, the impression of someone with fancier gear might be "That person seems to be getting annoyed at all the people waving their hands and enjoying themselves--I wish he'd stop trying to take pictures and enjoy himself." \$\endgroup\$
    – supercat
    Nov 21, 2014 at 20:24

For a professional photographer a professional camera is something that is built to be durable and reliable, things like a camera with a metal body and a shutter guaranteed for 100000 exposures, and weather sealed lenses. For a Canon user that means a 1 series (or possibly 5 series) camera, and L series lenses. (Professionals of course frequently use equipment not specifically intended for professional use.)

For the ones arranging the music festival it means anything that you can use to produce professional looking images. That actually means a decent camera and a good photographer, but as they can't forbid good photographers to enter, they have to focus on the equipment instead.


This might be a good time to haul out something like a Canon G10/11, or as chuqui pointed out, a Panasonic Lumix or other superzoom. I've got a Lumix FZ-28, and if the lighting is good (daylight), this would perform well. If you shoot into the evening, I think I'd rather have the Canon, as I'm not crazy about the high-ISO performance of the Lumix.

If you want to push your luck a bit, something like an Olympus PEN might just look enough like a P&S to get in.


Years ago attending a school of photography in NYC...the Q came up as to what is a pro-camera. ALL the masters stated, It is not the camera that makes the shot, it is the one behind the camera that makes the shot...this is a still the truth today. I had learned over the years that a pro is the one who separates their shot intuitively and aesthetically in time of acquired technique and experience...I was taken by a shot taken by a 1 inch SPY camera from a theatre wing that became one famed photo--so goes the talk to buy expensive or not--


As far as "professional" goes, I think it's more clear than other users are trying to claim.

A DSLR by nature is typically used by enthusiasts and professionals, not your average joe (even if this is changing lately).

A detachable lens is most often used in "professional" gear whether it be used by a hobbyist/enthusiast or professional.

I suppose you might be able to get away with a compact-like camera such as a rangefinder with a small prime lens, such as a Leica M9 or (more affordable) equivalent, but when it comes to DSLRs, you can pretty much say no.

I think there's a couple of other reasons to factor in the reasons why taking professional equipment is a no-no, as much as being a photographer myself, I wish didn't exist.

You're there to enjoy the event, not photograph the bands in high detail. There are photographer's explicitly hired or given media passes to do just that.

You're gear could be prone to damage. I don't know about you but I wouldn't take my DSLR into a crowd of screaming fans.

They don't want to be held responsible for theft or damage. Public liability can be a nightmare.

Individual artists may have guidelines that must be adhered to by professional photographers. Take Lady Gaga for example.

I'm sure there's many more reasons.


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