Right now I am trying to get wiser in my choice for what camera I should buy to start working as a professional photographer. I'm considering a full frame or APS-C like Fujifilm XE-1 or an old medium format with digital back.... I love the Fuji for its handy size, liveview function (as I do not need an EVF), and 35mm-quality lens. Good price and superb quality. But will it be 'professional' enough? I mainly do portraits. If the Sigma DP2M was more adaptable in use I would prefer it above all other cameras, as I am a Foveon fan.

The new cheap Canon full frame sounds interesting, though, in what it can offer. I find the Sony RX-1 interesting, but need a portrait lens. The compact idea of Sony is a GREAT start. But I want to buy something soon... The idea of Sony with a fixed lens is fantastic, as I like to be free of changing lenses and dust on the sensor....

  • 2
    Welcome to Photo.Stackexchange! As it stands, this question might not attract the best answers, and is likely to get lots of opinions on individual cameras rather than an overriding answer. If you edit your question so that it has one key statement that could be answered it may get a better response. – Edd Nov 2 '12 at 19:59
  • 3
    What exactly do you mean by "professional enough"? – mattdm Nov 2 '12 at 22:23
  • 1
    If you have to ask this, are you sure you're ready to 'go pro' ? – Mike Feb 18 '13 at 14:03

Let's start with the most basic statement: almost every DSLR or EVIL (okay, "mirrorless") camera made in the past couple of years is perfectly adequate to the task. Portraiture isn't exactly demanding of camera or lens as long as you avoid the worst that's out there. Medium format backs will give you slightly better tonality than full-frames, which will in turn give you slightly better tonality than APS-C cameras, and so on down the road. Larger sensors will give you more apparent detail than smaller ones, and sensors without AA (OLP) filters will give you more actual detail than equivalent sensors with them. Portraits, though, don't usually demand (and sometime actually reject) the sort of detail you'd want in a commercial beauty or fashion shot, and minor differences in tonality for shots made under controlled studio conditions are really only visible if you put two shots side-by-side for examination.

You'll want to have a lens or lenses of the appropriate focal length for the pictures you want to make, but what, exactly, constitutes a "portrait lens" depends entirely upon your style, not on something somebody wrote in a book somewhere. If the fixed focal length lenses on the compacts you mentioned aren't right for you, then it doesn't matter at all what the image quality of the system is, the camera won't work for you. If your style depends on a razor-thin depth of field, then you won't be easily satisfied with a small-sensor or APS-C camera; you'll need to look at full-frame 35mm format or larger.

All in all, though, the quality of your images is going to depend an awful lot more on your lighting and environment than on the camera. That doesn't mean that you necessarily have to invest huge chunks of money into studio lighting, but that lighting will be your primary concern, and any camera choice that results in compromised, inadequate lighting is going to have a large negative effect on your portraits. Look after that part first. (And again, what constitutes "adequate lighting", beyond the necessity of getting the ISO down and the shutter speed up, largely depends on your style. It may be a couple of speedlights and some homemade reflectors, it may mean several constant light fixtures, or it may mean a half-dozen monolights or a couple of packs with multiple heads, along with reflectors, softboxes and grids.)

But there is one thing you really need to keep in mind: no matter what your finished product looks like, if you show up with the same camera that your subject's nephew got for his birthday last year (or one that looks too much like it) you're going to have a hard row to hoe. You won't be dealing with fellow pros who understand the choices you're making; you'll be dealing with civilians who have expectations. An SLR makes a statement that a mirrorless does not. The Sigma DPx cameras are a perfect illustration—it doesn't matter that they cost a thousand bucks and make near-MF-quality images at low ISOs, they look like a pocket point-and-shoot (they don't even zoom), so even if there were a hypothethical DP3 Merrill with a superb 60mm/1.4 lens on it¹, it would be the last thing you'd want to use as a portraitist unless your name was already a household word. Even if your shots are truly spectacular, the customer is going to assume that it was a fluke since you don't even own a "pro" camera, and the word-of-mouth is going to have more to do with your equipment than your images. Anybody who tells you different has probably never tried the pro route.

Building a business is a lot like going to the bank to ask for a HUGE loan. You definitely want to "suit up", even if that isn't who you really are. An SLR of any description at least looks to the customer like the right kind of gear. (A huge MF camera is quite beyond their understanding; all they know for sure is that nobody they know has anything nearly that big, so it must be good.) The big names can afford to be quirky with their choices because their reputations precede them; a novice pro can't afford not to look like the stereotype.

¹ Since this was written, the Sigma DP3 Merrill went "unhypothetical", but it has a 50mm lens rather than the 60mm I postulated. I really must fine-tune my precognitive powers some day.

  • 4
    "An SLR makes a statement that a mirrorless does not." Exactly. The business of photography is more about business and less about photography than many would-be pro photographers might initially think. I would not choose a mirrorless for a portrait business until you are so well established that you have your own brand. – Eric Nov 3 '12 at 13:45
  • 2
    I totally agree on this point also. My wife is a professional photographer, we have both Canon 5D MkII and Fuji X-Pro 1. Whenever we go to a shoot together, even though she likes Fuji more, because of the size and usability, she uses Canon in front of the customer. And I take pictures with Fuji. The customers clearly treat me like a wanna be photographer just because of the camera :) They don't take it serous :) – ulasbilgen Dec 23 '12 at 12:03

I like the idea of the Fuji, I shoot with an X100 and am soon to add a XE-1 To my lineup, as there is a 56mm/1.4 on the horizon, which would make great portraits.

Its really up to you on what you want to carry, the Fuji is lightweight and portable the full frames and Medium format start to get heavy quickly,

I think as mentioned the look of the camera could be a problem, but I would see if you can rent these bodies and a few lenses, even for a day, or try some out and feel what you like best, after all the gear that suits you best will help you develop your skills.

One last note, the fuji X-Pro 1 Is quite a reasonable size so looks the part, you also mentioned you don't need an EVF, the XE1 only has an EVF the X-Pro has both,

Hope that helps-

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.