Last week, Tony and Chelsea Northrup posted a controversial video on YouTube that tried to define what a professional camera was. It centers around sales for all of the camera manufacturers. It makes some good points about how higher-end cameras can enhance a photograph. That being said, for the most part making a great photograph is not about the camera — it’s about the photographer.

While there are certainly cameras geared more towards professionals, including features that pros tend to take more advantage of, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make some great photos with a more affordable DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Tony and Chelsea’s argument

If you haven’t already seen the video, I’ve embedded it at the end of this article. Tony and Chelsea’s argument is simple. They put camera manufacturers into three “circles.” These circles are based on what type of person tends to buy those camera makes and models — enthusiasts, pro photographers, and pro videographers. Keep in mind this only takes into account current mirrorless options.

Sony is placed solely in the middle of this, and rightfully so, as its customers are photographers from all three distinctions. Sony makes both consumer and pro-grade cameras for photographers and videographers, offering a wide array of products that appeal to these market segments as Tony describes them.

So what’s the problem? Many are upset with Tony and Chelsea’s assumption that Olympus and Fujifilm are only included in the Enthusiast category, and that Panasonic is only listed in the Pro Video category.

I agree with those that are upset here — I know several professional photographers that use Olympus and Panasonic cameras for both stills and video. I use the Olympus system, with my two OM-D EM-1 Mark II camera bodies. Before I was shooting with Olympus, I shot with the Panasonic GH5 and G9. I can tell you that my photos from both the Panasonic and Olympus cameras were equally as great as my old Nikon full-frame DSLR. The benefit over the Nikon was a significant saving in weight and size with no image quality compromise not to mention the much better video from both Panasonic and Olympus.

While I don’t think Tony and Chelsea meant to offend any micro four-thirds or Fujifilm shooters with their statements, I do think it was a poor argument. They mention that because Olympus and Panasonic have smaller sensors, they can’t keep up with the full-frame Sony option (and soon to be Nikon and Canon).

I understand all the arguments — that depth of field is greater with smaller sensor cameras than with a full frame. Some say that small sensor low-light capabilities don’t work as well either. Nor are the file sizes big enough to print in a large format. To a great degree, these are specious comments. Small sensors are used where lots of depth of field is required. Noise handling both in-camera and with post-production is better than ever. A 16 by 20-inch print is not a stretch for cropped sensors including micro four-thirds. This is more a case of using the proper tool for the end result than a blanket statement of one format of camera being superior to another.

It’s about the photos, not the equipment

While all that may be true to a point, if you truly embrace your camera system you know how to work around any limitations you come across. Every camera system has some sort of limitation. Looking back at my photos from my Nikon days, I can tell you that no client has ever questioned when I switched cameras or that the resulting quality isn’t as good. High-quality professional photos are still what they expect. And what they receive.

In fact, I’d even counter by saying that the photos I produce now with my Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, are more professional in terms of appearance. This isn’t to say the camera is better — it is to say that I’ve learned the system, and enhanced my photographic skills over time.

I talked to Olympus Visionary Joe Edelman about Tony and Chelsea’s video and the ever-growing trend of putting so much focus on the gear, instead of the photographer’s skill set. Here’s what he had to say:

“With digital technology came advancements that have happened so fast – it is a challenge to keep up with them, but what so often gets overlooked in this race for bigger and better and more… is the fact that the camera doesn’t make the photograph. The photographer does. The camera – it is just a tool.

“Photographers like myself were shooting images that were being printed on billboards with a 2-megapixel Nikon D1.  In the last few months, I have shot images with an Olympus M4/3 camera that have been printed 8 feet by 6 feet on a trade show booth and looked every bit as sharp and noise free as the images on the Sony, Nikon and Canon booths.

“It is a tough lesson to learn but eventually if you want to progress and succeed in improving your photography – you have to actually learn and practice photography. Not gear statistics. You can keep buying new and better and bigger gear with more impressive features, but that alone will not make your photography better.”

I agree with Joe wholeheartedly here. According to Tony and Chelsea, I’m using an enthusiast’s camera. They are right. I am enthusiastically using my Olympus micro four-thirds camera to make professional photographs. My clients agree with that too, by the way.


If you haven’t seen the video by Tony and Chelsea Northrup, please check it out below: