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Prosumer and Professional: What's the Difference?



Prosumer and Professional:

What's the Difference?

We mentioned last issue that the PMA show for '02 saw more pro digicam introductions than any other. Now we can pause to wonder: what is a professional camera these days, anyway? Where do the "prosumer" models fit in? What is a "prosumer," after all? For that matter, what's a "professional?" How does anyone close a sale without understanding the customer?

And don't you just love the word "professional?" Few terms in the English language cover so much, and mean so little. By some outlooks, the definition of "a professional" is economic—"a professional" is someone who makes more than x% of his income in his "professional field."

By other definitions, the definition is scholastic; a professional hangs a sheepskin on the wall, a shingle on the door, and a note, "I know what I'm doing, hire me."

Some professionals dismiss the first two definitions. "Professional," they suggest, reflects a mindset, an attitude, where the only thing that matters, the only thing that exists, is the job. What's your definition of "professional?"

I'll tell you my definition. A professional is someone who can do whatever he claims, predictably and repeatably.

But if a "professional" is someone who fits this description, how can there be a "professional photographer?" Can anyone guarantee how a picture will come out, time and again? Sure, the professional shooting table-tops runs almost an assembly line, whose preset lights and lockdown tripod make the outcome as predictable as a lightswitch, as repeatable as the electric bill. To some extent, studio photographers and portraitists inhabit environs that are this routine.

But there are other kinds of photography that are not so routine. There's photojournalism. And consciously or not, a lot of the world thinks of the photojournalist when someone mentions the term "professional photographer."

There are movies and books about photojournalists. (Would anyone make a movie about a table-top photographer shooting gingham swatches? Who'd go to see it?) The fictionalized photojournalist leads a life of dash and romance in the streets, on the front lines, behind the scenes. This is action. This is adventure. This is what kids want to grow up to be.

This professional sells something intangible. Not really a product, so much as a capability. Whatever else they think, the pro's clients pay for a potential. The professional sells an "eye."

Why are you reading a discourse on professionalism? Because you sell the cameras. Somebody calls up and says, "I want a professional model." What's your recommendation?

Professional Cameras Defined ...
Defining the procam used to be simple. There was no single definition, but the multiples were easy to fathom. Price had a lot to do with it. A professional camera cost more. Presumably, this was because all pro photographers are rich. More likely they're poor, but need extra-sturdy gear. Sturdy costs money.

Another "professional" camera was one that nobody else would consider. How about an 8x10 view camera? You probably wouldn't buy one for your kid's graduation. A retailer could safely assume that anyone who ordered one probably had a full studio to put around it.

But popular imagination is a potent force. If people are thinking that photojournalists are the real "pro" photographers, they're thinking photojournalists' cameras are too. And photojournalists use SLRs.

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