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What Is the Cheapest Camera a Pro Photographer Can Use?

Professional photography has never been more affordable to get into as a profession as it is today. Digital is now old hat, so your money goes a lot farther than it did 10 years ago. But how cheap can you really go as a commercial pro?

When I started out in professional photography in around 2010, Canon had just made a consumer level full frame DSLR for stills only. It was able to shoot most types of commercial work for most types of commercial media. However, the cost of getting a couple of these bodies was eye-watering. Since then, the way in which media is sold and displayed in advertising hasn't really changed all that much, so why do we think we need better cameras than back then?

I purchased three identical Canon EOS digital bodies, which were full frame. I used those cameras up until 2020 with the only reason for a change being the way in which I work and to allow me to have a faster workflow, not for better images. 

In this video, I look at my past kit and work out how you can get a full pro camera and lens setup plus a backup that is 100% up to the task of high-end commercial work for around $2,100. Of course, you will still need computers, lights, grips, and all the rest of it, but compared to buying whatever the latest mirrorless or DSLR brand new is, you will save a lot of cash that you can spend on the things that really matter, like big lights, marketing, and of course, an oversized studio. 

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David B's picture

Why not a 5D classic? Have client demands shifted beyond a previous best camera?

Scott Choucino's picture

No, but you can no longer tether it which is a real deal breaker for commercial work

David B's picture

Thanks for explaining!

Roger Jones's picture

Do you do a lot of commercial work? In studio? A good LCD works well also.

Dan Jefferies's picture

Canon 5D had no micro-focus adjustment so no, just no. The 5D mkII does have that adjustment.

Roger Jones's picture

Nikon D700 has it all plus you can add a split image screen. A excellent D700 cost about $300 USD go shoot.

Roger Jones's picture

Use what you have/own. Something you already know how to use. You can do great work if you know what your doing and get the most out of what you already own, provide it's excellent gear to begin with and it paid for. Save your money and take your camera on a vacation.
Be Safe

RT Simon's picture

It is the array of lenses required. One is not a pro architectural photographer without optical, perspective control. Portrait photo: You need a fast lens. Why? it’s not that you won’t take great photos with a cheaper lens, it is that when compared to the professional portrait, the differences are visible. It’s just as simple as that. I am not suggesting one should run out and buy the best. I have never owned an Otus lens. Or 150 mp Phase One sensor used to archive works of art, or the state of national monuments, but there is a reason why these sensors cost $60,000. The quality is visible. Little sense in investing money in gear that is too advanced. I will be celebrating 40 years as a published photographer in 2023. From this perspective I now feel I can justify buying higher-quality gear. As an archivist, a 102 megapixel sensor is going to make a lot of difference in the next five years.

With a small budget, there are a few out of date cameras going for a good price. I might invest in the Fuji X system. My first 3 cameras were the Canon 5D Mark 1 and Mark 2, and then the Sony A7R2. The latter 2 are still great cameras.

Recently, the A7R2 was going for $1200 US. That is a landmark sensor. Not the best built camera, but I could imagine another purpose for this camera when I first went out into the field, with the Zeiss Sonar 50mm f1.8. It is the first sensor I owned that I could describe as scientific. If I was a researcher in entomology or any science that could be studied in the field, these sensors can produce research-gold. Spider eyes and their guts seen through transparent bodies, were never so clear in the field.

Good luck!

RT Simon's picture

PS. One further recommendation: Lenses with aperture rings are something to look out for.

dean wilson's picture

Clarification please: "What Is the Cheapest Camera..."

Are you really talking about the Cheapest or Least Expensive?

When I think Cheapest I automatically think poor quality where the tag line for the product could be: "Where the name goes on, before the quality goes in."

To pick on Canon, I would, debatably, suggest Cheapest Canon would be the PowerShot A70, while the least expensive would be a Canon EOS RP for Professional use.

Rosalind Furlong's picture

Are you American? In the U.K. “cheapest” and “least expensive” mean the same thing.

dean wilson's picture


I personally define "cheap" as in a Quality Scale, e.g., "Good, Better, Best" with Cheapest well below Good.

And Least Expensive as in Monetary Value, e.g., "A roll of AGFA APX ISO 400 36 EX is on sale for eight quid today and yesterday it was 11 quid."

But yes Cheapest and Least Expensive are used interchangeably here as well.