My Use of the Terms “Pro" and “Consumer" Cameras

Every now and again people reading this site get hung up with my use of the terms “consumer body” and “pro body.” For decades now—and especially in the digital era—Nikon has been relatively consistent in the way that they split their DSLR cameras into two distinct groups. It works something like this:

  • Consumer — Has a Mode dial which may include Scene Exposure modes as well as Effects modes and overall Custom settings (C1, C2, etc.). Has an AE-L/AF-L button instead of both an AE-L/AF-L button and an AF-On button. Always has a pop-up internal flash. Uses overloaded (and programmable) buttons to enable WB, Qual, and ISO “buttons." Uses a rectangular eyepiece and comes with a plastic eyepiece blocker instead of built-in shutter, and may use pentamirror instead of pentaprism. May or may not have screw-mount motor drive for legacy autofocus lenses. Tend to evaluate exposure more for the current autofocus sensor than the overall scene. May move CUSTOM SETTINGS options to SHOOTING and SETUP menus and drop the number of them. Uses rectangular 10-pin and always has infrared remote built in (exception: D3100, which appears to have fallen in some cracks). Offers only compressed NEF options, sometimes only visually lossless. Always has “Beep” option. Always built with smaller horizontal grip-only bodies, sometimes with a vertical grip add-on option. Now tend to have WiFi built in. Tends to not get new-to-Nikon features or technologies first, but rather trickle-down from the pro models.

    Current consumer models: D3300, D5500, D7200, D610, D750

  • Pro — Uses a Mode button and does not include Scene Exposure modes. Custom settings are done in banks. Has an AF-On button. Recently doesn’t have pop-up flash, though some models have had one. Features dedicated buttons for WB, Qual, ISO and more. Uses a round eyepiece with a built-in shutter that can be closed. Always uses pentaprism. Always have screw-mount drive for legacy autofocus lenses. Tend to evaluate exposure for the scene regardless of focus point used. Always has dedicated and extensive CUSTOM SETTINGS menu. Uses the traditional round 10-pin connector and doesn’t tend to have built-in infrared remote detector. Offers a full range of NEF (and JPEG) options, and typically also includes a TIFF option. Rarely has “Beep” function, and if it does, it is off by default. Comes in both small horizontal grip body and a dual grip body styles. Offers WiFi add-ons that improve signal range and perform both AdHoc and Infrastructure support. Tend to be the first to get new-to-Nikon features or technologies. Tend to have better weather sealing and gasketing. 

    Current pro models: D500, D810, D810A, D5

The Df doesn’t fall neatly into either of these categories, though it shares more with the consumer clan than the pro group. But pretty much every other current body clearly fits into one of the two categories, as have all past Nikon DSLRs.

The confusion comes from the fact that actual photography pros use both consumer and pro Nikon bodies, and actual photography consumers both use consumer and pro Nikon bodies. The distinction of “consumer” and “pro”, therefore, isn’t exactly about who the product is going to be used by, but a set of design decisions that have created a two-tier product line, where one tier (consumer) tends to be simpler with less performance and technology, plus contains more automated shortcuts than the other (pro). 

Nikon doesn’t make things any easier by mixing up pro/consumer in their marketing and practices. For example, right now two of the following bodies are required to be a Nikon Professional Services (NPS) member in the USt: D2hs, D2xs, D3, D3s, D3x, D4, D4s, Df, D300, D300s, D600, D610, D700, D750, D800, D800E, D810, or D810A. You might have noticed that two of those—D610 and D750—fall into the “consumer” category I listed above. Yet, they’re considered “pro” for the purposes of NPS.

There’s really no perfect way to categorize Nikon DSLRs, but the consumer/pro distinction—whatever name you give it—is real, it’s well-established and talked about this way within Nikon engineering, and it’s been the design difference all through the entire digital era. Somewhere in Nikon’s offices I’m sure there’s a current document that describes the differences between the two levels of product even better and in more detail than I’ve done in the bullets, above.

Thus, I continue to write about the two distinct lines using the best terms we’ve gotten so far: the products targeted more towards the mass market I label as consumer (as does Nikon most of the time), while the products that are designed for more serious, performance-oriented work where simplifications can get in the way I label as pro (again, as does Nikon most of the time). 

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