When you're a professional photographer your livelihood is intertwined with the health of your equipment. Like a portable hard drive, it's only be a matter of time until something fails in the field and has the potential to ruin your assignment, not to mention your relationship with a client.
Although it’s likely that your gear could be covered under your home or renter's insurance policy, if you are working as full-time pro, it may not be enough. Not to mention that the process of filing a claim to cover that busted gear that you needed back in order yesterday may drive you crazy.
Most major camera companies run Pro Support Service programs to help photographers when they wind up in situations like these. Joining up requires a certain amount of gear and often an annual payment. In exchange, photographers receive discounted gear repairs and equipment loans. We spoke to pros who have used the programs provided by Canon, Nikon and Sony to see how they stack up and if they’re worth the cost.
Canon Pro Support
How do you Qualify?
Apply online instantly
No sample images required
Earn points for each piece of gear
Fees vary depending on service level
Must renew annually to continue to receive benefits
Own a certain amount of Canon gear
Canon offers four levels of membership within its Pro Support program with different ownership requirements and prices points: Silver, Gold, Platinum and Cinema. Each piece of Canon gear is assigned a number of points. The amount and kind of Canon gear that you own determines the level of membership that you qualify for, and gear depreciates in "points" over time. Canon doesn't require a certain number of bodies or lenses, but its list of qualifying gear is almost exclusively populated with full-frame cameras (the 7D II and 60Da are exceptions).
The Silver CPS membership is the lowest tier. It has no annual fee, but requires 10 CPS points to join. A Silver CPS membership comes with CPS website profile and program discounts, event support, access to the 24/7 exclusive member hotline and a CPS ID Card. Crucially, what it doesn’t give you is access to is expedited repairs, discounts on repairs or equipment evaluation loaners.
To get all of the perks pros typically need, you'll want a Gold membership. This level includes all of the Silver benefits plus two business day turnaround on repairs, equipment evaluation loans (a chance to try the newest gear for a 10-day period), and a 20% service discount on up to 10 pieces of gear, among other things. Gold membership costs $100 per year and requires 20 CPS points – two pro-level bodies like the 5D Mark III and a 5D Mark IV, plus an EF 24-105mm F4L IS USM will qualify.
The Platinum CPS membership requires at least 50 points and costs $300 annually. Essentially, it's a Gold membership that goes an extra mile. Platinum members get the benefits of Gold, plus priority on equipment evaluation loans, next business day turnarounds on repairs, repair coverage loan once the repair is received, maintenance on up to 10 pieces of gear, free shipping both ways and a 30% discount on repairs on up to 15 pieces of gear.
The quick turnaround time on repairs at the Gold and Platinum levels have been a lifesaver for many of the Pros that we spoke with
The quick turnaround time on repairs at the Gold and Platinum levels have been a lifesaver for many of the Pros that we spoke with. Brooklyn Vegan photographer and photo editor Amanda Hatfield recalled the time her 16-35mm F2. 8 lens stopped focusing a few days before she was scheduled to shoot the opening party of a new music venue in Brooklyn. "I definitely needed that lens in particular and was going to rent it if it wasn't fixed on time," she says. "I had it back well before Halloween. "
Florida-based freelance photographer Ian Witlin says his CPS Platinum membership has been nothing but excellent. " It's saved me money in the long run and gets my gear back to me as quickly as possible," he says.
For Witlin, CPS’s equipment loaner program has been particularly helpful. "I've used evaluation loaners many times while on assignment to determine whether or not I should upgrade a body or purchase a new lens," he says.
Nikon Pro Support
How Do You Qualify?
Online form application which Nikon Professional Services evaluates before approval.
Approval takes one-two weeks
Gear is not tallied automatically.
No application fee
Currently NPS renews every December
Membership remains uninterrupted when photographers accept updated T&C and keep contact info up to date
Own a certain amount of Nikon gear, operate a photographic business in the US and be able to submit work published in the last year to demonstrate that
Belonging to an organization such as WPPI, PPA, APA, NPPA doesn’t hurt
Nikon's Pro Support program also comes in multiple levels and uses a point system related to gear that dictates what level you qualify for. Nikon’s levels are Carbon Plus, Titanium and Titanium E (only open to individuals working in government, law enforcement and military). There is no annual fee to be a member.
To qualify for Carbon Plus and Titanium, photographers must own at least two DSLR bodies and at least two Nikkor lenses and meet a point total of at least 750. The body and lens requirements seem steeper, but Nikon includes much more gear on its list of qualifying bodies and lenses, including APS-C and interestingly, some film cameras. As with Canon, gear does depreciate in 'point value' over time, but even an old D90 still gets you a cool 125 points at the moment.
Carbon Plus is for photographers with 750-999 points worth of gear. Titanium is for professional photographers with over 1000 points worth of gear. You'd need, for example, a pair of D5 bodies with a 24-70mm F2. 8 VR and a 70-200mm F2. 8 VR to qualify for Titanium.
Members at both the Carbon Plus and Titanium get access to NPS membership events, priority delivery, equipment loans and a repair service discount. Where the two programs differ is in the discount percentage (10% vs 20%) and the amount of equipment loans (2 vs 3 per year).
The rep gave me his personal lens for use and told me to just mail it back to him when I was done. I was beyond grateful and relieved
Pros we talked to had numerous stories of NPS saving the day, as well as one instance in which a service rep went well beyond the call of duty.
Photographer Bridgette Supernova recalls a time that Nikon’s on-site field support saved her from a dreaded gear malfunction on the eve of a major protest in Washington. "I found myself with a broken [24-70mm] lens," says Supernova, who was working as the house photographer for one of the event's major sponsors. Unfortunately, by the time she made it to the field support center they had run out of loaner 24-70 lenses.
"Panicked and nearly in tears at how important my role was in capturing historic moments at the rally the next day, the rep gave me his personal lens for use and told me to just mail it back to him when I was done. I was beyond grateful and relieved. That could have been a disastrous miss in my career. "
Sony Pro Support
How Do You Qualify?
Online form application
Most applicants hear back within one business day
Members must renew membership annually
Membership fee is $100
Sony expects the application process to become fully automated within the next few weeks
Own a certain amount of Sony gear
Provide proof of professional work, such as a website or social accounts
Sony’s Pro Support program offers a single tier of support for a $100 annual fee. To qualify, photographers must own two full frame Sony bodies and at least three lenses – but there's no point system to contend with at the moment. Members receive 24 hour phone and email support, three complimentary maintenance services per year, three-day repair turnarounds, free overnight shipping to and from repair locations, discounts on repairs, short-term trial loans (for new products photographers might be interested in purchasing) as well as service loans with next-day shipping when a repair ends up taking longer than the three day expectation. Sony also has walk in support locations located in urban areas in New York City and LA.
Photographers must own two full frame Sony bodies and at least three lenses – but there's no point system to contend with at the moment
In the past, within the professional photographer community Sony was often known for their very slow turnarounds on repairs. However, based on the photographers we interviewed, this is outdated and something that the Pro Support program has been diligently working to correct in the past few years.
Seattle based director Eric Becker described Sony Pro Services as being almost "over communicative" when it came to the repair of his a7 II body and a 24-70mm lens.
"They were very prompt," he says. "I clearly knew the timeline of when something had been received, repaired and returned. " In Becker’s case, the lens was irreparable, but Sony did provide him with a discount to purchase a new lens. Although he has only had to use it once, the annual fee is totally worth it for him. "It saves you money and time when you go to fix stuff," he says.
Should you join?
Overall these three programs offer very similar services and, according to the pros we spoke to, are exceeding service expectations. Where they differ is the barrier to entry and annual costs.
Surveying the options across the board, it seems that a basic level of professional-grade service includes quick turnarounds on repairs and discounts on maintenance service. Canon's Gold level and Nikon's Carbon Plus tier both meet this level, and Sony's tier-less program is covering these basics currently. Canon's free Silver tier doesn't include gear repairs or service discounts, so it's not much help to a working pro.
Canon and Sony both charge a $100 annual membership fees for this baseline level of service, while Nikon's program is free. Nikon's gear requirement is also a bit steeper at all levels – even the lower tier requires two bodies and two lenses. But Nikon gear seems to hold its 'points' value for much longer than Canon's, and Nikon considers many more cameras to be 'points-worthy,' including more APS-C bodies.
Pros we spoke to said that the fees and costs of keeping gear up to date were worth it for the benefits of regular service and
rapid, reliable repairs
Sony's Pro Support structure is currently the simplest to navigate – if you're a working pro and can meet the body and lens requirements, you're in, no points to worry about. But it's also the youngest program, and it's easy to imagine Sony one day moving to a points structure and a tiered system.
If you don't plan on keeping your camera bodies current within a few years, or if you can handle an equipment failure with whatever's available at a rental house, you probably can avoid the cost and hassle of getting into a pro support program.
But if you already meet the gear requirements for these programs, or a camera or lens malfunctioning would come with significant penalty to your reputation and finances, we think that joining up with your brand's pro services program is probably worth it. Pros we spoke to said that the fees and costs of keeping gear up to date were worth it for the benefits of regular service and rapid, reliable repairs. Just know that you'll likely be faced with a decision down the line: upgrade your gear or risk it depreciating in points and aging out of eligibility.. dpreview.com