With the recent release of the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera, the line that constitutes what a professional video camera is continues to be redefined. For me, I have started to move away from categorizing altogether. Just about any modern camera can be utilized in a professional environment. Is a GoPro a professional camera? The marketing would lead you to believe the camera is aimed at consumers such as surfers, bikers, hang gliders, etc. However these cameras have shown up on a lot of projects I have worked on, projects that are clearly professional. One of the easiest examples to point to is the original Canon 5D, a professional stills camera with an HD video mode that actually looked decent enough for journalists, war photographers, etc to grab quick video clips. Soon it was in the hands of independent filmmakers and eventually made its way onto professional sets. I have worked on six figure commercials where the 5D is the primary camera.
So, what is a professional video camera? My definition is very simple. It's a camera that can achieve the visual goals of a project. I no longer categorize a camera based on whether it is consumer, prosumer, professonal, or cinema. Instead, I look at what a project needs (I'd like to think all of the projects I work on are professional) and use what I think will get the desired results. I might have a project that requires a high resolution, cinematic look which perhaps I choose a Red or an Alexa. There may be some hi speed shots which I choose a Phantom for, some POV action shots which I may go for a GoPro, and some slcie of life shots which I grab something like a GH2. I don't think whether these are professional cameras or not, I assess whether they can achieve the desired look I need for certain shots.
I see a lot of people get caught up in trying to define what is professional, what is cinematic, etc. I think the filmmaker's pallette has expanded considerablly. I don't think anything should be off the table. If we treat cameras as tools or brushes/paint if you want an art analogy as opposed to having to label them "professional" or not I think that's a more productive approach. What actually decribes a person as professional is a conversation for another day, but my short take on the subject is that I find it is usually more defined by attitude rather than credits or the amount of money you make. I have met many people who bring a professonal attitude to their work despit not having tons of experience or making money yet while I have also met some very experienced pros who don't bring a professional attitude to set. Like I said, a conversation for another day but as far as the tools go, a camera like the Blackmagic Pocket Cam might have a consumer price tag and is arguably missing some "pro" features but if it's used appropriately can be as effective as any camera in your toolbox for the task it is assigned. Removing labels or negative connotations brings a lot of freedom for the filmmaker.