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As a buyer, I am often looking for a real life user’s opinion that is not necessarily a glowing recommendation and not a rant
There is often a division between those of us who like to talk about “gear” and those who would prefer to talk about more pure photography. I tend to lean in the gear direction sometimes and created this “category” to talk about gear. I won’t address it from a technical review point of view. There are already some very good resources out there like dpreview.com, Vincent Oliver’s Photo-i, for inkjet printers, Wilhelm Imaging Research.com for prints and print longevity, and Consumer Reports.org, as well as a couple very technical review sites like DXO-Mark, out there. There are also some good discussions and recommendations to be found on various forums, such as Nature Photographers Network (NPN), and Fred Miranda‘s venerable site.
As a buyer, I am often looking for a real life user’s opinion that is not necessarily a glowing recommendation and not a rant. Surprisingly, that is often difficult to find, even on the vast worldwide web! I review products I either own or have used, from the standpoint of a non-professional user and hoping to answer the ultimate questions, would I buy this product and does this product do for me what I need, want or hope it will do?
I won’t address it from a technical review point of view
It is important to realize that all reviews are biased. What I mean by this is that there are factors that affect every reviewer and reviewing scenario. I often see complaints in reviews about issues that only relate to jpg images (often without that qualification mentioned). For those of us who shoot mainly raw and/or rarely shoot jpgs in the camera, this information can be misleading (especially if not qualified in the narrative). On the other hand, for jpg shooters, it may be critical. A lot of features on cameras and lenses today cater to hand-held shooting. I often read an entire review and wonder, does this (usually “pro”) photographer even own a tripod? Again, things that are critically important to a mostly handheld shooter, might not be the slightest concern to a person who works from a tripod (a great example is image stabilization. For my travel and street shooting, the 5-axis IBIS is very important. For my landscape and outdoor shooting, I am 98% on a tripod and IS really doesn’t matter to me). An “action shooter will often have very different priorities from a stills landscape shooter. A good friend and I were recently discussing the relative merits of the ever more popular mirrorless systems. One major positive is size. But the limiting factor there is the physical aspects of optics. For now, it just isn’t possible to make a physically small, large aperture lens. So even though the body is smaller, the addition of a wide aperture lens, re-levels the playing field. This will be important for sports, wildlife and other action shooters, as well as indoor event shooters who need the low-light capabilities of wide aperture lenses. For those of us whose primary focus is landscape, or travel during daylight hours, or architectural type shooting, we can mostly live without those wider apertures (the vast majority of my daylight shooting is done between f8 and f11). There are of course, specialized areas that will have their own needs. My point is that when reviewing a lens, it is important to put my biases in perspective and when reading the reviews, it is important to take both mine and your biases into consideration.
In that spirit, I will note (at least the most important of) my biases here – in case I neglect to do so on the actual review. As my blog and website note, I shoot mostly outdoor, nature, landscape, cities and travel destinations. I am either in adequate natural light, or using a tripod (most of the time, both) when shooting. I only very rarely shoot sports, wildlife, or other action, and even more rarely, events in indoor or dark outdoor venues. I don’t do studio work, portraits, or product shooting. So when I look at an item of equipment, it is from that bias. Fast frames per second, very wide apertures (for the most part – I do like to use them on shorter focal length lenses to achieve bokeh sometimes), multiple card memory, tethered shooting, flash synchronization and the like are not usually considerations for me. I think from the perspective that I will use the camera or lens either on a tripod, or in adequate daylight situations. Because I travel a lot, size and weight are a large consideration, and might even outweigh other things, including image quality. I don’t pixel-peep, so I find that a lens that isn’t absolutely razor sharp across all of the image; in the corners, etc., when view at high magnification on screen, isn’t an absolute requirement. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to denigrate any of these things or those for whom they are important. And where I note it, I will try to cover these aspects, even if of nominal importance to me personally. We each have our own preferences. I am just want to “own” and define the bias from which I do my own reviews.
When I purchase a new product, I use tools freely available on the internet to collect information about the product and its pros and cons. When it comes to things photographic, my first thought usually turns to dpreview.com. For Nikon users (and for “small camera” users), I also strongly recommend the writings and analysis of Thom Hogan for in-depth and (in my view) less biased information. I know that sites like these are often given review models from the manufacturer and there is a perception that their reviews are therefore biased. I don’t see that. In my experience, dpreview acknowledges that they are given review copies (my only “knock” on dpreview is that they are often not critical enough). I fear that the cost of purchasing the thousands of products they review would mean they simply couldn’t exist. So, I appreciate the factual information they provide and use that information in the “mix” of my decision-making. I also look at seller’s sites where you can find customer comments. I generally find a mix of customers who have had good experiences and those who have had bad. The former will usually give a glowing report — the latter a scathing “thumbs down.” For me it identifies known problems or potential areas to do further research, and I will often do the math and determine if the vast majority of comments are negative or positive. This doesn’t govern my decision, but it does influence it. My “reality” is that there is no such thing as truly totally unbiased views and one must weigh a number of different information sources to come to an informed decision.
Unlike sites like dpreview, it is unlikely that I will be given products to use and review (although I am certainly open to that possibility — Sony? You listening? 🙂 ). So my reviews will be necessarily limited to those items I buy, own, or have the good fortune to use. Hopefully, they will be helpful to those who are considering the acquisition of any of these items.
I read. A lot. I have often referenced and recommended books about photography, and have also noted that I have several feet of bookshelf space crammed full of photography and digital imaging books. Like the equipment above, I will review books from time to time that I have purchased and read. Books I “Recommend” are books that I believe every photographer should have a copy of on their bookshelf (or hard drive). Books that are “Suggested” are books that I own or have owned. They have portions that are good or are special-purpose books, which means they may be useful for some and a waste of time and $ for others. Books that are “Not Recommended” does not mean that they are “bad” books. It means that in my view, there is a better alternative out there, or they are such limited purpose that they may only be useful to limited audiences. Occasionally I may rate a book “Don’t Buy.” In that case I do not think it is worth the time, effort or cost.
Like all of my Blog entries, I welcome comments.
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