The Silliness of Most Camera Reviews

Big Ass Fan, JW Marriott - Austin, Texas

Big Ass Fan, JW Marriott – Austin, Texas

It’s silly season again in the camera review world. With the introduction of the mirrorless Nikon Z6 and Z7, the pundits and wannabe pro photographers are coming out of the woodwork, making pronouncements on a camera they have played with for only a short time, or not at all. It’s great fun reading and viewing the frantic videos of how Nikon got it wrong. It’s the camera industry equivalent of CNBC doing the play by play of the stock market. And, you know how ridiculous (and incorrect) those talking heads are.

First, you have to understand that people who have shot the Z7 and reporting on it, are biased. All people are biased, to some extent, including yours truly. It goes without saying where the Nikon Ambassadors stand — the conflict is obviously baked into their title. Then, there are the camera review sites and bloggers who get early, but currently, limited access. These sites are in the review business — that’s their job. While the bias is a bit more subtle, they are not going to bite (not too hard) the hand that feeds them review units.

Next, you really can’t tell how good a camera is until you use it for a while. There are initial impressions, of course, but these impressions can be wrong. Most review sites don’t test cameras for very long. They can’t. Because of the constant flow of new gear, they are off to the next shiny thing, as soon as a review is written.

Finally, you have the hoards of commenters passing judgement on a camera they never used. Before you put much trust in a review, look at the photographs the reviewer takes. Do they shoot the same subjects that you do? Requirements for a wedding photographer are very different from a street photographer or landscape photographer. I’m also willing to bet that many reviewers and commenters don’t have much of a photo portfolio. They probably spend more time talking about gear than taking photos. I rather put my trust with people who actually make photographs.

I shot the photo above with an old and very modest camera, at least by today’s standards. I’ll reveal which camera I used in a couple of days. I’m willing to bet that for many of the pundits, that camera is more than enough. Because, as they say in Texas, “If you are all hat and no cattle”, any camera will do. By the way, that giant ceiling fan is made by a company called Big Ass Fans. I shot this at the JW Marriott, with the then tallest tower in Austin, the Austonian, reflected in the window.

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11 thoughts on “The Silliness of Most Camera Reviews

  1. Looking at the photos produced by reviewers and those who comment is a habit I picked up long ago. When DPReview was a one-man band blog produced by Phil Askey I always appreciated the thoroughness of his reviews — and was struck by the mediocrity of his photography. It was understandable, of course. The same bland shots of the same London scenes were probably all he had time for while cranking out so much material on his own. It was worth it for him though. Did anyone ever come up with a credible figure on how much Amazon paid for the site?

    1. Hi Mike,

      From early on, DPReview was a very professional looking site with loads of information. I use to scrutinize their reviews. Even now, if I want to pixel peep, their image comparison tool is very useful. I still consider them one of the better sites. And, because they are so big, they probably can be a lot more honest with their reviews and not jeopardize their access to review gear.

  2. I know I criticized Nikon in general in an earlier comment (back before we even knew of this camera’s name). That criticism still holds. I will, however, speak supportively of Nikon’s decision to have but one card in both cameras, and that’s because they chose to use the XQD flash card.

    The XQD is an engineering response to the many limitations of both Compact Flash and SDHC/SDXC cards. It’s communication pathway is PCIe 3.0. That’s amazing for a camera, but it underscores the point that cameras are powerful computer systems that happen to make images. Up to this point the storage options have been the Achilles heel of all cameras, and the possibility of failure is why the higher end cameras came with two slots. But I have read from reputable sources (Thom Hogan, for example) that the failure rate of XQD cards is essentially zero. The cost of having two is pointless. In the past, when a camera did have two slots using XQD, the second was SDXC and was slower to much slower than XQD. Since the system would only write as fast as the slowest device, a lot of photographers simply didn’t fill the SD slot.

    I’m also intrigued by the creation of the new mount. Canon bit the bullet in 1987 and released the EOS mount to replace the FD mount. And Canon has, if anything, benefited mightily from that decision. The Z mount may very well be Nikon’s “EOS” moment. I truly wish them great success with this change.

    1. Hi Bill,

      I did read recently that XQD is a much more reliable format. Given my needs and the lack of compatibility to the rest of my SD cards, I prefer not to go to another card format, but I can respect Nikon’s decision.

      I think Nikon is being ambitious and they truly are trying to make a camera for the next generation. The new lens mount is a good example of this. Let’s hope they can execute. A strong Nikon is good for the entire industry.

      1. If they can also make is affordable to more people, that would help, too. One of the things I love about the Olympus line is that there’s always a “modestly priced” version that even at full price I can consider. I can’t afford their “professional” lenses, but they have a lot of really excellent lenses I can afford. They have become a good camera for people who want something better but don’t have big money to spend. Ditto Panasonic (and the small Leicas when they decide to drop the line and put in another and you can get some exceptional bargains).

        One of the things that killed me with the Canon with which I began working was the price of good lenses. There were some good, moderately priced ones, but dollar for dollar, Nikon produced better quality for less money. I loved the Canons I had owned, but I gave up. As it turns out, I’m still supporting them because I gave my Canon and lenses to my granddaughter who absolutely will not use any other kind of camera. She is one of those CANON FOREVER! people. So now she has a new one, the T6 instead of the T3 and I think she is awestruck at how much the camera has changed. I have been trying to TELL her that for at least two year (“Sweetie, they have made some significant changes in cameras in recent years and your T3 is pretty old … you need a new one.” Followed by NO NO NO I LOVE MY CAMERA. Until one day, she admitted (oddly, JUST in time for her birthday … Coincidence?) that is was slowing down and not giving her the quality she had gotten in the past.

        What she didn’t know and most people don’t really think about because we change cameras pretty often, is that in a DSLR, there is a moving mirror that has a large, but limited number of movements. I think (but am not sure) that for the T3 is was something like 150,000 which Kaity thinks she might have even exceeded. She took a LOT of pictures and ONLY with THAT camera … and almost all of them in black & white. She has a passion for B&W and no, I do not know why, but she just thinks they are better pictures. If I had the money, I’d send her to school because she has talent. But retirement doesn’t leave you spare money for college tuition and how do you know a school is really good? There are so many fakes out there.

        Lenses are ghastly expensive for the Canon. She has the new “normal zoom” as well as a very good 55mm and an excellent wide angle and a mediocre (I think) 75-250. I suppose my next investment will be a better long lens.

        If anyone knows which of the long lenses is better, I’d appreciate a heads up. I’ve been working with Olympus, Panasonic, and Leica and have completely lost track of what’s what in Canon lenses.

        Also, if anyone is selling good used Canon glass … please get in touch. Many — maybe most — of my best buys in cameras and lenses have been used but well-maintained.

      2. Unfortunately Marilyn, I think the prices of cameras and lenses will only continue to go up. The camera companies are now catering to enthusiasts, affluent amateurs and professionals. They know many (but not all, of course) of these people will pay top dollar for increasingly specialized tools, both for bragging rights and perceived need.

        The average consumer no longer buys dedicated cameras — the smartphone has won. With a ever smaller market, the camera companies are trying to make up the loss of volume with higher prices.

  3. I think you hit on some serious issues about the reviews.
    To be clear, I am an amateur who has just come into mirrorless quite recently and have no history of DSLR but like reading about the new mirrorless Nikon or Canon in the same way as I watch Jeremy Clarkson review a Bugatti Vernon, I am interested in the technology but never in a million years can afford it. Don’t know how many are similar to me?
    As an amateur (and would be interested in professional view), there are specific attributes that are non negotiable – budget is always one of them – but then the rest is ergonomocs, how does the camera make you feel? Does you enjoy taking photos? And this is massively subjective and personal. You are right – please read the longer term and especially of those that do the same photography as you but ultimately if the new camera ticks the right boxes (and it does NOT for me due to budget) take a “test drive” yourself.
    For the record I have recently purchased the Olympus OMD 10 Mark 2 andam thoroughly enjoying my photography with this. Which counts for a lot

    1. Thank for your visit and comment, Paul. I think your comparison to Jeremy Clarkson is apt. Many reviewers, whether about cars, cameras or other gear, tend to talk about the high-end and get all excited about things that don’t matter to most people.

      Continuing with the car analogy, perhaps the Olympus micro 4/3 cameras are like Mazda Miatas. Wonderful performance, great fun, reasonable costs. A Miata will not out run a Porsche and certainly a Bugatti, but the affordable Mazada scores high on the fun factor.

      For me, the Olympus does what I need, it’s very portable and extremely fun.

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