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Some Thoughts on Reviewers and Reviewing

Discussion in 'Micro 4/3 News and Rumors' started by Amin Sabet, Aug 6, 2012.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    While reading some comments on Kirk Tuck's piece about the Sony NEX-7, and I was reminded - not for the first time - that reviewers make easy targets. I'm using the term "reviewers" loosely to mean everyone who makes a habit of sharing their impressions of gear. That includes big sites like DPReview as well as more "user report"-oriented reviewers like Kirk, Mike Johnston, Michael Reichmann, Steve Huff, and even me. Not that I put myself at the level of any of those guys, but I like to do a review now and again.

    One of the main knocks you'll hear about a reviewer is that he or she likes everything. There are a few reviewers who seem to never get super excited about any particular camera (CNET's Lori Grunin comes to mind), but most of us like stuff much more often than we dont. Critics assume that this is because we make more money from affiliate sales when we love something, and there's no denying that very real conflict of interest which exists for almost every review site from DPReview to yours truly. Interestingly, when a reviewer decides to go with a different financial model, charging directly for ad-free content so that they can be completely free from this conflict of interest, they come under fire for having the audacity to charge for written word on the modern web. I can't even announce a new review from Sean Reid without hearing the usual criticism about the fact that he has a pay site and uses Flash to protect his work.

    Another explanation that often gets thrown out there is that reviewers keep swapping up their personal equipment not because they really love that new camera but because it gives them something to write about. Again, this is a very real conflict of interest which I don't deny, but I'd like to point out two less nefarious reasons why most reviewers are enthusiastic about most gear:

    First, most reviewers get into reviewing because they like cameras, optics, technology toys, you name it. We're naturally inclined to like new, different stuff. Details like a change in sensor technology that might not matter to a practical person might get our geek heart pumping. Often when a reviewer doesn't like a bit of gear, it's because he or she has certain very specific personal criteria. For example aside from shirt pocket cameras, Michael Reichmann is usually going to reject a camera which doesn't have an eye level viewfinder, Sean Reid isn't going to be very positive about a camera that lacks a good manual focus faculty, and so forth. Beyond those specific issues, though, reviewers are usually predisposed by nature to like new stuff.

    Second, all of these companies - Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony - have lots of resources to make great products. Guess what? There are just a ton of good cameras out there. When I tried the NEX-7, I liked it. Same for X-Pro 1, RX100, X100, and a bunch of other cameras of which I've never published a review. Likewise, nobody is making bad lenses anymore. Even the 3rd party megazooms are sharp and reasonably well corrected (between optics and software) with decent build quality.

    It's no wonder that we like most of the stuff that comes across our desk.

    Now lets look at it from the other side of things: the user. There are times when a user will buy a camera, give it a good tryout, and hate it. Those times are relatively few though, for the same reason mentioned above (most stuff is good). On the other hand, we often see forum reports about how one camera, lens, or system is terribly flawed. For example, it only takes a brief read through forums to understand that the Sony NEX system is plagued by an awful UI, NEX, huge lenses, tiny bodies, and poor lens performance, especially when it comes to the edges of the frame. Or that the Fuji X-Pro 1 has insufferable autofocus and an unusable EVF. Or that Micro 4/3 cameras blow highlights.

    The truth, known to many of us who have spent time in forums, it that most of these often repeated knocks come from people who haven't tried the gear they're talking about. Or they gave it enough of a cursory tryout to cement their pre-conceived judgments. Either way, these terrible flaws usually amount to very little of any significance. The Sony kit lens isn't huge, the Fuji X-Pro 1 is primarily meant to be used as an OVF camera, and cameras don't blow highlights.

    To sum up what I am trying to say, most of the stuff out there is good, and most of the badmouthing comes from people who haven't tried it. It therefore comes as no surprise to me whatsoever that Mike Johnston and Kirk Tuck, two outspoken proponents of our Micro Four Thirds system, both recently tried the Sony NEX-7 and liked it (TOP, VSL). Yes they'd like you to buy an NEX-7 or two via their links, and so would I like you to buy via ours, but that's not why they're telling you they like the camera. These are two guys who like cameras, and the NEX-7 happens to be a good one.
    • Like Like x 25
  2. landshark

    landshark Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 27, 2010
    SO CAL
    While I agree with most of your comments Amin. It still puzzles me why some people seem to be seeking validation in the review and reviewers rather that just see the review for what it is. One persons opinion on what works for them. Reviews are helpful when one is seeking info about the product but that is all it is a review.
    In wine collecting there is constant debate about the power and influence of one critic or another, but at the end of the day, if you do not drink what you like, regardless of what anybody else thinks, you are not really enjoying the experience. Same goes for most anything else, use the stuff that works for you
    • Like Like x 3
  3. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Bob, I think it's just human nature. I love my E-M5 and my GX-1 too. I know beyond any doubt that they work for me, yet when I see a reviewer that I like who also loves these cameras, it gives me a warm feeling. Same thing for my phone. It's silly, and I should be bigger than that, but I'm not above it, and I suspect that few people are.

    A second issue is that not everyone gets to try a bunch of cameras. Some don't have a decent brick and mortar camera store within 100 miles, and not everyone is comfortable ordering a camera based on specs or with a backup plan of return or resale. For them, a reviewer takes on more importance.
  4. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    Hi Amin,

    Not sure I agree with all your comments.

    Firstly, I'll be honest. I'll talk smack about NEX till the sun goes down (only on this forum, though, and not on NEX user forum), but it's based on some level of experience, having used the NEX 3, 5 and 5n for about 8-10 months. I got some very nice sets with the camera, but I also struggled with overcooked oranges (the color, not the fruit), paltry lens selection, alarming shutter noise, and difficult menus. There is a rumor of a new Sony 35/1.8. We shall see. I also think their telephotos are very large. I still reserve the right to move to Sony if they can actually prove they can make good lenses, but I do wonder if there isn't truth to the flange-back issue, given how slow good lenses are in coming.

    Secondly, Reviewers, and really anyone posting on the internet, leave themselves open for criticism. They need to develop thicker skin, if they are going to open up **opinions** to an **anonymous public**! About a year ago, Kirk Tuck practically had a melt-down on how his comments were perceived and replayed in various forums. It's fun to be critical of camera gear. It's more fun to be critical of critics, and to be critical of the critics' critics, ad infinitum.

    On a side note (speaking of the infinitely descending circle of criticism), I visited DPR this morning. I swear, the new posters there are just gadflies. Four newer posts I clicked on were obviously posted by the OPs as bait, just to engage in an argument, with easily 1/2 dozen folks jumping in on the cause. I was looking for John Cleese at the bottom of it all.
  5. Rudi

    Rudi Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 16, 2010
    This is exactly the point of view that I expressed in another thread here! I have no idea why people care what other photographers use, whether they be famous or not. And why so many photographers need the validation of a famous photographer using the same gear that they do. What difference does that make?

    Reviews are just that - reviews. And it does not matter who writes them, they are just personal opinions. Famous people are only human too! Not to mention that half of the time I'm not even sure WHY they are famous. :smile:
  6. sprocket87

    sprocket87 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 29, 2011
    Sounds like you fall under this category, from Amin's post:

    I think his point stands. Sure, every system has pros, cons, features and flaws. An unbiased reviewer will try to point those out, but in general, the bar has been raised so highly in recent years that it's hard not to love most of the new products that roll across the line. If Camera X doesn't do it for you personally because of criteria specific to you, Camera Y or Z probably will.

    That's why I enjoy DPrevew's reviews so much. They are ridiculously thorough but go beyond mere spec-spewing; they really draw out the essence of the camera and can pass fair judgment on its overall merits for most shooters.

    Aside from DPreview, there are few other "pro" camera review sites that I frequent. I find it far more beneficial to read user experience reviews. I like to come up with Google search queries more likely to find reviews from the average Joe photographer who has been using this camera for a month and is posting his personal feedback. These reviews often tell much more about the camera than the typical camera blog ever does.
    • Like Like x 2
  7. demiro

    demiro Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 7, 2010
    I don't care about reviews written by "famous" reviewers, but I will say that a good reviewer is worth reading. Good reviewers, imo, take much of their personal preference out of the equation and provide clear details on how a camera functions and how it compares to other cameras. Amin's reviews are particularly good examples of that.

    It takes skill though, and the vast majority of us don't possess it or work very hard at it. Way too much parroting of the good and bad stuff. As a consumer of reviews you really need to be able to separate the good from the bad, and understand when someone's personal feelings are more on display than a critical evaluation.

    The "gear geek" thing is definitely an issue. I like gear. And I like what I do with said gear. But those are two different things. Some people are still truly just wanting to take photos. I imagine they are frustrated by the gear geek approach, which is becoming more widespread.
  8. snkenai

    snkenai Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 5, 2010
    I read reviews.
    I live at the edge of a wheat/bean field, and town of 12,000, with nary a camera store. (unless you count Walmart) I've been messing with photography for over 50 years, and I know what I like. The problem is, that nobody combines everything that I like into one package. So, a compromise. I read reviews, looking for comments about the things I look for. Good or bad is not the issue. Just the observations. I will comb through a few and draw a conclusion, as to whether I want give it a try. Nearly all my buy sell in the last few years, have been online. Never using one review or users likes/dislikes. But wading through many comments. If after a few months there is a distinctive pattern of positive/negative comments about the issues the interest me personally, I may decide to give it a try, or just pass on by. Understanding, that my conclusions may be very different. But the reviews are none the less valuable, when combined with others input. I may still buy something, that just doesn't "crank my wheel". But for those of us, that just like machinery, it is more about the chase, than the kill.

    Understand that IQ, is always at the top of my list, of must have.

    Bring on the reviews, and user reports! It's good entertainment for an old wana-be photographer that does not get very far from home these days.

    Oh, yep, I've got one system on Ebay and looking at what what will be the next, ...."favorite"? :smile:
    • Like Like x 3
  9. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    When it comes down to the scientific stuff, I usually only take into account two places for reviews, dpreview and imaging resource. Both have really nice comprehensive reviews that have a scientific method toward how they review their cameras. Niether place gives impressions though on the feel and everyday use of the camera. That I think is where reviewers like Steve Huff, Kirk Tuck, and a few others come in. The problem is, what they like in the camera I might not like.

    I agree with Amin in that all the cameras out right now are really good from an image quality perspective and performance perspective. I think it then boils down to lens selection and ergonomics. Both are going to depend on the users wants or needs in a camera system.
  10. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    I take the middle ground on this. I don't mind a reviewer enjoying all the cameras they try, but the point of reading a review is to gain some perspective on the product, and the gushier the review, the less helpful the perspective is to me and I suspect to many other potential buyers.

    I'll admit it's a fine line, but I do think that we all benefit when prominent reviewers manage to be both critical and fair in their reviews. Without the critical aspect, it simply degenerates into cheerleading. Obviously, people are free to write as they please, but I tend to avoid those sorts of reviewers precisely because without critical evaluation, it's impossible for me to get any real sense of the device's capabilities. Of course without fairness, this quickly degenerates into bashing.

    One of the reasons I used to like DPR's reviews is because I felt they did a fairly good job of evaluating and comparing cameras across the board, and highlighting both positive and negative aspects. That's been less true as of late, and sadly there are precious few other review sites that offer that sort of perspective.

    As to Kirk Tuck's latest review of the NEX, I take it for what it is - the opinion of somebody who seems to enjoy experimenting with new gear and new approaches. I'm glad he likes it, but I wouldn't draw any deeper lesson from it.

    • Like Like x 1
  11. krugorg

    krugorg Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 18, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Okay, I am not necessarily saying that discussions about alternative cameras should be banned here, but it does seem like 99.98% of threads started about other camera systems (e.g., Brand X is better than m4/3, or John Q. Reviewer picks Brand X) end up going bad here.
  12. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    Random thought -- no one's mentioned Kai's reviews, which I enjoy for purely entertainment purposes, and to see what a new camera looks like in someone's hands.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. sabeking

    sabeking Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 22, 2012
    North Carolina
    Here, Hear...

  14. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    Kai is scrawny making every camera in his hand look massive! :biggrin:
    • Like Like x 1
  15. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    lol. I think he had to get someone to help hold up the 1Dx and a77
  16. 0dBm

    0dBm Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 30, 2011
    Western United States
    I find Kai to be the most entertaining camera hardware reviewer. His biases are comical and his approach whimsical as to greatly juxtapose my rather stodgy, spartan way of looking at "gear" as mere tools.
  17. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    You nailed it. I'm not making any generalizations that apply to everyone.
  18. Ranger Rick

    Ranger Rick Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Apr 11, 2009
    Tempe, AZ
    I have read Kirk's blog for a long time, own some of his books, enjoy almost all of his comments. What gives me pause it that it was only a week or two ago that he had a long post about "gear" and how it is overemphasized. Then, this week, he's sold most of one kit, plans to sell almost all the rest, and is into another new thing. Now, fine, he's got the money, he's got a related business, he likes Sony, etc, but it seems a disconnect to be talking about how great the Hasselblad is, how gear is over-promoted, then read soon after that most of it sold and we're into a new ride.

    A while ago, Kirk noted that gear reviews on his site seem to bring in large increases in traffic. I'm sure this latest switch is really doing great.

    Personally, I don't care whether he uses X or Y- I use what I use because it suits my needs. I don't print 40x60, so I don't need the D800/5D, etc.

    It's all a business, and most bloggers seem to look at it that way. So take the good and the bad, learn something and profit from what you learn. As the song goes, "Go Your Own Way".
  19. landshark

    landshark Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 27, 2010
    SO CAL
    To be clear I understand and value the info provided by reviews and reviewers, especially for those that do not have access to sample gear in the flesh. My problem is with the almost blindness faith in one reviewer or another, the inability to see why said blogger made the choices they did and the desire to not just feel good about one’s choice but lack of faith in their own choices without the validation of someone more “famous” than themselves.
  20. mojojones

    mojojones New to Mu-43

    Jun 1, 2010
    It's all about the images...

    I love reviews. I read all of them. As others have said here, if you read them for what they're worth, there's almost always something you can gain from them. And as Amin said, manufacturer's are all making good cameras these days. The distinguishing factors usually come down to form/usability and image character (notice I didn't say image quality here).

    From the usability standpoint, the more reviews from different users the better. Each person uses cameras differently and getting their take on how a camera works in their situation can inform how they might work for us.

    The image character issue is where I find most reviews lacking. Sure, a lot about image quality can be gained from pixel peeping the studio setups at dpreview or Imaging Resource, but understanding image character comes from real world examples. My beef is the lack of variety and that we get from the standard sources in their example images. I mean haven't we seen enough across the pub table pictures and shots looking up at downtown buildings? And God knows I've seen enough (bad) pictures of Steve Huff's backyard!

    Now I know reviewers often get limited time with the cameras they are reviewing, but it pays to have a good understanding of how different image characteristics affect the overall look of an image, and to try to make images that reflect those characteristics in real world situations (and I'm talking about more than bokeh here).

    As photographers, we live in an incredible time of experimentation and innovation in camera design. The wealth of reviews out there is a tremendous asset in sorting out how we can get the best equipment to make our own best images. Unfortunately for us, it's a constantly moving target!!!
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