If it seems slightly odd that I have to write an article like this in the first place, that’s because I’ve been noticing several trends in my email inbox lately:
- Why don’t I review XYZ camera, or if I can review XYZ camera?
- Why didn’t I test for a particular feature?
- Why didn’t I test a particular combination of body and lens or some other accessory/ add-on?
- Why didn’t I post full size files, or raw files?
- Why do I postprocess the files/ test JPEG output?
- Are you paid by the camera companies to write good things?
- I read your review of XYZ, but would like to get some more thoughts. What do you think of XYZ?
- And of course the usual…”Should I buy X or Y?”
I’m going to add a few to this list myself:
- What’s the difference between my reviews and others?
- Why do I only review certain cameras?
- In the unlikely event I’m given or loaned a piece of equipment to review, then what?
I’m going to address these once and for all, and then return to the business of making images with the occasional detour into the equipment.
Why don’t I review XYZ camera, or if I can review XYZ camera?
For the most part, I have to buy, with my own money, the cameras I review. This means that these cameras must be either of some personal interest to me, or something that I’m going to use in my commercial work. On top of that, one of my camera reviews typically runs north of 3,000 words; those of you in academia or not so long out of university will remember how long it takes to write a researched essay of that length. (For those of you who’ve never tried or forgotten, the answer is that it typically takes me between two and four whole days of work to produce one of these reviews. There’s a lot of testing and re-testing that you don’t see; I need to do this to make sure that I can confidently support my findings.) Add to it the requirement of making pictures that are up to your normal standards with an unfamiliar camera, and you’re quickly into territory that’s going to eat up a lot of time. And time spent writing reviews is time I can’t spend earning money through commercial photography – this is a completely unprofitable activity. Bottom line: I’m simply not going to buy something that I’m not going to use to satisfy somebody else’s curiosity, nor waste time in learning to use it then relating my experiences. Fortunately, I find enough things interesting and use enough cameras that I’ll still produce a reasonable number of reviews.
Why didn’t I test for a particular feature?
Most likely it wasn’t relevant, or I didn’t know it existed. Modern cameras have so many features – a lot of them useless, like ‘pet smile detection mode’ – that it’s impossible to comprehensively test everything. It would also make for a very boring read. As for the key feature I normally overlook – video – this is because I both don’t shoot video, nor do I have sufficient experience to offer a useful opinion. Unlike a lot of other ‘reviewers’, I’d rather not say anything or admit that it’s out of my expertise rather than offer a half-baked and worthless opinion.
Why didn’t I test a particular combination of body and lens or some other accessory/ add-on?
Either I didn’t have access to it, or it didn’t make sense to buy because I’d probably only use it once. Same logic as the first question. If I haven’t said anything specifically about it, then I don’t have enough information to come to a conclusion on it.
Why didn’t I post full size files, or raw files?
Firstly, I won’t post any images unless I consider them up to my normal quality standards. And this means that they have commercial value, which subsequently becomes zero if there are high resolution files available for free in the public domain. Secondly, you’d need to see uncompressed, 16-bit TIFF files on a calibrated monitor to see the same things I’m seeing – which at 80MB+ for high resolution cameras, becomes impractical for bandwidth considerations. Same goes for the raw files – I never release raw files because of both copyright issues, size/ bandwidth and future commercial value. I wouldn’t want to have people posting badly processed versions of my images claiming that they were their own, or worse still, mine. Professional photography is a reputation game, and it’s as much about what you don’t show as what you do – perhaps more so, because it means you know how to throw away a bad image.
Why do I postprocess the files/ test JPEG output?
For similar reasons to why I don’t post full size or raw files. I’m not interested in the raw file output per se, but rather what I can do with the files – whether the potential is there to allow me to achieve what I visualized at the time of capture. This involves application of postprocessing to achieve certain things like local contrast enhancement etc. that are impossible in-camera; if a raw file can stand up to this and deliver the quality of output I’m looking for, then image quality passes. The camera JPEG settings are only of relevance if you have no intention to do postprocessing and are happy with the choices that the camera maker has made, for every situation, and are okay with being restricted to 8-bit compressed files. I’m not, so I don’t bother unless the camera can only shoot JPEG – and even then, chances are a camera like this isn’t of much interest to me anyway because of the typical feature set associated with these things. Bottom line: neither I nor any serious commercial photographer will deliver a raw file or SOOC JPEG to a client because it also communicates a certain carelessness about the whole creative process and quality of output, and I won’t assess a camera on this basis either. Again, finally, I don’t want mediocre or incomplete images with my name associated with them…
To be continued. MT
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