Artists, creatives and critics

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Almost everybody falls into one of two categories: creator or consumer. Do you spend more time making content or material, derivative or otherwise, than consuming it? Do you prefer to make or view images? Of the creators, there are positive, derivative and negative. The positives try to advance art, science and and knowledge by providing a point of view or product or device or service that hasn’t existed previously, whilst maybe or maybe not benefitting personally from the provision of said novelty. The line between positive and derivative is a blurry one, and perhaps doesn’t cleanly exist – in my mind, it’s down to whether the creator tries to add some element of originality or not; there’s no such thing as 100% uniqueness or 100% invention from nothing. We cannot create without some base of precedent or inspiration, no matter how remote or seemingly unrelated. But the more remote the connections that are made in the creation of something, the more the creator contributes by joining the dots, making the logical conclusions and helping the rest of us see what we might have missed.

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Everybody’s a critic

In the internet age, anybody who has an opinion is free to express it. They’re even free to promote it in whatever way they choose, to whoever they choose. And inevitably it’s the loudest people that get heard – though not necessarily are they the ones with the most valid or interesting things to say.

/rant on: Something has been bothering me, for the past few weeks. And I’ve just put my finger on it. Every time I post a camera or lens review, something odd happens. Traffic spikes, but so do the very polarized emails and comments: everything from outright praise that I find undeserved (though extremely flattering) to derision and people attempting to poke holes in every single portion of my methodology or opinions. I want to make several things clear, both for reviews going forwards and retroactively for things I’ve already written:

1. Everything is relative. If you don’t like my images, fine – nobody is forcing you to look at them. Same for my opinions. But one of the great things about the internet is that there’s so much free content out there that you’re at liberty to choose what you see and read. (What you believe is up to you). And even better, is that there’s always an opportunity to learn something because everybody has a different point of view. I strive to approach every comment and question with an open mind, because it’s entirely possible (in fact, likely) that somebody has thought of something I’ve overlooked. But at the same time, questions are fine, but if you’re going to be a critic, then at least have a clear logical support case for your argument.

2. I will never claim that X image is better than Y image on anything but a subjective, personal level. Remember, cinematographers like flare, but still photographers don’t. Same with certain soft lenses. Photography is subjective, and that subjectivity means that nobody is right or wrong for the most part.

3. For the other parts that are quantifiable – noise, resolution, color accuracy (but not ‘pleasingness’) etc – then scientific tests are always the best way to get a relative idea of whether A is better than B. But the observer must always remember that there are a lot of variables involved – some of which cannot be decoupled from the equation (like lens choice) and some of which are also not relevant to the question (lens choice does not affect noise performance!).

4. I run tests and reviews as practical exercises. The reviews and tests I write are basically a documentation of my own evaluation process to determine if a particular camera makes sense for me or not as a tool, and if so, what incremental advantage does it offer over what I’ve already got. It’s possible to always say ‘but you should have use the 50/1.4 Aspherical Super-Nonagon-Reproductar ED instead of the 50/2.8 XYZ Noname’ – yes, but that isn’t a real world choice for me. I don’t think about the equipment I don’t have, because I’m not going to make photos with it. And I’m certainly not going to go out and buy it solely for the sake of a test. It seems a lot of people get hung up over this and fail to realize that a) a huge amount of work is required to document these tests and b) I’m not paid for it. Worse still, it takes away from the time I have available to do work that does pay. If I compare two things it’s because it’s a real world choice I’ll have to face when looking into the equipment cabinet.

5. My conclusions are not drawn solely from the images you see. The images are there as examples and illustrations. There is no validity to base a conclusion off shrunken web-size jpegs that have both been compressed and color-converted down to 8bit SRGB. I don’t share full size raw files because a) they’re proprietary and b) it would be ridiculously impractical due to bandwidth and hosting considerations. I won’t write something unless I’ve seen it enough times to warrant mention – a single odd image could be down to any number of factors, including sample variation. If something however performs consistently better or worse than expected based on other pieces of equipment of similar specifications, then it’s worth noting. And I suspect that’s what makes a lot of people uncomfortable, because they may have put their money in the wrong camp.

6. Equipment is nothing but a tool. If one tool gives you more flexibility or capability than another, then use it; if it doesn’t, don’t. Grow up and stop wasting your time defending your equipment choices online as though they’re religious beliefs or life and death. If you like it, use it. If that makes you produce better images with camera A even though camera B has more resolution, then camera A is better for you. This is why we have literally hundreds of choices on the market – the camera companies are smart enough to realize that, and let the diehard fans fight to the death over it on the internet. Any publicity is good publicity, right? As a photographer, I only care about the usefulness of a tool. I will buy what works and be vocal about what doesn’t, because if we’re not, then nothing will improve or be fixed. Remember: by far the most important ingredient in a successful photograph is the photographer.

7. The litmus test is the image you get out of it. If the viewer spends most of their time looking for noise rather than at the subject, then I’ve failed as a photographer. Delivering a good image – something that pleases myself and my clients – is the end goal, not to produce an incredibly boring photography that’s technically perfect. That is not what I’m hired for.

8. Finally, my site is about photography, not equipment. If you are looking for community validation of your expensive purchases and expect to see results that show the most expensive is always the best by a clear margin, then criticize my testing methodology with no proof or credibility if I find otherwise, please go and find a suitable forum for that – there are plenty of them out there. But if you want to learn about how understanding the various elements of composition will make you a better photographer, or how human psychology influences our perception of color, then keep reading. /rant off. MT


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