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Camera Reviews: Trusting What You Read?

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In the film era -- or the era of mechanical cameras, to be exact -- buying cameras (135 format) was less complicated. As the film camera is just a light box, there are not much to compete about for the camera body. The competition mainly went on for the optical quality of the lenses. So, in essence, the decision could be made simply basing on the camera maker's ability in producing lenses with prime optical quality.  And then you just stuck to that camera brand with more investment spent on the lenses. With the advent of automatic functionalities, camera bodies began to upstage the lenses somewhat.

Now, digital cameras are the prima donnas and, if you like, uomos. As these jack-of-all-traders (and masters of some) take up a larger part of the investment with their ambitious pricing but a shorter life cycle, it becomes almost necessary to read lots of reviews to make an informed purchase than to regret later.

But after reading all the reviews, how much more informed you have really become?

When the now defunct Minolta launched its digital Dynax 7 DSLR, a big site reviewer called it an "overkill" with reference to its twin-dial design on the body ridge. For some suspicious reason, the camera didn't receive a good rating there.

Later, when Canon G7 was released, the reviewer of the same site hailed the similar twin-dial design as a smart user-friendly thinking.

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A recent example is the NX10 review done by another big site. The tester wrote that the viewfinder was dim and went on guessing the reason. Fact is, the viewfinder is dim when left in the default brightness setting which can be adjusted. When I reviewed the NX10, I was first puzzled by the same issue. But simply referring to the user's instruction, I had the cloud of bewilderment cleared up.

With the benefit of hindsight after testing some cameras, I as sort of a person-on-the-know have discovered that the camera reviews, notably those published in magazines, consist some intended or unintended limitations.  In some cases, reviewers would talk about the minor shortcomings of the cameras but gloss over the major ones.  In the commercial world, this is understandable.  As a self-styled reviewer, I can claim that I know an aspect of this: If I lash out in full force at the shortcomings, will I be able to receive another test items the next time?

So, camera reviews should be read with some pinches of the following:

1) The reviewers’ comments on how they feel about the ergonomics of the camera are generally trustworthy but you need to feel the camera for yourselves;

2) Doubt the reviewers’ comments about the results of the quality of the side-by-side shots and make your own conclusion.  Scientific statistics are useless until it is interpreted in the context of the individual user’s preferences;

3) When a strength is spoken of the camera, consider it a 70% truth;

4) When a strength is lavishly touted, consider it a 50% truth;

5) When the camera are reviewed without much weaknesses mentioned, or mentioned but the camera maker doesn’t sound dumb enough to overlook such weaknesses, try to download a user’s instruction to read for yourself;

6) When a minor weakness is spoken of the camera which seems like an afterthought to give credence to the review, make sure that you look to the other non-commercial sites to learn about the users’ comments because probably the worst things of the camera are being glossed over;

7) When a major weakness is told but then the reviewer tunes it down like, “But who needs…” or “It really doesn’t matter because …” or “I don’t care about the downside…” or “It doesn’t bother me…” et cetera;

8) Reviews of big brand-name cameras: as a general rule of thumb, downgrade their rating to one level;

9) Reviews of the underdog cameras: you'll have to play with the camera to make your own judgement; and

10) So, visit a store when it is quieter to try out your targeted cameras. Don’t forget to bring a memory card with you to store the pictures for review later.


Rob Leslie said…
Reviews can't be trusted and of course they are often written for casual shooters. The NX 10 has had some 'Crazy' reviews and they could clearly be seen as biased becuase Samsung is not a tradition top end camera maker. My example would be the review that faulted the eye correction because it wasnt easy to change! Or how about the reviews that ignore its compact size and great full time live view and compare it to full blown DSLRs that are over twice the size and (With 3 lenses) cost twice as much.
All reviews seem to miss the point that No one camera can do everything for everybody. I use four and I feel I need those four cameras to cover everything I do or may want to do. I usually use at least two everytime I go out and do some photos.
Nevin said…
At least the reviews give perspective buyers a general idea of what they may expect of the cameras. I'd add that all reviews miss some point somehow. The time allowed for testing the camera is never long enough I think.

Obviously, some reviewers test the cameras in an intuitive fashion: without reading the users' instruction and basing the test on the cameras they are familiar with. These reviewers should be ashamed of not doing their due diligence. But just because reviews are opinionated, doesn't mean that they are worthless. I would recommend all to read them with wisdom, and a pinch of salt.

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