Do camera reviews even matter?

As someone who suffers from G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) when it comes to cameras, I spend a lot of time reading camera reviews. And when I am done reading, I watch YouTube videos. And after I am done with each one of them, I realize I am still no closer to making a smart buying decision about a camera because none of the reviews say anything meaningful.

Many of the reviews are just jib-jab: the reviewers are often reciting the laundry list of features, price and how they compare to other cameras. There is very little “review” in these reviews. The camera companies use these reviews as cheap promotion by loaning cameras or lenses to these so called reviewers.

It isn’t just camera reviews — almost all online reviews and articles are devoid of any real content because everyone is racing to publish instantly and curry favor with who they are writing about. Camera reviewers want the next new camera, the news reporters want the first phone call from PR people. This stage managed media of today is a disservice to the end customer – consumers like you and me.

Anyway back to the camera reviews: All I want to know from reviews is how it feels in hand, the pictures it makes and what is the actual performance from a daily usage stand point. The sensor size, the sensor type and what kind of processors mean absolutely nothing — what matters is the photos.

The challenge you have with the official reviews is that they don’t really post as many photos with their reviews, mostly because they actually are mediocre photographers and are unable to come up with visuals that can act as testimonials for the quality of the camera. Take for instance, Leica SL, which was panned by all the reviewers for its looks, price, weight and size of its lenses. No one really talked about the image quality — which is ultimately what a camera is for.

With my eyesight deteriorating, I thought it would make sense to sell my M240 and get a Leica SL — and use M-lenses (with an adapter) and the EVF. But the reviews deterred me from making the move. Then I stopped at the Leica store – and held the camera. I realized that it wasn’t that different in weight from the Leica M240. It was a shade heavier but I couldn’t really tell the difference. I rented the SL and an M-adapter and put my Leica APO f2/Summicron 50mm on the camera. Result: better and sharper portraits.

The RAW files were rich with data and even JPEGs came out almost ready to publish to the Internet. It was as if those who reviewed the camera and those who were using the camera – me for example — were talking about two different devices. Two other fellow Leica fans followed my lead and came up to the same conclusion – SL was easier to use, especially at night and made better photos.

Lately I have been eyeing the x100F and basically been underwhelmed by the reviews so far, including from people who I usually like. It wasn’t up until I saw some photos from Kevin Mullins (a well-known wedding photographer) that I got a better idea about the photo capabilities of the camera. It seems like a lighter, smaller version of xPro2 and would make an ideal camera for casual photography, street photography and simple landscapes. Mullins thinks the autofocus is on par with his other professional cameras and the in-camera processing is much improved. I am still trying to figure out the EVF capabilities, but if it is on par with xPro2, then it might be an addition to my camera gear.

Anyway I am diverging from the point of my rant — camera reviews, like all gadget reviews should not be mere reciting of the features but instead photographers have to be honest and candid in sharing their day-to-day experiences with the camera, what it is good for and where it sucks. It is the only way to do their job. Otherwise they are just nothing but shills for camera companies – not worth the hypertext they occupy.

February 19, 2017. San Francisco

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