I rarely look at online camera reviews, unless I am trying to answer a very, very detailed question about a specific setting, button or control an a given camera. While some of the reviews can be useful, a lot of them are garbage. I am still trying to figure out who to blame, the reviewers who write the junk or the end-users who put too much faith in the same reviewers.
I know people who write camera reviews. Many of them are nice people trying to help others decide which camera might work for them. That is good thing. But for every well intentioned and kindly reviewer, there seem to be three who like nothing more than to show off their technical knowledge, their ability to access the latest gear before everyone else or their ability to speak in techno-gibberish.
I have to confess there is nothing scientific or rigorous about this diatribe against sloppy camera reviews. I access most of the reviews that I do look at the same way. A student, friend or peer writes me with a question about a piece of gear. In their query, they direct me to some on line review with some particularly extreme comment from a reviewer.
What prompted this blog was a review that I was directed to that said a given lens “performs badly in low light.” Frankly, that is absurd. A lens is lens. It lets in a certain amount of light. End of discussion. A better way of phrasing it might have been that the lens in question has fairly small maximum aperture requiring longer exposures to get a good exposure in low light, making it a less than ideal lens for low light photography. Different cameras (and especially different sensors) do perform drastically different in low light, but a lens is a lens, it lets in light, regardless of whether there is a lot or a little to let in.
Another thing that I hate about on line reviews is how the reviewers emphasize the extremes that the camera can go to. Yes, a camera with no appreciable noise in the image at ISO 6400 is great camera. But, how many people actually use ISO 6400 often? More importantly, how many people want to pay the money for the bigger DSLRs that are capable of doing that (and to carry around all that extra weight?)
I rarely read the reviews because they seem to provoke shockingly unpleasant comments from people who disagree with the reviewer. I am not talking about commenters who argue over subtle disagreements with the reviewers. I mean commenters who challenge the reviewer’s right to live, let alone their qualifications to review a given camera.
When people ask me about how to utilize the reviews in their decision making process, I suggest they read as many different reviews as they can, in order to get a consensus. Unless the camera(s) in question are universally reviewed as complete junk by every reviewer, I suggest that the purchaser-to-be then put that information aside.
Next, handle the camera, because how a camera feels in your hand s is THE most important factor. This is doubly true for women who tend to have smaller hands. If you do not like the camera in your hands, move on. No matter how well reviewed a camera is, if you are not comfortable holding and using it, you will not use it and that would be real waste.
Then I suggest starting to play with the buttons, controls and especially the menus for the many settings on the camera. Some of the user-interfaces on contemporary cameras are pretty easy to grasp while others are clearly designed for overly-techy engineers (and not for real world photographers.) Again, if you find the menus so difficult that you will not be able to learn how to use them with a little practice, you should move on since you will likely not use the camera.
If you simply want the best image quality, you probably want something like the $42,000 Hasselblad H5D-200MS Medium Format DSLR, which produces a 50 Megapixel image and weighs almost six pounds. If you want something that more realistically fits your needs, the on line reviews are an decent place to start.
The most important step in buying a camera is handling it and thus I encourage students to shop “locally.” Of course, we all want to support locally business. In the case of buying a camera, a local dealer is the best place to handle a camera under consideration. It is also the best place to go back to after the purchase to get answers to the inevitable questions that come with a new camera. No on-line review will ever take the place of that kind of expertise.