As every photographer who’s suffering from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I am currently searching for a new lens. While trawling through popular online shops, I couldn’t help myself, but laugh about some useless review images of the products.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to point my finger at anybody (okay, just a little). That’s also why I won’t link to the images or products (If you spend a few minutes, you’ll find plenty anyway). I just want to save you from wasting your time checking inaccurate sample images when you’re in search of a new lens (alternatively, I want to make you waste your time by searching for any lens and check the samples).
Hint: The cheaper the lens, the higher the probability that you’ll find a sample image of the following categories (please, don’t take my occasional tantrums too seriously):
1. Flowers at f/2.8 and Below
Okay, flowers are beautiful. We all love them, and they make a great decoration in our homes. I get it. But, does it really justify tons of photographs of plants as sample images for every lens on the market? The truth is that photographing flowers with your lens wide open (that means with an aperture of f/2.8 and below) will rarely help others judge the quality of a lens.
How often will you use your future lens to shoot flowers? If your planning to shoot portraits, landscape, or architecture, why do we have to look at images of flowers? The answer is easy: Almost every household has some. A flower is probably the first halfway beautiful object that you’ll discover after unboxing your lens. Plus, there’s not much effort in shooting it. Problem: Whenever there’s not much effort involved, the lens won’t be pushed to its limits, so the sample is quite insignificant.
Macro lenses are a different topic, though. Some people focus on shooting plants and want to discover the possibilities of the lens. You can judge how close you can get and how big (or small) the focal plane will be. In that case, images of plants might help you. In case of a standard zoom without macro specs, that won’t make sense, though, especially not without sharing the camera settings.
2. Light Painting and Fireworks
“Wow! You can even photograph a firework with this lens,” said no photographer ever. It’s really hard to find a lens that isn’t able to capture fireworks. Even though it requires some skills and knowledge, the technical demands for light-painting and fireworks are quite low.
As you have to deal with bright lights in a dark environment, you usually want to use a mid to small aperture. A smaller aperture generally allows you to increase the shutter speed. In case of a firework, you will have enough time to capture the light trails while the background still remains dark. Experience, as well as try and error will help, but almost every lens is able to shoot at f/8.
Light painting and fireworks are a cool way to practice photography with beginner’s gear, but looking at the images shouldn’t influence your decision to purchase.
Yep, I’ve just seen it. There are indeed some cruel people who upload HDR images to prove the quality of a lens. That’s wrong! Morally and aesthetically. Please don’t fall for these images. HDR (high dynamic range) is a technique that many of us tried at some point. By shooting different exposures and combining them into one single image, you get more detail in your highlights and shadows. HDR indeed gives you some advantages when used with care.
It doesn’t give you an advantage for assessing the quality of a lens, though. Visible HDR is a hardcore way of post-processing and has nothing to do with the pre-processing (yes, I just made that up) that your lens does, especially if it creates awkward ghosting, dark spots, or other artifacts.
4. Amateur Portraits of Your Family
Please, people: stop it! There are photography groups where you can get proper critique to improve your portraiture. Amazon, on the other hand, might not be the place to expose your spouse. And if you somehow have to do it, please don’t use the kinky images.
Family portraits and private images of your life simply don’t belong into the biggest marketplace in the world, unless they are professionally done and help people understand the characteristics of a lens, camera, or whatever.
Photographs of someone’s birthday party won’t tell us anything about the quality of the lens, neither will an image of your daughter playing with a Barbie (just seen it) or your daughter with her best friend (did you even ask her parents for permission?). There is social media, but even there, you might ask your 14-year-old before you publish portraits of her. It could prevent a family crisis.
5. Blurry Images as Proof for Bad Quality
Let me admit that I’ve also been there. When I got my first DSLR, it came with a Tamron 18-200mm (also a great product if you want to check out images of berries, leaves, and cats in the reviews). While that lens is far from being perfect, I made it worse. Because of my lack of knowledge about the relationship between focal length and blur, I rated it below what was fair.
Most of my photographs were kind of blurry when I zoomed in. Of course they are when you have a shutter speed of 1/50 sec. Even today, I have problems shooting at 200mm with a shutter speed of 1/200 second, especially when I’m still a little bit nervous because I looked at bad test images!
Some lenses really suffer in quality at their extreme focal lengths. But you should be careful when you see amateurs’ work. Often, it isn't proof of bad glass, but bad grip.
6. Photographs of Moving Objects
A pin-sharp photograph of a racing car is impressive. A slightly blurry picture of a car can still be cool and artistic. A photograph of a tree in the wind to prove sharpness of a lens doesn't help.
People get crazy ideas when they are keen to prove to themselves what a good purchase they made. We all know this feeling. You spent some money on new gear, and now, you want to test it. The worst decision is going out and taking pictures of the first things you see. Mostly, it’s trees, flowers, cats, and dogs — neither impressive, nor helpful. Thanks for sharing your world, but please use Instagram for that.
7. Sample Images of the Manufacturer
Did you ever hear the saying: “the photographer makes the photograph, not the camera”? It’s true. A professional photographer can create stunning images even with the kit lens of your Nikon D3300. Most sample images of the manufacturer aim at provoking you to buy something new, because you expect to shoot photographs of the same quality. Actually, in many cases, the photographer could have shot the same image with any other lens of a similar focal length.
The differences of the lenses can just be found in the details. Only when you get to see a photograph in very high resolution can you actually assess the small blemishes of the lens. Sample images of the manufacturer can help you, though. Check your own glass, and you might find out that other photographers shoot great images with it. It’s not always the gear; sometimes, it’s you. That’s my personal therapy for GAS.
It’s hard to evaluate the quality of a lens by only reviewing random images of other users. In fact, many of these images result from a justified excitement and the urge to do something with the lens. While some people really do elaborate testing and write profound reviews, many (if not most) of the published test shots are excited testimonies of customers who are proud of their new purchase.
If you’re really keen to know about a certain lens, there are many professional reviews on the web apart from the place where the lenses are sold. Fstoppers, for example, regularly publishes reviews of lenses and other gear. It’s certainly a great way to feed your curiosity and avoid bad purchases.