What I Wish Camera Reviews Would Include

What I Wish Camera Reviews Would Include

For years I have found it really hard to get into gear reviews. I simply don't care about pixel pitch, dynamic range, how many auto focus points a camera has, nor the finer part of a menu system. So what do folk like myself look for in a camera?

I think it is worth noting the area in which I work in and that it may have a bearing in my opinions on this, although I know other photographers from different genres who feel the same. Personally, I work as a commercial food photographer. Despite having no interest in the gear in any form of passion for the physical items, we do often shoot with the best kit. It isn't that I don't like nice camera gear, just that most reviews don't tell me about anything I care about. A typical shoot will see me using a Canon EOS 5DS R and Broncolor Pulso heads that are a few generations old where as a bigger campaign would have the latest Broncolor or Elinchrom lights and packs (depending on requirements) and a Phase One with blue ring lenses (the two rental houses I use don't stock Hassleblad, which is why I opt for Phase.) 

Image quality is obviously paramount to a lot of my clients. Some of them want an image that looks so detailed and real that it is a form of hyper reality. But others look for something different, a certain aesthetic, a nostalgia, or maybe to have the image looking like it could have been taken on a phone. 

What Does a General Review Look At?

I am going to make some broad sweeping statements here. Most reviews of camera gear focus on a few specific areas. When looking at the body it is resolution, dynamic range, auto focus points, ergonomics, battery life, fps, and perhaps the menu system. For lenses it often focuses around sharpness, color fringing, chromatic aberrations, and auto focus speeds. 

Here is my problem, none of the above have anything to do with my clients nor my requirements, and I can't be alone in this. That is not to say that the above are not valid measurements, but there is far more to a lens than its sharpness and way more factors in modern cameras than resolution, dynamic range and auto focus points. 

Cameras have got to a point where you really can't buy anything that wont get the job done. If I walked into a store and purchased any 35mm camera it would do the job fine for pretty much any commercial job. Anything in the medium format realm would be far more than sufficient. So why are we still reviewing cameras like it’s 2004?

What Would I Like to Know?

Now this will change from photographer to photographer. For me, knowing what the most stable sync speed is would be great. If you have ever shot with a Canon camera at their max sync speed in a studio for any period of time you will know what I mean. Sure it could be possible at 250th of a second, but for anything with high repetition I find 125th to be far more stable, but finding this information online is incredibly hard. Likewise with lenses. At what aperture will an electronic lens, when the camera shutter speed is faster than a 30th of a second, stop having variations in exposure due to the inaccuracies of the aperture blades when stopped down and shooting at any normal handheld speed? I own a heap of lenses and they all have different points for this, of which I have to keep note of. I would also like to know how well the raw files grade under certain situations, like studio lighting compared to mixed light sources. The numbers for dynamic range and bit depth don't cover this fully in any meaningful way. 

But what I really feel we are missing in reviews are the less quantifiable measurements. Explanations of how the lens draws compared to others. If we have the ability to describe and compare wines in writing, I am sure we can do the same with lenses. I know its far easier to compare a physical number or DXO mark from one item to another, but that doesn’t have any relation to anything we do in the real world. Where as the way a certain lens renders colors on a specific sensor as a lot to do with the real world. When I discovered that the Sigma Art line made the Canon color pallet cooler and softer I purchased a few of them to save me spending ages reducing the red that their Canon counter parts were adding to my images. 

What would you like to see more of, and less of in camera and lens reviews?

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24 Comments

Michael Comeau's picture

"At what aperture will an electronic lens, when the camera shutter speed is faster than a 30th of a second, stop having variations in exposure due to the inaccuracies of the aperture blades when stopped down and shooting at any normal handheld speed?"

*********

This would create a wave of "why your XYZ lens is defective" videos with people freaking out like crazy.

Wilder Berry's picture

Those who can, do; those who can't, become YouTube camera reviewers.... ;-)

Richard Bradbury's picture

I don't tend to watch or read many these days, mostly because I already know what the camera will or will not do for me enough to make a decision myself.

That and I honestly do not care what others think about a bit of gear these days. They don't have the same needs as I do.

Martin Peterdamm's picture

Oh I can subscribe to every line of this article.
I always thought I'm the only one noticing the sync speed thing.
Nowadays or maybe the last 10 years they were 98% about how good the camera can do video. Or how sharp a lens is. no matter how ugly the “sharp” image looks in the end.
I have many friends who are also pro and semi pro photographers and none of them is offering professional film to their clients. The only people I know became only or full-time film/video pros without any photography left. When watching photo channels on youtube or reading magazines you get the imagination that every photographer is also a filmmaker but the reality, maybe only in germany is completely different.
btw. other thing I noticed here people are still using dslr (nikon people) unless they shifted to sony and sold their canon stuff. And weirdly, they are still buying new dslr (what I don't get).

Anton Aylward's picture

Video? Bah!
Sharpness? A funny thing to obsess about.
Film? A hobby like train watching, but the real world, the mass market, is digital.
Arguing FF, APS-C, MFT? In a world of phone cameras and phone camera AI
Reviews of dinosaurs manufactured by companies on the verge of extinction?

Les Sucettes's picture

Actually I would like reviewers to become less technical and more about, not ergonomics per se, but how the tool operates. Interface Design makes it too technical still and may lead down a technical solution again but that’s probably the term for what I’m looking for. That with a bunch of emotions - make photography fun again!

Frankly the one camera maker I can think of that does somewhat what I want others to do in fullframe is Fuji... Give me a pro body for different types of applications! Rather than the old dichotomy of a “pro body” vs another that is supposed to be “entry level”. That’s the wrong way at looking at it. Yes you also need entry level. But really you need a range of pro bodies for different use!

Give me a Technical Camera with shifting capabilities, another Technical camera more for Fashion, one that is hybrid for video and sports, and another that is more of a rangefinder for the better viewfinder and a less “in your face” size (I don’t want to say small because smaller isn’t an objective in itself; too many go down that rabbit hole and miss the point — see Sony 7aC).

This constant focus on Flippy Screens, eye AF, Dual Card Slots, and latest IBIS is ridiculous.

Just me's picture

The big missing thing is integrity.
Reviewers are more attracted on audience and loyalty to a brand that offers freebies than giving real life usage and downside.
All the great aspects of a product are already in the press release. We are interested on what is NOT obvious and the downside of it.
.
The Canon R5 overheat issue is the best example of all.
Waiting one hour for a camera to cool down is perfectly fine with all the reviewers.
.
This aspect is the less discussed when it's actually the first time a camera have such long shut down.
Presented with a larger 8K poster by Canon but not that much usable after all. Only very few reviewers have done their job here.

Jacques Cornell's picture

To be fair, reviewers are probably wary about lawsuits.

Les Sucettes's picture

The « overheating issue » is everything that is wrong with reviews. It’s such a minor problem that is being made such a huge deal and now all that camera makers focus on is creating these perfect playstation gear that does everything half heartedly but nothing perfectly. Very few risk having a camera that does one thing perfectly and that is what it is for. The one that goes in this dieection is Fuji. Not far enough IMO but I guess in this « reviewer » environment it’s all they can risk.

Back in the days there were loads cameras that were specialised - that’s what made them fun! Now there’s only devices with a strap.

Sam Sims's picture

Actually you are quite wrong about it being a ‘minor problem’. It’s a huge problem. Canon marketed this camera for its amazing 8K capabilities and chose not to say anything about the camera’s very severe video limits, including unacceptable cool down time, until a YouTuber downloaded and read the manual and make a video about it. The R5 costs nearly $4000 and too many Canon users are defending the R5 and happy to use lower quality line skipped 4K letting Canon off the hook. I agree hybrid cameras can’t do it all but Canon shouldn’t have heavily marketed class leading video when the R5 has serious issues.

Jan Holler's picture

I agree very much. That is why I still have my D800E. The only thing I was interested with the D850 when it came out: Is the grip deeper (it is), because sometimes the tip of my fingers hurt when using the D800 for a longer period of time. Generally spoken: I am only interested in those specs of a new camera of which I think are not that good with the one I actually use. As you can imagine, there are not that many at all. The deeper grip of the D850 was not enough reason to make me switch the body and spend 3k just for that
(Question: Mechanically controlled apertures do not have this issue of inconsistency you describe above?)

A M's picture

I am not sure what we should ask of the review itself. Rather, we need to spend more time asking ourselves if we really need the advancements or benefits being offered.

Manufacturers are constantly innovating, which of course is positive. But are the innovations incremental (really)? And, will they really make much of a difference given that we're still working to master what we already have. And, most importantly, do the changes justify the financial outlay?

I would guess in most cases the answer is no. As one professional sports photgrapher told me, "there's a lot of expensive equipment out there, producing a lot of mediocre results". Which essentially says the equipment is only a component of the overall success. Simply meaning a lot of photographers would benefit most from 'reviewing' their output...honestly.

You can go broke chasing technology...without necesarily improving your results. So the question that every review should answer is: "despite all the nice new things being advertised, do you really need to replace what is already working for you?"

That needs to be the top question in every Conclusion of any equipment review.

Sam Sims's picture

At the end of the day camera companies want people spending money and must love the gearheads who convince themselves that a new 85mm f1.2 lens is essential to their photography and worth starving themselves to be able to afford it.

I agree in essence with your comment. Some people are obsessed with new lenses, even when their own photographic technical ability isn’t up to much and would benefit more from learning and improving with the lenses they already have. Unfortunately I don’t think this would go down well if reviewers tried to encourage photographers to improve their photography before buying any new lenses. Besides, the reviewer won’t know the technical abilities of the people reading/watching the review. Their only job really is to give an honest (you’d think) opinion of a new lens and leave it up to the individual to decide if they want the lens, regardless whether they’d truly benefit from owning it.

Anton Aylward's picture

I have a old early Sony DSLR and the Minolta lenses I inherited from my father when he died that are even older, and a Asahi-Pentax Super-Takumar that is my pride and joy, a lens almost as old as I am.
I learnt in my early teens on a camera my father picked up in Germany in the aftermath of WW2, so 'manual' doesn't bother me. Yes I welcome 'automatic' since it lets me concentrate on composition, but I can live without it, heck I did for decades! As I grow ancient I'm likely to develop a tremor in my hands and will welcome IBIS. My dear old Sony has that, so I see no need to update my gear before I die a couple of decades from now.
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-you-bound-to-get-shaky-ands-as-yo...

Sam Sims's picture

I personally wish camera reviews would stop obsessing over wide open sharpness and bokeh, especially cheaper lenses that likely aren’t sharp wide open anyway. It gets tedious seeing images and they’re mostly all taken at the widest aperture when the lens quality will improve stopped down a bit. People just see the ‘blurry’ wide open shots and conclude the lens is no good.

Jacques Cornell's picture

As an event photographer, they key issue I face is AF usability, specifically, the ease with which I can get the camera to focus on one face among many. When I compare my Micro Four Thirds kit to my new 35mm-format kit, the former actually works better for me. Yes, I give up tracking when I manually select an AF point, but the system is incredibly precise, I can do it in a nanosecond, and my subjects don't move much. OTOH, the latter has world-class tracking and C-AF, but when it doesn't select the right face, the tools for steering it to my target are so slow and cumbersome as to make it almost unusable. Reviews don't tell me about this. To make matters worse, reviewers often couch misgivings in language that's so vague as to be misleading. Maybe reviewers are worried about lawsuits or loss of access, but I'll come right out and say it: Touch selection of AF points on my Sony a7III and a7RIII is so abysmally bad that they might as well have not included it at all. This from a company that makes phones with touchscreens. Go figure.

Momchil Yordanov's picture

Because the article ended with a question, I will give my answer. What I would want the YouTube/internet reviewers to do is either to run a standardized test when reviewing on lens by lens basis, or to test a given lens along with it's competition, taking the same photos at the same time with the same setting on the same model camera. Otherwise, we get someone's "impressions" and "beliefs" about a piece of gear. It can be affected even by things like if he/she slept well the previous night and feel like making a review at all today...

Mihnea Stoian's picture

check out Chris's channel, he does by far the best lens reviews I've come across: https://www.youtube.com/user/christopherfrost

Momchil Yordanov's picture

I agree about his channel. Bought 3 lenses, pretty much following only the advice of Christopher Frost and another youtuber, Dustin Abbott. All 3 were exactly as described.

GianMarco Tavazzani's picture

Yes-yes-yes: you are professionals and a gear is almost just a tool that has to ease your work and produce great outputs.
But then there is the rest of us who LIKE to photograph not 'must it' and I do believe that also the professionals would someimes ENJOY to use a camera more than another, for not really 'rational' reasons and we could start an open list of these reasons, maybe the most 'childish' one is how it looks in the eyes of our friends (and NOT for the brand logo or so), second, in our own eyes, then how it feels in our hands (it's like shaking hand to people: some gives you a pleasant feeling, most an irritating one but…), then the ergonomy, last in this first ist ONLY because we are entering here in the LESS 'childish' aspects.
PERSONALLY, if I'm going to postprocess anyway whatever I schot, even the JPEG outputs are just tumbnails to ease the choice to trash pictures even before to open them in Lightroom or so, so all what I want is a faithful camera with a frequent updated and essy to uopload firmware and not 'frozen in the time' with what ages quicker: THE SOFTWARE!
A camera that allows me to bracket and burts in all possible ways that could be elaborated later home (pre-, post pressing, focus, exposure and maybe also aperture, you tell it), maybe also while taking an 8K video which allows me to extract anyway some lost click, WITHOUT an LCD screen (if the eyeviefinder is really great, I could even think at a binocular eyeviefinder to be better than the LCD AND THE BACK OF MY CAMERA HAS THE SPACE I MISS BY THE TIME OF MY BELOVER SONY R1!
A camera is like a wife: it's good if she can carry children healthy, cook well, keep the house and bla-bla, but… would it harm if she would be also a bit sexy? :-)

Jan Holler's picture

There are reasons for those being interested in the latest technology or just tech to use photography to live just that. But pros like Scott are in a row of those who are interested more in photography itself and not in the tools they use. It's obvious that the technology reached a level for quite a while now where you can afford to mostly ignore it. It will not improve your skills if you take care. So to be honest, one is a photographer and the other one is more a techie. Of course there exist the combination of both as well. Do whatever you like.

Billy Paul's picture

"If we have the ability to describe and compare wines in writing, I am sure we can do the same with lenses".

Actually we don't. People write complete rubbish about wine:

mellow, smoothness. complexity, rich, smokey, spicy bite, smooth finish, juicy, hints of cinnamon, incense, soft, easy, ripe, dark fruit, cassis, cedar, dark chocolate. charming, warming, pepper spice, bold, intense, punchy.

(Taken from the first site I found reviewing a handful of wines).

and even more complete rubbish about audio for example.

If attributes of wine, audio, (lenses?) actually existed people wouldn't be using words meaning something else to describe them.

Jacques Cornell's picture

LOL. As a cheapskate audiophile, I have to laugh. Every time I see the phrase "3d pop" I have to roll my eyes.