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?