Recently I got a friendly comment about the images of a camera review I did. It was all about how the results should be presented. Straight out of the camera, or edited? I want to have a closer look at this question and what could be the answer.
I have reviewed a lot of different cameras and lenses. Sometimes even a printer, tripods, flashlights, and filters. Reviewing cameras is the most fun. Shooting with a new camera is great. Diving into the possibilities of different cameras makes me aware of the pros and cons. But most of all, I have learned to look at cameras from an objective point of view.
Throughout the years I reviewed cameras made by Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Olympus, Hasselblad, Leica, and GoPro. I have seen how these camera have developed over the years and how they compare. Judging functions, menu structures, button layout, and ergonomics can be considered personal and subjective. But when it comes down to image quality, that’s quite a different story.
In my reviews I always try to judge a camera from a user perspective. Not only regarding the use of a camera, but also the image results. One thing I try to avoid is laboratory tests and measurements, presented in nice looking graphics. First of all, I don’t have the tools for such measurements, But I also believe these tests aren’t representative of real-world use.
How Should a Review Present the Results
I started thinking about the way images have to be presented, when one reader asked me if the images I showed were straight out of the camera or not. Although I never thought about this, it’s a good question. The images I present in my reviews are shot in raw file format, and processed in Lightroom Classic to my own liking.
I shoot in raw file format. I process my images to my own liking before I present the image. Any new camera should allow me to process my images in this way. For me, it’s the only way to give an honest opinion about the results. Does the result live up to my expectations, or not? After some careful considerations, I think it is the only honest way of looking at the results.
This way will give me an insight into what the camera is capable of, and how far I can push the limits in post. An unedited image doesn’t tell much. For instance, if I exposure for the highlights the shadows can become very dark. If I would present the unedited result, the image doesn’t tell much. Only if I lift the shadows in post, the capabilities of the camera become visible.
I don't believe the straight out of the camera is representative of what the camera is capable of, but the processed image does. The before-after example above is shot with the Sony a1
When Straight Out of the Camera Images Are Needed
There are situations when a straight out of the camera image is needed. When comparing noise levels from high ISO settings, or exposure latitude is tested, the image should not be processed.
Noise levels and exposure latitude are just two examples of when the image should not be altered in any way. After all, that could change the outcome. I still shoot in raw for these tests, but I never change anything in Lightroom Classic.
I find these kinds of tests to be dangerously close to the laboratory tests and measurements I don’t want to do. Nevertheless, I feel the ISO levels and exposure latitude to be essential. If it concerns lenses, vignetting, chromatic aberrations, lens flares, bokeh, and perhaps even field curvature will need unedited images.
Are You a JPEG Photographer?
But wait. The question of that reader made me think a bit more about the use of processed images in a review. After all, there are photographers who shoot jpeg straight out of the camera. Presenting images that are shot in raw file format and processed in Lightroom Classic aren’t very useful for that kind of photographer.
Besides that, some cameras have a nice jpeg engine and even film simulations or picture profiles that produce great results if you’re into that kind of use. To give a good impression of what the camera is capable of, I think it is necessary to present both processed images as well as straight out of the camera jpeg images.
Things a Good Camera Review Should Address
I don’t want to make reviews that dive deep into the technical details, laboratory tests, and measurements. I think a good review should tell how a camera in real-life situations would perform. For that I believe the following things should be addressed in a camera review.
- A shortlist of specs, only the most important or striking ones
- Looks, dimensions, button layout, and ergonomics
- ISO performance and exposure latitude with unedited images
- Autofocus functionality and performance
- Image quality with processed images
- Image quality with straight out of the camera jpeg
- A look at special or unique functions
- A look at film functions and possibilities
- A conclusion with a list of things to like, and thinks to dislike
- A gallery
Although I have added the film functions and possibilities also, I don’t have enough experience with filming. Therefore, my reviews will address these things only briefly. Often it will be a summary of what the camera is capable of by looking at the specs of the manufacturer.
What Do You Think?
I believe these ten points are the most important chapters in a camera review that is made from a user perspective. The review should give a good idea of what a potential buyer could expect.
Perhaps you find there is something lacking in the ten points I mentioned. Maybe you feel there is another important thing that should be addressed in a review or something that can be left out.
Regarding my original question about the presentation of images, I would like to know what you think about processed images in a review or not. Please leave a comment below with your opinion. I’m looking forward to your response.