Why Most Photography Gear Reviews Stink (and 7 Things They Could Do That Would Actually Help)
We’ve never had more choices for photography gear than we do today — thanks to Kickstarter, and Indigogo and all the tech advances, we’ve got an got incredible array of choices. This is why reviews are so important, but I cannot tell you how much time I’ve spent reading or watching reviews that at the end leave me with little more info than I started with.
A buddy and I were talking about this very topic — how so many useless reviews are out there today that aren’t really helping anybody (but perhaps the reviewer). So, today I thought I’d outline the things that make a gear review really useful (and what makes them useless and things to avoid):
I only want to read reviews from a reviewer that uses that brand of camera or lens
I don’t want to read a review of the new Chevy Camero from a Ford Mustang enthusiast, but a similar things happens in photography reviews incredibly often. I want a read a review from someone who’s not “camera brand biased” from the very start. I’m done reading reviews about a Nikon or Canon camera, from a reviewer who says they are a Sony shooter (or vice versa). I know, right up front, at the end of the review they’re going to share why the product isn’t that great, and that that it’s not as good as their Sony version, and that they’re not switching from Sony, etc.. I don’t want them to tell me how it compares to their Sony, any more than I want to hear what the Chevy lover thinks of a Mustang (Spoiler alert; I can pretty much tell you before I read the review).
If it’s a new Nikon camera, I want it reviewed by a real Nikon shooter and they can tell me how it compares to their current Nikon and that is actually very valuable to me. If it’s a Canon lens, I want to hear from a real Canon shooter and how it compares to their current Canon lenses. If it’s a Sony mirrorless body, I want to hear what an existing Sony mirrorless shooter says about it. There’s only one thing worse — when you read a review and they don’t tell you they’re brand biased, and then later you found out they shoot an entirely different brand than what they were reviewing, and they give it a less than stellar review. I’ve had it happen more than once.
I want them to give me a final bottom line. Not “Well, it depends on what your needs are”
There is nothing that drives me crazier than a review that looks at several different products, with a headline like “Our pick for the best super wide angle lens of 2020” and then at the end they tell you why each lens in their “shootout” has good points and bad points, and why each may be right for you depending on what you shoot. Basically they say, “They’re all good, it just depends on what you’re shooting.” Nope — that’s not why I read the article. Take a stand. I want the reviewer to tell me, straight up, “This is the best one of the bunch! Buy this one!”
An unboxing video is not a review. Neither is a “first impression”
So many videos on YouTube have the word “Review” in the headline, but they turn out to be an unboxing video — literally , somebody filming as they unbox the product; set it up, and try it out for two minutes. I need a “field report.” Shoot it for a while and let me know what the experience is really like. How does it work after two weeks, two months? Opening it on Day 1 is not a review. You’re really just giving an initial impression – it’s day 1 – you haven’t run into the problems yet. I want to hear about it a few days down the road. Do you still love it?
It needs to include really clear specs
I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve had to wade through just to find out how many megapixels a camera has, or the size or weight of a camera or lens. It seems like basic stuff, but then I find myself having to go to B&H’s Website because they have a spec tab where they list all the specs that should have been in that initial review. At the minimum, give me a link to the manufacturer’s specs page, or even B&Hs, but it’s gotta be in the review, right up front — don’t make us go searching for it.
Include LOTS of your own photos
Don’t just repost product shots from the manufacturer. By the time I’ve found your review, I’ve already seen lots of shots from the manufacturer. If you’ve reviewing the gear, and you’re a photographer, take your own photos of it and show me what it really looks like — not a shot of it on a white background, perfectly lit, with a reflection below it. One thing manufacturer’s shots don’t really show you is scale. Take a shot of you holding it in your hands, so I can really see its size. Also, if you’re going to show sample photos you took with a particular camera or lens, take some good shots. Not shots you took in your backyard in harsh lighting conditions. Some of the sample shots I’ve seen posted by big time reviewers make me feel like they’re tech nerds, but not actually photographers. The shots often literally look like snapshots and it makes me think either the gear isn’t good, or you’re not a real photographer, in which case I’m not sure I want to take the word of someone who isn’t a decent photographer about which piece of gear I should buy. Make your sample shots look great, so we get a real idea of what the product can do.
Really great reviews give advice. For example, if I’m reading a review and there are three sizes for the particular product, tell me which one to get ane why. For example, if the Small Size is really a better deal, or easier to work with, say so. Something like this is so helpful: “If I was going to order one, I would go with the Small size — you’ll save money and it’s so much easier to store and take with you,. The medium size doesn’t easily fit in your average camera bag, and the large size needs really needs two people to carry it.” That’s the kind of advice that is absolutely invaluable.
The most important aspect is honesty
At the end of the day, we are searching for an honest review. If something’s bad, say so. If the product has an Achilles Heel, tell us so. If there’s a deal breaker, let us know. There are very few products that are so perfect that nothing can be improved upon, so let us know the good stuff and the bad stuff. If all you do is tell me all the good things about it, then you come off as a fan boy. If you only tell us the bad stuff, you come off as a hater or biased from the outset (See #1 above). Here would be a great question or statement to make to your readers: “If you used this gear for two months, and it got lost or stolen, would you buy this same piece of gear again?” That would be a really valuable thing for us to know.
There ya have it — I’m hoping some of the folks out there that review gear take some of these points to heart — it could help us so much in making smart decisions on gear (and most gear ain’t cheap these days). Maybe you know a reviewer you should send this to? By all means, do.
Here’s wishing you lot of reviews that actually help you make a good decision. :)