A few years ago, I became interested in purchasing a rangefinder camera. When I checked for reviews of the product I was considering online, I found that many of the opinions were critical.
The viewfinder/autofocus system didn’t work consistently, worked slowly, or operated poorly in low light, the reviewers said. I noticed that one of the postings was by a friend of mine, so I wrote him for more detail on his experiences. He strongly advised me to avoid the camera altogether.
Despite all the criticism, I bought the rangefinder anyway. As it turned out, it was one of the best cameras I’ve ever purchased.
Works for Me
Yes, the autofocus system could be problematic in poor contrast situations, such as early evenings. On rare occasion — maybe one out of every 250 shots I took — I had difficulty focusing.
The rest of the time, I was absolutely delighted. I was so glad I hadn’t bought into the negative reviews — even from my friend.
There’s nothing wrong with reading reviews before buying a camera or other photographic equipment. It’s certainty something to factor into your purchasing decisions.
But too many photographers give reviews too much weight.
It’s important to remember that professional reviewers offer broad opinions for a general audience. And that amateur reviewers — online commenters, forum posters and the like — typically base their reviews on their own limited, often idiosyncratic experiences and preferences.
This is the way I look at it: these reviewers don’t know me. They’ve never met me or seen my photographs. They don’t know how I work.
As a result, some — or even most — of their concerns are irrelevant to me.
My Three Requirements
When I’m considering a new camera, I have three requirements:
- It has to be a quality, major brand.
- It has to fit my hands the way I like it to fit.
- It has to have simple controls — everything where it belongs, nothing fancy.
That’s about it. And of course, the only way I know if I like the ergonomics and controls is to hold the camera in my hands and try it out. Reviews don’t really help with that.
The reviews in the photo magazines go on and on about corner sharpness, lens aberrations, resolution and the like. They will describe how a lens performs at f2.0 or f5.6, and blow up sections to show imperfections in the corners vs. the center of the image.
I am sure there are some people who are really interested in this stuff, but not me.
The Bigger Picture
I’ve always found that people look at photographs as a whole image — they do not look in corners or up close a foot way, scouring the image for imperfections that can be attributed to lens quality.
Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams took their greatest photographs more than half a century ago with lenses that are considered primitive by today’s standards. You will never see anybody in a museum looking at these photographs with a magnifying glass in their hand.
Most lenses sold by the major manufacturers today are far better than the ones used to take those iconic images.
Last year, I bought a DSLR with a zoom lens from a major manufacturer. A few weeks later, I was online reading a post by a popular blogger, and I saw that he had published a list of the “top 10 worst lenses” ever produced by this manufacturer.
And what do you know: my zoom lens was at the top. The worst ever, apparently.
That’s funny, it worked fine for me.