Reviews. What are your thoughts?

Do you ever read reviews before making a purchase? Or maybe think about checking out reviews just to see if a purchase you made stacks up? Have you ever wondered what credibility a particular reviewer has that makes anything they say useful? Aren't reviews supposed to be objective? Not skewed, just facts as demonstrated? How do a reviewers results in using a product or a site's results for said product relate to you and your use? Admittedly, the rest of this post is going to be looking at the camera industry. Some does spill over to other industries though. Bail now if it is of no interest. 

I do wonder about why a reviewer of products is one in the first place. This semi skepticism is spawned by reading some reviews, and finding my experiences are very different from theirs. Now I do realize each of us has preferences but stripping away those things still leaves some objective observances and I STILL find fault with those versus my experiences in too many cases. 

First off, I don't see a lot of objective reviews where the same set of tasks, tests, or instructions are applied across the board. I will see some of this where the reviewer extrapolates information (which is always skewed) if its absent such as a certain camera doesn't have this feature but if it did it would work like "this". I actually see that a lot in camera equipment reviews because the interfaces for the equipment are designed by different engineers and the products built to that spec. So you always get how compared to "...", the "Nikon/Canon/Fuji/Sony/..." wasn't able to do "..." and often there is a dig shaded one way or another. I would like to see reviews just state what something does, and maybe a chart of comparisons of those features to see if one manufacturer has indeed more stuff than another. I can determine whether it means anything to me. I take this attitude because I have found most reviewers don't work in the industry other than writing reviews. They have little practical business experience or use of a product under the pressure of revenue earning situations. At least in the camera world, I find this to be the case. Some camera reviews are done using only consumer based use cases! And then applied to why professionals would find this good or bad. I NEVER see review info supply stats on repair history, or rate of failure, although some do mention customer service experiences. 

One very popular photo equipment review site is actually owned by a major online retailer. This site produces lots of reviews and there are patterns to what gets a gold star or silver star and of course products can be read about and then purchased with a link to the retailer. This site happens to LOVE a particular manufacturer of cameras, and it shows. Nothing from this manufacturer is EVER rated poorly. Nothing. Yet this manufacturer enjoys very little success among working photographers. It is very popular with consumers and spec sheet junkies and their reviews cater to that crowd. And I'm sure it spurs a lot of sales for the parent company. The reviewers don't seem to be working pros. They have ties to the industry but as retailers, company spokespersons, and writers but no actual work using a camera in the industry. They have always loved cameras though, a common theme among their bio's. 

Another popular camera review site provides reviews based on lab and bench testing using electronic equipment. No field or use trials. They feed a charge of a known quantity into the boards and sensors and chart the results. Or run standardized software/firmware under lab conditions and plot the results. This tells them that one sensor and processor combo from a manufacturer does this and another that and they then use this to promote one sensor and camera over another. But they don't test all cameras. Only certain cameras. They also compare results across different sensor sizes when it fits their needs. Again, their results differ from what those working the industry use, but admittedly, their reviews are closer to reality when it comes to use. This company has a marketing and information sharing agreement with the one I mentioned above. 

Forums are even worse. Never ever read forums people. Its troll city. No matter what anyone says, some will counter with what a moron you are. I see a lot of how a Rebel T3i stacks up very favorably to a Canon 1DX or Nikon D5. I actually see posts form time to the where a poster asks the forum which camera or lens should they buy? Those responses are very entertaining, and not worth anything. 

I write this blog and it does have my opinions and occasionally I'm taken with a product and write a review of sorts but anything I write is based on my experiences and its real. YMMV and all that but I tend to shy from specs and write about using something where possible. The stuff is used for my work. I will tell you if it works or doesn't. Sure, I do have opinions. I am not a Sony fan for instance. I think Sony is a great company but I do not care for their engineering, or the results from their cameras. I'm not a Nikon user anymore for some of the same reasons. I have never warmed to Canon ergonomics and I am a rare person because I do not like Canon colors. I have used all those cameras mentioned, and more, and trust me, if it came down to working with any of them I could do it. No problem. I would need to spend more time in post processing to get what I want but ANY camera equal to any other thats at the same performance level, is going to work. I just prefer to work with Fujifilm currently but that could change in a few years. Who knows? 

I'd be interested in hearing thoughts about reviews, reviewers and whether anyone actually uses the information presented. There are many blogs out too that offer reviews, many answering questions no one asked. I wonder about that too. And some of the bloggers are sponsored or brand ambassadors so do your homework before you take anything said as more than a grain of salt. 

I have a very small list of people whose knowledge on equipment I trust. Most online sources are for lighting which is easy to review generically. Its easy to know if someone knows what they are talking about there. With cameras and lenses, its another matter. What about you? 

Using Light

I really could not come up with a better title for this post than the one above. Anything else is just too specific. What my goal is here, is to talk about using light more in a natural environment to enhance or build an image. My own use of lighting for photographs is all over the place. I use natural available light when I can, and mix natural light with flash often. I do use continuous lighting, both the kind you might find available in a location (artificial), which is a pain to mix with flash but it happens, and the kind you bring to control a location's light or lack of. Continuous lighting works very well with product shots, and of course video, provided its flicker free at the frame rate you want to work at. I use LED continuous lights and they are finally producing very good lights now with excellent, stable color output with suitable power. LED lights rule for low heat and less flicker - generally. For people pictures though, I prefer to use flash and most often some form of flash mixed with some other available light, either natural or artificial. 

Any light you supply, in studio or on location, is oft times subject to modification in use, meaning you put something in front of it to change it's (the light's) characteristics. Or, you place it so that the light emitted is pointed at something and bounced or reflected back to your subject which alters it's characteristics. And some times, you just point the light directly at something and go. All these "methods" are just mimicking what you see normally, i.e., clouds filter light from the sun, light from the sun, street lights, traffic lights, etc. are reflected on to a subject from buildings, cars, signs, etc, And of course the sun does blare down full force on many cloudless blue sky days. What you want to do is "match" the light thats present using your techniques. I find that you can often also enhance an image by adding a little more light than whats there. Or a lot of light. It really depends on the effect you want, your vision of the image, but in most situations, its about the direction the light is coming from that will matter most. An image can really look bad if you have light coming from opposing directions producing cross shadows because that just looks unnatural. The same image can look surreal or have impact though if the surrounding light is subdued, no matter the direction, and the subject is brightly lit. Playing with the level or intensity of the surrounding light and the altering the same control of your artificial light gives you the ability to control what a final image will look like. It can be natural and enhanced or it can be something 180 degrees opposite. You use your vision to define the image. Even in a studio where all the light is controlled, you still light your subject based on mood, their or it's features and again the effect or look you want. Skin texture, facial or body features, or often a pose will affect what direction the light comes from. 

That look your are after certainly has a lot more to it than your light direction or it's intensity. Depending on the "look" desire you will need to use a certain aperture and or shutter speed to achieve it. Light may need to be adjusted, added or subtracted. All these things combine to accomplish the end image you "see". Or want. Use your lighting to sculpt the picture. To define your style. Some times, I see a picture and know that it can benefit from a splash of light here or there to emphasize a feature or bring out a color or colors and especially to separate a subject from its background. For awhile now, a lot of photographers use an open aperture technique to "blur" out the background and surroundings keeping their subject in focus. All the pictures look the same. No matter who shot them. Just a tiny pop from a flash would seriously bring out the subject, define edges, add some zip to a color or colors, or at the very least, give the eyes catch lights. Perhaps add or subdue a shadow? It also distinguishes you from the thousands of others shooting a wide open aperture for the blurred effect because those images are still "flat" and same same. It just makes for a better photo 99.9% of the time so regardless of the other photographers out there, it should make you feel more satisfied with your work, 

I think people with cameras, and photographers (there is a difference), get a bit lazy about lugging a light with them, setting it up and working to get the look they could get. We live in an age of "easy" so people just want to point the camera and take a picture. Oddly, some will use software to simulate light after the fact, so they spend a bunch of time on the back end post processing a picture instead of getting it right in camera and in real time. I personally find in camera to be much more satisfying and real. I think its more challenging and if you are a working photographer its a much faster workflow from beginning to delivery. But thats me. Besides, some  jobs have a requirement to provide imaging right away so you need to shoot JPEG and deliver right to the customer. No post processing to save you. 

I also think people get nervous working with a light that they carry along. Especially speed lights or portable studio strobes. Its not easy to mix a flash or even a LED light with natural light and its even tougher to mix your light with other artificial light, such as street lamps, or indoors incandescent or fluorescent light. Try mixing all that if you have masochistic tendencies. But some times, you are faced with doing that on a job. You should know then, how to deal with ANY light or ANY absence of light. Learn to use your speed lights and don't be afraid to experiment. 

As I said, I go back and forth between flash light and I'm all all over the place. My jobs demand it. All my flash lighting are portable and battery operated. Some of it is can also be powered by inline AC voltage. My LED lights are also a mix of battery capable and AC powered. I find the LED lighting to be more tedious to set up and use so those are usually indoors and stationary. I will use speed lights for a several gigs, then bring a studio level strobe of 200 w/s and use it. Lately, I have needed to work fast and shoot in TTL so its been speed lights, although those 200 w/s strobes support TTL, they are not as quick to move around with and the power just wasn't needed. I have taken to carrying a speed light in each of my kits. I use Godox for most of my work but a couple recent uses of speed lights have been with the pricey Fujifilm X-500 system speed light. I used it on camera with it bounced into a wall and or corner or straight up using the tiny white card built in. Don't underestimate that little white card for some nice fill when bouncing light in a hurry. I also have been using my MagMod products to bounce and modify light. I wanted to go off camera for a few shots, so I went wireless triggering with the Serene Automation RoboShoot triggers which work exclusively with Fuji cameras and Fuji or a few name brands as well. They work very good with Nikon flash. Serene Automation is in a holding pattern for now with no production, shut down but supposedly not out of business. I hope they regroup and come back. They make probably the best overall trigger I have ever used. Its constructed very well, and its flash protocols are unsurpassed. Meaning its communication is extremely robust and exact, once connected its really connected. It connects and lets you know it via LED lights. My Godox stuff doesn't have that level of awareness. Sure the Godox will show that you are connected but you need to look at the flash unit's display to know. What if its way up on a boom arm? Or on a the sill of a balcony above? You can hit the test button and if you get a flash then you can be reasonably sure of a connection...but I digress...the point of using the FujiFilm X-500 is that it works well, and is easily deployed. I also use a tiny but powerful TT350F Godox speed light. These two are always with me. I tend to have the X-500 and RoboShoot's in my GFX kit bag and the TT350F in my X system bag with a Godox manual trigger. I also have a "flash" bag with full sized high powered Godox speed lights (2), X1T-F triggers (2) and Godox AD200 (2) portable strobes which is about the size of a thick briefcase and easy to take along on a shoot. I find that I can pretty much handle anything I encounter and often use only a fraction of the light I have with me. I really only bring along a few Bowens and Godox mount modifiers and a MagMod kit with grids, gels and bounce attachments. It is all quite compact. 

Yes, I do have more location larger kit for serious portrait work, or heavy duty commercial location work. Thats C-stands, booms, other stands, beauty dishes, soft boxes, large umbrellas, more gels, scrims, backgrounds and hard reflectors but thats for shoots with more purpose, read that to mean complicated or specialized imagery. I still use my speed lights and AD200's though, because they are all adaptable to Bowens. Yes, I do have Profoto studio lights. Some. I'm probably going to get rid of them and stick with Bowens mount lights. Probably Godox. Take stock of what you shoot, what customers ask for and buy and bring lights accordingly. I'm betting you can get by with two speed lights and a couple modifiers. 

If you are not a user of flash or continuous lighting, or a just a "part time" user, or a sort of afraid of flash user and you are reading this, then you need to step up and add a bit of light to your life and pictures. Go small, with a speed light to start. You will be amazed at what you can light with a smallish speed light. Bump your camera to ISO800-ISO1200 to help the light out so it doesn't have to work so hard; set your aperture from wide to f/5.6 (f/8 or 11 if using medium format) and some shutter speed anywhere from 1/15th sec. to 1/250th or if Canon 1/180th sec. Play with High Speed Sync and shoot faster than 1/250th if you dare! High Speed Sync (HSS) offers some pretty creative options. Remember, shutter speed is only going to affect your ambient light, not the flash (HSS uses super fast pulses so it will affect the power of the flash). Adjust your ISO if you want a keep a certain aperture, or use Auto ISO if your camera offers it. The main thing is dial things in to make your pictures pop. For a more unique difference. A quick tip is, under expose by at least a third stop, Nikon and Fuji cameras will allow you to under expose more, I can't speak for other brands. You can use exposure compensation for this. Experiment. When using TTL, I pretty much always apply a minus 1/3 stop to the light out of the gate, usually more. Not more than 1 1/3 though. I shoot in manual most of the time so its not an issue but the camera's meter will expose for grey card 18% reflectivity and that will render a good picture, but a bit on the over exposed side - usually. Just watch for it. A histogram can be your friend here. Otherwise, keep your batteries fresh and charged, keep a flash on hand and experiment. Add something to your images and wow your customers. It can be addictive. You have been warned. 

Technology or Photography?

It would seem that some think if your camera does not have the latest tech, its obsolete and worthless and can't be used for photography anymore. Like your customers are going to ask what you shoot with and laugh and run away if you don't have the latest craze in camera tech. Or the newest sensor, or the most mega pixels available, or the whatever is currently being bandied about on the net and across forums. Seems people are all about the tech and less about the results. 

The latest craze is "in-body stabilization" (available for years in low priced point and shoot cameras) and a companion technology called Pixel Shift. New marketing from Sony. Sony now has the greatest camera ever (for the next few weeks until the next greatest camera ever is debuted). Both features involve moving the sensor to compensate for camera movement and promote sharpness, a certain movement negates another. I really don't want my sensor moving around but thats me. I know how to hold a camera and if I can't hold it steady, I know how to work a tripod. I don't deny the new Sony A7??? is a great camera but it lacks other things that I deem a whole lot more important. I really don't care if the internet blogs, forums and reviewers think my camera is too old to be useful anymore. I use my cameras professionally as a means to make money. They don't. I have yet to find a blogger, or forum troll expounding on how obsolete everything is as compared to whatever the newest thing is, that makes a dime off their photography. Those that write and photograph professionally tend to talk about how to make great photographs. Oh, yeah, sure I have my favorite features and I have talked about why I went with Fuji from Nikon in past posts. My reasons, for those that missed it was more how one company blends given technology into their own recipe, it was for the lens quality, the color rendering out of camera, and the resulting image quality derived from using a camera with a sensor matched to the lenses offered. Very different. And a company that truly understands color. Not a gimmick in there. I only bought the GFX because I wanted the larger sensor for benefits beyond mega pixels. I went medium format Fuji for the same reasons as stated above - glass, color, and very pleasing IQ. I'm sitting here wondering if any of my cameras have any new cool tech and can't really come up with anything thats not fairly prevalent across the industry. 

I have many friends and professional peers shooting cameras that are generations old. Or several levels removed from the latest "Pro" camera. Yet, they still produce quality images. I know of a commercial photographer still shooting with Nikon D300's! Jeez, thats only like 12MP (and 2006-ish) if memory serves, but his customers don't know it. Or don't care, since his work is what he was hired for. I have some Canon friends shooting their 5D MkII's without worry that their sensor places around 30th (my guess) on the DXOMark scale of sensor ratings. They don't know that their camera/sensor combo lacks dynamic range, or low light capability as compared to other sensors rated higher. They just keep taking stellar photos, keep kicking butt and making some coin while not worrying about it. People, those DXOMark ratings are based off lab bench measurements of an electronic device. A charge is applied to the chip and measurements taken. These are loosely correlated to performance and ratings are established but the difference is so small from 50th to number 1, people with eyes cannot tell much of a difference, at least not people buying images and photography services.

It may sound like it but I'm not tech "averse". I grew up around technology and spent a major portion of my adult life working in very technical fields. I understand chip design, circuits, firmware and their applications to consumers through software services running on large mainframe computers. I admit, I excelled in that realm. I was very successful using the scales most use to determine success. I made money, managed people  and had toys. It was fun for awhile. But until I left that world, and tried my hand at doing something I had wanted to do since my teens, that is work as a photographer, I never had really found myself. Now, I'm no where near as successful in my photography career as I was in my technical career, not based on the same success scales, but using my own new scale, I'm way out in front. Even with my outdated equipment, barely 1.5 years old, and without using the latest and greatest equipment. I gave up using the (proclaimed) best lights in the business for cheaper ones that work. I don't use gimmicks and I leave marketing hype in the trash but I make use of what I have available, as one should. I don't need all the tech at my finger tips. I took photos without auto focus (gasp!) before it existed. I shot with cameras that had no light meter and to this day I don't pay it a lot of mind unless I'm doing some cool shoot where knowing my exact exposure matters. Generally, my exposure values mentioned come from the EXIF data. Not anything before pressing the button. I do try and use the best glass I can because thats where a great picture starts. The smiles I get or my sounds of excitement my customers, or friends, utter when they see the finished picture is the end. In between there is color, composition, lighting, and other things. Most of them not really all that technical. 

Take pictures people, don't let gadgets and gimmicks define your work. You should be doing that with your eyes, brain and talent. No shifting pixels or stabilizing sensor is going to do the creative side for you. Lest we forget that many of the great pictures we admire and drool over were created with film and early digital media when camera technology wasn't a thing. Remember, when it comes to defining what a pro camera is, its whatever camera someone shooting professionally is using. Not what people on a blog, forum or an engineer in a lab thinks.