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Why Mass Media Stinks
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April 2013   Better Pictures   Nikon   Canon    Fuji    LEICA   All Reviews


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I was browsing my public library's photo magazines, reading Popular Photography's June 1977 issue which covered the new announcement of the automatic Nikon EL2 I just reviewed, along with the new less-expensive manual Nikon FM, budget Nikkormat FT3, professional Nikon F2A and top-of-the line Nikon F2AS.

Also new was Nikon's announcement of automatic-indexing (AI) lenses, which continue to be made and sold today.

Here's what suddenly irked me after having been reading Pop Photo for over 40 years: the crap brands were announced and reviewed with equal vigor! Heralded also were the new Mamiya NC1000 35mm SLR, the Prinz 38-95mm zoom and the Asanuma 45-150mm f3.5. Wow! You can't give this stuff away today. Today, big media cheerfully reviews , electronic-company brands as if they were as good as camera companies are at making cameras.

I also flew off the handle when I read a review of the new $700 Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS as being a great idea for "budget-minded shooters." You've got to be kidding; last year's EF 24mm f/2.8 that sells used for $275 does 95% the same thing as the new 24mm f/2.8 IS, in a smaller and lighter package, too.

It dawned on me after all these decades (I've been subscribing since about 1973 and was reading it at my library before that) that so long as someone advertises in commercial media, they get play. It's not Pop Photo, it's every print and online commercial media source yesterday and today. Only Herbert Keppler would come out and bare the unspeakable, like that Cosina made Zeiss ZM lenses and Ikon bodies for Zeiss and the FM-10 for Nikon. Today, we no longer have Herbert Keppler. Herbert Keppler was our one true voice, but he was only a hobby photographer, so even he never really could get beyond the hardware itself to what really matters to people who shoot for a living.

Commercial reviews never dare cover the things that actually matter and differentiate a good product from a sloppy one; everything gets reviewed so long as they pay for advertising, and as we all know, no media outlet is going to let its editorial department tick-off a paying advertiser.

I'm now sort of angry at myself for having taken the reviews in these magazines so seriously in my formative years. The junk that was reviewed was always rated about as good as the good stuff. There were always lots of charts and graphs and impressive lists of measured numbers, like shutter speed accuracy and lens distortion, but reviews would never - and never today - come right out and say that "this is garbage" or "this is far better than the rest."

It's exactly the same today; commercial reviews never rate anything much better or worse than other advertiser's products, regardless of how much better or worse they really are.

You know what over 40 years of shooting all these cameras has taught me? If the magazines really wanted to separate the good from the crap in the 1970s, they would have highlighted meter range, accuracy, overall durability and battery low-temperature performance — but that would have made the poorer cameras look bad. In the good old days, meter accuracy was all over the map. (Meters and shutters are near perfect today, but few people know how to use them — that's a different story.)

For instance, the 1977 Nikon EL2 I used last week easily metered accurately in very dark conditions - but if I had brought a Canon AE-1 or Minolta SRT-102 instead, their meters won't work in light that dark, losing photos like this!

In the early 1980s when I worked at a newspaper, I bought a brand-new Minolta X-570 with motor drive to augment my Minolta SRT-102. Guess what? Shooting football when the temperature dropped below 40º F, the X-570 stopped working!

This is part of the reason why I went to Nikon in 1983. If commercial media had really told us what mattered, I could have gotten it right from the start — but then, as today, media worries more about its advertisers than about its readers.

So some will call me an idiot because I ignore easy-to-test but meaningless qualities like resolution (anything from about 6 megapixels is more than enough) and focus on real performance parameters, like real-world color rendition (which is quite different from accuracy), having dedicated shutter-speed or exposure compensation dials, and how well the camera handles highlights — but I'm duty-bound to report only what I actually see. My D600 has no problem with dirt, for instance, and now its colors look fine, too.

I'm not singling out Popular Photography (I still subscribe and you should too); I'm just pointing out the realities of commercial media. What's easy to test and enumerate gets tested, but what's more important but much more difficult to evaluate rarely does. For instance, did any media outlet come out 40 years ago and point out that LEICA lenses were so much better then anything from the Orient for SLRs? Of course not. They should have, but why alienate 99% of their revenue sources? LEICA, like Ferrari, rarely ever advertises — it doesn't need to.

Today I giggle when I see junk brands reviewed on equal terms with superior equipment from LEICA, Canon and Nikon. I know better, and you should, too. Don't worry about high ISO noise, worry about how the pictures look (never rated commercially) and how easy it is to use (also glossed-over commercially).

Some people love to poke fun of me when I proclaim something as garbage, but if I wasn't here to say it, who would?


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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