Camera Gear Reviews: Are They Honest? (Never Trust These Three Photographers!)
Being a full-time photography gear reviewer is a pretty awesome job, if I’m honest: you get to try out new cameras and lenses, and tell people what you think. It’s that easy, right?
Unfortunately, there is actually quite a bit of bad information out there, so, clearly, there’s more to it than just giving GOOD advice about camera gear…
You know the types of photography “reviews” I’m talking about–that Youtuber who always says something crazy and controversial, making you question if it’s just a tactic to get more views and likes… The website that is dedicated entirely to one brand of camera gear only, and seems to never have anything negative to say about the brand, only praise, and yet plenty of harsh critiques of other brands…
Let’s be honest here, virtually every camera gear review out there is a little biased. Sometimes it’s clearly “sponsored content”, and other times it’s just a classic example of subtle confirmation bias. The real question is, how can you know who to trust?
How Do You Know If You Can Trust A Camera Gear Review?
First and foremost, look for the photographers and publications that do gear reviews for not just one brand, but many different brands of cameras, lenses, and accessories. This doesn’t always mean they’re totally impartial, of course, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
Secondly, look for the gear reviews that include consideration for all types of budgets, from unlimited to very tight, and everything in between. This is a strong indication that their goal is not to merely make affiliate sales but to actually give you the best, most practical advice.
On that note, here are three types of photography gear reviews to AVOID, plus, three more specific things to look for in a gear review that are signs it can be trusted.
(Don’t Trust) The Elitist Who Doesn’t Care About Your Budget
The first type of photographer who you should just completely ignore, plain and simple, is the elitist who only recommends the absolute most expensive option on the market, the Rolex or Rolls Royce product of the camera world. And, when you ask them for a different recommendation that fits YOUR budget, they have the audacity to scoff at a small budget, and say condescending things like, “are you even serious about photography?” …or, “you might as well light your money on fire!”
Just don’t waste your time with these types of photographers and their snobbery. Their work might be beautiful, and you might’ve highly admired them as artists, but that doesn’t qualify them to give you the best advice that suits your personal situation.
They might even give very good, knowledgeable advice on photography in general, of course, and they surely can be “good people” that make great friends in general. Just do yourself a favor, and don’t ask them “what lens should I buy next?” unless you’ve recently won the lottery…
Here’s all the advice you need for shopping on a budget, versus buying a high-end luxury item: Take one decent-sized step up from the “cheap/fake junk” market, take good care of your budget-friendly gear, and you’ll be fine!
(Don’t Trust) The Sponsored Photographer Who Gets Everything For Free
This is an obvious one: who is paying the bills? If a photographer is sponsored in any way, it creates at least some amount of bias towards that brand.
Thankfully, there are many different types of sponsorship, and many do not create an unhealthy level of bias. Still, it’s something to always watch out for when reading a gear review.
See, here’s the thing: many photographers become brand ambassadors simply because they already genuinely believe in the products. They wouldn’t associate with the brand in the first place if it wasn’t a quality product that they actually use for their work.
Also, a lot of these brand ambassadors, (artisans, explorers, collectives, etc…) don’t actually get money or direct support from the brand they’re “repping”. They might get a shout-out here and there, and they might get loaner gear to try out from time to time, but the sponsor is not paying their bills; the photographer still does “real work”.
So, despite being partial to a particular brand, these photographers’ real-world experience is, well, REAL, and their advice or gear reviews can still be worth reading/watching, with a grain of salt of course.
Either way, if a photographer is ever given a product for free, in exchange for publishing a review, then just keep that in mind. Does the photographer bother to mention or recommend alternatives from other brands? Or, do they intentionally avoid mentioning anything else, and only ever say, “you should buy THIS product!” That’s a red flag that although their experience and knowledge might be valid and valuable, their final conclusions and recommendations are questionable.
(Don’t Trust) The Fanboy With No Experience Using More Than One Brand
If a photographer seems a little too obsessed with just one brand, whether it’s cameras, lenses, lighting, or other accessories, …ask them if they’ve even used other brands for more than five minutes. Because, if they have never even held another brand of camera for long enough to really get to know it, that is a huge red flag.
Then, if you see that person actively trashing other brands, and not just incessantly praising their favorite brand, that’s a sign to just walk away!
Of course, their high level of experience can count for something. They probably know everything there is to know about the one brand they love, because they are, after all, totally obsessed with it. However, think about the advice you’re getting: the only way for it to be truly valuable is, if you balance it out by listening to another fanboy sing their own praise of the other brands you’re considering. Otherwise, you’re only getting half (or 1/3, or 1/4…) of the story.
Over the years, there have been cult-like fan clubs for every brand out there. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Pentax, Olympus… Every brand has its truly obsessed followers who believe that the brand they love is virtually perfect, and they are the zealous disciples whose job it is to preach the gospel of that brand.
Okay, it might not be that over-the-top, but look for small clues; does a photographer always take subtle jabs at one brand, and yet they NEVER say anything negative about another? Red flag. Does that photographer actively seek out conversations about other brands, and insert their (negative, unwanted) opinions just to “troll”? BIG red flag!
The bottom line is this: Giving a recommendation about what camera or lens to buy is not a “fight” to be “won”. It is a discussion, with the flexible goal of determining which option is right for your exact needs. If you feel like someone’s only objective is to convince you to “join their side”, then their advice is highly biased at best, and in many cases, just plain bad. They could be completely misinformed about the actual features or quality of the competition, or they could just be deluded about the quality and performance of the product they love.
NOTE: We thought about being gender neutral on this “fanboy” thing; we could have used the term “fankid” instead. Let’s be honest, though, “fanboy-ing” is one male character trait that other genders should NOT want any part of. It’s a bad, unattractive character trait when it comes to brand obsession and loyalty in general. (Though, in terms of “fandoms” in general, it’s perfectly OK to be a fanboy or fangirl or fan-whatever!) You might say it’s almost the photography equivalent of “toxic masculinity”, in some extreme cases.
Either way, everybody loves a good debate, but when one person starts viciously tearing down a brand or product they dislike, it’s an attempt to build an imaginary (but worthless) sense of value for the gear they own. This is a very bad character trait to have, and unfortunately, indeed the majority of culprits are male, with the character flaw of attaching their own sense of self-worth to physical products or the mere name of a large corporation. It is a badge of shame, not something to be proud of.
What Makes A Good Camera Or Lens Review?
So, how do you know if you can trust that Youtuber or Influencer who is doing crazy stuff to their gear, or raving about this-or-that new lens or camera, or flash, or camera bag, or tripod…?
It’s not too hard to sniff out the truly wild outliers, the people whose videos or articles are always an all-out brand war, rant/tirade, or a shameless plug. The challenge is, sifting through all the content that seems normal, and consuming that content with the right grain of salt…
With that in mind, here are three things to look for that can be strong indicators of good quality advice. If you consistently see all three of these aspects in someone’s gear reviews, then you’re in luck!
(Good) Advice That Considers Your Budget, Photography Style, And Subject Matter
First things first: If you’re a portrait photographer, you might not want to take lens shopping advice from a photographer who doesn’t actually shoot any portraits, obviously! Always try to find photographers whose subject matter is very similar to your own; their advice will be much more valuable!
Also, get advice based on your specific budget.
Actually, this is where I first start when giving advice myself. If someone says, “what is a good telephoto lens?” …I don’t even answer without first asking what type of photography they want to do with that telephoto lens, and what budget they had in mind.
Good Advice: Changing Recommendations Based On Your Needs
The second good sign that someone isn’t just trying to sell you a particular brand, or just trying to get affiliate sales out of you, is if they actually change their recommendation once you give them more information. Are those high-end full-frame cameras and lenses totally overkill for you? Maybe you’re better off with a more affordable, budget-friendly option, even if the best choice is from a different brand or not the absolute best “flagship” option.
If you make a buying decision after getting a bunch of advice from people who have not bothered to understand your needs, then watch out; you could easily wind up buying the completely wrong lens or camera!
Make no mistake, it might be one of the best-performing choices on the market, however, that doesn’t always make it perfect for your specific needs and your budget…
Good Advice: Changing Recommendations Based On Advances In Technology
This last item is something that I’ve personally noticed over the last 15 years as a camera gear reviewer and someone who just enjoys trying out new cameras, and talking to other photographers about my experience…
This is what I’m talking about: sometimes, things really do change. Camera brands leap-frog each other in terms of technology all the time, and there’s always a competitor who is upping their game and offering an incredible new value…
For example, just eight years ago if you had asked me what camera to buy for landscape photography, I would have said, the Nikon D800/D800E, hands-down. Don’t even consider Canon, or Sony, or another brand; the Nikon D800 series (including the D810, 2 years later) was that good; you would be at a sizable disadvantage if you went with anything else. (Oh, and for more than eight years, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 was the undisputed champion of wide-angle & landscape photography lenses, too!)
Now, things are very different! Although Nikon still has plenty of advantages when it comes to landscape photography, the playing field is level enough in terms of dynamic range, resolution, and lens selection. Therefore, I actually do encourage people to consider almost every brand out there, and to pick whichever camera system seems the most intuitive to them, not the one that seems better on paper.
Conclusion | It’s Not About Gear, It’s About An Artist Using Their Tools
Here’s the thing, folks: the biggest advantage a photographer can have in getting “the shot” has very little to do with which exact camera or lens they buy…
What really matters most is, whether or not you, the artist, can be in the right place at the right time to get that shot. And then, when the critical moment comes, here’s what matters most about the gear you have in your hands: do you know your kit well enough that you don’t fumble with your settings, and miss the moment? Or does your gear work seamlessly as an extension of your hand and your creative vision, and you nail the shot?
For these reasons, we try to always recommend that people get the gear that feels right in their hands, is good at the type of photography they enjoy doing, and of course, is well within their budget.
Indeed, all of our brains are wired in different ways, and sometimes, a certain camera’s interface or even its size, weight, or price just feel perfect, and these things can make a world of difference in your creative pursuit!
On that note, what do you think? If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!