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Canon’s ‘Obsession Experiment’ | See How The Average Person vs Pro Views Image Details

By Kishore Sawh on November 16th 2015


So Canon has done, by any measure, a pretty good job marketing themselves over the past two decades. I mean, just look at that recent project they did where six different photographers essentially shoot the same photograph and see how they differ; that was brilliant. And while good marketing isn’t the only reason for it, it’s partially why when you go to sporting events the sidelines are awash wish big off-white lenses, and why the digital ELPH (IXUS) and Rebel cameras have done so bloody well. This isn’t to say they aren’t good products, but in many instances, there are better and better value.

That said, you can’t but be a little impressed with Canon’s marketing, and they’ve done a little interesting video recently that someone’s sent me, marketing their imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer. Why tech companies feel the need to attach a numbers like that to create such a mouthful for a name is beyond me, but I can see where they were going with their commercial.


In an effort to stress how much attention to detail is put into an image, the fresh marketing degree grads at Canon have gathered 3 people to look at a single image and track their eye movements to see where and for how long the eyes of each lingered, giving an idea of where attention went and how much.

The three people were chosen by degree with familiarity with the photography business, so there was a non-photographer, a photography student, and a professional photographer. It was actually interesting to see the results of the test, to see just how many eye movements came from each though there weren’t any controls given to know if they all had the same amount of time, if asked to speak about the same things while looking at the image, etcetera. We’ll just assume it’s all fine. Except for one thing…well, maybe a few.

joel-grimes-printer-canon-photography-slrlounge-kishore-sawh-4 joel-grimes-printer-canon-photography-slrlounge-kishore-sawh-2

The progression in number of eye movements certainly increases with ‘experience’ and the pro’s numbers are astronomical compared. But the professional in this case is the one who shot the image in question, and we know that we tend to spend more time analyzing our own work than we do others’, and already often know about details the others may miss. Then to add insult to injury here, those of us who know about him, know the pro here is Joel Grimes, and Joel, while a seasoned pro, is admittedly color blind. So maybe not the best idea they’ve had to sell a printer.



More importantly, however, I think the message that any of you should take away from this other than the fact Canon has clearly hired marketing madmen who aren’t in our realm, is that your images are likely not being scrutinized nearly as much as you think. What you spend ages thinking about may be entirely glossed over by someone who isn’t a photographer, and to be honest, we’re generally not aiming to please other photographers. It’s one of the reasons many of us will suggest to you to not worry about having all the most perfect gear, and not get into crazy pixel-peeping because what you’re saying in the image will generally cast a shadow on some minor imperfection.

Oh, and this printer? It actually looks damn impressive.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Steve Simpson

    I like that this article brought my attention to an interesting commercial, but you make it sound like Canon was slightly deceptive because the “pro photographer” was the one who shot the image. They were actually explicit about that. The image above showing the “eye map” should have the same titles as the commercial, so the third panel would say “Pro Photographer Who Shot the Image”.

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  2. Jim Bullard

    I was already aware that I study my images more intensely and critically than others do. I believe that is as it should be. My attitude is that if I’m careful to notice and de-emphasize elements that are distracting or otherwise dimish what I’m trying to show in the image, Photographers and artists are in the business of guiding the eye of the viewer and while we can go overboard with pixel peeping we should not allow ourselves to become sloppy or complacent when editing our work and that requires much more attention to detail than the average viewer will devote to our images. After all, you never know what random detail will catch the casual viewer’s eye.

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  3. Stephen Glass

    This really is an interesting topic. The printer is really freakin’ expensive by the way. But in terms of looking and consumer vs professional. Of course a pro is going to see with a more critical eye. But I don’t know if that necessarily means that the consumer doesn’t appreciate what is there or not there. I think they might not be able to articulate it. So it might come down to a statement like, “I don’t know, I just like this one better.” Vicent Versace said, “We live in a world of 2%s”. I took that to mean that at every point in the creative process if we improve by 2% the return ends up being logarithmic. It compounds through the process.
    Is the photo worthy of a 30 second glance, why? But also, Is it worthy of a second 30 second glance the next day? The day after…

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  4. Jim Johnson

    I completely agree that we are generally over obsessed with technical detail, but (and this is a big but) there is also a case to be made that anyone who is a professional or expert is going to look deeper into their subject. It doesn’t mean they’re obsessed, it means that they are aware of details and seek out the subtle differences in the work.

    The average person is appreciating. The pro/expert is getting an education. They analyze. They deconstruct. They educate themselves on how the end result was accomplished. That’s what makes them an expert.

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  5. norman tesch

    i think it would be cool to see them do this with paintings. the art community that pushes artists and claim they are so great. how many just get scanned over but bought for a fad

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  6. Dalibor Tomic

    Interesting :)

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  7. John Cavan

    I’ve been saying this for a while: the photographic community’s obsession over nitty-gritty detail is way beyond what the average consumer cares about. Look it up, I’ve said it on this site more than once. :)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I’m with you there to an extent I neither have the time nor courage to express here.

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    • Jim Johnson

      I had one of those A-ha moments a while back that changed my mind about how I look at photos.

      I was at a gallery, looking at photos in an exhibit. One photo in particular caught my attention and I quickly figured it was my favorite. After going back and admiring it several times, I was shocked to discover the photo was very soft, I mean really soft, like it was shot with a kit lens and enlarged beyond its limits. That was the moment I had to ask, “does it matter?” The photo affected me. I loved it. It took a long time for me to even notice that it wasn’t technically perfect, so how much does “sharpness” matter?

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  8. Brandon Dewey

    cool experiment

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