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TRUSTED SOURCES FOR
PHOTO EQUIPMENT INFORMATION
Jim Doty, Jr.

Where do you go for reliable photo equipment information, especially when so many photo magazines provide information that isn't really helpful? You want to know how good the item REALLY is before you put your hard earned money on the line. This is my guide to some trusted sources.


WHY PHOTO MAGAZINES OFTEN AREN'T HELPFUL

Photo equipment reviews in many photo magazines seem to be getting less and less valuable. You get descriptions and tables with long lists of features but when you are done reading the review, you have no real idea how all the different models compare in terms of their actual quality. Sometimes you are left with the impression that everything is so generic so that no potential advertisers are offended.

I read a review of a so-so quality lens by an excellent photographer. The article was about focal lengths, maximum aperture, features, and how to use the lens, but it avoided a clear statement as to the actual optical quality. Tucked away toward the end of the article was a brief statement about it being "good for consumer use." That could mean "You will like this lens if you aren't too picky and never make prints bigger than 4x6 inches."

TRUSTED SOURCES

I have several sources that I have come to trust. I don't like like to go with just one source of information. I am the most comfortable with a decision if several sources have written about a particular item.

I have read
Popular Photography for years. I have found their camera and lens reviews to be quite reliable. They are not afraid to point out weaknesses and seem uninfluenced by advertisers when they write their reviews. A lot of their camera and lens tests are available online. Print copies can be ordered online or through and address in the magazine.

It was a shame when
George Lepp decided to quit publishing The Natural Image. Back issues may be available. Lepp regularly wrote some of the best equipment comparison articles. With no advertisers, Lepp could say whatever he wanted. I trust what he says in the Natural Image

Michael Reichmann via
The Luminous Landscape is another valuable and trusted source. I check his website regularly for all kinds of valuable information which includes a variety of camera and lens reviews.

Bob Atkin's site is well worth checking out. Atkins is not prone to follow the "conventional wisdom" and checks things out to verify them for himself. He leans more toward "real world" testing. You can learn a lot at his website.

Norman Koren provides a wealth of information. Some of it is quite technical. If you aren't a techie, don't let that deter you from reading the less technical stuff. If you ARE a techie, then enjoy! If you want to do some technically based camera and lens testing for a very reasonable price, look into Koren's Imatest software. You can download a copy and do 20 tests for free before deciding to buy.

DPReview is one of the best sources for digital camera reviews. I check this site on a regular basis. If a major D-SLR review appears, I post a notice on my blog. I modify the recommendations at this site by comparing them to reviews from working pros like Lepp, Reichmann, and others. There is a difference between a mostly technical report, however accurate it may be, and a field report from an experienced working pro. Useability in the field can be more important than some technical shortcomings.

Two other good digital camera review sites are
Megapixel.net and Steve's Digicams.

Photodo has a number or lens test results online. If find these to be very helpful. They had a more extensive set of test results at their older site than they do now. With their permission, I have published a summary of their results at this website. These include some results that are no longer available at the current Photodo site.

Practical Photography is a British magazine that I pick up from time to time. Occasionally they do a really good camera or lens comparison article. These reviews seem to be uninfluenced by advertisers. They did a series of lens tests several years ago in which they ranked over 50 lenses on a 1 to 10 scale. Some lenses rated as low as a 4 and no lenses received a 10 so they didn't pull any punches. There was a period of time when Practical Photography seemed to have a change in editorial policy and their comparisons were as worthless as the ones that appear in several U.S. photo magazines. They seem to be back on track in more recent issues. Unfortunately, they are not online. I summarized one of their camera comparison articles
here.

Tim Grey is an excellent source of information on software (including Photoshop techniques), scanners, monitors, digital projectors, and other hardware. Read more
here.

SEARCH ENGINES

There is always the option of doing a
Google search (or some other search engine) for the items you are interested in comparing. The catch to doing this is you may not have any idea if the person writing the web page knows what they are talking about. I still use Google as a source of information and compare what I find to the trusted sources above. Every once in a while, some virtually unknown person who really knows what they are talking about posts some great work on line.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As I said above, it is best to compare several good equipment review sources before making a decision. I should also add that some magazines publish beautiful photos and give excellent picture taking advice, even if their equipment reviews are disappointing.

I do not have the option of trying out lots of equipment. I do post the best information I can find on my
blog and at this  website, along with my own observations on the equipment that I have been able to use. These appear in the TIPS section and will appear in the new LEARN section.

Spend however much time you need to make the best choices you can - then go out and enjoy your equipment. Don't obsess endlessly over your choices. It is more important that you go out and make some good photos!


July 16, 2005

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