The best strategy
In the wake of yesterday's political news, I find myself wondering if Mark Penn fired himself. I mean, he was the Clinton Campaign's top strategist. So is he the guy who realized that getting rid of him would be a good strategy?
Hillary: So what should we do?
Mark Penn: Looks like we should fire me.
Hillary: You're the strategist.
And once he's gone, who's going to strategize firing the next guy who deserves to be fired?
David Pogue of the New York Times must be extremely knowledgeable about computers, because every time he writes about cameras he performs a flawless imitation of someone who doesn't know much to start with and yet doesn't bother to keep up. This time out he writes about a 60-fps Casio (the Exilim EX-F1) which allows you to take up to 60 pictures at once and then edit them later, so you can pick the best one. Our correspondent calls this "a time machine." The miracle is illustrated with a "slide show" consisting of 25 pictures of a gymnast taken with too low an ISO and too slow a shutter speed…making it immaterial which frame one might go back and pick after the fact, since all of them are blurry anyway.
Think that's bad? How about this: "The historic feature of Sony’s Alpha A300 and A350 digital cameras is the back-panel screen. It lets you frame the shot before you take it, just as you can on pocket cameras; you don’t have to hold the camera up to your eye." Back-panel screen? Does he mean the LCD? And that long locution "frame the shot before you take it...don't have to hold the camera up to your eye" is apparently the Pogueism for live view. Reminds me of a refrain I used to harp on with high school students: "I want nouns." (No thingamajiggies; no whatchamacallits.) And not just nouns, but the right nouns. The ones that are fit to print. I've never heard anyone call an LCD on a DSLR the "back-panel screen" before. Is that like the look-through hump (prism) and the grabbable thick place (handgrip)?
I won't even get into that "historic" claim.
And while we're on the subject of the Times
…See what I risk for you?!?*
*Well, okay, so I'm closer to Alfred E. Neumann than Shaw and Orchant, but I'm not above making a fast grab for a little credit where ever-so-little is due.
Featured Comment by David Pogue: "Man, I don't know what side of the bed you woke up on. But it must not have been the one that makes you realize, 'David Pogue is writing for the New York Times, not a photography magazine. He writes for a nontechnical audience, and has been instructed to avoid jargon like "LCD" and "live view."'
"On the bad ISO, blurry shots of the gymnast: Evidently you stopped reading before you got to this paragraph: 'It contains a tiny light sensor (about half an inch diagonal, versus 1.1 inches in a beginner S.L.R.). As a result, its light sensitivity is poor. Except in bright sunlight or studio lighting, those burst-mode shots are dim or disappointingly blurry.'
"But never mind all that. It's possible to disagree without being such a miserable cuss."
Mike replies: My little blog is getting way too big...I can't make fun of anybody without them reading it any more. (Although I haven't gotten a comment from Hillary Clinton or Mark Penn, so I suppose that's not strictly true.)
If your editors really obstruct you from using proper terms, is that, um…smart? How are your readers going to learn anything? Couldn't you have written the same sentence but inserted the clause, "the common term for which is 'live view'"? Really, we don't need less accurate information circulating in this field, believe me.
In any event, live view didn't originate on the Sony A300 and A350, and despite those cameras' somewhat slicker implementation of the feature, to call them "historic" is hyperbole at least.
My apologies for the miserable cussedness.
Featured Comment by Ctein: "This is kind of interesting; Mike and I are usually in sync about camera articles and reviews. But this time, I'm entirely at the opposite end of the scale from him. I thought David Pogue's review was excellent. Really well written and nailed the important points, both pro and con (note here that I am speaking from a position of ignorance, because I haven't actually had a chance to play with this camera, either). I think he did a very good job of calling out the feature and explaining why people would want it as well as the things they would find very aggravating, doing so in a concise way and getting the emphasis right, and (what I always find difficult) doing it for a patently lay audience.
"As for the photos used to illustrate it, well, both Mike and I know better than to criticize a review because we don't think the photographs are wonderful. We get that kind of crap from readers all the time. Even so, I thought his choice of photographs was smart. If there's one thing that those of us who've done action photography go to great pains to point out, it's that a motor drive doesn't guarantee a good action photograph (isn't even necessary for one). You still need to be able to compose and frame and focus and (historically) if you need to stop action you better load up with really fast film and have one of those incredibly expensive ƒ/2 lenses. Firing off a whole bunch of frames per second doesn't mean any of them will be sharp. Folks who have never done this don't realize that; David gets the point across.
"I think the photographs that David used to illustrate the camera are very typical of the kind of photographs an amateur who buys this camera would produce until they got damned good. More important, they both illustrate the primary selling point of the camera and one of its big disadvantages—weak low-light performance. But even if they weren't on point, I'd still consider them good enough for demonstrating both the benefits and pitfalls of this technology.
"Haven't looked at any of the other articles you alluded to, because frankly, I'm not interested in a referendum on David Pogue. All I can say is that based on this one article I'd hire him to write reviews for me in a moment. But I will make one observation—criticizing someone for their precise choice of technical and non-technical terms when you don't know what the manuscript looked like before and after the copy editor got done with it is not exactly reasonable. I don't know what it's like at the New York Times, but most publications I wrote for didn't have me review an article before it went to press. Mike (and my other editors at PHOTO Techniques) were the exceptions, even among photo publications, let alone ones directed at a lay audience."
Featured Comment by Eamon Hickey: "The Times's writing on photo gear frequently makes me cringe, too. But I've always suspected that it's the copy editors, more than the writers, who impose weirdnesses like 'back-panel screen' on the paper's copy. My assumption has been that they consider terms like 'live view' or 'LCD' to be industry-specific jargon and think that average, non-photo-geeky readers won't understand them. Another clumsy construction they often use is 'eyepiece viewfinder' when they mean optical finder. So anyway, I wonder if Pogue is partly turning verbal sumersaults in order to forestall objections from persnickety copy editors.
"Another one that screams 'we actually know approximately zero about this topic we're pontificating about' is The New Yorker magazine's styling of the acronym "SLR." Completely uniquely in the world as far as I know, they style it with periods—i.e. "S.L.R." It always looks completely wrong to me, like mustard on pizza. In this case, I'm positive that it's the magazine's famously idiosyncratic copy desk that's responsible."
Mike adds: The Times always addresses people as "Mr.," "Mrs.," and "Miss," too, which is increasingly anachronistic. It's especially clunky when it refers to people from foreign cultures who are criminals—people who would never be called by "Mister" in their own cultures, and who don't deserve an honorific in any case.
The New Yorker's vestigial oddity is its insistence on putting book titles in quotation marks instead of italicizing them. David Remnick is a superb editor, and no-nonsense—he unceremoniously did away with the magazine's lovely old-fashioned typeface, and ghettoized its surviving humor, even, regrettably, nixing the funny little column-fillers that used to appear at the end of many of the articles. But he let the magazine's habitual error with book titles stand. That's all it is, too—an error. Nothing charming about it as far as I can see. Probably comes down all the way from Ross.