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Friday, 07 May 2010

Comments

Your comment and reaction to the revised dpreview.com coincides with mine - yes the first reaction is "yeah, its all about advertising revenue" but a considered response is "yeah, but not to the extent it gets in the way of what you are looking for". But the bottom line is that it makes sites such as yours all the more valuable in that they are truly independent commentaries not enslaved to a 'sugar daddy' and not yet going the route of becoming subscription only (which call me what you will, I still balk at). MPTYE (More Power To Your Elbow - a web acronym yet to achieve recognition)

Since when it is Amazon's DPReview ? Will it some day be Amazon's TOP?

Interesting.
I had no idea that it was one of Amazon's properties. I wonder how you manage conflicts of interest around that.

I think the redesign is a failure. Not due to the aesthetics, but because it is unusably slow. That is a UI error of the most basic level, completely negating any aesthetic advantage.

Pages load slowly, menu dropdowns are very slow, typing comments in the forums is exceptionally slow. Like molasses. I shouldn't be able to type faster than the letters appear in the comment boxes when posting, for instance. I browsed (slowly!) several of the comment threads there about the change, and the slowness issue doesn't seem to be a constant for every single user. I don't think it unreasonable that someone running the latest version of Firefox (3.6.3) on a somewhat modest Intel Atom CPU with an up-to date copy of XP, connecting through a decent DSL line, should expect that the performance should be substantially worse than any other site I visit.

This sort of thing is a personal pet peeve of mine. Easily rendered, lightweight, aesthetically pleasing websites have been around for a long time. I can't imagine what the designers were thinking, making something this unwieldy. Surely they tried benchmarking the performance on this behemoth? Even the main page of The Online Photographer, which is thirty four times more massive*, loads in the blink of an eye. It is not the data, it is bad coding.

*2.88 megabytes for TOP, vs. 685 kb for dpreview.

Now if they could just do something about their name -- "dpreview" still sounds like a porn site to me!

I disagree on the DPReview makeover. It is obviously all about boosting ad revenue. On the other hand, I can't say that the new layout is necessarily worse than the old layout. I find both of them fairly chaotic, with poorly organized (and slightly random/useless) features on the main page.

I have to say that I dislike the extra-wide ad space on the side. Don't get me wrong, DPReview isn't alone in this respect. The NYTimes, one of my most-frequently visited sites, has done something similar recently, and it annoys me to no end, too. When the ad side of the page is almost as wide as the content side of the page, I find it highly distracting. I find smaller ad columns to the left and the right with the content in a wide column in the middle (e.g., T.O.P.) far less distracting. And I don't mind ads at the top of a page, as long as they don't get carried away, move, blink, alternate, etc.

Ironically, this is probably causing me to view fewer ads than before. Some websites have simply adopted a format that is sufficiently annoying/distracting that I find it worthwhile to use Readability on them, where I previously didn't find that to be the case. I rarely read NY Times articles that are more than 3 paragraphs long without using it anymore. The new ad-driven format is counterproductive. If the format were less distracting, I would be lazier and more inclined to just read the page as-is.

I actually have a bigger beef with DPReview: considering they must generate considerable income from their status as THE reference website on the web and have an actual staff, you have to wonder what it is that they are actually doing most of the time (other than policing the forums for anyone being critical of the website or the founder). In the past year, they have published 12 lens reviews. Yup, one per month.

Cameras are slightly better. Disregarding previews, treating "quick reviews" as half a review and treating each camera in their compact group tests as 1/2 of a camera as well, they have reviewed 31.5 cameras in the past year, or a little better than one every two weeks. I should note, however, that this includes cameras that must have been very, very easy to review. The Nikon D3000 is essentially the same body with the same sensor as the D60 and the D40x before that. Similarly, the Nikon D300s is essentially the same as the D300 with video added and a few minor changes. None of which to say that there is NO work involved, but it isn't like they are starting from scratch.

They have one guy to do lens reviews (Andy Westlake) and four who do camera reviews (Richard Butler, Lars Rehm, Simon Joinson and Barnaby Britton). So while I appreciate the fact that they don't just sit in a cubicle somewhere typing out reviews all day, but actually go out and use the cameras/lenses in real life to gather samples, etc., I have to wonder whether spending a full month to review a single lens is appropriate. The four camera reviewers must be taking just under two months to review each camera (although in practice they occasionally co-author reviews).*

Remember, the website is called DPReview, not DPForums or DPPressRelease. One the whole, there should be more content there.

Now, before you start clamoring: but it's free, how can you complain about something that's free? The answer is simple: I don't have to complain. I can just choose not to visit the site. And that is increasingly what I am doing. After reading the forums for a year or two, it is obvious that the same material just keeps getting recycled. And I certainly don't need to visit the site to see the press releases they post. The only thing that interests me are reviews.** If enough people feel the same way, they will vote with their feet (or rather mice). But I don't realistically expect that to happen, which means that DPReview can pretty much do whatever it wants (including with regard to format) and still be successful.

For what it's worth, I recommend the following websites for lens reviews (in order of preference): bythom.com, lenstip.com, photozone.de and SLRgear.com (SLRgear would be ranked higher, but the pace of their lens reviews has dropped dramatically).

Best regards,
Adam

*Without knowing for sure, I suspect that the reviewers actually aren’t full-time employees, and probably need to fit their DPReview work around whatever it is that actually pays their bills. While that absolves the reviewers of being slow, it doesn’t absolve DPReview of not providing enough content.

**Actually, the main reason I visited DPReview was to read Thom Hogan's (of the above-mentioned bythom.com) posts. Now that he has stopped posting there (reportedly due to DPReview's censorship of a mildly critical comment - though I hasten to add that Thom has never commented on these rumors), there isn't really any insightful commentary to keep me visiting on a regular basis.

Owned now by Amazon, but the original unpleasant proprietor is still in charge. Lately he's been snapping back at his readers' criticisms of the new design.

DPR has found itself a couple of excellent camera reviewers, making it a desirable stop for camera buffs, but I've long felt it to be one of the worst interfaces on the internet. It reeks of early-nineties amateur web design - offensive color scheme with heavy gimmickry and an excessive number of click-throughs required. For example, each comment on the discussion boards needs its own page.

I was hoping Amazon would nudge them towards something clean and fresh, but this upgrade just slicks up the old mess.

dpreview used to be the place to 'hang out' - yes, there were ads on the webpages and arguments in the forums, but all in all, it was a great way to get timely gear information and share experiences with knowledgeable photographers from all over the world.

But, with fame and time, the site has gone to the lowest common denominator. It is too much work to sift through all the crap on the forums to look for anything interesting to read.

And camera reviews are now a dime a dozen on the internet. Personally, I'd rather read an experienced photographer's unscientific take on a camera any day rather than a quasi science lab's measurements of data that only matters to fuel arguments. Dpreview's camera reviews seem most relevant to those who view camera manufacturers as sports teams - where the reviews show who is 'winning' and who is 'losing'.

So now with the ads causing visual mayhem, too - and with other sites getting more interesting while dpreview is becoming more and more like a flickr for arguers - well, it's past time for me to move on.

Unfortunately I don't suppose the change will make any difference to the content and the more deranged contributors... the reason I gave up on the site a couple of years ago :-(

Too bad their forum software stinks so badly. Otherwise I'd be a much bigger follower there. They have an amazingly deep audience, but it's impossible to use their forums for more than 5 minutes without going insane from the pain of simply using them....

"Too bad their forum software stinks so badly. Otherwise I'd be a much bigger follower there. They have an amazingly deep audience, but it's impossible to use their forums for more than 5 minutes without going insane from the pain of simply using them...."

I wouldn't know. I've been banned from posting on their forums ever since the Canon 5D came out. Seems they didn't like my opinion of it.

Although, come to think of it, my opinion at the time *was* wrong....

Mike

I'm amazed that no one has commented on the type design. Is there anyone out there that really likes reading small white type on a black background?

Even after using CTRL+ to make things larger, it's still an impossible-to-read design for a text heavy site.

Bob

No Mike, your opinion of the 5D was *YOURS* not dpreview's editorial masters. That doesn't mean your opinion is wrong, it just means you said something they didn't anticipate.

Don't be going soft on us.

I've been disappointed with the trolls in many of the Fora over there, and I'd rather read the reviews at Luminous Landscape, but DPR still has a lot of useful data in their camera database.

I'm not a fan of the new look though.

I still detest their forums' ultra tiny print.

I just go "CTRL+" a few times and the ads disappear off the side of the page, and I get this lovely huge font!

Gotto agree with Adam, their rate of output is really slow as far as actual original content. What do they spend all that time on? Copy-pasting reviews together can't be that much work.

The update seriously cleans up what became a bit of a cluttered mess. But it's all just looks and make-up until they step up the quality of content. Which is not usually what happens after a big commercial take-over, so I'm not getting my hopes up here.

Pushing hundreds of historic updates through your RSS feed in one day is also not the way to advertise 'improvement' ;)

... Boy am I gloomy on this Saturday morning. Must be the weather ;)

What desperately requires a makeover are DPReview's superficially comprehensive tests.

When I bought my first DSLR (a Canon 300D) seeing how different cameras performed on a tripod with a 50mm lens set at f/9 in a studio revealed some reasonably significant differences between their sensors and processing engines.

Nowadays the differences are much, much less. And If one isn't a landscape or product photographer then things like autofocus speed and accuracy, and image stabilisation, not to mention the handling of the camera, can have much more bearing on the utility and enjoyment of a camera than that last poofteenth of resolution that the sensor can resolve. And yet in 30-odd page reviews these features are given scant attention, and instead we're encouraged to wade through page after page of 100% crops.

These last couple of years I've pretty much just skipped through to the conclusions, and then gone looking for wider-ranging commentary elsewhere on the web.

Hmmm, Mike, would TOP have taken off this way if you still participated in the DPR forums?

(I'm almost certain there's something wrong with the tenses here, but I can't think what.)

Mike: Speaking of redesigning websites, is there any chance that TOP could make the actual posting of photographs (not links to photographs) in the comments section a little easier. It is after all a site about photography, and it seems to me that facilitating the use of photographs by commenters would be a good thing. Thanks!

Dave

"is there any chance that TOP could make the actual posting of photographs (not links to photographs) in the comments section a little easier"

Dave,
I don't think so. TOP is simply a TypePad blog, built on a standard TypePad template. What they provide is easy, what they don't provide is hard. I'm not a web designer or site builder, just a content generator.

I bought a lottery ticket today, though. If I win, I promise I will hire some professionals to remake the site in modern, pretty, super-duper streamlined form, with all the features we all want.

Mike

Mike, I pray you don't win that lottery! I love the simple straight-forward TypePad kind of format that you've been using and can't stand "modern, pretty, super-duper streamlined" formats.

I don't want features, just insightful thinking, clear writing and legible, readable typography. In this regard I agree with Bob about white type on a black background - which seems to be the nearly ubiquitous choice of photographers and photography sites. Reverse type (white on black or a dark color) is eminently hard on the eyes and hard to read, at least much more than headlines.

On such sites where there is considerable text I change the prefs in Firefox to not allow the site to determine color, which makes the text black on white.

Of course, if the site uses Flash technology, there is no possibility of reversing the text to black on white, nor is it easy to scroll back and forth from one paragraph to another. Also, text in Flash is like a jpeg reproduction, much fuzzier than normal html text and if too small for comfortable reading when enlarged becomes even fuzzier. Finally, text in Flash format cannot be copied - other than by a screenshot - unfortunate if the text contains thoughts worthy of copying. Why anyone who writes a serious article on any subject would then publish it using Flash is beyond me.

Finally, I agree with many of the comments about dpreview's new site design - it's no improvement, in fact is less easy to navigate than before.

John

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