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Wednesday, 05 May 2010

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The thing is though, Top Gear isn't really about the car reviews. But, that being said, they did do the best car review ever on television, and it was a review of the Ford Fiesta. Very down to earth. You should find it on Youtube.

There is a lot of review creep in photography, esp in nature/landscape photography. Many of these guys keep on talking about Galen Rowell as their mentor and inspiration and how he showed them that cheap and light gear is the way to go. Then they start about their own kit: D3x, 70-200, 200-400, 200f2.... Somewhere the message got lost, I think.

While your general point might be true, I think you may have misunderstood Top Gear. It didn't change to reviewing fast expensive cars because of review creep. It changed because the point of the show is entertainment, rather than information, and fast, expensive cars are more fun than everyday ones. The show might be presented in the style of a more traditional information/education type of program, but they're really just out to entertain. Also, fast, expensive cares are what their core audience (revheads) are interested in.

I love Top Gear, I don't care all that much for cars, but the three presenters are just such fun. The episode where they each buy a motorcycle in South Vietnam and try to drive them to the North is one of my favourite episodes of anything ever.

Besides, there's an American spin-off in the making: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8634791.stm

Mike,


The lead presenter of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, is more than something of a celebrity over here. An overpaid, over-mouthed contrarian whose best claim to 'talent' is an unerring ability to offend the most people the most often, I suppose you can characterize him as a less thoughtful version of Rush Limbaugh, just without the nuanced charm. Personally, if I could be subdued and drugged sufficiently to watch a full episode of TG, it would only be in the fond hope of witnessing severe brake fluid loss on a particularly fast bend (presumably, when you characterized the show as 'entertaining', you did so with the same expectations).

FYI, someone once memorably likened his sartorial choices to those of the bass guitarist in a Status Quo tribute band.

Top Gear was originally a general motoring show with an ensemble of hosts that had segments in which they would review cars and report on other motoring-centric issues. The most famous of these panellists was a man named Jeremy Clarkson, known for his hyperbole and outlandishness. Clarkson left the original version of the show because he felt the format was exhausted and that he didn't have anything more to add. Shortly thereafter, the original show fell apart for a variety of reasons and Clarkson pitched a re-imagined Top Gear to the BBC. This new version of the show would focus more on the extremes of motoring and less on reviewing accessible cars.

They have occasionally jokingly tried to return to the old format: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Zy78tFPQwQ

So, I don't really think Top Gear is a good example of reviewer creep. Its change was a wholesale and considered jump from one format to another, there was no intermediate stage.

It does sometimes seem that, for some people, the proof of the pudding is in the cooking utensils. Personally, I prefer the eating test. As to audio equipment, as a one-time (long ago) designer who had the opportunity to attend a lecture by David Williamson on the differences between mono and stereo designs, I've observed that people who'd rather spend a fortune on equipment than on hearing live performances through their own ears, tend to have the least knowledge and enjoyment of both.

TOP probably doesn't suffer from camera reviewer creep because TOP isn't about cameras. In fact, TOP appears to be unique among phototgraphy web sites. It's actually about photography, whereas most other photography web sites are actually about cameras, or Photoshop, or lighting, etc.

Mike, it seems you're conflating two series. One was apparently what you describe as "everyman" (which has a nice medieval ring to it :)), started in 1977 and ended in 2001. The other is the series "relaunched" in 2002. And that is the fun one.

Why am I saying it's two series? Because the latter is actually very far from your typical car show. It mostly deals with supercars, it's mostly over the top production-wise and it's very often quite scathing.

You can see the division of labour (hah! :)) between the three presenters: "loud idiot" Clarkson, "cute and normal" Hammond, and "knowledgeable but weird" May. What gives the series its distinct flair is loud, brash-mouthed, thumb-fisted, opinionated and stubborn character of Jeremy Clarkson.

So maybe it started as reviewer creep, but they created a distinct style out of it. And it's good television.

I think you're doing fine. As is Mr. Reichmann. I find both sites' reviews interesting, since they are all from knowledgeable photographers talking about what it's like to use the equipment. And Ctein gives me all the techno info I need. BTW, this is a blog, which means you're god, or at at least an avatar (ich, Cameron has ruined that word, hasn't he?).

Television reviewers are eventually gifted with vast sums of money, so they can afford to have the taste of Jay Leno.

Audio reviewers just have to be honest about what their ears are gathering; I doubt they ever earn enough to actually afford what they review, but it never becomes proper for them to settle.

Camera reviewers are blessed with enough cameras that they can make a living off of the quantity, but there's enough competition out there to keep us real. Most often my readers can afford cameras that are far out of my reach.

Really, though, the television personality whose show has evolved from an everyman buying an everyday car to an experienced car guy getting to drive the cars that every man would like to drive is very different from what most reviewers experience. There is no instance where I could envision an episode where my taking pictures with a Canon 1Ds Mark IV would cause millions of camera fans to enjoy the ride quite like they do watching this fellow in the Gallardo. Cars are special in that how they move is what moves us.

We all review from our own perspective, though, so that's why Galbraith does more through write-ups of the types of cameras he uses in his daily work, Reichmann likewise, and we at IR have so many writers working on all the other types of cameras available to the various users. I doubt most audiophiles have a roundup article they'd call, "Just right for Mother's day," because their audience never cares about mom's taste in speakers. But when your 'zine or site caters to a broad audience, you have to wear different shoes and hats depending on what camera you're reviewing. On balance, we cater to the enthusiast with a mind toward bringing in the consumer, but there are publications that do well to focus more on their area of interest. In the case of the car site, I think he evolved and followed his passion, much like a young singer stops making teen-bop music and grows into more mature forms or fades from interest. If they're true artists, they will grow.

I don't disagree that reviewer creep exists, I just think that sometimes it's a natural progression that needs to take place for that reviewer to cover what he should.

Hi Mike, I'd love to see Ctien let loose on a Leica M8 or M9........2 reasons: I've been exercised by the concept of a decent handy and above all responsive non slr digicam for a while. Also the DXO reviews don't tell a lot of the story in terms of the real world. You may be interested in this: Just back from an extra long vacation in NYC (Due to the volcano) I had planned on using only my M6, but as we purchased a little digital P&S for a friend, I gave it a go as well, (to make sure it was working ok etc.) It is not possible to take proper pictures of moving objects with these things, lag, delay, focussing delays, menus blah bla (oh and not great image quality either!!) Last observation: an awful lot of tourists are using DSLR's now, and spending their time chimping or trying to turn the flash off/on!! Best, G.
PS before you guys start calling me a luddite, my other camera is a 1DS MKII

Mike,

Don't confuse "Top Gear" with a car review show - its essentially a light hearted, comical, entertainment show about the presenters and cars. Its phenomenally popular in the UK and the rest of world apart from the U.S and can be very funny. Well worth finding as many old episodes to watch as possible while you're laid up with your bad hand.

Dan

"I've actually been trying to figure out what our next review series ought to be."

How about film developers :)
(would raving about pyro tonality count as reviewer creep?)

Review suggestions:

- Standard zooms costing less than $500 from several manufacturers/brands

- "Standard" prime lenses (either 40-55mme-e or actually 40-55mm) from several manufacturers/brands

- Portrait lenses under $500 from several manufacturers/brands

I think any of the above would be interesting, but especially the first. Not because I am looking to buy any of the above (I'm not; I'm all set in these departments), and not because cross-platform comparisons are necessarily useful to, say, a Canon user looking for a new lens, but rather to get a sense of the different advantages and compromises that have been made by different manufacturers in terms of size, weight, focus speed, price, sharpness, bokeh, maximum aperture, handling, etc. This is probably too ambitious an undertaking, since it requires obtaining the lenses AND camera bodies to try them on, but I found your comments on the 35mm lenses available for Canon, Nikon and Sony last year interesting, and I have always been fascinated by the Olympus standard zooms you mentioned a few times. Moreover, while there are plenty of reviews that compare lenses within a given system, there are few comparisons or reviews out there that really focus on the advantages of different camera systems (other than usual platitudes that Nikon is better at wide-angle lenses, Canon is better at telephoto lenses, and nobody else has enough lenses to compete with the first two...).

Best,
Adam

When I read this, I immediately thought of what the PBS series "This Old House" has become since the early years when the show focused on realistic DIY projects to renovate old houses. Over the years the focus of This Old House has shifted to the most elaborate and expensive high-end products installed with apparently unlimited budgets.

The homeowners are always saying things like -- "We know that $30,000 dollars to heat the floor of the guest bath is a lot of money, but with that imported Italian marble floor, we think it will be worth it."

The show should be renamed "Yuppies in Paradise."

Mike,

Great to have you back. My advice (worth absolutely nothing) would be to review the equipment that interests you and sniping forum posters be hanged. There are plenty of other sites that offer in depth reviews. I rely on you to offer insightful commentary on the state of photography and to glean through the chaff and find all those "randomly excellent" photographers whose work I might never see except for you.

Mike, as a long time fan of Top Gear, arguably the best show on television, I implore you to watch Jeremy's review of the GTI. All pomp and circumstance aside, the boys can still give a decent review.

Good to see you back Mike.

I think the main review site for the digital age, DPReview.com, is probably the best example. Initially site founder Phil Askey started off due to the Pro 70 IS (please correct me if I'm wrong on the camera model), and was soon reviewing a myraid of digital models. As time went by, and DSLRs got more mainstream, Phil started to only review them, having hired help to review the bridge cameras. At the point, a combination of the proliferation of cheap compacts and reviewer attitude towards the same-ness of said compacts probably pushed them pretty far down the radar.

Nowadays DPReview does mostly large sensor cameras. Phil's last review was a Leica, I think, though that could also be due to him taking other roles in the business. Still, I think it's the best example for photography equipment reviewers in this digital age.

Mike, if you are looking for something to review, I'd love to see comparisons of P&S waterproof and weather resistant models with real world usage.

It's really hard to find anything from someone who at least knows anything about testing/usability for this segment.

I don't know, Mike, but from my point of view, you missed the point of Top Gear. I only discovered the show just less than a year ago, myself. I offer the fact that I don't have cable/satellite and don't generally have access to BBC programming, and I don't like to download shows (what? in the 21st century?) as an excuse. My first glimpse of the show was through Youtube, as well. OK, so I spent the equivalent of a whole day watching different clips..., what can I say, I liked it!

On their site they say something along the lines of having discovered that people really don't care about how good/bad a car is. They care about whether it makes them look cool and attractive to the opposite sex. And that is what they peddle. The hosts are a riot and the beating they lay on the most expensive cars in the world is something I have never seen from another show. I love watching it. Have you seen their challenges, for example? Have you checked out Clarkson's review of the Ford Fiesta (on Youtube)? If that does not make you laugh, well...

Oh, and don't get me started on the useless "serious" car review shows. I used to love MotorWeek, on PBS, when I was younger and more naive. I can barely stand it, now. They may be the best of a bad lot, but that is not saying much. Sorry, but the "general" reviewer does not know what I (or you) want (in a car) and won't say what I want her/him to say (when reviewing). If a car is junk, say it! And stop telling me the new econobox needs a more powerful engine -- what are you, on crack? Car reviews are useless (at least, American ones). And that is why I love the best show on TV (that I don't even get to see, much), Top Gear!

You reminded me of another TV program that went through this "reviewer creep" process decades ago. PBS's "This Old House" started out with Bob Villa doing practical fix-up jobs of old houses that a normal person might own. It gradually crept towards multiple hosts and doing major renovations on multi-million dollar homes.

Camera reviews have their place and though most of us are probably interested in the hardware, I for one am not limited by the camera I use - an ancient EOS 40D. No need for reviewer creep here (Well, you already have a Mercedes!). Some articles on lenses would be nice, say comparing a Zeiss with a EF, etc.

You should be aware that Top Gear was explicitly "re-booted" as an entertainment show in 2002, with a complete change of format. It's probably not the best example of "Reviewer Creep" in that regard as they're not really pretending to offer serious reviews!

That being said though, on Reviewer Creep in general I'm entirely in agreement with you.

The main reason why I read TOP is that it's NOT a gear review site. There's plenty of other places to do so, and not just good ones.

I count TOP's review on the Zeiss Ikon RF camera as one of the best gear review I have ever read because it was about humans, not about gear. It spent more time talking about the human-machine relationship in all its aspects than about the fine points of technical dialectics.

That's why I'm not impressed by spec comparisons, measure-this-and-that-and-this-and-that kind of reviews, because those absolute numbers are meaningless unless they function within one's photographic practice.

That's entertainment!

Given the advances in technology (let's face it, many entry-level bodies now produce lovely results), perhaps the focus of reviews needs to shift to glass (no pun intended).
The fact is, intense competition has pushed companies to cram more and more features into increasingly affordable packages. However, many of those bodies are still saddled with terrible kit lenses.
Perhaps if the same attention were focused on glass, we'd have more fast and affordable lenses which, at this point, is where I think the attention needs to focus.

Good to see you're back mike. I think what you're describing is endemic of a society where money is the only indicator of success and worth. Reviewer creep is a sad reflection of larger global issues.

Top Gear is funny madness and the presenters don't take themselves terribly seriously, though that may not be apparent to the first-time viewer.

They also do reviews of "rubbish cars" that ordinary people drive, and one of their best weekly segments is putting a "Star in a reasonably priced car." (1600cc Suzuki sedan) and making them race around the racetrack and seeing who goes fastest. Excellent episodes included Simon Cowell and supermodel Jodi Kidd.

Absolutely the two best episodes they ever shot however were:
1. The Xmas special where they took a bunch of Toyota 4x4 trucks and raced a dog sled to the arctic. Awesome even if you hate cars.
2. The episode(s) where they try heroically to destroy a Toyota Hilux 4x4 pickup truck. Awesome and slightly ironic in light of Toyota's recent problems.

Mike,
Very well stated, as usual. I watched and enjoyed “Top Gear” (on cable) for some time, until I simply grew tired of the parade of unobtainable cars. I was also an audiophile (or at least a wanna-be) from early high school onwards. I turned in that membership card when reviewers’ results became subjective and unverifiable, and when anyone making the claims I just made was dismissed as having poor hearing. Some reviewers took on the trappings of the high priesthood, and I was excommunicated. These aspects of ‘religious wars’ certainly exist in other domains (Ford-Chevy, Nikon-Canon, Apple-Windows), but the extreme exclusivity does see less prevalent in photography. As I read your article, I confess I was thinking of Michael Reichmann (and to a lesser extent, Lloyd Chambers), but I think you handled that subject very well too. Thanks for another thought-provoking read!
-gkf-

Enlightening to see your take on Top Gear. Apparently it is the BBC's most successful product on the world stage, being available, in one form or another, in a huge number of countries. I watched my (then) late teenaged son get hooked on it, at the point when Jeremy Clarkson, he of the Lamborghini, was testing improbably expensive, incredibly impractical cars that -- you're absolutely right -- few of the viewers would ever actually see. (I'm supposing there are places in remote Nevada, or Saudi, where you can let them loose?) Two striking things here: first, it was a sort of mechanical porn, and the guys could gather around and discuss the various hypercars with some of the same obsession, and often with a good deal more detail, than an earlier generation devoted to Marilyn Monroe. Second, Jeremy Clarkson has developed a TV persona as a distilled petrolhead, with a fine line in insult for green cars, speed limits, speed cameras ... and often vegetarians, feminists, etc. This goes down a treat because some of the viewers agree, and a second group likes it because it is thrillingly offensive to a third group, who are genuinely offended. What a package!

You make the classic classification error of taking Top Gear for a programme that reviews Citroens ;) It's no longer meant to be, by several series and years; what matters is that the format it offers (themes, challenges, races, in-studio interviews, amusing presenters) is popular, as it rightly is.

Was Top Gear ever really about some mythical everyman test driving everyday cars? I've watched the show on BBCA for a few years and as far as I can remember the show (in it's current, wildly successful iteration) has ALWAYS been about driving exotics like Ariel Atoms, Astons, and Veyrons, stunts like racing jet powered kayaks or a race across London (public transport vs river vs car), with a few ordinary sports coupes and hatches thrown in. And they pretty much acknowledge it. They're not a show for people looking for objective reviews to inform their next car purchase decision, it's vicarious wish fulfillment, a show for what car guy buddies would do, given their dream job and an unlimited budget. The episode where they crossed Europe looking for the perfect road, and would up at the Stelvio Pass, was just epic. On a sidebar the cinematography is the unspoken star of the show. It's the show photographers would make if Leica, Hasselblad, Canon, and Nikon were willing to supply any gear asked for, and throw in a squad of supermodels and transport to Ibiza.

And Clarkson's never come across a car with enough power.

Jeremy Clarkson, TG's main presenter, used to be an amusing writer for Performance Car magazine in the UK. It all went downhill after that.

A review of displays would be interesting, since we all spend so much time in front of them. It's a horribly messy area but some general tips about brightness, display technology, viewing angles and gamut might emerge.

I wonder what most viewers at TOP use. I suspect I am closer to the low-end of the scale (I shoot a 20D that I bought used 3 years ago) - maybe a poll is in order?

I also wonder how many people have/use multiple bodies versus those who own a single dSLR. Also, are there any point-n-shoot -only owners who read TOP?

This is why I follow TOP; the subject matter is eclectic, but orbits the whole gamut of photography, not just gear.
As an erstwhile musician and lifelong engineer, I also find the audiophile world more and more detached from reality. As the price of good transducers (always the weak link) in good boxes has come down to the realm of the affordable, those whose true impulse is to be exclusive have fled to the land of the absurd, where the ineffable, although deemed unmeasurable by axiom, is alleged to be the product of inspired genius-level R/D, a place where CD degaussers don't even get a laugh. Most tellingly, the culture excludes blindfolded comparison tests on any number of pretexts. Mercifully, even the worst photography gearheads have not (yet) descended totally into this sort of lotus-eating.

Mike,
It's great to have you back, well, at the mike! I hope your hand is feeling better.

I subscribe to this site precisely because you do talk about equipment that I might realistically dream of owning, and because the camera stuff is interspersed with enough OT posts that I feel like I understand why things matter to you, or Ctein, or any of your other regular columnists. In short, keep up the good work!

Audio illustrates reviewer creep really well. The funny thing is that the musicians that I know (classical and otherwise) care a great deal more about the performance they are listening to, than either the recording itself or the playback medium/device. Not that they don't appreciate technically good sound, it's just not what really matters. Likewise, having great equipment can help make a great photograph possible, but a great photograph does not presume great equipment.
my .02
cheers,
john

One of the things i like about your site is that mixed in with often fascinating diversions you actually write about images. Imagine that! There are plenty of places that examine and debate the guts of new gear; pixel count and pixel peep.
Please don't turn this into a site for gear geeks.

Mike,

You reminded me of the William Eggleston bit in your classic 'Great Photographers on the Internet':

"This is just a snapshot. I would not even have considered showing this. If you ware going to post pictures you need to make sure it is of something unusual or with a personal vision. Otherwise you are going to loose the interest of your audience. George Spelvin [Nikon D200, Nikon D70s backup, 17-35 f/2.8, 80-200 f/2.8, 4GB Microdrive (2), Photoshop CS, Epson 2200]"

And a Leica M9 review would be nice, and count towards your reviewer creep score—just don't become one permanently!

Glad to have you back!

Mike,

I'll second Eddie's comment, "Some articles on lenses would be nice, say comparing a Zeiss with a EF, etc." Would love to have your subjective evaluation of some of the lenses on the market. Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/2 vs. EF 35mm f/1.4, perhaps? Other than that, I enjoy your emphasis on general photography and unique interests like the DMD, and read your blog for those reasons. I don't think you need to do more camera reviews - dpreview, imaging resource, etc. already perform enough of those in excruciating detail.

Mike, in my humble opinion, what's needed in terms of reviews is a bit more thoroughness--you review camera bodies (and generally one or two lenses), but you basically stop there. It would be nice to see you get down into the nitty gritty and do a more thorough series of reviews on a whole system. Cover the body and the kit lens (and maybe the deluxe top-end body for that system too), cover a zoom or two, a macro, a normal, and a tele or two. And how about an articles or two on lighting on a budget? Bascially review a complete shooting kit of reasonably priced gear, and maybe one or two of the ultra-expensive $2-5000 lenses.

I love Top Gear as much for the look as anything else. The photographers and post production people do some really clever things on that show.
As for audio reviews, I haven't read anything that made a lick of sense since Julian Hirsch retired.
But I may be the wrong guy to ask about all this.
I drive a 96 Olds 98 I inherited from my father in law and my music needs are well taken care of by a wheel of steel old enough to vote, some 16 year old B&W in walls and a Sansui AU 555 that came home with me from Okinawa in 1970.
I seem to get along OK without monster cable or being hooked up to hydroelectric power (organic free range electrons).
My dog probably hates the way my system sounds but if that's the case he can go out and get a job.

I love your site. It's one of the few that entertains me almost daily.

One more reason I got rid of the TV.

Would you ever consider a review of reasonably priced film cameras for those of use who might want to dable in film but do not have the resources to spend two or three grand on a camera and on lens?

How about for fun a review of oldies but goodies?

I still like your views on small digitals which are my personal favorite.

On the topic of what to review next, I always find it refreshing to read a camera-body review by one of the TOP contributers, as they focus on how the err.. everyman would use a camera, instead of how a labtechnician would.

Well, Mike, if you feel a little tired, instead of reviewing more cameras you might as well list and comment on some photographers that used one single camera throughout their 'career' instead. Mario Giacomelli comes to mind. Ctein? Of course you would need to do some research. But in the end such an article would give an example for gearheads ;-)

I like the Top Gear episodes like the one where they buy three old cars on ebay in the rainforest of Bolivia, drive them to the "Death Road" across the the Andes, and then to the Pacific coast of Chile performing repairs by hitting the cars with sticks and rocks while fending off attacks by fish and giant insects.

http://www.streetfire.net/video/top-gear-season-14-episode-6-full-episode_726931.htm

Those relate more to my automobile experiences than the new car reviews that they do, although that screaming german lady race car driver is fun and crash testing jet powered dragsters is impressive.

I think it's the "we do stupid things so you don't have to" school of whatever it is that it is.

I will also never understand why folks on some forums list their gear along with their name. It seems really odd and pretentious to me. If you're listing what you used for a particular photo, sure. But do you get a thrill from everyone knowing you own a 500/f4 or something? The forums I participate in (mostly nature photography) have a person that does it every now and then. Do some forums actually ASK people to do that? Odd. Seriously.

That sounds like what happened to "This Old House" on PBS. Early on the shows tended to focus on what normal people with normal incomes could do. But then, later shows started to show couples who had 'only' allowed $400K for their remodel and were now concerned the cost had ballooned to $485K.

Poor poor dears. What will they do now that money is running short and they haven't even finished the attached Nanny's apartment.

So now I can add reviewer creep to feature creep on the list of things to be aware of?

The main reason I come back every day to TOP is the fact that it gives me something to think about every day. That includes the OT posts. To me that's the 'value' of the site, to inform, entertain and educate. It's not about the numbers - what's sharpest, fastest or most expensive.

Audio however, has lost a lot of (dare I say?) credibility by refining the term 'high-end.' Not that many years ago, if you spent around $3K on a turntable, you were playing in the big leagues! Now that kind of money won't get you in the door. It seems to have become more about insane pricing than love of recorded sound.

One thing that audio gear and photo gear used to have in common was that dealers used to let you 'trade-up' and kept used inventory as part of their business. More gear used to be available to the average person if they wanted to continue with the hobby.

Keep up the good work!

Top Gear is brilliant in the opinion of this American - I think one has to be a car-person with a sense of humor to enjoy it. Terrific cameraderie, chemistry with the 3 hosts, and lots of fun as well as cool "car porn." They are a bit incorrect, with a lot of flair & hyperbole, but they know what they're doing when they , and do really interesting things with the vehicles, and it's extremely entertaining.

For those who haven't seen it, here's an example: would you like to see a nonstop race from England to Monaco where one team is in an Aston Martin and one takes hyper-fast trains? Who will arrive first? If that sounds cool, you'll like it.

This article gets rather well at why the show works:
http://www.slate.com/id/2211036

The medium-format vs. 35mm divide has helped protect us from reviewer
creep, I think (by preventing the development of the kind of
creeping-wacko edge products that your car and audio stories had the
reviewers creep into). No matter what the price, a 35mm shooter can't
really patronize a Hasselblad shooter (on equipment, anyway); but the MF
gear was heavy enough that very few people who weren't using it seriously
were willing to haul it around. So the 35mm market never developed
anything really equivalent to Lamborghini.

(Yeah, yeah, Leica. But for most of the time Leica hasn't cost six or so
times what a good professional camera or lens from some other make cost,
while I believe the top cars and stereos blow through that point before
getting out of second gear :-) .)

I realized the other day, I don't think I've ever driven a car with a V8.
I know I've never owned any vehicle with a V8. I hope this doesn't mean I
have to turn in my American passport!

Great piece Mike - for me the attraction with Top Gear is the out-of-reach element of the reviews. These guys do to high end kit what I'd love to do, and they have fun doing it. I'm not personally interested in the cubic feet of storage in the trunk of a compact, but am strangely attracted to burnouts in V12 exotica. Compelling viewing and the only non politically correct output from the British taxpayer funded state broadcaster...probably why it is compelling come to think of it.

Oh, and I think it's time to renew my request for articles or reviews that try to communicate more about the different renderings different lens designs of the same focal length will give. Some of us need to be nudged along that path more, I think (certainly I do).

I don't know how to do it, but I'm then I'm not very good at characterizing the differences I see anyway.

Thank God our politicians are not subject to this "reviewer creep" phenomenon! You know they'll always have the common man's best interest at heart.

Top Gear - perhaps one of the most loved, but certainly the most hated TV show in the UK.

Funny how sometimes the expensive stuff that reviewers fawn over isn't what you actually want anyway - even if you can afford it. When I was growing up I read all the auto magazines with their gaudy prose about the wonders of owning a fast car. I always thought I wanted one. After moving to Silicon Valley and becoming a relatively successful engineer I found myself with the means to purchase one and ended up learning some things about myself.

The Porsche I bought was a lovely car but it wasn't long before I realized I didn't possess the talent to drive a car like that properly. To my surprise I found that having a nice car didn't make driving enjoyable - for me it was still a bit dull, just as with a cheaper car. Worse, I really don't care for waxing and polishing cars and so it quickly became scratched, dinged and dirty which I felt bad about. And the last straw came a few months later when l I learned how to scuba dive, a hobby which has dominated my free time since. Turns out it is possible to transport dive gear in a Boxster but it wasn't long before I gave up and replaced it with a station wagon. It's not sexy but unlike the sports car it actually serves my needs and I don't feel guilty if I get sand and salt water on the seats.

I'd love to have a Top Gear of camera reviews. Actually, the presenters, who do act stupid most of the time, do sometimes point out little things that would genuinely bother you. But all in all, it's a very enjoyable, if completely useless, show.
Anyway, get their specials, if you can, on iTunes or from more nefarious sources - the Vietnam special is by far my favourite, followed closely by their USA special, although that one might offend you, because they do take the Mickey out of Americans.

All in all, I love Top Gear, but never take it seriously. As for Clarkson's propensity to offend, well, that's just a breath of fresh air in today's oversanitized, politically correct world.

(Case in point, if the gentle reader will forgive me for going off on a tangent, which in my humble opinion they should, because they're not paying me to read this, a former acquaintance of mine absolutely insisted on calling black people African Americans. Which would have been absolutely fine, if the ladies and gentlemen in question actually were American, rather than Africans living in Europe. As I have very low tolerance for fools, and extremely low tolerance for the sanctimonious variety, the acquaintanceship is no more.)

Let's talk about iPad.

It shows photos, you can watch cars on it, you can read about music on it. It's expensive...

And... all those thousands (millions) of people who bought one, don't know what to do with it ;-)

AND... most importantly, it will bring more readers to the site ;-)

Great to have you back, Mike.

As long as you're pondering reviews for everyman, I wanted to mention that one of my favorite Sunday Morning Photographer columns was about the great orphaned SLR systems available on ebay at flea-market prices. There may be a number of interesting topics in the current second-hand market, from field cameras to competent DSLRs, again-viable polaroid gear, etc.

Christian, FYI a second-hand 20D is my digital workhorse, too (among a dozen film antiques). There're some beautiful images on your website.

You asked what you could review.

One of the things that Top Gear occasionally does is to send the three hosts to buy a car (some exotic brand) with $1000 to see what you can get for the money.

Maybe TOP could do a review of the best DSLRs you can buy 2nd hand for less than $250, something like that.

The camera-site that I think of first when you say `reviewer creep' is the Digital Picture, despite the name, the site is pretty much only (Canon) equipment reviews, and the author usually concludes each non-L-lens review with the comment that he prefers the L-equivalent (failing to mention that that lens is 2 times the size, 3 times the weight, and 6 times the price). The only pictures on the site are `sample pictures'.

Please note: if you're a Canon shooter, the site is a great source of information, it's just that I'm pretty jealous of Nikon shooters who get a site like Thom Hogan's, who may be one of the earlier mentioned `Galen Rowell + 200mm f2.0' people, but at least he's honest about the disadvantages of that equipment, and there are actual pictures on the site (with info on how they were made, not only the equipment used).

But the value of TOP goes beyond that. I recently did an archive binge, and read a lot of the older posts (on the old site), and most of them are still very relevant. Try doing that on DPReview...

Keep it up Mike, and I'm not going to suggest things to do next, I come here to learn NEW stuff.

Bernard

PS: Top Gear is imho just a comedy show. But a pretty good one.

Maybe we need a bit of reviewer creep around here.

No. No we don't.

Keep on keeping it real, Mike.

Yes. Yes. Of course.

It's true

_but_ you ahve to watch the 3 part series on the toyota light truck where they run it into a wall, submerge it in the ocean (the salt one) for 11 hours, get it running again, then drop it 23 stories from the top of an imploded building and get it running again.

then they do the review of the mini hatchbacks w/ extra headroom. where head room, footroom and passenger space are put to the test.

it's not really a pricey thing, it's more of a lad's thing.

oh and car darts. that one's good too :-)

" He's observed on the episode in question grumbling that an Aston-Martin with a V-8* just doesn't have adequate power. "

I'm not sure if this phrasing of yours was deliberate, but until the mid-late 80s when consumer protection laws changed, Aston Martin refused to publish specific output figures for their engines, instead stating that it was 'adequate'.

Tangentially relating to feature creep, for years it was reported as fact that the AM dynamometer operators could tell which of the four builders assembled a given engine by it's sound. I think it was Car and Driver magazine that finally fessed up to having invented the story from whole cloth, only to see it repeated as fact for years.

Moral of the story? well, if hard-pressed, I'd say it is to trust one's own judgement.

Patrick

Mike,
I'm glad to see that you're off the disabled list; it's tough to get going in the morning without you to go with my morning coffee.
I'd like to see some more reviews about mid-range cameras. Ok, maybe not really reviews, but your thoughts. It's time for me to replace the old 20d and I keep clicking on the Pentax ad up there on the left. I'll probably go for a K7 at some point, but I'd like to see how it stacks up against the likes of some of the 4/3rds cameras or a recent APS-C before I drop the hammer. I'm invested in EOS stuff, so it's not an easy decision. I, like many of your readers, trust your judgment. I want to see you sling it out there every once in while. In other words: Help!

One of my favorite reviews was when you suggested a person buy a used camera and a single prime lens and use it for awhile. As I recall, it was a suggestion to purchase a used Leica M film camera with a single used prime lens. You mentioned that you could later sell the combination for what you had paid, so following your recommendation would cost zero.

My version of reviewer creep would be if you now suggested that photographers buy a new Leica S2 and use it with a single prime for a while.
Wait, here is a blogger who explains that's what he just did.
http://dfarkas.blogspot.com/2010/05/using-leica-s2-at-lhsa-spring-shoot.html

Hey Mike,

My all time favorite Audio quote was by Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio. When asked if he thought his $40,000.00/pair monitor speakers were expensive (The highest priced speakers at the time)He replied, "but you do understand that I recommend two pair".
Also, I am pretty sure that Mr Holt's $8000.00 small speakers were Mr Wilson's "Watt Puppies"

have fun,
dale

Mike,
I, like lot of others, read TOP because it's not DPreview or any of the other feature-obsessed photo sites. When I need that stuff, that's where I go.
TOP's about photography in the best and largest sense of the word. As marketers would say, your uniqueness is your brand. You know what you're doing, so hang on to it for dear life.

Christian, as a 20D shooter, and someone as susceptible to "Gear Lust" as the next guy, I have to disagree with the 20D being considered downscale.

I'd argue newer models haven't improved all that much, they've just bloated, in size, weight, pixel count, and features.

I fear the day old faithful packs it in...It will be sad.

http://topgearepisodesonline.com/?p=453

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Vietnam episode is classic.

Mike,

TOP is a daily read for me and acts as a respite from all the other "Photography" sites I (used to) visit. I appreciate your views and comments even when they aren’t about cameras or photography in general. I think we (as a community) could use more blogs like yours and Brooks Jensen and less like, well, all the others.

I’ll read your reviews because I enjoy your style of writing not because I want you to write more reviews. The internet is full of reviews, some good, some bad and some confused. Throw a stone and you’ll hit a reviewer that says what you want to hear; throw another and you’ll find one who disagrees. We don’t need more reviews of gear (most of us have enough gear) – we need more *stuff* that help us discover why we practice photography in the first place - and how we get where we want to be with our art.

i know! TOP 5 cameras you will never own (except in the hopefully-not-too-distant future when they're obsolete):

Mamiya 645DF w/Phase One P65+
Hasselblad H4D-60
Leica S2
Pentax 645D
Leica M9

hi mike,

nice article. regarding what to review next, a nice thing would be to review some old glass on mirrorless cameras. I think [and i'm not alone, am i?] that most photogs around here have found out that nowadays most sensors [4/3, APS-C, FF,] are all good performers and all this gear-talking is a bit boring and needless. What counts is the photographer and the lens. Look at the sales of mirrorless camera-systems. It's strong increasing and i think there are a lot of people asking, for what adapter should i go? Which old System is good on my digital mirrorless camera? Which one has its flaws. Should i go for old Zuikos,old Rokkors, old Takumars, new Voigtlaender's.....? What do you think about to review seriously "in this direction"?

Nicely
XebastYan.

The one where they race each other from London to Edinburgh; one on a steam train, one on an old motor cycle and the other in an old Jaguar is one of my favourites; find it on You Tube for a treat!

Melv

It is interesting to consider the impact of ever-larger sensors and their impact on reviewer creep. Lets say in 5 years the average sensor size is 36MP. Then the quality of standard optics, such as kit lenses, will certainly have to improve to keep up, and that will make photography very expensive.

We are in kind of a "golden" moment with sensors and reasonably-priced lenses.

You don't need to change a thing, Mike.

"Reviewer creep" is what a corporation calls a reviewer who reviews its products honestly. The more of those "creeps" the better. (I'm proud to be a recent "reviewer creep" right here on T.O.P.)

--Marc

I think you and a few commenters (commentaters?) missed the point slightly. Top Gear is actually a very honest presentation of opinion that, because it's produced by BBC, is free from advertising taint. Clarkson will freely admit to a preference for English cars, a dislike of the BMW pretension, and a hate for the way all Peugeots drive. Care to see what the folks at American gearhead mags say? Without exception the reviews are bland and suck up to the advertiser of the day.

I find camera review sites an utter bore for the same reason. Without exception the test shots are trivial. Always and always the most boring poses of the reviewer's friends, flowers, or railings in an old park. Yechhh. Endless comparisons of minute noise differences of high ISO shots of bottles. What would be of real utility to real photographers would be an honest comparison of prints from a camera taken in a real assignment where the equipment is pushed to its limits.

We don't get those because the reviewers all know that a web JPEG taken by any DSLR looks exactly the same, and there is precious little difference in any reasonably-sized print (not to mention a magazine reproduction) between the cheapest and most expensive DSLR. We've had feature-creep, size-creep, and pixel-creep for years with no dissent from the reviewers. It would not do to show that a competent photographer can take effectively the same photos with a Rebel as with a Mark VIIIII. Saying so would probably end the OEM gravy train.

Rant over.

There's more than enough in the way of equipment "reviews" out there. Please stick with your reviews of old/new books, photography and life in general.

Interesting Top Gear viewpoint from across the pond. A lot of folk here in the UK share a belief that Jeremy Clarkson has developed into one of the most loud-mouthed, obnoxious, bigoted and biassed presenters ever to disgrace a television screen. The program itself has degenerated from a genuine car review platform into staging stunts and other mindless antics (nearly getting one of the presenters killed in the process) and generally appealing to the "laddish", yob and "boy-racer" elements of the population. It may be notable that some of the presenters jumped ship and went to Channel 5, presenting a rival programme called "Fifth Gear". Cheeky, huh? Wonder if there was some friction there!

I think the problem with most camera reviews is the author tends not to use the camera for photography so much as strictly an object of a benchmark. It's analogous to testing BHP, braking distance and 0-60 times. Or in the audio world frequency response, distortion and SPL. I suppose this comes as a result of most camera reviewers being camera techies as compared to being photographers. This would also be the marked distinction between sites like yours and Luminous Landscape.

I agree mostly re Clarkson & the other two - but it was nice to see the Isle of Man filmed well. The spinouts in the car park by the beach were just down a few minutes from my house. And the far-off treks are pretty amusing

The S2 might be the equivalent of the supercars

Is this a gear head site? I hope not; I like that you actually talk about photography a reasonable amount of the time.

Review creep for cameras just gets farther away from the topic. Great work continues to be produced daily using everything from Holgas to P&S to entry-level DSLRs to Phase Ones. That's the great equalizer: the photographer's eye--you can't buy it.

I like the way you write.
And I like the way you write about photography and not just cameras.

Glad you're on the mend Mike but could we get back to photography soon please?
I'm feeling really depressed at the thought of so many peole admitting to approval for Top Gear, it's not watched in this house and my wife has an incurable hatred of Jeremy Clarkson!

Apropos what you said, that: "In photography, I'm not sure we suffer much from reviewer creep. The reviewer best known for using expensive equipment is Michael Reichmann, but he's not an example of true reviewer creep—he's just a wealthy guy who'd naturally be using expensive cameras whether he wrote about them or not. They make sense for his work."

I absolutely agree that Michael Reichman has not morphed [nor allowed himself to morph] into a personality bigger than the ostensible purpose of the site, which is to look at photography and equipment.

There is one thing though, and that is that he writes about not-so-expensive equipment also. And he writes well and I trust the integrity of what he writes.

And about the higher-end stuff, I learn from what he writes because the higher-end stuff of today is the consumer-normal of tomorrow.

I'm just saying...

What about a critical review of William Eggleston especially since he seems to be somewhat misunderstood (?). ( Particularly considering how the calculus crack did go over so well. As a ex-physicist I thought I was funny. [edit the calculus part anyway you wish]). Or more on looking at photographs.

Well as has been said, Top Gear is entertainment pure and simple - the cars often being no more than a prop. And I'm sure there are many who enjoy watching a "review" of a Ferrari as they enjoy reading a review of a Hassleblad.

There is in the UK a much more down to earth car review program called Fifth Gear, which interestingly includes presenters from the original, serious Top Gear. Not nearly so popular.

Now what would be fun is a photographic equivalent of Top Gear - give 3 photographers a small amount of money to spend on used gear, give them extreme photo assignments and see how they get on. This would be interspersed with demos and reviews of photographic exotica, a light hearted look at trade news and perhaps some no-hold barred critiques of photo icons.

Cheers,

Colin

Ken Rockwell

Dear Mike,

A minor correction-- the medium format camera review isn't dead, so far as I know. Spring didn't work out because it was too soon for them to provide equipment and they couldn't provide it for as long as I wanted. But there are three more windows of opportunity two, four and six months from now, and we may be able to work out a mutually agreeable loan length.

More generally, I manage to avoid most (not all!) reviewer creep by virtue of my parsimonious ways. It's hard to get excited about testing some piece of equipment that I can't possibly ever imagine buying. Every so often there's something that truly tickles my fancy (I'd review a Leica S2 in a heartbeat, even though I will never own one), but it's not common.

A current example: Other World Computing just announced their 400 GB solid state drive. That's a product that interests me both personally and as a reviewer, and I'd be reviewing it 'cept that flash RAM prices have gone way up and so it came out at $1,600! When it drops to half that I'll get one to test, but it doesn't make economic sense today-- anyone with a laptop more than a year old would be better served by simply selling it and buying a new laptop.

pax / Ctein

If I was restricted to only watching one tv show a week Top Gear would be it. And the way you review cameras, you have a lot more in common with Jeremy & the boys than just TOP.
Leave the lengthy review stuff to Phil so we can enjoy your take on camera gems. Top Gear of course is 100% entertainment, wrapped in fancy colors thru more polarizers & grads than we can carry around. The most hilarious episode would be the one with Jeremy competing against local girl Sabine round the old Nürburgring circuit in a diesel sedan (and another episode even in a truck). And Clarkson is a big Merc fan as well. Anyway you have a lot of catching up to do watching probably the best car show ..............................
in the World. And on that off topic bombshell I'll leave you to work on the next review.

Top Gear is ironic - if you're not a Brit you have to remember that! It's highly unlikely that anyone watching in the UK will ever get to even touch the cars they review.

Their challenges are much better (such as the Vietnamese one mentioned earlier). Strange hoe no one's brought up the episode where they drove through the Southern States of the USA and got run out of somewhere like Alabama (or was it Tennessee?) at gunpoint for spraying quotes such as "Man Love Rules" and "I love gays" on the sides of their vehicles.

How we laughed!

I wholeheartedly agree with James McDermott's description of Jeremy Clarkson as "an overpaid, over-mouthed contrarian whose best claim to 'talent' is an unerring ability to offend the most people the most often". The most entertaining thing about him was the report that he (allegedly) lost a shedful of dollars when AIG hit the buffers. It's an ill wind....

I've watched many episodes of Top Gear and I've decided my favorite is the Los Angeles to Bonneville road trip episode with Clarkson in a Corvette "Zed"R-1 and the other two fellows in a Challenger and a CTS-V. Clarkson follows the time-honored British car review formula.

1.) Begin by stating there has never been an American car worth toting around anything better than a week's worth of rubbish.

2.) Convert tire rubber into smoke via massive power slides.

3.) Drive endless hours across endless miles of southwestern US desert.

4.) Make observation that the "Zed"R-1 is actually a brilliant motor car. The fellow in the CTS-V comes to the same conclusion about his car of choice.

5.) Reaffirm point 1 by flexing the plastic rear bumper of the Corvette several times with the push of a hand for the camera.

At least the folks of Classic & Sports Car have the decency to include the line "handles much better than expected for an American car" in all of their reviews of classic US cars. The real problem these folks have is not that they never drive fast cars but that they never drive fast cars for hours and hours at a time, sun up to sun down. England is all of 50,000 square miles which makes it smaller than Wisconsin.

It's interesting that you mention Top Gear in line with review creep. Plenty been said about the show already here for sure, I'd I'm certainly a fan. One thing I find slightly different about their approach to reviews, when they do take on more mundane vehicles, is that they're always reviewed on a sliding scale. There is an expectation that each car should be all it can be in line with the intent of that particular model. So city cars should be practical in town, hot hatches fun on the open road, luxury GT great at effortless highway cruising.
It seems to be the sort of attitude underlying TOP, too.

One thing that annoys me about most other reviews of gear is that they expect the basic entry level stuff to perform on the same scale as high-end: a single, absolute scale. Expectations of performance don't seem to change relative to price and design intent.

Camera Creep----started with Nikon and migrated to Contax with a 6 mp back. Now my creep leads to a new back. Creepy I am so poor all of a sudden.

Gee I remember The Absolute Sound audio review magazine when it first came out. What a gas! Unless you were one of the founding fathers of Micro$oft you could not afford most of the stuff they raved about.

There was one exception that comes to mind, the Advance A2 speakers. The reviewer said they were only beat by the Beverage (sp) Electrostats which were over 10 times the price. I still have my A2's and just love them. Although the lust for electrostats has reared it's ugly head once again. I think I'm going to build my own this summer.

A review publication or TV show would not survive if they only reviewed consumer grade merchandise. Most people seem to want a life experienced vicariously through media. If they see someone driving a $200K automobile then for a moment they can imagine themselves in the drivers seat. The same goes for so called reality shows. While most people would not want to live in the type of world depicted, they can imagine for an hour at least they are there.

Mike,

1. Welcome back. Still haven't seen the photos of the dog bite. If no photos, x-rays would suffice. ;-)

2. No need to review any type of camera gear, Ken Rockwell has already determined that the Nikon D40 is the perfect camera; no need to review anything else.

3. "Top Gear"...ummm...sure. It reviews cars like Rockwell reviews cameras.

4. "Legal in 2nd gear"...legal has nothing to do with it. As a previous C5 Corvette owner, I can attest that it is merely a question of completely disregarding the safety of the public and the willingness to pay any civic penalty.

5. Gear reviews I can get anywhere. I visit here because you write well. I have no concept or appreciation of the audio gear which you reference; neither do I care - I like the way you write. Rex Stout once wrote a line "He rides words bareback". That applies to TOP. I've recommended this site to some friends who have no interest in photography, but do enjoy good writing. Review whatever the heck you want, just write the review well.

6. Did I mention welcome back?

Regards,

Jim


Maybe you could twist Ned Bunnell's arm really, really hard and get a Pentax 645D so that you can test entry level MF Digital.

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