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Wednesday, 05 May 2010


Don't worry about the camera and lens reviews Mike. I recommend this site to my students because of the writing about photography.

I do not know how to even start to comment on your "review" of "Top Gear". My boys are fans of this TV series to the extreme that, like Green Days, I have to go to their live show in Hong Kong. (It is obvious they have a lot of fans globally as they can have such a 1960s style live show around the world!) In fact, it is normal the Santa would remember to have some UK DVD fix of Doctor Who and Top Gear. A major UK export I believe.

I did agree that in the older days they are actually review and I might try to catch some of those good one as said by other poster. Just recent encountered one with Leno in that show, quite entertaining. But, well, they are really just shows. I would ask my boys whether they have some comments on your comments.

As regards to Michael, I would say that when he is good and especially when he concentrate on being a Landscape photographer, he is excellent. I quite remember In the good old days of Rollei, Pentax 67 and Contax ... and DVD #10 is the best of all DVDs he produced. I bought all his DVDs. Lately I am building up my Pentax 67 systems and his review is still the authority in that camera system. The list of points he made is still good after so many years. He is just good when he is good.

But like some politician, he is somehow affected seriously by the his "ideology" e.g. Canon D30, Digital Back, Leica M8, ... lately video-still photo convergence etc. If you are not with him (on digital), I am not sure you can read his site without some question marks all the time. May be it is just pros talked to pros and hence we are not his audience. He is in the 100k group anyway. At the end of the day, I heard about you via his site. Cannot be too hard on him I guess.

On the audio part, may I suggest you a look at to review portable 96khz/24bit system for listening and field recording. They are affordable. They are useful to people who use their Canon 5D Mark II as video cam. It is quite a lot of choice. Also, it seems so far it is still on 1k group i.e. each component like a 3 inch cable can start with from just .1k to 1k and you are still good to go. It is a bit like camera this day, you can have your choices and even low end is quite good. As the basic player (like ipod) max on 48/16 (but the DAC chip inside is not too bad), the marginal increase in quality is quite significant. Given that they are not going to be reviewed by the big boy and it is something everyone can use everyday and talk about. Got any interest for one post?

Last but not the least, quite like to see Ctein and you on the Pentax 645D. Any chance? If you can pull this out, you might even beat Michael on his game!

"Also, I am pretty sure that Mr Holt's $8000.00 small speakers were Mr Wilson's 'Watt Puppies'"

No, it was John Atkinson, and they were B&W John Bowers Silver Signatures. Although, being not only a reviewer but the king of all reviewers (a.k.a. a chief editor), he probably didn't actually pay the full $8k for them.


The 'Top Gear" phenomenon, which is basically inane, snarky content-free entertainment, is one reason that I've watched perhaps six hours of television in the past year, football aside.

T.O.P: The site is about people, good persons who enjoy whatever they do to survive. Photography is part of the mix, audio too as well as family. Your family Mike is Zander, as well as your summer excursions and related happenings.
Your daily mixture gives many of us a reason to just keep going and functioning. And we your readers, don't literally bite the hand that feeds us! Woof!

With regard to your example of the amp that generated so much heat...I also know of at least one audio reviewer who didn't realize the heat wasn't working on the first floor of his house until he swapped from a pair of 200wpc Class A mono vacuum tube amps to a pair of similarly powered solid-state Class AB amps. Because the Class A amps sounded their best only after they had warmed up for a few hours, he never turned them off and the heaters of the 16 KT88 output tubes generated enough heat that even during a NY winter, they successfully masked the problem with his heating system.

"Remember 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous'? 'Hi, I'm Robin Leach."

Being English majors, we used to make fun of the show, and made a parody called "Lifestyles of the impecunious and obscure."

It was a lot funnier then.

Exactly how does one accomplish "critical listening" to an expensive amplifier with a window air conditioner clattering away in the same room?

No, the point was that he had to turn his a/c OFF to listen. So he had to sit there and sweat for his review...literally!


could you combat reviewer creep with a reverse creep? review things from previous decades? "introduced 30 years ago today." examine early digital with modern eyes?

The camera review equivalent of Top Gear would be to take a 1D4 and a D3s and compare how they photograph Olympic sprinters in full flight... while standing under waterfall to test the weather seals.

350 million viewers can't be wrong.


Get Ctein a 645D for the summer. The folks in Golden, CO might have one by then...

So palladium printing is not "reviewer creep"?

I think that the Top Gear car reviews are excellent (though I will probably never be in the market for a new Aston), if only because they are not afraid to say that a car is ugly, loud, or uncomfortable.

I count myself as a car enthusiast, but I can't stand to read car magazines that have become color press release for manufacturers. The use of technical specs has only made it easier for these writers to avoid giving opinions. Honest feedback helps everyone. Had writers been more honest with criticism, the US auto industry might have not been so complacent in developing a car that people want.

Factoid: There's no speed limits on much of the roads of Isle of Man. Much the same way folks would go to Montana which had no numerical speed limit on many of its roads until the 55 mph national fuel crisis speed limit was imposed.

Clarkson is an ass, but that is his charm, I suppose.

Actually, a camera equivalent of a Top Gear challenge would be buying a used film camera and one lens for $250, going to Nepal and bringing 10 excellent photos in ten days. With reviewers making a sidetrip to some phenomenal Indian restaurant where one of the reviewers would be shown as being unable to eat anything that isn't a hamburger. Or they would laze around some five-star resort for a couple of days and then hurrying to make the photos during the last day. Or they would spend a day trying to load the film into their cameras. :)

The whole trip would be chronicled, of course. By three camera crews who really know their job. And then the result would have top editing and post-production applied to it. Maybe with spaceships shooting around the photographers while they try to capture that decisive moment.

Each episode of Top Gear costs tons of money. Oodles. Googolplexes.

BTW, I'd really like to support that lone opinion on the quality of cinematography in the series. It's not world-changing or meaningful because of its contents. It's incredibly pretty, though. The polar special episode. The Botswana episode. The Stelvio Pass episode landscapes. The review of Honda Civic. Wow.

Mike, let me add my voice to those who want more about lenses. No, not that tired crap with numbers about resolution or edge sharpness or distortion and aberration. I think there's been a lot of voices clamouring for more about bokeh. Half of the reviewers out there wouldn't know good bokeh if it tripped them on the way to the loo.

If you ever get the chance try out "Top Gear Live" - lots of fun but no relation to anything real. The ultimate extrapolation of the review show - a world tour!

Dear Folks,

Mike and I agree the Pentax 645D is definitely on our "must review" list... *IF* it's introduced in the US.

Otherwise, it's an exercise in frustration for the majority of TOP readers, not to mention me, who cannot read Japanese.

pax / monolingual Ctein

I totally agree with your point. IMHO reviewers should focus on gear pushing the boundaries further away, as electric-powered micro-cars or EVIL cameras or Ricoh GXR system or Lensbabies or tilt/shift lenses or amphibious compacts (and so on) do. Gear that can actually change our approach to photography making, thus bringing about a shift in our visual language. For instance, I'd like to know what TOP thinks about the stunnigly-featured Fuji HS10. If its specs are true, it could help to a new approach to telephoto and high-speed shooting. I'm aware it's not as ornamental as a Leica, but if minimum IQ standards are complied, it could mean something to real world photographers.

Ray: Was Top Gear ever really about some mythical everyman test driving everyday cars?

I think if you can remember back to days of Quentin Wilson (~1991), you might find more reviews of ordinary cars there. But maybe that's only my dodgy memory.

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

You should do a quick post on what combination of equipment you would get if you were restricted to various budgets...and why.

i.e. If you were restricted to less than $500 today and were starting all over again, what would you get. If you were restricted to less than $1500...etc.

You can have an unrestricted category for your "Top Gear" enthusiasts.

Speaking of audio reviews and Mother's Day, audio reviewers have a wonderful technical term to rate the aesthetics of audio equipment: WAF or, Wife Acceptance Factor. In general, there is an inverse relation between the aesthetics of a piece of equipment and its WAF rating. Another audio anecdote: a couple years ago I saw a pair of 1 year-old B&W Nautilus speakers (the ones that look like they were designed by H.R.Geiger) go for $14,100 on ebay. Wow, I thought, what a bargain; these speakers retailed for around 40-50K new. But then it struck me as to what the cost would be to build a setup around the speakers -- amp, pre-amp, cables, cd transport, d/a converter -- it quickly climbed from Lexus into Mercedes E series territory. Anyway, the B&W's still look great and, from what I've read in reviews, sound even better. (I had to settle for a pair of 802's and some Rotel hardware. I still love the sound.)

You stated that "*The last time a bestselling car in the U.S. had a V-8 option was in 1996, when you could get one in a Ford Taurus." This is not quite true, as the best selling "car" in the U. S. is the Ford F-150, and number 3 is the Chevy Silverado. Both typically have V-8 engines.

Dear me, Breshears, those aren't cars.

I refuse to have anything at all to do with trucks. I had to drive a pickup when I was the handyman for a garden center in my youth; for any errands that didn't requiring hauling anything large and/or heavy and/or flat, I cadged the MGB belonging to one of the young ladies in the accounting office, put the top down, and timed my way to the lumberyard. I hated that truck. Have no interest at all in trucks, in any of their current guises--in anything built on a truck frame. Have never driven an SUV, and am intending to maintain that spotless record. I deal in cars, preferably small, light ones, preferably small, light ones with a horsepower to weight ratio the lower the better. A truck is not an acceptable substitute for a proper car IMNSHO even in a theoretical, rhetorical sense.



Top Gear is about entertainment in the same way Photography magazines are about selling advertising. No surprises in any of this is there.

It is really too bad that American car TV shows are not more like Top Gear...There is a lot to like in the show, and comparatively our shows are...Boring.

But within a class of cameras, you don't have choices from dirt cheap entry level to you have to be a Syrian prince.

I beg to differ, there is always this: http://www.engadget.com/2006/09/13/carl-zeiss-creates-over-five-foot-long-telephoto-lens/

I don't know whether I'd call it "reviewer creep" or "taste evolution," but the same happens in all forms of evaluative writing.

As a dance professor friend put it: "When you first start seeing dance, you can learn something from almost every concert. But once you've seen a lot, you can only learn something from seeing work that's really good."

At that point, the trick becomes learning how to stay relevant to readers who have seen different things and have different perspectives.

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