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Thursday, 22 December 2016


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"But they're all lovely and all the people who make them are above average."

Just like Lake Woebegone.

I share your aversion to the current trend to make videos of everything or even audio "podcasts" for that matter. Many years ago while working as a bureaucrat I took a course in speed reading from the then Guinness Record Holder for speed reading. The point to speed reading is to get quickly past what you already know to the new information you want. You can't do that effectively with videos or podcasts. Consequently, I'd rather read most things. Videos are fine for things that must be seen to be fully comprehended and audio is a must for performance based things like TED Talks but for camera reviews, let me read.

In the NPR interview I linked to in the previous comments, Pullman recommends Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph Williams, as did at least one other commentator. I haven't read it yet myself.

[Sorry, Mark, I should have credited you in today's article. Fixed now. --Mike]

Interesting read. As a non-native speaker practicing communications in English, I'm ashamed to admit my grasp of grammar is tenuous as well. In J-school I was told to read S&W and I've tried several times but never finished. Maybe one day, after I retire...

As to all those reviews. It's just that they're all savvy Internet operators. So, the more searchable terms they put in their story, esp. those you can easily copy, the likelier it is people find the review.

And the ones that look slicker are the ones that make more money, because you can't make money in this business by panning the very products people should buy via your affiliate links. No money, no slick video... That leaves aside the fact that your loaners will not arrive anymore if you're too critical, esp when dealing with Japanese companies.

I speak from experience.

Mike Johnston wrote: "Wouldn't it be better, now that there are so many review sites and channels, for reviewers to go the opposite way? Instead of being so careful and technical, wouldn't it be better for some of 'em to have a stronger flavor, and more opinionation as opposed to less? It would be more interesting. What they seem to lack is not just judgements of any kind but a point of view"

That's what I liked about the late, and sorely missed Michael Reichmann's camera reviews--He spent little or no time on anything you could learn from the manual and instead usually addressed the usability of the camera from his own point of view. I didn't always agree with him, but, over the years I came to understand what he valued and how it compared with what I value, making reading his reviews quite useful to me.

The most useless reviews, in my opinion, are those on sites like Amazon or B and H where the person gives something 5 stars and writes some version of this, "I received the camera his afternoon and have taken 10 or 20 shots of my cat, and can say that it is everything that I have ever wanted in a camera." Really??

I've long wanted to write highly opinionated reviews, and I have a series of ideas ready to go. The problem, as you touched on recently, is I don't have the stamina to continue writing regularly and I'm letting that keep me from even trying. Perhaps it's time to give it a shot and see where things go. In a time when so many gadgets are beyond sufficient for the task at hand, we need more critical reviews.

Certain things lend themselves to video. And certain things don't. Some subjects are better captured in a still photograph while others are better viewed in video, with sound. Some topics are better watched/listened to, while others are better read. The "people are awesome" videos show remarkable acts that might make for some good stills, but really demand to be watched. Reading a description would be a poor substitute. On the other hand, so many videos are poor substitutes for written text. Written text can be perused at leisure, scanned, skimmed, copied and pasted, saved. If I want to know about the autofocus performance of some camera, I don't want to have to sit through 15 minutes of some "personality" trying and failing to be entertaining. I acknowledge I'm a curmudgeon about this. I remember clicking on a youtube video review of something or other, the video starts with a guy holding a cup of coffee saying "oh, hold on just a minute, let me put my coffee down here" ... Really ? That had to be planned. He had to think it was a good idea, clever maybe, to do that. That was it for me. Hit the back button and try another google hit.
My real disdain for video comes from poor use of it in education materials. My daughter's middle school science teacher made use of an online science resource called "Discovery Education" or something like that. It was basically a collection of videos (and some articles) from different sources for different ages put into some sort of indexing structure, so when the teacher told the class to answer questions on some topic using only that resource, it might take an hour to figure out which specific sources had the information (some videos had searchable transcripts, but not all). Worst, some videos would be 50% fluff - teenagers cracking jokes - to try to get students interested in the subject. An admirable concept, but when you have homework in 5 different subjects, you don't want to be wasting an hour scouring dopey videos to find information that would take all of 60 seconds to locate in a good old-fashioned text book (or via google).

I have fond memories of Strunk and White, and read it in my freshman high school English class. Most web camera reviewers would do well to follow its central rule: omit unnecessary words. Overuse of adjectives, and adverbs, especially their superlative forms with nothing to justify their use than perhaps trying to cover the author's own inarticulate voice makes a lot of reviews hard to read, and basically useless.

It's so bad that anything less than a superlative description will often get a brand's partisans to raise their pitchforks and torches, and march on the castle.

The problem with streaming media (which includes video) is exactly what you say there -- you have to experience it at their speed rather than yours. It enforces one of the most easily disproved one-size-fits-all claims -- people do not learn any random thing at the same rate.

It's not so bad for music, where I actually want to experience it at the rate the performers chose (or else I don't want to experience it at all).

One large problem with English is that it's a thorough mishmash of Germanic and Romance languages (pork from Old French, ham from Old German; married from Old French, wed from Old German, etc. -- the mashing together of the two languages is why we have so many words that are almost duplicates of each other, and also why our grammar is so difficult. But while "proper" grammar is difficult and maybe impossible to define in English, people who speak foreign languages usually find English easy to at least communicate in, because English speakers are familiar with sentences that are put together any old way. It's what makes it possible for us to understand Yoda. "Anger, fear, aggression: the dark side of the Force they are. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will."

The best review ever published in any medium, IMHO, was piece that the BBC "Car" show Top Gear did on the Ford Fiesta.

Here is an excerpt, which starts out in the expected way, but ends up in a place which is indicative of the Top Gear "point of view".


[A great classic. It was good to watch that again. --Mike]

I quite like the Canadian The Camera Store videos. Even handed, informative and opinionated and nicely done.

Once thing I wouldn't like to see is camera product reviews turning into the unverifiable, un-evidenced, un-checkable, ineffable, subjectivist nonsense that afflicted (still afflicts?) hifi mag reviews and almost succeeded in both emptying my wallet and my mind.

I heartily concur regarding the soul-crushing nature of most video reviews of photographic equipment. That's what made the late, lamented Michael Reichmann's Video Journal so entertaining; he cheerfully expressed a withering contempt for glaring ergonomic flaws that marred otherwise good cameras. (Controls too small and finicky to manipulate with gloves on were a particular bête noire.) Many current video reviews (cough-dpreview.com-cough) simply regurgitate statistics without ever coming to grips with what a camera *feels* like. What's the viewfinder like in dim light? Is the hand-grip deep enough? Are the control dials too fiddly or stiff? They'll never tell. But they'll repeat all the stuff you can find out from the spec sheet. All with the delivery and pacing of a bad department store commercial.
Videos are a big resource for amateur oil painters, because you get to see how a skilled artist actually applies paint to the canvas. But many of them are so dull they could serve as treatment for insomnia. The few that are sharply opinionated regarding the characteristics of specific paint or brush types are a lot more entertaining.

A certain cohort of popular gear reviewers steer (mostly) clear of the more technical aspects of the gear they are reviewing, focusing instead on their subjective views and experiences. So that's good.

Unfortunately, they all (those people) start every review with a short paragraph describing their `real-world' reviewing style. Every review. Really?

Cranky in California

The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning

Written today that would be followed by a :)

(Is there a rule for placing a period after an emoticon?)

[TOP's style sheet says you set it off between two double-spaces, thus:

...followed by a :-) .

(TOP style also requires the use of noses in smileys.) --Mike]

"Note to other one-man-band one-person-band bloggers: never write even glancingly about religion unless you welcome extra work."

Learned that with paying clients a long, long time ago.... you can never be "right."

Prof Pullum is American. At the link In the comment by MarkR, Prof Pullum says "I've had a lot of extreme hostility on blog discussions, people just calling me a moron, saying that I write badly. And most baffling of all, ethnic slurs. They say, what's this Scot doing criticizing an American book? Now, I'm an American citizen of longstanding with 25 years in the University of California. I only moved to Edinburgh, which is brand new to me, where I work among many Americans, about a year and a half ago. It was quite astounding to be - to find that I was being dismissed as a Scot who didn't have a right to speak."

I've always like this one...

One of the things I find video reviews useful for (well, some of them) is very specific -- how does the shutter sound? It's a factor for me when looking at buying a camera. I partially blame my Leica M2 for that hangup.

On matters of grammar and language usage, I unhappily noted a major (if recently fashionable) misuse :
"...it is none other that Andy White who is solely responsible...". Ouch.
Mike, you're a decently literate guy - why use 'that' when you mean 'than'?
'Than' is comparitive; 'that' is particular. You have an implied comparative in the sentence. So it could be written 'than that Andy White' or more simply 'than Andy White'.
I remain puzzled about how this particular misuse (confusion of meanings) came into existence. Easier to understand is 'then' for 'than' - a spelling that phonetically follows a vowel shift by the speaker - so they've written the way they talk.
This long-ex-grammarian will now retire to silence again. :-)

[It's a typo. One I make fairly often. My brain says "than" and my fingers make "that." That's all. :-) --Mike]

Regarding your comments on the ad nauseum similarity of camera reviews, part of the problem (it seems to me) is that so many cameras are often evolutionary products, like the Sony A-6000 to 6300 to 6500, etc. It is hard to say much original when 90% of the latest and greatest existed in its immediate predecessor. However, now that several brand new medium format cameras are forthcoming, I bet commentary will be a bit more lively. Sadly, I can't afford to join the fray.

One period of time I remember well though, was a little over a decade ago, when Canon was making big strides in the pro arena and Nikon was lagging behind with nothing new to show for almost a year and a half. Then, in early 2005, Nikon finally released the long awaited D2X and the "battle" was on. "Canon had more pixels" vs. "Nikon took better images" - on and on it went. It was a wonderful time for opinions to fly in every direction.

It was one of the few times I owned a "flagship" camera (the D2X), but before making the purchase, I waded through what seemed like a wider diversity of reviews and opinions. Then again, maybe I was just paying more attention!

To speak of instructional videos, where did this trend of "unboxing videos" come from? Why do we want to see someone unpack the box? There must be an ulterior motive somewhere. Please tell me there is a reason.

It's a lot faster to get appropriate information from a well-written print review than from a seemingly-endless video review. And, with apologies to S+W, there's nothing that one can archive for future reference.

People learn in different ways. One size doesn't fit all. Dyslexics learn best through hands-on experience, demonstrations, experimentation, observation, and visual aids—not by reading.

I find many reviewers to be condescending, pedantic, peevish and pompous—but damned few are knowledgeable. Some are nice guys who know little, are likable and have huge followings—and make a ton of money selling books/videos and workshops.

The internet is awash with a sea of drek. Lots of know-nothings, fame-seekers and snake-oil salesmen make videos.

@rick barry. There seems to be a new perversion called camera porn. These perverts would rather fondle a camera, than interact with people *-)

A film or book review would be very boring if it was factual.

You can wrap all the facts into performance tables and give me a straight, down to earth, subjective opinion, as long as you can back it up with something more than 'I'm a genius so my opinion is the best'.

Things like 'camera handling' and 'lens character' are totally subjective, but useful to know, as long as you also know the reviewers general preferences, and how yours compare.

There is a film reviewer in the UK who I disagree with about 50% of the time, but I know exactly where we differ. Because he is 100% consistent and open about his preferences, I find his reviews exceptionally useful.

On the subject of grammarians, I discover that the general ban on starting a sentence with AND or BUT is not a grammatical rule at all, just something that school teachers seem to discourage. Certainly, overuse looks bad, but so does using 'however' or 'conversely' more than once in every 3 pages.

But what do I know?

1. Yes, I, too, tend to skip videos. They take too long when I can skim text and absorb the best bits quickly. I'm quite over time lapses as well, although there are a few very good ones.

2. I learnt my grammar from reading great authors, principally C. S. Forester and his Hornblower books, along with C. S. Lewis, whose books you know. I could go on.

3. I guessed Mr Pullum was American by the middle initial. It's a distinctly US characteristic and sometimes looks almost funny to non-US eyes when seeing long lists of names.

4. In reviews, I want opinions. That's exactly why I used to like Herb Keppler. He gave me advice and opinions. It's why I like your writing too. More opinions, please.

5. Funny how often than is typoed as that. Everyone does it. The answer is to proof read. I always re-reed mi one wryting. Besides, I like the sound of my own voice. Seriously.

6. The beauty of English is precisely because it can surprise us with new constructions and conjunctions, with little known words, with new uses of verbs, adjectives and so on. Let it be so. Nothing is taboo.

Ah. Spilt infinitives. I have always been partial to Sir Ernest Gowers 2nd edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, (1968) OUP. Inter alia, "The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who do neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish." Should we boldly and knowingly split infinitives? That is the question. Or not, as the case may be.

Right on Rick Barry. I always thought they were done to allow the user repack the item for sale in Ebay

Could never take Michael Reichmann's reviews seriously again after his egregious review of the Leica M8.

@Rick Barry
It was puzzling for me to. Why on earth would anyone want to look at unboxing video?
But then it happened - I received damaged goods by mail. If I would make unboxing video, it would save me a lot of time dealing with the seller. The video would clearly show unopened box and damaged goods inside after opening. So I presume this was one reason for this kind of videos. Evidence.

(I'm a bit worried about my grammar now, making a comment under this post. Fingers crossed ;)

I wrote a few opinionated camera reviews (..dismissing, in passing, the Leica X1 as "silly", and saying pretty much the same about the Fuji X100..) but people, generally, don't like that. Or those who give the most vituperative responses don't like that.

..I suppose that if you've paid good money for an X1 you're not going to be happy when someone else dismisses it.

(I don't think that, in a world with excellent zoom lenses, there's much point in buying a camera which has one FIXED, irremovable lens. Would you buy a pen which wrote only in capitals, or which wrote only numerals?)

When I pointed out the abysmally slow autofocus of the original X100, many people flew off the handle "..B-b-but it gives such great image quality!.." ..sure, once it's finally focused on whatever's already left the frame.

I think that many people like reassurance from camera reviews ..reviews which confirm that they made the right choice, not those which point out the shortcomings of particular cameras.

I've generally tried to show the distinctions between cameras - that, for example, the PEN-F is, I think, the only digital camera (so far) with a built-in electronic BLUE filter, so that you can shoot black-&-white pics which look like those of olden days' blue-sensitive film (à la Eugène Atget, etc). Or - may I start a sentence with "or"..? - the super-high light-sensitivity of the A7S, or the absolute silence of those A7 series cameras - and several m4/3 cameras - when set to 'electronic shutter'.

There is no point in going over all the things which the latest - or even the oldest - cameras commonly CAN do, instead of - more usefully - pointing out what they CANNOT do, and what they can UNIQUELY do. (Sorry; am I shouting?)

Short and sharp (..like Halliwell's film reviews..): The Leica CL; does all that the M5 does, but in a smaller, lighter body, with a noisier shutter and no 135mm frame lines.

I like brief and pithy (..I love pithiness since reading "The Ipcress File"..) [..you didn't see that I chopped out "got that" and "of" and I changed "after" to the shorter "since", just there..] and I just skip over waffly video by simply clicking past the dreariness in the timeline.

Whoops: this comment is much too long, so I'll sto

I too find most video reviews pointless and annoying; I'd rather read it. But one thing I do sometimes look for -- and occasionally find -- in video reviews is a "hands-on" review of features, where the reviewer actually uses the feature. This can be revealing; the product text and written reviews might say the camera can do "X" but when you see someone actually doing "X" you realize you can only do it during daylight hours on Thursdays when surrounded by pigeons or whatever.

Over here in the software world it's like what some testers do, where they don't just confirm that the thing works but they actively stress it and try to break it. That's interesting to see in a video. All the rest is better in written form.

After a few attempts are comprehending the material in the book, I took out my S&W and made my copy of the S&W a bit "holier."

Aw shoot, was that irreverent?


I generally avoid video reviews. They seem to take forever to get to the point. I can usually discern what I need to know from a written review in seconds. With a video, I have to wait for the parts that interest me. Bah! Long live writing. Down with video!

PS: Now that I'm thinking about it, I feel that way about most forms of video. Literacy is the best!

Many years ago, I recall reading in an introductory book on linguistics that the real grammar of a language was nothing more or less than what sounded natural to native speakers at any given period in the language’s evolution. In other words, any useful grammar was descriptive, not prescriptive, and was associated with a given era. No other approach made sense, the argument went, because languages are constantly changing. Seemed fairly persuasive to me.

Still, in every era there are some formulations that are acceptable to educated native speakers and others that aren’t: i.e., gooder ways of speaking and writing as well as badder ones. My favorite authority in these matters for American English is Mary Norris of The New Yorker, also known as the “Comma Queen” (http://video.newyorker.com/series/comma-queen), because (1) she is entertaining and (2) I invariably agree with her.

Don't forget "The Writer's Art" by James Kilpatrick. I used to read his column in The Seattle Times. The best part was a lot of his quotes he commented on for bad English--came from The Seattle Times. It had been mentioned that a lot of the poorer writing could be found in the newspapers. It just has moved online.

Rick berry wondered: "To speak of instructional videos, where did this trend of "unboxing videos" come from? Why do we want to see someone unpack the box? There must be an ulterior motive somewhere. Please tell me there is a reason."

I've long wanted to produce an unboxing video wherein the package is opened, the gadget literally tossed aside, and the remainder of the video would consist of dismantling the box.


So far as I can tell, the unboxing video is a way of showing off. It applies basically to things packed in complicated ways, and the point is very simple -- "I now have a Nikon D6, so there!".

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