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Thursday, 16 September 2021

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Sample shots? Never look at them. Unless there's a pretty girls I notice in the thumbnails. Or a dog. Gotta look at the girls and dogs.

Part of the problem with sample galleries today is that almost all photographic devices, from entry-level kits to high-end exotics, are capable of producing very pleasing images. There is far less to be gleaned from inspecting sample galleries today as there are far fewer deficiencies to be found.

A sample gallery produced by a very talented photographer might sell more cameras or lenses, but it primarily shows you the photographer's talent, since they produce consistently amazing images no matter what camera or lens is being used. Its a bit like asking a talented musician to test instruments; they will fantastic music with any of them because of the talent, not the instrument...

I am much more interested in reading "hands on" reviews, especially long-term reviews, to get a sense of any particular camera/lens/system's strengths and weaknesses, whatever those may be, when trying to decide if I should add equipment to my own photographic endeavors.

At first I interpreted ‘sample galleries’ as those typically presented on a photographer’s website. [Thanks for letting me know. I fixed the ambiguity in the post. --Mike] I did, and do, look at those. As for examples presented in lens reviews, I always have taken them with a grain of salt, preferring to make my own pics and judge my own prints. I have always limited my lens purchases, so this has never become a chore or time waster. Otherwise I guess I’ve never had much interest in poring over lens reviews unless I had a specific need, and unless I valued the writer’s opinion.

If I were actually buying a a camera or lens then I would look, but more out of a sense of due diligence than because I expected to see anything revelatory there. Otherwise, they're largely meaningless to me these days.

Same here. The sample gallery used to be essential--I'd even compare the same shot from two cameras side-by-side when they were provided. Now, I don't even check the galleries. At some point I found I got more out of searching sites like Flickr, and I'll likely do that next time I consider a lens, or want to know how well a particular camera/lens combo works, especially if it's older gear.

I generally agree. The only exceptions are those rare instances where the photos themselves are of exceptional quality and pertinent to my interests. The same is true for equipment reviews: my needs and interests are so specific that I find I can learn far more by trying something out for myself than by reading about someone else's experiences. A review doesn't have to be particularly informative though, as long as it's entertaining.

Your mention of cell phones vs. cameras reminded me of a Danny Lyon quote I stumbled across recently. I think I disagree with Danny though. Your iPhone 7 might be sharp enough if used on edge as a weapon. :-)

“The sign at the entrance to my gym locker room says, no cell phones please, cell phones are cameras. They are not. A camera is a Nikon or a Leica or Rolleiflex, and when you strike someone with one, they know they have been hit with something substantial.” — Danny Lyon

I remember the last few years of Popular Photography magazine when their lens testing results were presented as a graph representing the aperture used and incremental jumps in print sizes. The "A" rating, the highest quality was red, with each score going down a shade, orange, yellow, etc, and the rare "F" being white. The test's motto was, "the redder the better".

Most lenses were fine around f/8 to f/11, allowing very large prints. Some very expensive lenses did very bad on this presentation. In 1994, they reviewed the pre-aspheric 35mm, 50mm and 75mm Leica Summiluxes, and it caused an eruption of righteous indignation in the Leica community when this test, based only on a color coded chart made it seem like these 4 figure lenses could not deliver a decent 5×7 inch print before f/4.

Too many times I bought a lens that did well (lots of red and orange) only to be totally unsatisfied by the rendering from the lens, something undisclosed by the single color coded chart. And I have great photos made with two of those Leica lenses that scored so badly on the same graph.

So yes, I do look at the photos in field tests of lenses... real 3D subjects in real environments at various hopefully annotated apertures. I have never hung a test chart photo up in a frame.

They're not exactly the "sample galleries" you're referring to, but I certainly look closely at images Jim Kasson posts in his blog:

https://blog.kasson.com/

For the most part I ignore reviews altogether. If I'm interested in a camera I will go down to the local camera store with SD card in hand. Shoot some images in various conditions etc. During that time I will get an idea of the handling and whether the menus are confusing or not. Back home the images will be evaluated on the computer. All said and done I will more than likely determine what I already have in the camera cabinet us just fine.

I look at some of them to evaluate lens characteristics. But the most important for me is when RAW samples are provided for a camera, I just can't tell how the real image quality is without playing around a bit with my usual post production work flow. I find that out-of-the-camera image samples are next to useless for evaluating the true potential of a camera output (at least for me of course).

For cameras I definitely agree. A new body with the same sensor/processor inside, even if a year newer, won't show issues unless the person using the camera causes them. And forum threads with "images from your new camera" won't see me unless the pipeline or firmware feature-set has something wildly new about it.

I hardly look at "sample galleries".

But I look at the pictures of the lens or the camera. Cameras and lenses are all so good these days that looks and price become dominant factors for my purchase decision. My last camera purchase was 4 years ago, I think.

I agree that "sample galleries" posted for equipment reviews are generally worthless. A skilled photographer (which excludes nearly all camera reviewers) could make a pig look like a prince. But usually the images are poor snaps that, after being shrunken to web size, are completely uninformative.

This is one area where top video reviewers, such as Chris Nichols, really shine in my opinion. Their reviews take time to show various characteristics such as geometry and optical aberrations quite well.

But taking one step backward for a wider-angle perspective...does it really matter? Show me images that have been genuinely "ruined" by -any- contemporary lens, even the cheapest kit lens. When digital photography finally reached the point where lens automation partnered closely with camera processing even pigs became pretty. My 'umble little Fuji X-T30 with a lowly "kit" 18-55mm was good enough to faithfully capture some truly wonderful images, such as this: https://www.kentanaka.com/city#22 . (It's currently printed 36" wide and hangs in one of my bathrooms!) I dare say that my most expensive lens would not have done better. Yet a "reviewer" wouldn't pee on that lens if it caught fire.

So I agree, Mike. The only way to "test" a lens is to try it out. Chances are that its optical performance will be far better than you'll ever need and that it will be dis/qualified more by size, weight/bulk, and price.

Unless they exist to demonstrate a specific point, e.g., elimination of reflections with a polarizer, I have never paid them any attention.

Best camera review I remember reading was Michael Reichmann's about the Sony R1 (fixed zoom lens 10 mpix APS/C sensor from back in the day). He said that at 400 ISO you could see sensor noise at 100% on the screen but that he could not see it in a print. All I needed to know.

You wrote, "One thing I noticed the other day: I seldom look at 'sample galleries' in equipment reviews any more."

I seldom read reviews. I prefer to purchase (or rent) a camera or lens and review it myself.

Richard

Back when we were transitioning from ccd to cmos sensors and 16mp was state of the art? Yes.
Now? No.

The sample galleries that are useful are the ones that have the same subject matter again and again for every camera tested---and that have the test chart, a studio setup that's 3D, and then some outdoor shots. Several websites of old did that routinely, and there's still a couple around. But that takes planning and discipline. The kind we seem to be getting these days are "Here are some rando shots of me bopping around town". Not helpful in any way for comparison purposes. So, like you I pretty much ignore them.

And it's also true that back in the day (talking the aughts now! Whew!)we were all so eager to see the difference between 5mp and 8mp. Now with contemporary cameras you actually can't see much difference between them using a standard computer monitor w/o going to 100%---but then you are not looking at the image any longer. So, things are different now.

For a long time now, I have thought that the only thing that the sample pictures on sites like DPR show, is that the camera or lens can indeed be used to produce pictures. It was different 15 to 20 years back, but so were a lot of things.

How much I can get from sample galleries...probably less than I think, yeah. I'm looking more from habit than from plan (and I haven't been actively shopping lately so my habits are a bit old).

I do find ISO still some issue. I use 6400 quite a lot and would like to use considerably more sometimes. And those aren't really ideally good in most cameras. There are still differences. As lenses get slower (sigh), I need even higher ISOs.

One of my much-used lenses has an annoying feature—it doesn't seem to have a lens profile known to Adobe Camera Raw, and it has enough barrel distortion (in the 21st century!!!) that I notice it in screen-size images. But even that, I can correct myself very quickly (and then apply that correction to all the photos in the current batch shot with that lens). I suspect I could automate it beyond that, but it hasn't been worth the trouble.

Yeah, definitely flare I care about. Particularly the "veiling glare" incarnation (it's less picturesque and easier to miss small amounts of in a sample shot).

Reviewers who can't be trusted to report what they see probably can't be trusted to publish sample shots showing problems they don't report, either. I suppose there might be reviewers who really don't see the problem in the sample, and so would publish it where you could see it.

This is NOT sample shots—but my old strategy of searching (on Flickr most often, but wherever I can search for this on a big photo collection) for photos taken with the lens I'm interested in and then seeing which ones I like that are vaguely of the same type of work as what I want that lens for. I can't really see the fine details reliably; but if a photographer has an impressive collection of work using a lens I'm considering, that very strongly suggests that the lens is good enough for that work! People don't amass impressive collections without having some discernment. Multiple such people starts to be almost evidence!

Yes I do look at sample galleries. The shots for the Nikkor 40mm f/2 were helpful in confirming my choice to pre-order it. For camera bodies they are less useful, all are now good enough in practice and on-line JPEGs don’t tell me anything about sensor behaviour.

Lucky for me there's a well-stocked brick and mortar camera store close by. There's no better substitute than being able to test the merchandise before pulling out the credit card.

I don’t look at sample galleries much anymore for a few reasons:
* Meaningful camera improvement comes slow enough these days that I’m not constantly worried about missing out.
* Reviewers putting up head to head comparisons seem to go out of their way to provide the most apples to oranges samples as possible.
* When I see photos on the internet, I never feel I can say, “Oh, that one was taken with (Brand X). They look good or bad for lots of reasons well apart from the cameras and lenses.
* I’m very happy with what my cameras and lenses do for me and they already are paid for.

most camera reviews are boring

most cameras will do, incl the mobile

"Do You Still Care About 'Sample Galleries'?"
No. Photos made by someone else only tell me how "they" used or judged the value of the equipment. Although I do appreciate Chris Niccholls' and Jordan Drake's DP Review videos for specific gear as they seem to tell it like they see it regardless of who the advertiser is.

When Fujifilm recently came out with their new 27/2.8 WR lens, I'd been thinking about fitting my IR converted Fuji with a dedicated small prime lens. Only problem was I did not know if the 18/2 R would be a better fit for what I use the camera for (landscapes), but since I am not a wide angle lens person I rented both lenses from Lensrental.com and will make my decision based off of my shooting experience with both. That's how I do things; hands on.

I never look at them either, but I do often read the comments. So I agree; users feedback in important.

Nope. Samples tell me absolutely nothing useful about how I would use a particular camera or lens.

And lens and camera reviews (Thom Hogan excepted) also tell me nothing relevant -- I can often get the exact same information, often word for word, from the manufacturer's press release.

Most "reviewers" do not seem to be vetted by anything except their own egos. I'm a print person and long ago realized that a screen may show weaknesses but rarely shows strengths.

Before spending north of $1K or more on a lens, I tend to rent and do my own tests. I just photograph in a location with which I'm intimately familiar, eg the Portland Oregon Japanese Garden, and or do more formal testing al la Fred Miranda. I've done that with three lenses in the recent past that "everyone" says are superior to the ones I have.

When viewing prints (and I'm a major detail person), I've usually reached the conclusion that there may be a small improvement, but it's not often that I conclude that it is worth the considerable financial output. And... I'm a lens lover. I'd like nothing more than to be convinced that a given lens is worth the exorbitant price, but rarely am.

Checking out a len's bokeh and creative flare is one practical reason to look at sample galleries. Apart from that.....yawn.

Since we can't trust on-line sample photographs we are left with reputation ... the manufacturer's reputation ... the reviewer's reputation ... a friend's reputation ...

Or we can rent one and see for ourselves.

Like Mark Rouleau and others, it's all about the colours. I have recently acquired two (antique?) Canon G6 cameras as a result of seeing the sample gallery for them at DPReviw, by chance.

I can't put my finger on it. I just know that the colour signature of that cameras processing algorithm is my ideal. And Sony have never made a jpeg that I like.

So count me in as a sample gallery die hard.

Until you wrote this post, I didn't fully appreciate how pointless the sample galleries are. I rarely look at them, for nearly all the reasons articulated here. At best, they tell me that it's possible to make photographs with the lens in question.

Interestingly, the concerns you're describing relates to new lenses. However, it exists in the "adapting old lenses" world too, and is exactly the same. Almost without exception, I learn nothing whatsoever from peoples' random snapshots with their newly acquired old lenses.

As others have said, to really know, you have to give it a go.

I don't think sample galleries are as relevant now as they once were. I was born in 1950 and received my first "real" camera, a Minolta AL, at age 11. With film it was possible to retouch a photo but that took a fair amount of skill and it was often easy to detect. With digital I want to know how a product will work for me, not how it will perform for someone proficient at post processing. I only buy from retailers that have a return policy so I can "test" what I purchase. Photo equipment has improved tremendously but I want to know how it functions for my style of photography.

I feel the same about sample galleries as you describe - except I was amused that the only useful aspect for you may be bokeh. I hate to say this to the man who created bokeh :) but it never seems to matter to me that much after 50 years of photography.

I recently felt validated after I conducted a (totally statistically invalid and poorly constructed) survey of a dozen or so of my acquaintances. I presented them with 8 images designed to illustrate bokeh in various forms including what some reviewers consider perfect bokeh and some "atrocious" examples. After nobody commented about the bokeh, I asked a direct question of what they thought of it. The various answers were somewhat similar, best summed by one person who said,"Who cares about that out-of-focus stuff. I'm interested in the main subject."

Hi Mike,
you mention the skills of Ctein; do you (or anyone of your readers) have an opinion on what camera and perhaps what camera/ lens combo produces images that print easily without needing huge amounts of post skill such as the Ctein undoubtedly posesses.
i think it was Peter Turnley who suggested that Leica images print easily? someone might want to suggest why, is it the sensor, lens or processor or some algorithm applied by the maker?
kind regards
roger fisher

The problem with a manufacturer's sample gallery is that the images will have been carefully chosen to show off the best qualities of their lenses, with photos that reveal weaknesses carefully weeded out. If I wanted to take those exact photos, maybe the samples would be relevant.

I do, but only to try to gauge lens character (and Flickr is probably a better indication) rather than 'performance'.

I wish still lens reviewers would spend less time thinking about 'performance' (how good a lens is) and more time exploring the various qualities of the look a lens produces.

Imagine if still lenses were explored like this instead of being "reviewed" as if some universal notion of "good" existed (you'll need to watch for a few minutes): https://youtu.be/v8Il_l3tu6Q?t=1227

I am old enough to remember when Amateur Photographer in England used to test cameras by taking the same photograph of a ship in The Thames from their office across the river.
The print in the magazine was small and monochrome and indistinguishable from every other print made with every other camera. The Magazine was printed on a grade up from newsprint.I used to read the magazine avidly. My first serious camera was a Topcon which was also used by the FBI as it had a 300mm f=2.8 lens years before Canikon.
Ahh for the good old days.
Cheers
Philip

I used to really enjoy the sample galleries on DPReview while they were in London. I loved the shots around their offices, with all the details and the candid people shots.

But when they moved to Seattle, I lost interest. I just don't find their new location interesting. The samples are dull and boring.

Some of their UK based reviews and sample galleries were so good that I've kept a lot of the shots. I remember their review of the Sigma DP series and the SD14 especially, and I still look at the shots for enjoyment. I bought the Fuji S100fs in 2008 much on the basis of their review and samples, and I still have the camera and the images I took on a trip to Europe in that year. I'm still marvelling at the images I got.

So apart from finding Seattle boring, I think I'd say I do like sample galleries.

Not for a long time but that’s mostly because I have a good set of lenses and only one lens has held enough interest to check reviews on since the middle of the last decade.

With cameras, it’s irrelevant too, I seem to upgrade on a 5-7 year cycle therefore whatever I buy will be better than what I have. It may even stretch further this time as my 2016 purchase is still doing everything I need it to.

A problem with a lot of sample galleries is that they are so badly done - not taken at settings that would either demonstrate the best that a camera of lens will do, or demonstrate the limitations of a camera or lens. Sometimes even the samples on perhaps the best-established website (it shall be nameless - and doesn't seem to be reviewing very energetically these days anyway) are quite baffling - as if the photographer didn't quite know what he/she was doing it for.

As a semi-retired professional, I think most "sample galleries", especially user pictures on B&H, are appalling! They don't tell me anything. I really don't mind if an image is highly "shopped", as it let's me know what outcome I can expect if I put time into the image, but would find professionally taken and / or lit "unshopped" images to be of interest, as an example of what's doable with little messing around.

I'm on the Ctein path, and have a bunch of Olympus M4/3rd's prime lenses I'm happy with. I also have a few of the Panasonic, and find their camera bodies easier to get something out of without a lot of dicking around. The plusses associated with M4/3rd's, like multiple image formats (yeah, I know you can crop, but why bother if I don't have to), and the small body and lens size, far outweigh the minuses of small sensor size. I'm not getting paid for much any ore, and tho I like the idea of a 100 megapixel medium size sensor, there is zero way that it gets paid for by actually charging clients.

The fact that almost everything I shoot for these days, ends up in a publication no larger than 8.5 X 11, or on the internet, or actually printed no larger than 8.5 X 11 (and mostly as a CD cover); makes Micro 4/3rds "KING". I actually know people with medium format, 50 megapixels Fujis, that have only one lens because that all they can afford. I'm OK with my 7 M4/3d's lenses.

Really like that Ken Tanaka street shot. It's one of those things where you think, "I wish I'd done that."

The book is nice but the backdrop with your staircase and framed picture caught my eye more.

[Thanks, I actually worked on that composition for a while! Just having fun of course. --Mike]

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