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A review is a review is a review…

A rose is a rose is a rose...There has been some discussion in the Internet digital photography community lately on the proper definition and use of the term “digital camera review”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives several explanations of the noun “review” and it seems fair to say that all digital camera reviews on the Internet comply with at least one of the descriptions.

Nevertheless, there is a debate and it seems to be triggered by the growing number of digital camera reviews that we see on the Internet today and the value of these reviews to its readers. Some people assert that the quality of the reviews is eroding and to some extent this may be true, as it seems that some reviews are primarily written for search engines or to serve as a skeleton for advertisements. However, the real value of a review remains in the eye of the beholder. A novice digital camera user might be overwhelmed by some of the excellent in-depth reviews that we see on the web, whereas a seasoned veteran considers it a waste of time to read through reviews that describe and appraise the capabilities and qualities of a camera only from a user perspective. As the Internet is becoming an infinite source of review information on almost every aspect of a digital camera, there might be a tendency to forget that the basic function of a camera is to take quality pictures.

Review categories - click for the Olympus E-500 exampleOne of the major goals of our DCViews website is to provide our visitor, particularly the novice and less experienced user, with the quickest path to information that is relevant to him or her. Therefore we have decided to rearrange the review section of our camera pages. We have classified the reviews in three sections, a first section for novices to shutterbugs and a second section for the experienced and professional users. For both these review categories we have established a minimum set of criteria to assure that a basic level of content and quality is available.

In categorizing the reviews we consider an extensive hands-on experience with the camera as a must in order to form a well balanced opinion on its handling. Even more so, we consider the shooting of a fair set of sample images as an essential precondition to judge the image quality.

Reviews that have a different or limited scope, such as previews and first looks, or those that do not meet the minimum criteria, will be included in the third section. Of course, digital camera reviews with little or no added value to our readers, will not be included in any section.

One should however be aware that there is no such thing as an “objective review”. Granted, in a well controlled studio environment, objective and repetitive tests and measurements can be performed, but the interpretation and appraisal of the results is still done by individuals with their own personal bias and preferences.

Not only these personal preferences play a role in the appreciation for a particular camera, but even cultural differences can play an important role. A well known phenomenon is the appreciation for color in the United States and Europe as we have seen with Kodak and Agfa films and we still see when we look at television images. In general, people in the US appreciate more saturated colors, whereas people in Europe prefer more subdued colours. If you are interested in some other aspects of cultural differences, have a look at how they might affect user-interface design. (Cultural Dimensions and User-Interface Design)

In conclusion a special word of advice for aspirant digital photographers:

When you have read all reviews and you have gotten all the help you can stand, you should realize this: Buying a digital camera is just like anything else, to a large extend a matter of personal preference, you are the judge and it’s your call. Before you go out to buy your first digital camera and to prevent disappointment later, here are a few simple rules you should follow:

- Spend some time on defining when, what for and where you will use the camera
- Familiarize yourself with digital photography through the Internet, friends and family
- Ensure that the camera performs well on those matters that you consider important
- Relax on the negative scores related to aspects that are of lesser importance to you.
- Remember to plan for additional costs: batteries, larger memory cards, better printer etc.
- Always gain hands-on experience to get a good feel for size and handling of the camera

Welcome to the wonderful word of digital photography and happy shooting,

Some more reading on digital camera reviews & ratings:
Discussion at the DPReview News Forum
Fishing for Your Next Digital Camera (PDF) by Jeff Adams
A 100-Point System for Camera Evaluation by John Dvorak

March 18, 2006
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