The Terrible Tides Of Tedious Test Shots

In the comments in a previous post I was prompted to think further about something I’ve often found baffling.

That is, why, on so many sites that review cameras (and this is going back years as most cameras I research are a decade old), are the test shots they feature are so incredibly dull?

If I wanted to encourage someone to buy (or at least try out) a certain camera that I enjoyed myself, I would try to make the most inspiring and impressive photographs I could.

Images that would make someone think “Wow, I’m really impressed at what this camera can do, I want to get me a piece of those possibilities! Right now!”

I understand that a camera review needs a certain objectivity and to perhaps consider how this particular model stacks up against others.

But is there anything more excruciatingly dull than looking at 100% crop comparison photos of the corner of a photo that wasn’t of any interest when viewed in its entirety?

Not for me!

This is why I guess I have found Flickr so valuable over the years.

I’ve searched tags (especially for film cameras) to find what certain cameras I’ve come across can do in capable hands, or flipped the other way around, I’ve found images I’ve liked not knowing the camera, then checked out the description and Exif data and tags to see which it was.

Photographers like Christos managed to achieve an incredible consistency whichever camera they pick up, year in, year out.

With digital cameras the first step above is more likely to be done directly using Flickr’s camera finder feature, which I wrote about previously.

If I can’t find any remotely interesting images, I usually don’t go any further with my pursuit of the camera – unless it’s so obscure that hardly anyone has used it!

What do you think – do you prefer seeing photographs made with a camera you’re interested in that are so impressive you actually want to buy it? Or are you happy to browse dull as dishwater test shots of boring subjects?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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13 thoughts on “The Terrible Tides Of Tedious Test Shots”

  1. Engineer and photographer here:
    There are two types of test shots which should be used in evaluating cameras. The first of these is the ‘dull’ picture which merely contains elements that give an indication of the camera’s performance such as sharpness of lens, handling of scene contrast, and rendition of colour grades. Such images tend to be boring and looking at multiples of them can be tedious but it is necessary to evaluating the equipment.
    The second type is the ‘picture’ image; a real-world application of what the camera can do in the hands of the competent user. These are the ones you want to look at, because this end result is what we’re all really after. Sometimes a camera that isn’t so up-to-snuff on the technical side nevertheless produces pleasing results for the viewer. To truly evaluate equipment you need to do both. I’ve shot endless amounts of dull images to look for nuanced differences and it really does get tedious. But this is the scientific method: vary only one factor at a time to eliminate the others as being the source of differences.
    I don’t know what specific reviews you are referring to, but I’ve seen the opposite with “test” shots being just pictures taken – and often processed – then used as some kind of guide to evaluating how good the camera is. I often wonder if these reviewers had the training they need to objectively evaluate anything.
    And yes I know my repeated “the shed” pictures drive people crazy. It’s a matter of a “known scene” being used to demonstrate variations in equipment and/or method.

    1. Ah yes, of course there is the other end of the spectrum, the photographers who process any and every image to death, whatever camera made the image.

      Analogous to grabbing any old lump of clay – if you spend enough time moulding it, you can make an interest sculpture.

      Whereas I prefer to do the sculpting in how I set my camera up and what I choose to photograph with it, and leave it at that.

      Yeh I know for any useful scientific evaluation you need to be rigorous and adjust only one variable at a time.

      It’s just very boring to do – and even more boring to see others present it!

      I like the photographs I look at to wow me in some other way than technical efficiency, more art over science, I guess.

  2. Sometimes looking at 100% crops of center and corners can be useful… but 99% of the time I don’t look for that, especially since primes will always be sharp enough -basically anything released by an OEM since the 60s will be.
    For zooms I might do a little more research, especially if they’re older.
    I do research pictures much more than tests – flickr, as you mentioned, is always good for research, and so is explorecams (which links a lot to 500px).

    1. I think you’re right, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a prime that didn’t deliver a decent picture. Some feel far better to use than others, but they’re all competent. I’ll check out explorecams, thanks for that. I really like how it gives possible matches as you type, like Google searches.

      1. Another thing to keep in mind – and that could be a subject to discuss all by itself – is that in the older days there was more emphasis on the purpose of a lens, rather than test numbers. For example, a lens made for portraits was purposefully softer wide open, and especially soft in the corners. So the basement testers that look for sharpness at f/1.4 wide open in the corners, label them “junk”. They are simply ignorant of how the lens was designed!
        One thing that was particularly eye-opening for me – and showed me how complex lens design actually is – was when I read the famous “Pentax papers” on the FA Limiteds design, and how much effort was put into how a person’s hair was rendered with a lens – it had to be soft, without hard edges, show natural volume and texture, and make you feel like you could reach to the printed picture with your hand and almost feel like you could touch that hair – so natural and soft – but with full definition and good sharpness all the same – was the rendering.
        This kind of thing, I think, got completely lost in current lens discussions… and is far, far more important than pixel peeping corners at 100%.

      2. Yes Chris, let’s not get started on pixel peeping and measuring lens performance. Sharpness is way overrated.

        I much prefer a far less scientific evaluation – “I just like how photographs made with this lens look”!

  3. Dishwater is the absolute worst! Give me a red brick wall any day! Lol Never spoken truer, Dan. good points, all. I really like that first frame.

    1. Jerome, f/1.9, the maximum of the Ricoh GRD III’s lens and what I usually shoot at. If you click on an image in a post it usually goes through to it in my Flickr stream where you can see more details, the EXIF etc.

  4. Sometimes when I saw those test shots in quite popular sites I thought that people commenting with passion about it almost would not see other thing that the praise to the equipment probably they already have. In other cases is a beginner mistake, the chase for specifications, which is a like a way to procrastinate from just having fun taking photos. I think that is the reason I got a Sony R1 first, so many specifications and although a good camera it took me years to accept I didn’t like much its colors.

    1. I went through a similar process with my Sony NEX 3N. Wonderfully capable, and I must have used a hundred lenses on it, across six or seven different mounts, where the tilting screen and focus peaking were great aids to manual focusing lenses.

      But ultimately the handling was rubbish, and the colours I never liked either, too cool and sterile. I got fed up spending time in LightRoom trying to warm them up and make them more natural looking.

      Now my old CCD Pentax DSLRs deliver lovely cameras straight out of camera.

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