Why Do Photo Gear Reviews Have Crappy Sample Images?

Why Do Photo Gear Reviews Have Crappy Sample Images?

It took me many years to overcome the affliction known as gear acquisition syndrome. You see, I am a self-professed gear head, and I went through a period where I needed every new Nikon DSLR and I simply couldn’t get enough watt/seconds from a single strobe pack. Although there is no known cure, I have been able to curtail my purchasing habits, but not my voracious appetite for camera gear reviews. A single review of the new 1D7s Mark 15 isn’t enough. I need to read them all. And while perusing the myriad of sites that offer gear-envious reviews of the newest 4K thingamajig with the phase detection hybrid focusing doodad and the retro-styled burled walnut tchotchke inspired by whatchamacallit, I couldn’t help but notice something that I’d like to run past you…

Is it me or do all gear review sites have the crappiest photos you’ve ever seen?

You know what I mean. A flower! The London Eye! The side of a building at noon!


But wait, there’s more.

Bicycles parked in a row! A glass of beer at a pub! An ethnic-looking person!


Still don’t know what I’m talking about?

A cherry blossom! The inside of a church! A statue!


Sure. Reviewing gear sounds more glamorous than it is. And sometimes with unannounced gear, the reviewer might only have a few days to mess around.  There are limiting factors that prevent great photos from being produced with regularity, Allen. I accept the reality that camera gear reviewers aren’t hired for their picture taking skills. BUT COME ON PEOPLE. IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR A FEW NICE PHOTOS?

I don’t wanna go off on a rant here, but I have a few requests:

  • More than a few photographers have mentioned this “golden hour” concept to me. Now I’m no astrophysicist, but it seems like the golden hour happens not at noon when the bulk of camera review photos seem to be taken.
  • I am biased, but I like photos of people. Could we possibly have more photos of people and less flowers?
  • The backlit image of a beer glass in a bar isn’t really showing me low light capabilities. Help a brother out. Take a photo of a person in a dark corner of the bar instead.
  • If you have a $7,000 camera that shoots 14 fps, maybe you should take it to a sporting event and let us know how it goes.
  • I appreciate that you dug up an MTF chart for me. But even after reading the Wikipedia article, I still have no damn idea how it relates to a photo.
  • If the lens had trouble focusing, show me a sequence of images including the blurry ones. I get it, you nailed the focus on the statue.
  • If there’s a built-in flash, you better give a photo to remind me how crappy built-in flash can be.
  • Showing me a set of challenging situations like a backlit scene or tracking focus while running from a White Walker.
  • When you convert the image to black and white and then Silver Efex it to death, I can’t tell what I’m looking at.
  • Here’s an idea. Hire a full-time photographer to review the gear (or at least take the photos).

If you’re trying to take photos like the average unskilled consumer, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, CAMERA GEAR REVIEWER PERSON. But if you want to show me the capabilities of the gear, and (dare I say) inspire me to try/buy/step away from the computer, then serve up a few tasty photos and I will be forever grateful.

Yeah, you’re on the PhotoShelter blog, but I thought this Fuji X-T1 review (which I had nothing to do with) was nicely done by Todd Owyoung.

And before you troll on me and tell me that I’m a hater, let me remind you that I Love Photography.


Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. While not busy flossing his teeth, he has written two camera reviews in his life – on the same camera. 


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Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 9 comments for this article
  1. Willi at 10:48 am

    Regarding the people photography I think it might be difficult to find enough people willing to have their photo quickly taken and put on the internet. Maybe coworkers, however I don’t know how photogenic they are.

    Apart from that: I absolutely agree, and this is one of the reasons why I like Steve Huff so much. I the last 1–2 years he has become a bit egomanic, throwing around hyperbole and portraying himself as one of the most important figures in the industry – but his reviews are still quite informative, with “real” real-world test shots. Rather than brick walls, flowers and photos of the harsh noon sun light (I guess they are about dynamic range) he shows photos of friends, family, city life and stuff like that. Most of them aren’t artistically noteworthy either, but at least they are genuine and acknowledging of how cameras are really used.

  2. Henry Söderlund at 12:52 pm


    I personally like the idea that reviewer would take better photographs when they get the camera for himself to mess around with and pay some attention to it. However this is utterly impossible because everyone would like to be the first tester to put the review out for customer sheeps to look at and photography industry knows this too and they generally don’t let you use the camera more than a hour or so. I recently was given a rare change to use Leica T for whopping 12 hours which isn’t enough at all. I write a small hands-on review from this experience too and I’m not too happy from the pictures either but I got the feeling of the camera far better than five minute fiddling at the demonstration event (in which I didn’t go).

    When I’m testing cameras or photographic gear I never ever publish a picture in my review that’s edited, cropped or touched in any level simply because I don’t want to give points to the manufacturers device. I’ll keep it neutral as possible. If people really don’t know how to get better pictures then they shouldn’t get those devices I give them a suggestion of what’s the starting of the image before it’s edited and possibly even ruined via editing or lack of talent. You can do miracles with post-processing if you harness the power of it. I just show you the raw diamond to start from. And I have a reason to this.

    I’m a camera salesman and photography expertise and a photographer of some sort – maybe. I personally want know my gear that I sell because I naively believe that the knowledge is the best leverage for better customer service. I don’t read reviews and I don’t look sample pictures taken with new cameras or gear. I know what’s coming but I’m trying avoid reading too much. It’s good to know what’s coming but overly hyped things isn’t good for anyone. I try these devices, when they arrive, myself and test them by myself. I make my own opinions related to cameras because I have privileged opportunity to use them much as a part of my job. Therefore I also write reviews from them based of my own personal opinion which aren’t poisoned by anything but my own mind. I like some photographic products more than other which can be seen from my reviews too but the general idea is to provide a review based on my own experience which are translated into common language. I truly hate technical jargon which mislead people to think too much of technical stuff which poison people from the fact that every single camera nowadays is really really really good. The question I’m asking does they have good enough price to quality ratio because that’s what my customers truly want to know. They’re sheeps that buy things and keep this industry going – photographers who use their cameras and want to express life visually.

    I would like that camera reviewers would give a chance to test the camera more than a week. This is enough time to actually get to know the device well enough so that you understand how it works and what you can do with it. I know that this isn’t impossible to ask but the cold fact is that camera manufacturers only make pre-production models from their camera before we can actually test the selling piece of it.

    As a camera salesmen I have always the selling product to test which I can take with me from the work and use as much I want but eventually I have to return it to the shop and look sheeps to come and touch and test it for couple minutes before buying it. Heck I think everyone should give a chance to test camera where they belong – life outside. This isn’t possible of course and it would be foolish for shops to give this kind of opportunity for their customers. But I’m still happy that I have the chance to do this because I can tell a story from the camera or gear based on my own experience with it. Sadly not all salesmen do this and I can see why. It’s simply overwhelming how much new devices come every year and most of them doesn’t get enough testing time that we could say anything based on our own experience. That’s why I write reviews based on a devices which I find interesting enough to write about. And I think that these reviews should be kept simple and easy to read. We don’t need to be the first to write a review from a device. Enjoy the device while you have it with you and use it like it would be yours that’s the way you’ll get the most of it. Give it some time and live your life with it. That’s the way I get the idea and story from the device.

    I just feel like this and I hope other photographers would feel like this too. I want that the customers would get better knowledge through my own personal experience with these devices not from marginally minimal time of using the camera. Don’t drown the sheep to technical data. It’s not for everyone it will spoil the fun of using the camera. Take those photographs or videos. Use it, learn it, ask if help is needed. By using your device you’ll start getting better result.

    And all in all – Keep it simple, silly.

    Best regards,

  3. Lee Love at 5:54 pm

    Allen the one that gets me is the photos that many camera manufacturers use as promotional images, especially Leica. Everyone photographer I know looks at many of these images and ask “Why in the world are they using this as an example of this camera, the images are awful”.

    But I also agree with your assessment of product reviews. They rarely show examples from working photographers.

  4. Thomas Geist at 4:37 pm

    Absolutely agreed! Funny that you wrote this – I’ve said the same many times over. It’s daunting.

    The all time low was some guy’s recent review of the Sony A7r with the Zeiss Otus. Likely the planet’s most frickin’ awesome camera-lens-combination … and then the photos. OMG.

    Will: concerning not enough people willing to get their picture taken – check out Robin Wong http://robinwong.blogspot.com An Olympus evangelist (and now employee) who takes beautiful and honest portraits of strangers on the street as repeatedly as others take flower pictures. (And BTW, he’s an awesome macro shooter too). So it can be done.

    One less excuse for the reviewer crowd 😉

  5. Erol Effschtopp at 6:02 pm

    Does the author seriously suggest that online or print publications who mostly pay photographers an absolute pittance (if anything) for their work, would pay a pro to take pictures as part of a review?

    There are very few serious, expert and competent reviewers. These people normally include relevant images to illustrate what they are discussing in their blogs. The bulk of mainstream reviews are merely cut and paste slap ups from manufacturers press releases and online searches. It’s easy, it’s quick and there’s no cost.

    It is up to the reader to seek out robust and reliable reviews. This is the internet. And as we all know, it is overflowing with 3rd rate, regurgitated “information”.

  6. Ranjith Jim Box at 12:03 am

    Right-on Allen! You nailed it, a universal wonderment, why the clear picture of the fuzzy idea (thank you Ansel)? It seems that the gear acquisition syndrome runs deep and our preoccupation with developing content still favors the “technical” over the “artistic” or even utilitarian qualities of photography. The beauty and sabor of photography lies in the expression of the unique and outstanding qualities of the medium not the 14fps, or autofocus this or that. These technicalities are secondary qualities that allows expression of the primary quality and should be treated as such. Let us not forget that.

    I too am continuously mystified by this breakdown. I have found succor from this focus on technicalities at the expense of expression in Ming Thien’s equipment reviews. Ming not only relates the features of the equipment to their expression in the studio or field, but would never consider the possibility of including an image of less than outstanding quality at any time for any reason. Ming, thereby demonstrates his integrity not only as a photographer but as a person, and thus speaks with authority.

    The integrity that Ming demonstrates invites his audience to stretch and contribute at a much higher level than the typical back biting shark frenzy typical of most “popular” review sites.

    Unfortunately the integrity, depth and beauty of life is being obscured and goes unrecognized and under appreciated by our modern Twitteresque hyperized world view.

    Thank you Ming, thank you. I feel your integrity and salute your unwavering dedication and effort to offer something truly exceptional and never merely adequate.



  7. Vivian B at 9:24 pm

    I agree – sample images are pretty crappy especially those with blown out highlights and harsh midday light. My guess is that the photos are crappy on purpose because photographers are sick of having their best images stolen.

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