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Old Jan 25, 2007, 4:06 AM   #1
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Product Reviews – Is it a question of professional honesty ?

I am a new member. An engineer by profession. Though not new to photography, but new to digital photography. I still use my old Minolta SLR. To enter into the field of Digital Photography, recently bought a Canon (right or wrong) and am trying to decide about a decent photo printer. Been through the product reviews of various professionally acclaimed web sites like cnet, Pcmag, Pcworld, phot-i, dpreviews, pcauthority, etc, etc and also this site, for the last one month or so. Have I made my decision ? The answer is a big NO. It is not because I am a poor decision maker but because of serious disagreements among the product reviews. Is this difference of opinion a professional disagreement or is it more than that. Choosing the right printer is no more an issue. The main issue for this thread is to answer a fundamental question ‘Are we professionally honest' ? To elucidate the case I would use Photo Printers as a case in point. Towards this end, following may be interesting (I may not mention the review sites these can be found with little effort on the web):-

1. HP's Photo Smart printers 8250, D7000 series, 3110 share the same print engine, same ink cartridges, same resolution, same printing head technology. I have physically seen their prints. The are of the same quality. However, 8250 reviewed on one site equates its photo quality to high end professional photo printers whereas in another review a D7000 series printer has been degraded to the lowest quality levels.
2. Epson R210 which is a previous model of R230 and is one of the entry level printer, has been equated to high end professional printers like Canon i990 (which is a medium carriage version of i9900), whereas R230 at another web site has been grade to have average photo print quality.
c. Canon's MP810 in one review has been equated to high end professional printers wherein the wisdom of buying 6 or 8 color printers has been questioned. However on another web site the same printer and MP600 (which has the same print engine and same quality output) has been degraded to ‘grainy photo print'.
d. One web site grades Epson RX620 as Editor's Choice, whereas another website literally ridicules RX650. Both have the same print quality.

Above are only few of the many examples. Is there a need to establish a mechanism where these honorable reviewers are also evaluated for their professional competence and honesty. What could be that mechanism ?

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Old Jan 25, 2007, 10:03 AM   #2
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I think the problem is that you are an engineer and as such, numbers are hard facts. A item is 13.335 inches long, not 13.4 or 13.3. So you are used to the number being unquestionable and being able to rely on those hard number to make a decision.

Photography, however, is an art form and as such one's feelings (emotions) play an important role. Plus what I may think is wonderful and perfect, you might think completely the opposite. And neither of us might be wrong.

When a review about a photo product is written, it is written as objectively as possible, but it is also written by a person with his own personal feeling and wants and needs, and so it may reflect that to some extent. Plus, photo products must also be used by people with a very wide range of experience, expertize, skills and needs. From the long time pro to the just started amateur.

So when you read a review you need to factor in many possible points of view as to who the review is aimed at and where the reviewer is coming from. You also need to take into account your own needs and wants and evaluate the review (hence the product) as to how it will meet your needs. And trying to compare similar products from various manufacturers can be very difficult, because most products today are very good and very comparable. It usually boils down to a check list of must haves, would like to have and don't care. There may be a few no way I'll buy if....

I think most reviews I have read at the major sites are quite well written, however there are also many reviews done by sites that really are not properly qualified to be reviewing certain products. Some sites encourage users to write a review about a product. These reviews I would not take seriously. While some writers may be objective, most are not. Stick with the major sites such as this one or dpreview and the like. Take the reviews, not as gospel, but as a starting point for your own critical thinking and go from there.

That's my two cents.
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Old Jan 25, 2007, 11:25 AM   #3
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I cannot comment about printers in any way, but I have learned first hand that cameras which look identical on paper develop and unspeakable gap in performance when handled. There is more to measure in camera performance than can fit in a datasheet. Many an internet argument has started with someone sticking up for an inferior tool that is 'supposed' to do everything its professional equivilent does.
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Old Jan 25, 2007, 11:54 PM   #4
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This goes a lot to experience and what the end user wants/needs his equipment to do.

Funny, but some of the worst reviews I have ever read are those by Consumer Reports. Not because the review is necessarily wrong, but because of the way they rate the product and it's features.
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Old Jan 27, 2007, 10:49 PM   #5
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Yes, "professional" reviews can by quite frustrating. When researching autos, I have found factual errors in Consumer Reports, Consumer Guide, MSN Autos (the most egregious, where they stated that a 2003 Saturn Ion review also covered the 2006 model year, despite different transmission, interior, suspension pieces, options, etc.).

It is important to look at the target demographic when choosing which reviews to accept into your decision-making process. Publications such as Consumer Reports, PC Magazine and Cnet generally review digital cameras in such a way as to relate to a non-savvy user. Put the camera is Auto mode and click away. Advanced controls might be considered check-box items but are not really explored in-depth. When there are variances in the way a particular device can be operated, there will unfailingly be variances in the methodology of the tests.

For cameras and related equipment, I follow mostly closely Steve's, DCResource, DPReview and Megapixel.

One point about rating reviewers and credentials and the like: one of the best PC component review sites was started by a teenager, who is now a millionaire. That site is Anandtech, and it has a reputation of being honest, fair and unbiased. In the rare occurrence Anandtech makes a mistake, they 'fess up, correct the flaw and move on. On the other side you have Tom's Hardware, which despite its size and international appeal, is frequently accused of bias, sloppy journalism and commercial ambitions. I, personally, have found good information there over the years, but I have seen the deficiencies and made note of that. Tom's Hardware site was founded by a "Doctor". When Tom's Hardware is nailed for a mistake, they deny, deny, deny, then make excuses, then grudgingly 'fess up.

And finally, you can tell much about the reviewer and the publication based on vocabulary, tone and grammar. This is particularly true on the Internet, where any loudmouth can post opinions and gain a following.
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Old Jan 27, 2007, 11:43 PM   #6
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Reviews on many of the highly popular sites are done under quite a bit of time pressure (usually), and a product may get a better or worse rating simply due to the reviewer's familiarity or lack of same with similar equipment. Ease of setup, and compatibility with existing hardware may be a big factor.

Look at user forums here and on other photography related sites, and you will find people frustrated with their inability to get xxx printer to make decent colors, while others have no problem at all. I recently received an Epson R1800 as a Christmas gift (what a wife!) and after 1.: Reading the manual and 2.: making a couple test prints, I get superb results. I have seen posts by others who went through weeks of frustration with the same printer.

Too many people, reviewers included, want everything to work exactly right instantly without doing the research and work.

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