The Gap Between Pundits and Reality in the Photo industry
I love reading about the photography industry, whether it’s about the market, new gear or so on, it’s as much an interest for me as taking photos itself. In the industry, there is a lot of well-known pundits, whether they are from magazines, blogs or YouTube. As with everything, there are those I like and respect, and those that I don’t have much time for. But even taking that into account, over the past few months especially, I’ve noticed some real credibility issues for industry observers. Why? Let me explain...
The job of the industry observer is to..well, observe. A reviewers job is to reflect on new products and give their opinions, which should, in turn, reflect those of the readers they represent. Or at least if they’re doing their jobs, their readers should be influenced by reviews enough that it should be reflected to a degree in buying patterns. But that doesn’t really seem to be the case lately.
Towards the end of last year, Canon and Nikon launched their new full-frame mirrorless cameras, and all hell broke loose on the internet. If you believed the reviews, then the Canon camera, in particular, was a total disaster. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a poorly reviewed camera as long as I’ve been writing about photography. So Canon must have had a disastrous quarter in the market then right?
Any marketing data of the Christmas period shows Canon selling extremely well. In fact, Canon is number one in both the Mirrorless and DSLR market space. Despite all the bashing, the calls of Canon having lost their edge and so on, the company continues to outsell everyone else. The Eos M series, which was repeatedly bashed by pundits for being too little too late, was the number one mirrorless camera over the Christmas period according to multiple statistics. In the full frame space, The Eos R - possibly the worst reviewed camera of recent times, has become one of the best sellers, with only the Sony A73 beating it by a few points in the BCN rankings for December. Nikon doesn't come close despite getting much better reviews, however, to be fair, there were availability issues with Nikon during this period.
The opposite is also true. The Fuji X-T3 was probably one of the best-reviewed cameras of the November/December launch period, but after searching sales figures out of Japan, I couldn’t find it anywhere in the top 20. I spent about two hours searching for market share data on Fuji cameras, and in everything that I could find, Fuji is consistently listed in the “other” category. I also searched Amazon sales figures for the same period, and the 5-year-old Sony A6000 outsold every single Fuji camera.
Yet if you were to believe the punditry, you would think that Fuji cameras are the only camera anyone should be buying. I’m constantly being told by people leaving comments on my site that Fuji doesn’t need to compete in the Full frame space because it “dominates” the APSC market, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all, not by a long shot. This isn’t to bash Fuji - I’m a Fuji shooter myself - it’s just a reflection of the market reality once you step outside of the pundit bubble.
So just what is going on?
I really don’t know what the answer is, but I have my theories. I think that part of it is a kind of feedback loop between commentators and the wider internet. Bashing certain brands has become popular, so when reviewers are reviewing a product, I suspect that factors into it a bit. I know I do this at times and I have to stop myself. For example, I considered editing the above paragraph about Fuji out because of the inevitable emails and comments. When you get deluges of hate-mail for writing certain things you come to expect it, and subconsciously you often try to pre-empt it. I suspect that in some cases this may be part of it. I think that when a new product is launched and there is a torrent of hate on social media, reviewers can’t help but pick up on that. Professional journalists shouldn’t, but most of the camera reviews in the public eye are done by bloggers and you tubers with little or no journalistic training.
This, I think is also part of the problem. Some pundits are being given way too much credibility. Just because someone may be popular on YouTube or Instagram, doesn’t mean they are actual journalists, even if some of them call themselves that. This leads to sensational reporting aimed at gathering clicks and views rather than accurately representing or even informing the buying public. This just amplifies the echo chamber, and it adds to the aforementioned feedback loop.
The third factor is a degree of laziness. I’ve seen a lot of reviews which just repeat manufacturer talking points without calling them on it. They're letting marketing spin dictate the narrative of their reviews in some cases, and this, in turn, leads to reviews that seem more to be about what the manufacturer wants to hear, rather than being true to their audience.
Part of the reason for Canon’s success is undoubtedly brand loyalty. While many of the reviews of the EOS R touched on this, I don’t think any of them realised how significant a factor this would be. But it’s also about the way people choose a camera. Many of the reviews were heavily critical based on specs and numbers, but that’s not why the majority of people choose a specific brand or model. In most cases, people care most about the image that a camera will produce, and yet, as I pointed out at the time, this was almost an afterthought in most of the reviews. Even when it comes to image quality, I don’t think pundits quite get it either. It’s not just about specs and figures as I pointed out in a recent article. There’s also the factor of legacy for people upgrading. If people have a large investment in lenses they are more likely to choose a camera of the same brand. I also found that this isn’t given enough credence by certain reviewers as a significant factor as to why people might want a camera.
I’m sure some people will try to argue that the sales figures are biased against their chosen brand, with conspiracy theories that justify their belief (“those figures don’t really reflect the market“ etc, or that other old trope that it’s just “gearheads” who are skewing the numbers - but at the end of the day, they are the most objective picture we have. Even if some reports are skewed, the aggregate all tells the same story. While it’s absolutely important for reviewers and commentators to be true to their own opinions, if you’re writing about photography, and the industry, you should at least be somewhat in touch with what the public wants or is using. I find it kind of remarkable that so many of these so-called “influencers” seem to have relatively little influence on the overall market.
I’m not saying that reviewers shouldn’t call out bad products where they see them, or not write honest reviews, but they need to at least be aware as to what people are actually looking for when they buy a camera. You can still express reservations for a product, but you can do so in the context of what you think the market will embrace based on what does and doesn’t appeal to customers.
Otherwise, you just end up with an ever increasing credibility gap.
Cover image by Daniel Cheung via Unsplash.
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