Sponsorships, free product; good intentions meeting subconscious manipulation.

No one at Apple has ever offered, or given, me a computer. They won't even let me cut in line on new release days, and yet I sing their praises whenever the subject of computer appliances arises. Olympus paid me once to be a presenter at a show. I traded long hours of speaking and showing work that I had done with cameras I purchased at retail stores for full price. In direct exchange they traded me a 14-35mm f2.0 lens for my Four Thirds camera system. End of the deal. A one time shot. From that point on I subsided back to being one of the rank and file customers; but I always get a friendly nod from the tech reps with whom I have worked.

I have borrowed gear from our local Nikon rep from time to time. She loans me fun optics because she thinks I might buy one or two if I had the chance to use them. So far I'm winning and I haven't bought any of the esoteric stuff I've tried out. But the last time I borrowed anything was back in 2006 so I'm pretty sure I'm not subconsciously feeling beholden to Nikon because of their ongoing largess.

One time a rep from Leica loaned me a 15mm f2.8 and it was kinda scary because the lens was so frantically expensive. I only used it around the house because I was afraid I might accidentally destroy it out in the wilderness and it was worth more than the car I was driving. Leica didn't get anything out of the loan because there was no such thing as blogs back when this transaction occurred and I didn't even get to brag about using it. Until now.

The same progression holds true for Leaf Systems, Phase One and Mamiya, who all sent me evaluation equipment back when they thought medium format digital equipment might make some headway in the market. I did fair evaluations of their equipment for a magazine that is now defunct, and immediately sent the equipment back to them. I was happy to test the cameras but they may have been less happy with my evaluations.

I have been invited to participate in several junkets from various camera makers while I was shooting with their gear but declined until I got invited to play with the Samsung cameras. I liked the people at the PR agency really well; they are fun and super professional. My problem was always with the cameras. In a way the Samsung cameras and I just have different personalities. It was like having me work on a computer loaded with Microsoft, Windows Eight. Try as I may I just didn't bond with them. The glass was good and some of the sensors were as good as their competitors but the whole mix didn't work for me.

I did a trip to Berlin with Samsung to shoot and write about the Samsung Galaxy NX, but I think all of us (me and the PR company) realized that the social networking leanings of that camera weren't quite in line with my personality -- which is more private and plodding. I was fine shooting the camera but hated the idea of stopping everything to spend time uploading, and social networking, the images.

I continued on but lost my enthusiasm for new product from them because I preferred the cameras I kept buying from other makers and we severed our agreement and went our separate ways. They did send me product  in a  quid pro quo but, for the most part, it didn't work out as either of us planned and all the Samsung cameras have been given away to friends and younger photographers.

I now have a new rule that I won't write about gear at all if there is any financial tie between me and the company that makes it or markets it. That means no pre-release trips to shoot a new product line in a nice locale. No acceptance of gift cameras or lenses with the idea that I will write about them and say nice things. In fact, you may have noticed that I've stopped reviewing new products in the month or so after they come out if I haven't wanted them badly enough to go to the store and buy them by giving my personal credit card a hard workout.

The problem is that any special treatment given to a reviewer immediately gives the appearance of preferential treatment that probably goes in both directions. Added to that is the fact that my sense of ethics winds me up so much that I become too heavy handed in my reviews and actually step over the line in the opposite direction by becoming too critical of the gear. Marking it down for insignificant flaws that were small potatoes in the grand scheme of a camera's design.

To be clear, none of the companies whose cameras I am currently working with had anything at all to do with my selection process and nothing at all to do with my decision to buy. No early deliveries were offered and no discounts proffered. The Olympus, Nikon and Panasonic cameras I own were all bought new, and at retail (same price for me as for you..dammit.) at Precision-Camera.com in Austin, Texas. All six cameras.

I mention this because I see all over the web that so and so is a "fanboy" and must live at Nikon or Canon's teat. I want everyone who reads one of my reviews to know that I'm tossing my money into the same pit everyone else is and those greedy bastards at Olympus, Nikon and Panasonic haven't even stepped forward to offer me a mouse pad, a pen, a promotional baseball cap or a t-shirt with their logo emblazoned in 100 point type, across the front and the back.

If I toss my money away buying a second Panasonic fz 1000 you can rest assured that I didn't get to go to Bora Bora or Tahiti for free in order to pick it up. Its passage of ownership from the store to me was not presaged or dependent on a good night's rest and dinner at a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons Hotel, avec room service. My mastery of the camera; or at least my mastery of a language to describe the virtues of a camera, were not earned over canapés at the pool in Beverly Hills or effected by shooting bikini clad super models in some coastal paradise.

I really have quite an idyllic existence here in Austin and like to think I'm harder to buy than the general forum reader presumes.

Which leads me to my next line of thought: Why do we go back again and again and read the stuff that our jet set reviewers write about cameras? How are they so magical that they can hold a camera in their hands for a week or so, totally understand its every nuance and menu item and then write about it so prolifically? If they are working photographers then where in the heck do they find the time? if they are not working photographers who've given the machines a long and sweaty workout under pressure then why do I care what they say?

There are good sites that do honest reviews. We mostly all read them. But I'm starting to get annoyed at the sites where the entire raison d'être is the uniformly gushy camera review and nothing else. Maybe these guys could spice it up a bit by writing about photographs too. Or at least the occasional ten point list about "how to convince your models to take off their shirts." To hear that the placement of X button is "about one point five millimeters too far to the left for their comfort" is......boring.


amolitor said...

'Top Ten Ways to get your model to take off her shirt'

Love it! Ultimate click bait. And I can guarantee you I'd read it. And, god help me, I'd probably buy something through an affiliate link.

Anonymous said...

You can have ethics because you've got a job. Most of the cameras reviewers I've read apparently don't, and depend on the crumbs swept from the manufacturers' tables. The only reason I read the reviews is for the specs...and since the specs have tended to even out over the past ten years or so, I don't even do that much anymore. I'm in a business (fiction writing) where reviews are seriously important, and where several then-unknown, but now best-selling authors started by creating a website, which became popular, and then using that the leverage their sales. The big publishers don't know what to do to create this viral buying response, and I suspect the big photo companies don't, either. They're hoping the reviewers do know -- so they cast their products rather haphazardly out on the waters, hoping that a fast-spreading virus results, but, it hardly ever does. In fact, the only known way to create a viral response is to give the product to some clever, but unknown young person, preferably under 19, who creates a chatty blog about cosmetics, fashion, books (and maybe cameras?) and has about a billion followers. Unfortunately, this trendy-setting young person is almost always a budding capitalist as well, and wants big bucks to hustle products. Big companies prefer to reserve the big bucks to there CEO and his/her friends, so their products don't often go viral. IMHO.


Kirk Tuck said...

I think you pretty much nailed it, JC.