Beware the Internet!
So if the key to avoiding the marketing hype is to keep away from all the marketing, “Who do you ask?”
Of course there are a whole range of places online that you can use to gather and compare information about a product or group of products.
In fact the internet is by far the best place to do all of your research.
The trick here is working out what the motives or driving forces that result in people or companies placing that information online are in the first place.
This is not to say it is all bad and all biased.
It just means that when Nikon or Canon tell you that their product is the most awesome thing since sliced bread… there may be an element of them serving their own interests in there!
Following you will find a rundown on the major sources of information on camera products and how to approach each one in order to get the best value out of each.
The Guy at the Camera Store
The guy at the camera store may or may not be a valuable source of information, it is almost impossible to tell.
The problem for you here is that you have no idea if he actually knows what he is talking about or does not.
A good sales person can “sound” like they know even if they don’t and you have no idea if his boss has told him to “push” some product over another because of too much stock or it is about to be replaced.
Unless you are a very well trained sales person yourself and can spot every trick in the book you may want to take it all with a pinch of salt.
Websites Run by a Manufacturer
On any website that is owned or run by a camera maker like Sony or Canon or whatever the ONLY information you want to get is pure technical information.
You DO NOT want to use these sites for anything connected to an opinion or evaluation of how good or suitable that product is.
Everything outside the realm of pure technical specifications or data will invariably be designed by the marketing department for the purpose of marketing… not the provision of information!
User to User Forums
Online forums can be an excellent place to gain insight into the suitability of a product for you or your specific needs.
In general they are great places to find out the overall mood of the owners of that product as to whether they are happy with it or not so.
You can get an idea of the user experience owners are having with the product and can uncover potential problems.
Generally speaking if you see a particular problem reported on the forum, follow the thread to see if that problem was resolved, remains unresolved or is in fact a fatal flaw.
Keep in mind that very often people go onto forums and despite the other members of the forum trying to help, fail to help themselves and simply want to sit in a corner crying about how “it doesn’t work!”
Those ones are pretty easy to spot and should be ignored.
Online Customer Reviews
For the most part online customer reviews need to be treated with a good deal of suspicion.
A person who has had a bad experience with a product is far more likely to go on to a site and vent than a person who has had a positive experience. It’s just human nature.
Think about it.
When was the last time you bought something, it worked exactly as advertised so you were prompted to immediately go online and post your positive experience there!
Apart from maintaining a clear perspective on these negative reviews it is also important to read them and ask yourself exactly what is it that the person is complaining about?
What steps did they take (other than complaining on a website) to resolve the issue and finally was the issue resolved?
Are they actually complaining on a website that could possibly resolve the problem?
Often you will find issues that were in fact resolved, yet the person is still complaining or has failed to update on the situation.
Or, another comment on the same product explains the problem and how it is no longer an issue.
In other words, read ALL the comments and customer reviews to get a balanced view on it keeping in mind there will usually be a greater ratio of negative to positive reviews.
Now you would think you were on pretty safe ground here but even in this section you have to keep in mind that nearly everyone has their own little boat to row for various reasons.
The trick here is in understanding why the review appears on a website in the first place.
You can discover this by taking a step back and looking at the overall website that the review appears on.
Don’t just do a search and go to the review.
Do a search, find the review then go to the Home page of the website in question and ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this website?”
They will all fall into two categories:
- Websites publishing reviews for the purpose of selling products or generating leads to the sale of products.
- Websites devoted to the provision of broader information on the overall subject that have as a component of their content, reviews.
The first category must be treated with greater suspicion because they are far more prone to repeating or reinforcing the existing marketing hype of the product manufacturer.
The second category can be taken more at face value because even though they also generate income from sales, they understand the value of providing a service and getting you onboard with them into the future.
This is not to say that the first category is totally useless.
But it does require that you are alert to the fact that there is a greater possibility that you are being “sold” rather than “informed.”
Once you have worked out what kind of site you are dealing with then you can go ahead the check the review.
Reviewers themselves are prone to two areas of fault that you need to be aware of as you are reading their evaluations of any product.
- They will nearly always see the product to some degree from their own point of view and evaluate each aspect of the product according to that point of view.
- They will have in mind an audience so may try discuss the product’s features and performance in what they believe to be the best interests of that audience.
This balancing act of the two points above often leads them to mark a product up or down in their eyes because of those pre-existing viewpoints.
For example I once read a review of a camcorder aimed at the “young parents” market.
The manufacturer promoted it as a kind of auto-feature rich camcorder for the point and shoot crowd.
The review I was reading mentioned that the auto features of the camcorder were excellent but marked the camcorder down in his overall assessment because it lacked advanced features and access to manual controls.
On the face of it that seems kind of reasonable until you remember at who the camcorder was aimed at.
No-one with a child EVER had the time to access manual controls on any camcorder at any time to get a shot!
If you are lucky you have time to get it out, get it switched on and start shooting before whatever it was the kids were doing has finished and they are off doing something else!
So in summary:
- Manufacturers’ Websites – raw information only, ignore the hype.
- User to User Forums – Look for unresolved problems or deal breakers, beware of those that make no effort to help themselves.
- Online Customer Reviews – Negativity is more likely, shut out the human emotion and look for facts and balanced opinions.
- Professional Reviews – Try to understand the reviewer’s viewpoint and work out who you think he is talking to and adjust your conclusions accordingly.
Next in the series: Video Camera Types