PetaPixel

Rumor Has It: On the Rumor Mill and the Photo Industry

leaked

Rumors, leaks, and sneak peaks dominate headlines in photo gear news. More often than not, the appearance, specs and even price of a new piece of gear (this applies particularly to cameras) is known well before its manufacturer announces it themselves — a fact that should come as no surprise to frequent PetaPixel readers.

Just to point to some recent examples, the Nikon DF, the Sony A7, the Pentax K3, the Panasonic GM1, the Nikon D610, the Olympus OM-D E-M1, the Sony QX Series, the Sony A3000, and the Panasonic Gx7 were all revealed to the public first through leaks rather than official press releases. That’s just since July, and the list goes on and on the further back into the past you go.

Leaked press images of the Sony QX series lens cameras.

Leaked press images of the Sony QX series lens cameras.

In addition, the network of organizations and websites dedicated to the proliferation of rumors is massive, bigger even than regular consumers of this media might suspect. You can bet there’s a dedicated rumor aggregation website for each and every camera manufacturer (from Leica to Fujifilm), and many dedicated to specific lens mountsform factors and non-camera gear.

It’s true that some of these are owned and operated by the same group, but then there’s also multiple groups dedicated to some of the bigger brand names (see Canon Rumors and CanonWatch). Plus, there’s another handful of sites whose focus spans across the entire industry, like Photo Rumors, NEWCAMERA, and Cameraegg. That doesn’t even take into account the large number of blogs and news outlets that often publish the findings reported by these various rumor-centric sites.

As many as there are, all of these outfits still seem to get plenty of attention if the number of Twitter followers they have is any indicator (although that’s far from a perfect metric). Between the two of them, Canon Rumors and Nikon Rumors have amassed more than a hundred thousand followers.

The voracity with which even the smallest gear rumors are consumed is also often surprising. Last month sonyalpharumors released a blurry, pixelated image of just the top half of the Sony A7 a few days before it was officially announced, and the article garnered over a thousand recommendations on Facebook and nearly six hundred comments.

a7blurry

This isn’t unique to the photo industry. There are rumor sites for Apple products and Windows Products and plenty of other gadgets. But the sheer breadth of blogs focused on very specific lines of products and brands distinguishes the photo industry’s rumor mill from many other similar markets.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rumors aren’t the most reliable form of news, but many of the rumor sites mentioned so far do a good job of noting which rumors should be trusted and which should not. Canon Rumors, for example, uses a four tier reliability rating (CR0 – CR3) for its sources.

Sure, there are some hiccups every once in a while — I talked about the unfounded rumors that swirled before the release of the Leica X Vario in my last article — but the trustworthy wheat normally separates from the untrustworthy chaff pretty well.

So, this observation being made, what’s the takeaway? The takeaway is this: The eagerness with which photographers and photography enthusiasts devour the hottest gossip is another strong indicator of the emphasis these communities place on gear.

Some might call this criticism: plenty of photographers (like Olivier Duong) have expressed worry that the fetishization of cameras and lenses pulls one’s attention away from the art and practice of photography. Perhaps there’s some truth there. But one man’s gear fetishist is another’s gear aficionado who pays attention to the rumor mill whether or not they intend to buy anything anytime soon.

A leaked Canon EOS 70D spec sheet from earlier this year.

A leaked Canon EOS 70D spec sheet from earlier this year.

The real beneficiaries of this rumor distribution infrastructure are the gear manufacturers. It really is an advertising executive’s dream: a healthy chunk of your customers seek the smallest crumbs of information and propagate them to like-minded people.

I would find it surprising if there weren’t many cases in which manufacturers are actually willingly leaking information to help build buzz. Let me be clear, I have no inside connection or secret source with which to confirm this suspicion, but it’s hard to ignore the frequency with which certain patterns repeat themselves.

For example, there’s a pretty strong trend of high-resolution press images of cameras appearing in the 48 hours before the camera is to be announced. Perhaps that’s just evidence of the difficulty of maintaining secrecy while trying to launch a high-interest product over multiple continents, but I doubt many manufacturers are complaining about the popularity of the articles that cover these leaks.

Whether you like it or not, photo gear news is dominated by rumors and leaks. This works out pretty well for camera manufacturers, it works out pretty well for the websites dedicated to hunting down and publishing them and, judging by their popularity amongst photography enthusiasts, it’s also working out pretty well for readers.


 
  • Carl Meyer

    Nikon Df promotional material was available to many people prior to the release of even the first video so no need for conspiracies just human behavior.

  • Anonymous Prime

    The design, manufacturing and launch of any product especially from bigger companies involves many persons. In this day and age of Tweeter, Facebook, Gmail, Instagram and smart phones, it is really difficult to keep everything entirely under wraps.

    Just ask the NSA.

  • Wayne

    Any unreleased camera is already in the hands of any photography reviewer with a substantial following well before the release date. I assume they sign a confidentiality agreement, but the moment of the release, hands on video reviews appear, yet everyone is still spouts conspiracy theories about the leaks.

    The popularity of rumours and leaks is due to the fact that most amateur photographers and hobbyists obsess over gear with the assumption it will make their photos better, once they realise this is not true, the next most common step is to increase gear obsession and knowledge, because it is far easier to memorise every feature of every camera and argue about it on forums and rumour sites, than it is to learn how to shoot great photos. All the while hoping the next camera released will be the one to make their photos good, hence the bitter slagging of every new camera when it doesn’t deliver a pro career on purchase.

  • rz67

    This is like the music/film industry. These ‘leaks’ are all intentional.

  • kacoooper

    Having set up what were (AFAIK) the original Canon (and Epson) rumour pages (2004) at Northlight Images, I note how the ‘quality’ of rumours has changed. Not the ones a few days/week before a big launch, but the longer lead time ‘what they are up to’ type ones.

    Companies information security has improved as they have taken to control leakage. Although leaks from testers do still occur, the risks from breaking increasingly enforced NDAs means that fewer people risk it – I know many of these people and now make a point of not even mentioning such stuff, particularly since I do (non camera) testing myself.

    There were signs of this long before all the myriad “xyzrumors/latest ‘deals'” rumour sites sprung up, but with their proliferation, the proportion of rumours received, even worth printing, has declined further.

    As someone who just doesn’t bother with Twitter/Facebook (heresy I know) I still see huge spikes in site visitors when there are rumours going around. Given the popularity of the site helps with my ‘real job’ as a commercial photographer, I’m happy to continue – that and I’m curious too as to what’s coming up ;-)

  • Andersen

    Well said. Sums it up pretty much.

  • Sky

    IMHO Major reason for improvement of rumors quality is informatisation. You see – 10 years ago internet wasn’t even nearly as popular as it’s now, and people who knew how to send an e-mail that cannot be traced were few – mostly IT specialists. Right now websites like SAR provide their own anonymous e-mail forms, and you can very easily find ways to send private e-mail with noone in a company looking at you.

    Yes – controlled leaks do happen, but they’re still a minority.

  • PILLA

    If you want to keep the secret just shut down the INTERNET :-O

  • kacoooper

    Rumour quality in areas I look at (Canon and large printers from any mfr.) has -not- got better. My experience says that apart from officially sanctioned leaks, the ‘quality’ has dropped. I’d note that ‘officially sanctioned’ doesn’t always imply some grand master plan, just the odd nod and wink in the PR department in a particular division/country

    There is however more of it, and anonymous forms just provide somewhere for people to make stuff up… ;-) I had one person send me tons of complete rubbish, who then got miffed that I didn’t publish it.

    10 years ago was not quite the dark age you suggest… If you’d said 20 years then yes, but then I was still using film :-)

    There is part of me that would happily wind down the rumours pages on our site, but I know that a lot of people check them, and it means that when I write articles or reviews aimed at helping people improve aspects of their photography, they get a much wider audience.

    Most people don’t need a new camera to improve their photography, just to use it more…

  • Dee

    I only know one photography website which does not publish any rumors, just official news and previews, i wish more websites or blogs do the same, there was a time when a news is a REAL news, something that is totally new and sometimes surprising, not any more.

  • Tony

    Wow! You’ve been talking 8 minutes and You said nothing. I’m out of this site.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se/ Erik Lauri Kulo

    The ‘leaks’ are never leaks. It’s just marketing.

  • kacoooper

    No, they are sometimes ‘real’ – just not nearly as often as some people assume ;-)

  • Itchyshutterfinger

    I worked on the advertising account for one of the big two camera manufacturers some years ago. I have never before or since signed so many non disclosure agreements. They were so stringent that I’m still bound by them today. Every new camera had a code name (always an animal) and it was strictly forbidden to use anything but that name in all of our work up until the last minute. They used to start off every new product meeting with a graph that showed how many hundreds of thousands of dollars they would lose if customers got wind of a new product and as a result, decided not to buy the current model. In the week before the actual launch the product is pretty much common knowledge so leaking pics is almost definitely a PR move.