Why Do Photo Gear Reviews Have Crappy Sample Images?


It took me many years to overcome the affliction known as gear acquisition syndrome. You see, I am a self-professed gear head, and I went through a period where I needed every new Nikon DSLR and I simply couldn’t get enough watt/seconds from a single strobe pack. Although there is no known cure, I have been able to curtail my purchasing habits, but not my voracious appetite for camera gear reviews.

A single review of the new 1D7s Mark 15 isn’t enough. I need to read them all. And while perusing the myriad of sites that offer gear-envious reviews of the newest 4K thingamajig with the phase detection hybrid focusing doodad and the retro-styled burled walnut tchotchke inspired by whatchamacallit, I couldn’t help but notice something that I’d like to run past you…

Is it me or do all gear review sites have the crappiest photos you’ve ever seen?

You know what I mean. A flower! The London Eye! The side of a building at noon!


But wait, there’s more.

Bicycles parked in a row! A glass of beer at a pub! An ethnic-looking person!


Still don’t know what I’m talking about?

A cherry blossom! The inside of a church! A statue!


Sure. Reviewing gear sounds more glamorous than it is. And sometimes with unannounced gear, the reviewer might only have a few days to mess around. There are limiting factors that prevent great photos from being produced with regularity, Allen. I accept the reality that camera gear reviewers aren’t hired for their picture taking skills. BUT COME ON PEOPLE. IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR A FEW NICE PHOTOS?

I don’t wanna go off on a rant here, but I have a few requests:

  • More than a few photographers have mentioned this “golden hour” concept to me. Now I’m no astrophysicist, but it seems like the golden hour happens not at noon when the bulk of camera review photos seem to be taken.
  • I am biased, but I like photos of people. Could we possibly have more photos of people and less flowers?
  • The backlit image of a beer glass in a bar isn’t really showing me low light capabilities. Help a brother out. Take a photo of a person in a dark corner of the bar instead.
  • If you have a $7,000 camera that shoots 14 fps, maybe you should take it to a sporting event and let us know how it goes.
  • I appreciate that you dug up an MTF chart for me. But even after reading the Wikipedia article, I still have no damn idea how it relates to a photo.
  • If the lens had trouble focusing, show me a sequence of images including the blurry ones. I get it, you nailed the focus on the statue.
  • If there’s a built-in flash, you better give a photo to remind me how crappy built-in flash can be.
  • Showing me a set of challenging situations like a backlit scene or tracking focus while running from a White Walker.
  • When you convert the image to black and white and then Silver Efex it to death, I can’t tell what I’m looking at.
  • Here’s an idea. Hire a full-time photographer to review the gear (or at least take the photos).

If you’re trying to take photos like the average unskilled consumer, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, CAMERA GEAR REVIEWER PERSON. But if you want to show me the capabilities of the gear, and (dare I say) inspire me to try/buy/step away from the computer, then serve up a few tasty photos and I will be forever grateful.

Yeah, you’re reading a post from the PhotoShelter blog, but I thought this Fuji X-T1 review (which I had nothing to do with) was nicely done by Todd Owyoung.

And before you troll on me and tell me that I’m a hater, let me remind you that I Love Photography.

About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. While not busy flossing his teeth, he has written two camera reviews in his life — on the same camera. This post originally appeared here.

  • Anomouse

    Why does this guy get free publicity and faux-credibility from Peta-Pixel when he screwed Photo-Shelter’s paying customers (photographers) on their ill-fated stock photography business? Left a bitter taste in my mouth after he obliterated a month of my work without recourse or even a credit.

  • Jordan Butters

    The words of someone who’s never been to a press event then!

    All lovely ideas but you’re often given 30 minutes or so (if that) in the middle of the day, in the middle of London, with nothing but a kit lens and a pre-production model camera. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be allowed to leave the building that the press event is in!

    I’m sure reviewers would love to be granted hours to spend overlooking a gorgeous sunrise-lit coastal scene to shoot the images for kit reviews, but that world isn’t reality.

  • Jordan Butters

    Looking at Mr Murabayashi’s two camera reviews that he’s ever written (both about the same camera) the exif data shows that he had that camera for several weeks and still only managed mediocre images himself. At least practise what you preach!

  • Armani Quintas

    When I used to shoot for a photography magazine and wrote camera and lens reviews, I would always try to coincide the test with an actual photo shoot so that the images in the review wouldn’t just look like photos of mundane things. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I don’t think the magazine once received a compliment mentioning their appreciation for the extra level of effort put in. Though it didn’t stop me from still trying to get photos as good as I could. Why go to so much effort to take boring photos if it’s possible to do something great?

  • 31stApril

    So true.Well done. Same goes for video capabilities as well.

  • eric westpheling

    Beyond the confines of a press event- if you do get access to a test camera for a few days it can be a very time consuming and a significant expense to produce a model/location/scenario shoot that would be a good thorough test of a product and produce the quality work you are requesting. A lot of review sites are operating on impossibly thin margins from advertising/affiliate programs and presumably can’t afford to do more involved tests. A site review like that operates on a paid subscription model does wonderful tests that show real informative results with informed commentary. I think the bigger message here is: you get what you pay for!

  • Bill Binns

    I read a lot of reviews as well but I really don’t care about the artistry of the sample photos. Steve at Steve’s digicams has photographed the same scenes over and over with hundreds of cameras over the years. I do want to be able to see the photos at full res, straight out of the camera. I want to see some day time exterior shots, some low light interior shots etc. I especially want to see some photos shot at different ISO settings. These are the things that are missing from many reviews.

  • Larry Angier

    The main reason for crappy photos used in reviews, IMO, is that the reviewer is into the hardware (GAS) and pixel-peeping over crafting a good photo.

    If the reviewer would simply go out with what he already has and work to create a great photo rather than piddling with a new “toy” as the latest & greatest tool for chasing pixels, his time would be better spent. The best camera is the one you already have!

    The best thing to do is use what you already have and spend your money on creating photo ops, travel, training, workshops. GAS is little more than (expensive) spending. Education and opportunity is an investment. Save your money from not buying the latest item and put it into YOU and YOU will improve. Opportunity for great photos is priceless.

    Another googaw to shoot pictures? It’s off to eBay or Craig’s list a few months later once the reality sinks in and one discovers that it is seldom the tools that creates a good, but that the vision and craft is what really does.


    They dont have any creativity. Same thing goes by camera reviews. All the same boring stuff without storytelling or something which ends up with a 2/3/4 minutes of meanles building movies.

  • jaakewilson

    if you go to photography on the net website, they have sample lens threads. I consider several lens and read the text on common issues and thoughts of the lens. better than one bias blog or website. a community opinion for you to judge.

  • Alexandra G.

    hahahahahahahahahahahahahah Thanks Allen! I’ve been saying this for a long time…if you judge a lens by the photos posted in the review you’d never buy it! hahahaha The review photos on B & H are abysmal! They really give a bad name to camera manufacturers! I emailed B & H about posting reviews done by professionals, and they gave me the “free speech” crap response! LOL

  • NickGHK

    Maybe because gear reviewers are crappy photographers?

  • Killroy™

    I agree, those that can’t either teach or review.

  • Jeffrey Howarth

    They run outside the convention center, snap a few pics and post. No mystery.

    What I like to see is portraits. Human skin is the best way to test lenses and cameras.

  • David Liang

    Get off your high horse, who the hell are you to demand or tell reviewers what to do? As a consumer if you don’t like a review don’t finish reading it. As far as putting information out there , just as you have a right to give your opinion, reviewers have a right to review in ANY WAY THEY CHOOSE.

  • Aezreth

    Truth is digital cameras have been good enough since the first 1Ds, especially for the needs of amateurs, and getting proficient with your gear is more important than having the latest and greatest. People who keep upgrading with every new model that comes out are usually only trying to fool themselves into thinking that the next camera will be the magic bullet that will allow them to take great photos. In reality though what’s stopping them is often just lack of skill, talent and motivation, none of which will be helped by spending more money on gear.

  • Sudarshan

    It is possible that the reviewers don’t get to keep camera for a few days every time. But you also make some good points. I mostly look for reviews which have photos of people along with the usual mundane objects.

    I think human skin color and clothes is a good combination to test the capabilities of camera and lens.

  • Larry Angier

    I agree with you. The 1Ds and even most P&S cameras from the early part of the century are adequate for 95% of all the “noise” created. When the D800 came out, folks flocked to purchase the new magic bullet…only to post the photos on FB, Twitter, etc. They simply wished to show-off their latest new thingy with little regards to the overkill and file bloat.

    There is no substitute for going out and shooting until the camera is so worn out it totally bricks and can no longer be fixed in creating the evocative photograph. Look at the shooters from 40-75 years ago. The sign of a great shooter was the shiny brass on his camera and lenses where the paint was totally worn off.

  • Aezreth

    Yup, never saw a talented photographer being hampered by his gear, no matter how old it was, he’d still produce great work. I’ve heard plenty of amateurs who do nothing but shoot brick walls, test charts, and their dogs, complain about their 30000$ digital backs not having enough “features” though.

  • Larry Angier

    LOL! Nothing like shooting brick walls and bitchin’ about the crappy images! I’ll buy and try like the rest but if it doesn’t fit the way I shoot, I move on. I’ll read a review to discover a global issue, but for he most part, it’s now just a matter of incrementalism for chips and glass and adding a few more confusing features never to be used.

    I tend to use what works for me despite how bad it may test. The quality of my craft and vision honed the tens of thousands of hours invested on hands-on shooting makes it possible to shoot the best image with what’s in hand.

  • Aezreth

    Funniest example I saw lately was this guy, an engineer by trade (shocker, I know), who bought a full Hasselblad V-series kit and a Phase One P45 digital back, he then proceeded to do his little silly tests and post long essays about it only to conclude that it wasn’t up to his standards. This is a guy who’s talents are limited to taking boring snapshots of his immediate surroundings mind you. Yeah, I’m sure it’s the legendary camera that’s been used by many of the best photographers of the last century to take some of our most iconic photos that’s not up to snuff buddy. It made me laugh out loud.

  • Nelson Tan

    Why bother shooting images with the reviewed gear? Ken Rockwell is doing pretty well with just equipment images!

    Just kidding. It’s not easy writing reviews. We don’t get a lot of time with the gear, and many of us have day jobs. So in reality many of us only get about two days on average to get to know the gear and try to shoot some decent images in that short time, get our facts right, paraphrase our writing, format them and upload the review (before we get criticized for reviewing “old” gear). And god forbid if the weather is not cooperating (or if there’re no sporting events when we are holding on to super telephoto lenses). There’s usually a long line of journalists and reviewers waiting for the review gear, so we really try to make the most out of that time we have before the brands ask for the gear back.

    So while I agree that it will be real groovy to capture great shots, sometimes it is not always possible to get the winning shots in just a couple of days. We try our best to represent the experience of using the camera to our readers, and that is our priority. If we manage to capture great images that convey and illustrate the points, it really helps give credibility to what we are writing, and that is what we strive towards to.

  • Oj0

    The last sentence of your post reminds me of an airshow I attended several years back where an elderly man with an old Nikon film camera made his way to the front barricade. His camera was so knackered it looked as though it may have been used as a wrecking ball, but it was quite a chuckle seeing a dozen or so L lenses parting to make way for the gent.

  • Lando

    Exactly. I’m not a reviewer, but even if I got ‘a couple of days’ to try out a new camera, it’s not like I’d be getting paid for 2 days of my time to go around looking for compelling shots. The shots at noon probably happen because the reviewer grabs it on a lunch break. And nobody’s going to bring an unfamiliar camera they just unwrapped on a paid gig, so there goes the majority of your photographic opportunities.

    Honestly, I’d rather see how something holds up in a challenging situation like noon sun, than see the most well crafted photo I can imagine.

  • Lando

    On a tight shoot deadline, I imagine most people wouldn’t reach for the unfamiliar camera/lens that just showed up in the mail. Maybe that’s just me…

  • Randy Wentzel

    Flowers and a ferris wheel – check No back lit beer though… Needs more back lit beer! haha

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    More than we need better pictures, we need to stop using “ethnic-looking” as a term to describe someone who is non-white.

  • OtterMatt

    “How To Crawl Up Your Own Ass: A Guide For Today’s Stuck-Up Photoprick”
    Lesson 1


  • Branden Frederick

    I don’t know why a review done in 30 minutes during a press event would be relevant to how I would use the camera

  • Pete

    - Boardline clickbait article title
    – Article with no substance
    – Links back to photoshelter

    Oh right, this is a paid marketing post. Nothing to see here guys, photoshelter is just trying to get you to click their links. Best thing you can do is avoid them in the future.

  • Allen Murabayashi

    you’re referring to the stock photo business that we laid to rest 5 years ago so that we wouldn’t go out of business? there was no charge to participate. what recourse or credit did you think you were entitled to?

  • Allen Murabayashi

    paid marketing post? you must know something i don’t.

  • Allen Murabayashi

    so you’re perfectly happy with the images that you generally see in camera and lens reviews?

  • Allen Murabayashi

    you can call me allen! i own that camera and i’m quite fond of my photos. but sure, i acknowledge the irony of the post, which as you might have detected was satirical in nature.

  • Anomouse

    We had to be paying members of Photo Shelter to participate and in order to properly set up our stock photo accounts meant weeks of work editing and key wording… which counts as lost time and money to anyone who’s self-employed. Your decision to shut down Photo Shelter’s stock photo operation with only 24 hours notice left us empty-handed with a financial loss. I understand that you or your company wasn’t legally obligated to pay us for our hardship ~ although a discount with other Photo Shelter services may have ameliorated some of the ill-will. Instead, we lost weeks of work and such a panic-stricken failure indicated that we couldn’t trust Photo Shelter over the long term, especially since you closed things down with minimal warning.

    So when your name is promoted in the photo industry as being some kind of photography expert, it irks me because I see you as an unethical, or at least incompetent business person who shouldn’t be garnering attention or respect.

  • Allen Murabayashi

    I appreciate your point of view, and acknowledge the time that you put in to the system that reaped limited sales. It was a very tough decision for us, and it sucked for everyone involved. I apologized then (as I do now) for the effort that you and others expended to try to make it successful, but I won’t apologize for trying. That’s what entrepreneurs do, and often we fail spectacularly.

    As a point of clarification, it is untrue that you had to be a paying member. That was never a stipulation. I believe a discount was offered for website services, but I could be mistaken.

    I personally believe an incompetent businessperson would have let the business go on until it ran out of cash and left even more photographers without a website. I believe an unethical person would have taken payment from photographer for services yet unrendered and paid off debtors and shut down the business. This has happen to more than a handful of photo-related businesses. We are still in business after 9 years.

    As far as being an expert, I would be the last person to call myself that regarding photography. I appreciate photography. I practice photography. I speak and write about aspects of the photo business, but I would never consider myself to be an expert in photography. I wrote this piece on the PhotoShelter blog, and Petapixel asked us to republish it as they have in the past.

    It was a humorous piece with some of my real feelings about sample images. It’s unfortunate that you couldn’t appreciate as such.

  • Anomouse

    Well that’s fair enough given the amount of time that’s passed and seeing that you did make PS a viable business then I am being too harsh. I appreciate your apology and I’ll move on having vented. Granted you were between a rock and hard place….

    FWIW I noticed the same thing about the camera review photos… it is amazing that photographers like Ken Rockwell or Michael Reichman can make a pretty good living from blogging about photography without (ever?) having made a compelling photo.

  • Armani Quintas

    I always had my own reliable camera equipment with me as a back up in case the test equipment wasn’t up to scratch just in case.

  • Lando

    Understood. My concern, though, would be less about reliability (any decent camera will do well in a controlled studio), and more about familiarity. If I have an hour with a client, and I’m, say, a Canon shooter, I don’t think I’d want to be fumbling with a new nikon/olympus/Panasonic

  • james

    Exactly. We are all ethnic to somehwere.

  • Jacob

    What the hell is the author talking about? Putting the carriage in front of the horse are we? What do great photographs have to do with how good a camera is? You can shoot photographs that are award winning with an iPhone. On the other hand images taking with the wrong settings, or in bad light, etc. can tell you a lot more how the camera performed vs how good the photographer is. So if you are looking for a review of a camera (and not for a review of a photographer’s skill), don’t (specifically) look for great images!