I coincidentally stumbled across a pair of 3-5Megapixel consumer camera reviews published at almost the same time, in two quality newspapers: one in the UK’s The Independent, the other in the USA’s The New York Times. Because there are so many models available, and because some of the model numbering is different, the two reviews do not feature the same cameras. However, the differences between the reviews are striking, and disconcerting. The Independent, on re-read, sounds like repeat of the manufacturer’s info sheet, whereas The New York Times report is highly informative and critical (also including a neat summary table at the end). Consider these two excerpts of quite similar models.
Article 1: The Independent, Saturday, 11 December 2004
Section: Christmas Gifts; Sub-section: ‘A snap-happy Christmas, (p. 3)’
Author: David Phelan
Pentax Optio S5i £279.99
There’s something about the brushed metal casing of Pentax’s Optio S range which is deeply appealing. Of course, the fact that the latest, the S5i, is tiny and looks great would mean nothing if it didn’t take good pictures. However, its 5-megapixels and stack of features ensure this camer isn’t just a pretty face. Ideal for the casual user who wants great results without intensive work.
Article 2: The New York Times, Thursday, 9 December 2004
Section: Technology/Circuitsl Sub-section: ‘All This, and They Take Pictures, Too’
Author: David Pogue
PENTAX OPTIO S50
Separated at birth? That’s what you’d conclude if you saw the Casio [EX-Z40] and this fractionally thicker rival, new from Pentax, side by side. The guts are plenty different, though. The Pentax ($207) shoots five-megapixel shots, not four. And it uses two AA batteries (or a disposable CR-V3 battery), which beats special proprietary slab batteries any day. The photographic news, alas, is not so good. Dark areas of indoor shots are grainy, and even outdoor shots aren’t as sharp as they should be. There’s something going on with the camera’s screen, too: its image freezes disconcertingly when you half-press the shutter button to focus, then blacks out entirely for a second after you take the shot. (Pentax should find out who makes the Nikon’s sensational screen.)
The price difference is another annoyance, exaggerated even more by the current weakness of the dollar against the pound (in essence, US camera prices are a steal, or rather UK camera prices are a ripoff: five or six years ago a camera dealer in New York City yelled at me in when I stopped in to get a memory card for my first ever digital camera, which I had just purchased at Heathrow Airport in London. “Are you crazy?” he yelled. “Buying the camera here instead would have saved you the entire cost of your flight!”). Well, he was exaggerating a little, but you get the point.
The purpose of this posting is not to give you the reviews out of context, nor even to rave about the virtues of The New York Times, but rather to emphasize the importance of keeping your wits about when you read reviews: make sure they are really reviews, and not cheerleading support for the manufacturer’s brochures.