Last Updated on 06/15/2020 by Mark Beckenbach
I’m sharing my most candid thoughts on what it’s like to test cameras during the COVID-19 crisis if you’re curious.
By all means, I’ll be the first to tell you that what we do here at The Phoblographer is purely for people to escape the world and, in some ways, be opened up to more parts of it. I can tell that, by our readership, many of you come here every day to escape the news and to enjoy more of your own hobby. But at the same time, I think it’s vital to tell lots of stories as much as you feel it is to share your opinions. So today, I’m sharing how we’re testing cameras amidst COVID 19 and lots of the logistical issues involved here. Our aim is to give you a peek, so you understand just how tough a job this is, how long we spend, how almost everything is a team effort, and how things are changing. And most importantly, I’m writing this as a bit of a piece of personal therapy.
How We Normally Test Cameras (And Lenses)
The process of testing cameras is one that people misconstrue a whole lot. People look at our website’s homepage and think that we’re only about tech. But we’re honestly not. If you’ve been with us for years, you may remember a time when our artsy stuff brought in most of our traffic and dominated the website. Google’s search algorithms made us change things up. And it’s quite honestly making us change things up again with recent changes. With all this said, we’ve always tested cameras not in the way a scientist would, but instead with more of an emphasis on how photographers actually shoot. That’s been the concept of the site since Day 1.
So basically, a camera or a lens comes in, and we figure out which of the three of us it’s going to. That’s dependent on a lot of different things. We’re all skilled portrait shooters, event shooters, landscape shooters, and street shooters in one way or another. But there are finer nuances about that too. Here in NYC, I have a rule that Paul and I need to shoot three different genres in three completely different areas. And that’s why in my personal reviews, you’ll see my visits to Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Plus, I’ll try to shoot cityscapes, portraits, and something candid. We also try to do something involving some sort of studio test, which more or less just means that we’re doing something with off-camera lighting. Controlled off-camera lighting gives you some of the best results you can get with a camera.
We keep a ton of different things in mind when we test gear. And we don’t always just test for the professional: we test with the hobbyist in mind too, because let’s be honest, no one NEEDS a camera these days. Professional photographers do, but they’re probably not upgrading very often. Lenses may be a different story. But lots of folks love cameras in the same way that some folks like to mod their cars or computers, collect watches, etc. It’s a hobby, and it keeps people sane. Most of our readers are enthusiasts. That’s followed by semi-professionals that make taxable income from their photography. And the handful of pros who really read us are some of the smartest and most wonderful folks I’ve ever spoken to in this industry.
So, to summarize, we choose different locations, different genres, we need to do at least one shoot with off-camera lighting, and we figure out who is taking what based on workload and more.
How COVID-19 Has Changed Things
COVID-19 has thrown a giant wrench into things. Besides it hurting publishing, it also hurts how we test cameras. My High ISO testing has been held up because of curfews here in NYC. It’s difficult for us to go from location to location. I have a firm policy with my freelancers to never put themselves in danger. We’ve talked about it in a variety of situations, and I always do several safety checks and talks. Quite honestly, I believe very few shots in this world are worth risking your life for if you’re just a hobbyist. And that’s who mostly reads the site. Let’s be honest, you, reading this site right now, probably won’t bring your camera into something insanely crazy. Brett has considered taking his gear to photograph tornadoes. And, of course, I begged him to be super careful. Paul and I have discussed possibly shooting the protests right now here in NYC. But because of what I like to call our “skin conditions,” I’m really super cautious about this stuff. If we do it at all, we’ll most likely use zoom lenses to be careful. However, we know that some of you are thrill-seekers, and you’ll do something for the shot. But we’d personally never tell anyone to do something stupid to get the shot. It’s irresponsible. It’s not worth the potential mountain of medical bills that you’ll be under. All for what? A story? It requires rational thinking.
The biggest thing though: shooting portraits is incredibly risky right now.
So we’ve had to be more crafty. We’ve been looking at what people are doing at home to be creative and even featuring some of it in our Creating the Photograph series. We’ve been photographing food, or sometimes random stuff around our houses. At other times there is some documentary, cityscape, landscape stuff happening. But we’re all being super careful. And when it comes down to it, we’ve also seen yet another change from Google. We’ve seen artsy stories start to pick back up again. For a long time, very few artist features brought in traffic. Instead, we’ve been feeding you all gear posts because that’s what you click on and read. But we’re trying to figure out a way to bring that balance back. I’m all for leaning harder into the idea of gear and geeking out about it. But my aim with this site has always been about reminding people that there’s a reason why people do this craft professionally. So again, I’m ever considering the direction of the site based on what people read. And COVID-19 has me thinking about it still.
With all this said, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.