The other day, I was perusing the web for reviews of the Sony a7R II to make sure I hadn’t missed anything before I bought it. I quickly stumbled upon Ken Rockwell’s review and said, what the heck, let’s have a look for once. And I was horrified.
Let’s back up a little: Ken Rockwell runs a website where he reviews most cameras and lenses that exist. He has very good SEO, so when you search for something, you’re pretty much bound to end up on his site. When I started out in photography, I did read articles on his website and followed some of his recommendations. I really wish I hadn’t.
Writing a rant like this is definitely not my usual style. I’ll try to keep as reasonable as possible! It is fairly long to read, so if you want the short version, go to the conclusion at the end of the article
So why is Ken Rockwell so bad for photography? It’s not a matter of what he thinks but how he presents it.
He sets a bad example
I got curious about him and went through his site and the About page. I’ve always assumed that he was either renting the gear or getting free test units from manufacturers, as some people do. But apparently no:
I don’t get free cameras as everyone presumes. I wish! I certainly never get paid for endorsements or to review anything.
I was astonished to see that he actually buys and returns all of his gear:
I’m a big returner. I’ll get all excited, buy something, write it up, and if it came from a store with a good return policy, usually I’ll realize a week later while the return period is still valid, that I’m never going to use it again. Back it goes, with their permission, of course.
So let me get this straight: he’s not paying a dime for the gear that is earning him a living, supporting his all family. Even if he’s doing this with big corporations, this is definitively not an ethical way to do business, when you can rent the gear for very affordable amounts. And it’s really bad if he’s doing it with local camera stores, as a recent Petapixel article points out.
A lot of new photographers read his website, and this is not a good example to set.
His reviews are not factual, but merely personal preferences
It’s hard to see how most of what he says is relevant. Here’s an example of what he says is missing on the a7RII:
11MP is the lowest resolution setting. I usually prefer to shoot at around 6 MP for my people pictures to allow me to process more of them faster. Even with all the junk in the menu system, it only has three resolution settings.
In 2015, being able to shoot at 6MP is not relevant for most people. Without getting into the Megapixels debate, no one buys a $3,000+ 42MP camera to shoot at 6MP.
He also puts out bold statements without any explanations or proof:
Lenses on adapters rarely work well.
If it’s true, then tell us what’s not working well, which adapters or lenses are not good. A short statement like this is an opinion, not a factual review.
To be fair, he presents a lot of facts in his reviews, but they are mostly about the camera’s specifications, which can be seen on the manufacturer’s website. His comments about the camera’s performance are not factual, and are opinions without reasoning behind them.
His opinions are very narrow-minded
He opens the a7R II review by the following statement:
The Sony A7R II is the world’s best camera for hobbyists, but DSLRs make better pictures faster for serious work.
Besides being a fairly negative opening statement, it also poses the question of what is a hobbyist? No worries, he follows with some explanations a few paragraphs down the road:
A photo hobbyist is someone who loves talking about pixels, software, apps, bit depths and especially loves playing with a zillion different brands of lenses on adapters. That’s why hobbyists and gizmo fans love this camera so much.
This sounds like an extremely small portion of the photography world. His definition is more akin to pixel-peepers, in which case this next statement is just outright false:
Most people are hobbyists and won’t notice the subtle things I do, […] but for serious work, the Sony isn’t there yet.
Saying most people are basically pixel-peepers and that a $3,000 camera is for hobbyists is not helping anyone, and is quite condescending. While he’s entitled to his opinions, in this case, they won’t help the reader assess the level of performance of the camera.
Then you get the occasional out-of-place comments that just make Ken Rockwell look bad and do not add to the review:
It feels like an old Russian camera in that everything is big and strong, but not that precise.
The A7R2 has a nice grip, but it’s too small for my American hands.
What does an old Russian camera look like and why do American have such big hands?!
Ken Rockwell lives in a different world than most of us do
Whether we like it or not, in 2015 cameras tend to have a lot of Megapixels and computers have the power to process them. It also has some applications (cropping, printing large). Apparently, Ken Rockwell only needs 6MP:
I usually prefer to shoot at around 6 MP for my people pictures to allow me to process more of them faster.
While it does not matter if you shoot at 6MP, pixel count does matter for most people:
Pixel count doesn’t matter and no one really needs ISO 102,400.
While most people do not need ISO 102,400, it usually indicates that the ISO performance of the camera is high. No camera has great ISO performance at its maximum value, but the higher the maximum value, the higher you can go without losing too much detail.
He’s also clearly misleading viewers about full-frame vs APS-C:
The real difference between the A7R II and the Sony A6000 that costs only a fraction as much comes down to controls, convenience and internal firmware options, not picture quality.
Again, no facts here. Anyone with a basic understanding of sensors can explain the benefits of having a bigger sensor. He does point out the depth of field difference but keeps saying there is no difference in image quality:
The only real difference between APS-C and full-frame cameras is that full-frame lenses are much bigger and heavier, and that APS-C has more depth of field and full-frame has less. That’s what really matters; the pictures and overall operations outside of the extra A7R II features are the same.
When he presents facts, they are often wrong or misleading
I have no problem with people using JPEG instead of RAW, as long as they know the difference. Ken is completely misleading readers, and his articles haven’t been updated in a long time.
First, he’s completely biased against RAW:
Raw is a waste of time and space, and doesn’t look any better than JPG even when you can open the files.
While, in some cases, RAW can be an issue for storage space, there is ample evidence of the quality difference, especially if you use post-processing software.
In Ken’s world, professional photographers don’t have time to use RAW:
Time is money to people who need to make money from photography. We simply don’t have the time to waste for all the files to download and then especially to wait while hundreds of raw files open up the hard way before we can see them, much less do anything with them.
How many professional photographers do you know that shoot JPEG-only? Now think about someone new to photography: upon reading this, why would you even consider RAW?
He also says that you cannot send RAW files to clients:
Because it’s not standardized, you can’t send these files to clients or anyone and expect them to open
Well, even if you shoot JPEG, would send the out-of-the-camera files, without resizing, sharpening, keywording, copyrighting? Once again, simply not representative of most professional photographers.
Again, the issue here is not whether RAW is better than JPEG. Ken Rockwell is just not presenting facts, but a version of them that suits its own opinion. By the way, here’s an excellent (though somewhat outdated) article about RAW vs JPEG by Petteri Sulonen, in which the author explores the benefits of each format and when it’s more suitable to use one or the other.
Why does it matter?
I could go through every single page of his website and try to debate everything he says, but you get the point: nothing presented on the website has any factual reasoning behind it.
You’re going to say: why getting all worked up if you’re not going to read his website anyway? Because when I first started out in photography, I read his articles and believed what he was saying for a while. Fortunately, I like experimenting and quickly found out that RAW was more suited to my needs. But others might not. New photographers might get the wrong information, buy the wrong gear because Ken Rockwell is misleading them.
He’s doing an enormous amount of work, and he should be commended for this. He does present his reviews as his opinions, but with such a large readership comes responsibility. He should be acknowledging that other points of view exist and that not presenting his opinions as facts.
If you’re a young or new photographer reading this, please read other websites like CameraLabs or DP Review. Most importantly, look at more than one source and do not take anything you read online for granted. Also remember: camera reviews always have a part of personal preference.