I’m pretty active and knowledgeable about polishing and waxing cars, and I notice a parallel in the auto detailing world that there are lots of people intimidated by the process, products or equipment who are seeking help. What they often get can make things worse: conflicting information, “experts” who give out incorrect information and generally more opinions that facts. I try to help the people I can in the detailing world with simple, fact-based information and guidance, and help.
So as an enthusiast photographer, someone looking to expand my skills and knowledge and acquire the best gear for the money, where do I turn? If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’m a fan of Scott Kelby. His books are an excellent place for photographers using the “Auto” setting to get away from it completely. His website is pretty useful sometimes, too. I’ve debated about subscribing to his Kelby Training site – it is $199 a year (~$17 a month) or $24.95 for a single month. Over the holidays I’ll take advantage of the 24-hour free trial and report back. I have every expectation it will be very useful. Honestly, $14.99/month or $149 a year would make it a no-brainer, but that looks stupid even as I type it – there aren’t many $50 things that improve your photography much. The books I referenced in “Breaking Through the Wall” are a terrific place to start.
On-line forums can be useful, too – Nikonians and FredMiranda.com have both been great. Dpreview.com is just too chaotic, and frankly their forum software is hard to use/follow. The key in the forums is to follow a few regularly, see if they are giving you something useful, and figure out who the useful experts are and identify the blowhards, too. That will take some time, but will be worth the patience. It will also give you a feel for how to write your posts/questions for the best responses.
For hardware reviews, I think there are 3 main sites – dpreview.com, bythom.com and kenrockwell.com are all really useful. You’ll find Thom is opinionated, a little cranky but very consistent and dependable with his reviews and guidance. Some people don’t like him, and reviews have a lot of opinion in them, but he strikes me as a very balanced guy, and I like reading his stuff. dpreview has a very technical approach, but it is easily the best site to see what the bodies can do and compare them to others. They are extremely thorough, and though they are more “fact” than “opinion”, sometimes it is a little hard to tell which is which – an occasional opinion gets thrown in amongst a lot facts and comes off stated as fact, but I suppose that is difficult to avoid. As I mentioned in my previous post, you can get some idea of head-to-head specs of cameras at SnapSort. Just remember that specs don’t tell the whole story, and some aren’t represented at all.
Then there is Ken Rockwell. A lot of folks in the photography community hate him, and it is easy to see why. He has a healthy opinion of himself, he states opinions as if he is a god of the photography pantheon and tends to have a controversial way to putting things. I’m an odd mixture of technical and non-technical, but there are times when he’s stating things as fact that are not only opinion, but are just plain wrong. Personally, I think his rants on RAW vs. JPEG are misleading, and they are the epitome of his arrogant style. To read through his site, I have to put a filter on or I get annoyed. He’s shouty, egotistic and generally kind of an ass. He’s also a cheerleader – you’ll have to learn to ignore all the “world’s best” and “best such-and such in history” blurbs, since he seems to throw these around with abandon and at times even in conflict with each other. But his site can be really useful. It does a terrific job of indexing the features and settings for lenses and cameras, and giving some comparison to the previous generations, etc. It is a site absolutely worth your time, if you can stand it long enough.
YouTube is another resource I’ve found useful, but it is also a place of high chaos. I haven’t found one that is consistently good. Jared Polin has some interesting and funny stuff, but boy does he need an editor! I’m not sure I have a recommendation here other than to search on your topic – there will eventually be one that is useful.
So that’s how I do it – how do you get your information and how happy are you with it?