Perspective and the Value of Reviews

I’ve been eagerly waiting for Phil Hanson’s review of Canon’s PowerShot S95 and G12 compact cameras because I’d had a very close look at both cameras myself. I knew he’d do a thorough job and would bring his own unique perspectives to the review and to the site. Diversity of opinion is a very good thing when it comes to reviews and so it proved in this case.

Phil preferred the G12 over the S95 by a sizable margin, where I not only declared the S95 my Camera of the Year in a local technology magazine after giving it a rave review in another title, I bought one for my own use, picking it over the G12.

Read my review and commentary on the S95 and you’d likely be sold, because for my own purposes, it’s a dynamite camera. Read Phil’s excellent review on the other hand and you’d probably be thinking that the G12 is the better option. This just goes to reinforce a message I’ve tried to put across a number of times over the years – the only reviewer that matters is the one who’s going to be using the unit in question. Relying one hundred percent on the opinion of some bloke writing on a website or in a magazine is a mistake. Reviews should be the starting point, not the be all and end all.

If at all possible, go and take a look and/or listen to the equipment you’re interested in. That’s the joy of buying from a nearby brick and mortar operation, they should have a demo unit in store for you to try. If not, ask them to get one for you. With AV gear, you may even be able to borrow the kit to try it in your own system (get to know your local hi-fi dealer and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what will happen).

If you’re taking a punt by buying online or by personally importing gear, then you’re out on a precarious ledge all by yourself. Your best bet is to look for the consensus of opinion. Read every review you can, check out online forums and ask questions if you can find someone online who actually owns one. The more you know, the greater the chance that you won’t be buying a lemon.

It’s easier with camera gear for example, a lens that virtually everyone says is sharp is likely to be sharp and to give good results on your camera. The same goes for computers and accessories – heaps of good reviews that highlight things you’ll like are a good sign. Hi-fi equipment on the other hand is always a gamble – witness the Audiolab 8200CD CD player that Gary Pearce made his product of the year for 2010. One of the site/forum regulars bought one for himself and declared it one of the best digital sources that he’s ever owned but the same unit in Gary Steel’s system isn’t a patch on his old Philips CD player.

The morals of the story?

1.Try before you buy if at all possible.

2.A single review doesn’t add up to much.

3.System synergy is real and it will bite you on the butt given half a chance.

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