The difficulty of reviewing camera gear and why I have started to do more again

I get asked to review a lot of gear. This isn’t new but it has become more frequent the past year or so. When I first started reviewing gear in 2008 with the Sony EX3 it was a very different landscape for this sort of thing. People did written reviews of gear mostly but almost nobody did video reviews. This first one was very simple and over the years many of them have been very in-depth, intricate and with increased production value. These were squeezed in around my work and to be honest were quite useful for my online profile, but mostly I did them as I really enjoyed them. These days camera and gear reviews are ALL OVER YouTube, dozens and dozens of them for every possible piece of gear. To stand out amongst the crowd is very hard.

In 2015 I said that I was done with camera reviews, this was nothing to do with how YouTube had changed things, in fact in 2015 it was still a couple of years away from really exploding. I decided this due to my Sony FS7 review taking far too many weeks to make. I don’t regret the time spent and the end result is still up there with my favourite reviews, the weeks of work on it though were far too exhausting. My favourite review is still the one I did for the Sony A7s, made in 2014, which probably had even more work put into in. I just loved everything about it. It was the last “video shooting stills camera” review (not written but video) that I made until last week. When I realised this I knew I had to fix that. There have been so many amazing cameras since then that I really should have done a review on. The GH5, A7RIII, Fuji XH-1, and XT-3 to name just a few. It is not as if my reviews are needed as such with so many out there, I just missed making them. They are actually a fun and creative outlet for me, even though I really hate filming myself on camera, mainly due to having to watch and listen to myself for weeks on end whilst editing. TORTURE!

Video cameras I still covered occasionally (the Blackmagic URSA mini 4.6K and Canon C200 were much shorter vloggy style reviews) but it took until December 2017 for me to do a proper in-depth one again and that was for the Panasonic EVA-1. I followed that with the Kinefinity TERRA 4K. Both were well received but exhausting to make.

I have fallen very behind again though with many cameras that I have, need and want to review, basically the Kinefinity MAVO LF, the Z-Cam E2 and the Blackmagic Pocket 4K (the latter I don’t think I will do as there really are just TOO many reviews of it already and I did a cover it sort of in my FUJI MK MFT video) The intention is always there but as I like to do these properly I just didn’t have the free time to do them. My new MZED masterclass has basically taken up most of this year for example and it is still being worked on. I take the odd shooting job here and there to give myself an edit break and I have also done a few other videos for YouTube during that, in fact probably more than usual.

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With the explosion of reviews on Youtube, the requests for reviewing gear has grown so much. Whilst it is cool to be offered free gear I am not a YouTuber but a working DP and filmmaker. I simply cannot review them all as they take too much time away from my actual work. For full-time YouTubers getting gear thrown at them is great as they need them to create content. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but getting free gear is so nice but the amount of time it takes me to make a review, depending on how in-depth I go with it, could cost me up to 20x what I could earn doing my day job.  I do earn a bit of money from my reviews from YT but we are talking a couple of hundred dollars a video as I don’t get massive numbers and to be honest, even if I got 1 million views it still wouldn’t equate to the work spent on each video. Most Youtube reviewers make their money from sponsorship rather than ad revenue. Also, most YouTubers probably spend a day or two making their reviews unlike the ridiculous amount of time I take to make mine.

At the end of the day I am just a freelancer trying to earn enough money to pay the bills. I don’t have the luxury of doing whatever I want. Things like the MZED masterclasses do bring in a monthy income which helps a lot and can give met the ability to go and make things that are important to me, like my award winning Skiathos Cats series which I made to help a cause very close to my heart. They are way more important to me than reviews. If I ever got round to collating my footage to sell for stock that would also bring in a useful income. It all comes down to not enough hours in the day or days in the week.

Affiliates is definitely a good way to bring in some extra money and I do have them in the video descriptions. They don’t bring in much but every little helps. There are affiliates below each of the new videos below so if you are interested in buying anything then I really appreciate it and it doesn’t cost you a penny more.

An example of how ridiculous I am, my action camera review was supposed to be a simple comparision. It took 2 weeks to make. TWO WEEKS FOR AN ACTION CAMERA REVIEW! The new RX100 VII review that I am sharing here took 8 days (I am really proud of that one) and that is quite quick for me! The Sony A7RIV video below took my 2 days and you can tell. It isn’t a review, it’s much more of a vlog. Could I get an editor in to cut them for them? Not really. The problem is the editing is where a lot of the “magic” happens in my reviews and as mentioned the reviews cost me money to make meaning it just isn’t a possibility to pay someone to edit.

I have to explain to anyone who wishes to send me gear all the above really. If I like the gear and find the time I will make a video. As long as they understand that I will accept something. The problem is I am just different to the other people they deal with whose full time job is making YouTube videos.  When I was at NAB I asked the Sharp maketing guy if I would be able to get the new 8K camera to test out and review. He replied “how many subscribers do you have.” Yep things are quite differnet now!

Mostly the stuff I get offered are new variations of gear I already have. New gimbals are one of the most common. Sadly the stuff that I would really like to keep I rarely do. The EVA-1 I got for a week, the C200 a weekend, the URSA mini 4.6K the same) so I do still spend far too much money on gear but I do feel lucky to still get some stuff sent to me, but just how many gimbals does one man need though?? Speaking of gimbals there is a review of the new DJI Ronin SC below. Why this one rather than others? As highly as I rated the S it was always a bit too heavy, this new one was just spot on. Plus the timing was perfect, I needed a creative break from the MZED edit so a bit of filming followed by editing something different was what I needed and this video really could be short and done quickly (ish). I also did want to review something brand new and get a review out on the day of release which would help the YouTube subscriber count. I didn’t, I took too long making it and missedf the release date by 24 hours. In the meantime about 20 reviews were already live! I would love to review the other gimbals I have and one day I just might. When the MZED edit is done and the MAVO LF and E2 videos are done maybe I will!

My most popular review in a long time was for the infamous Fran 8K. There is a reason why this was the case and of course it didn’t actually take me that long to make, just over two days in fact! You can see it and all the other reviews I am talk about down the bottom of this post.

One of the most important things for me to have in my reviews other than my opinion of the gear is a sense of humour. These are dry subjects, they absolutely need to have sometihng to break up all the tech stuff, especially the long ones!

So moving forward will I continue to do reviews? Absolutely. I still really enjoy making them. The RX100 VII review is my favourite one for years. I just need to find a balance, a way to make shorter videos but still feel like my proper reviews. I thought about breaking them down into sections but that doesn’t solve the time issue. Is sponsorship a possiblity? Maybe. Whilst I cannot be paid to make a review by that manufacturer as it is ethically unsound, taking disconnected sponsorship could work but my inability to make frequent content probably puts most of them off. Squarespace have approached many times but they are EVERYWHERE and it just feels wrong for me (my blog is Wordppress but my work site is actually Squarespace ironically)  It needs to be something way more appropriate and connected to me.

Occasionally I get hired to make videos about gear, these are not reviews, like my upcoming one for SmallHD and Gnarbox. Now there are ideal for income but they are a different beast entirely. I only make these sort of videos if I love the gear but they cannot be seen as unbiased reviews by the nature of them.

How about going full time on YouTube? I won’t lie, I have thought about it but it is something that really isn’t me. I enjoy filming documentaries so much as well as my other commercial work. I would hate to give that up to suddenly just make videos with me in them all the time. It’s fun to do them every now and then but that is not what I got into this business over 30 years ago for.  A nice balance is the only way for me; proper paid work with the occasional review. Yes, it does mean that everything I have talked about won’t change but so be it. I did try Patreon too but without the ability to do regular content it’s not workable either.

There we go, I don’t write enough blog posts any more either so it is good to rectify that. It is also good to explain a few things. I do hope you enjoy my new reviews I would ask you to spread the word about them but I feel as uncomfortable asking that as I would saying “please make sure you subscribe and hit that bell so you can be notified on when I post a new video!” I just can’t do it. Maybe my time has been and gone, a new breed of reviewers rule the roost and my desire to make something far more than just another review is not a model that works anymore. Those three words are starting to become part of my titles now, if they really are something more than a straight review they get this name!

That being said here are the three most recent reviews that I mentioned earlier with a little bit of context about them. Thanks for reading this and enjoy the videos!

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Two weeks ago I went to Dublin for a quick press trip with Sony. Whilst there they announced two new cameras. When we go to these things we never know what we are going to see until we get there, to be honest I was so hoping for an A7S III but alas almost 4 years after the A7S II came out we are still waiting…that being said the A7R IV as a stills camera is now even better! 61mp and just fantastic autofocus including the superb eye autofocus in video. The rest of the video was almost identical. No higher frame rates, no higher bit rates, still internal and external 8-bit. Whilst the video from the camera is still great this is essentially the same video we saw in the A7SII so it is in desperate need of an update.

 

AFFILIATE LINKS FOR THE SONY A7R IV

Sony A7RIV: http://bit.ly/sonya7r4

The RX100 VII was embargoed for just over a week so we couldn’t talk about that. I did get a couple of hours hands-on with the idea of making a short video. Then when I got back I was offered some more time with it. That was a fatal mistake. What was going to be a short fun video now became massive and was way more ambitious. The camera really interested me despite it still having the slower lens from the RX100 VI which was a disappointment over the previous version’s F1.8 (with a shorter lens) but this new camera finally had a mic input, better stabilisation in 4K and the eye autofocus for video just like the A7R IV. So the epic video was made over the next week:

 

AFFILIATE LINKS FOR GEAR IN THIS VIDEO

Sony RX100 VII http://bit.ly/rx100vii

Sony Filter adaptor: http://bit.ly/rx100filter

49mm Variable ND: http://bit.ly/variablend49

RODE Video Micro: http://bit.ly/rodevideomicropb

RODE Wireless Go: http://bit.ly/wirelessgorode

Canon EOS-R: http://bit.ly/pbcanoneosr

Sony A7RIV: http://bit.ly/sonya7r4

Sony A7III: https://bhpho.to/2K8R0G1

Sony A7RIII: http://bit.ly/pba7riii

Samyang 35mm F1.4: http://bit.ly/samyang35mmpb

Small Rig RX100 cage: http://bit.ly/smallrigcage

Small Rig cold shoe extension: http://bit.ly/coldshoeextension

Small Rig cold shoe: http://bit.ly/coldshoesmallrig

DJI OSMO Action http://bit.ly/djiosmoactionpb

DJI Osmo Pocket: http://bit.ly/pbosmopocket

Here is that DJI Ronin SC video I talked about. The affiliate link for it is here: http://bit.ly/roninscpb

Below are a few of my favourite reviews over the years that I have mentioned.



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