Why we try not to put photographers in their place17 Mar 11 02:00PM EST |
Heroditus was a Greek tourist (and some say historian) who lived around 490 to 430BC. He didn't have a camera and we can't be sure if he wore a bumbag, but he did try to describe some of the places he visited. He used a simple classification of people: if you speak Greek you are Greek, if you don't you're a Barbarian. The term Barbarian wasn't meant as an insult, it just meant everyone else.
Today marketers classify us into market segments like Gen X or Y, or in the case of people who might be thinking of buying a camera
: pro, semi-pro, enthusiast, serious, point-n-shooter or style conscious. You won't see “amateur” much, because the term implies a lack of expertise and the whole point is to ensure we identify with the label in a positive way. Ideally, we'll take the label to heart and start using it to describe ourselves, because it's much easier to sell to people who think a product has been designed especially for them.
The problem is knowing what category to fit into. So marketing firms spend a lot of time making sure we're going to feel good about the segment they think best fits our lifestyle. Of course they don't let on that these classifications are all about finding the best angle when crafting their marketing message. After all, their job is to pin us, wriggling with pleasure at finding our niche, under a label that says "easy sell" in a thousand different ways.
But being classified is not all bad. It makes decisions easy, and we can take equal pride in being dismissive of either those obsessive types who read the manual, or the simpletons who just point and shoot. It’s also a handy shortcut to getting the product we want, and we can mostly accept that it's OK to want what marketers want us to want. The real down side comes when we lose sight of the ruse and start to see the classification applying outside the marketing hype. Then we've lost control of the game.
People who take pictures have different needs in different circumstances. Limiting a camera to a narrow classification has the inherent danger of under- or over-stating its usefulness outside that grouping. Calling a camera semi-pro suggests you shouldn't or wouldn't use it as a point-n-shoot, or visa versa there's an implication that pros don't use such lowly gear. This is nonsense. A camera has one function – to capture images. If it doesn't do this well, it can't be considered a good camera. If it does, its usefulness is only limited by the circumstances and the photographer’s skill.
Almost every camera we've tested for the past 10 years has an AUTO mode or its equivalent, which means they can be used as a simple point-n-shoot camera. So we've taken Heroditus' line and limited ourselves to two classifications. Cameras for everyday use that we call Basic
– because they take pictures and have features designed to make this process easy for people who are less interested in the process than the outcome. For those who are want more control we've created a group called High-end
, which includes SLRs, some of the newer designs and even some highly featured relatively compact cameras. The groupings are broad and we test cameras within them slightly differently to reflect the different needs of the groups.
It was a comment by a user asking why we were “comparing apples with oranges” in our high-end camera test that led me to posting this explanation of how the cameras we test are divided into two reports. But regardless of category, the bottom line is always the same: a camera is a tool for taking photographs and it should do that job well.