As anyone who listened to episode 18 of our podcast heard, I was in the market for a digital camcorder this week.
I want to talk a little bit more about this and the problem of spam reviews poisoning the well for those of us who like to try and do a little research before we plonk down our money on technology, and what kind of reviews you should look for, as opposed to the ones you should avoid.
More after the jump…
So let me start by contrasting two digital equipment shopping experiences. In December of 2010 I was in the market for a new digital picture camera, and I saw on a large electronic chain’s website that they had some great sale on the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS. The price looked great, but I wanted to do my research first. I googled the model name plus “review” and found a number of sites like this one from Imaging Resource and also this one from CameraLabs.
These are the kinds of reviews you should look for. These are sites which review a wide variety of products in the same categories and price ranges and therefore can give you a detailed comparative analysis of the relative pros and cons of different products in any category and price range.
I looked at a number of similar reviews for the camera in question before deciding that, given the steep discount that was on offer at the time, it was a great investment for the money. In turn, I’ve been very happy with that camera since I got it.
Now let me contrast that with my infuriating experience in trying to buy a digital camcorder last week. I checked a number of online stores to see what models of HD digital camcorder would be available for what I was willing to invest, and came up with a number of model names for different digital camcorders. I tried (as above) to google up some reviews, but instead of getting detailed comparative reviews by experts. Instead, I found very few reviews available online for virtually any of the digital camcorders I was considering, and the ones I did find were mostly composed of fake review sites like this and this. Virtually any attempt to search online for camcorder reviews is likely to be met with the same plethora of fake review sites clogging up the first couple of pages of results.
While in my case, I simply find this annoying as I can pretty much spot the fake review sites immediately, I can see how this could be a big problem for the less savvy consumer. A quick google search on the topic of fake review sites turns out a plethora of warnings about them and how to avoid them, which I would recommend to anyone interested in further reading on the topic.
Almost as dangerous as those fake review sites are reviews left by people who bought these items on sites like Amazon.com and such. Leaving aside the big issues many such sites have had with fake reviews themselves, the larger problem is that when it comes to pieces of technology like digital camcorders those reviews are largely useless.
The problem is simple: If this is your first digital camcorder purpose, or even your first such purchase in a couple of years, you have absolutely no basis to compare the camcorder you purchased to the alternatives available in the same price-range. Reviews of products like this are only useful in a comparative sense, to help you find the best value for money. Anyone is likely to be blown away by any HD digital camera they buy if it’s their first one. They have nothing to compare it to except their 9001 year old cassette based camcorder, and any level of HD video is going to blow you away if that’s the standard you’re comparing it to.
I’m just as unqualified to give reviews in this department since I’ve never owned a camcorder at all. So while I did end up deciding on the Sony HDR CX190, I’m in no position to tell you if it is any better or worse than the alternatives out there.
All I can say about it is this: It’s been really easy to use, and if you want to see the kind of video quality it can put out, check out Episode 3 of War-Game Wednesday.
Just don’t ask me if you should buy one.
That’s Yo “When is a review not a review?” Garbage