How I Review Gear

Howdy folks, it’s Chance. In my time building this site, I’ve reviewed nearly 60 camera bodies and lenses. I’m proud of the fact that I don’t have a super strict or clinical testing process, but I do follow a fairly consistent formula for bringing you honest, hands-on reviews (if something sucks, I’ll say it sucks).

I don’t use any sort of rating system, instead I prefer to recommend (or not recommend!) gear based on whether or not I think it would be a good fit for various types/styles of photographers. We all want different things out of our gear, and I try to design my reviews to reflect that.

To get the gear that I review, I typically buy or rent. I outright own three camera bodies (a6000, a7iii, ZV-E10) and own a decent collection of lenses. Otherwise, I get most of my stuff from Lensrentals.com. Anyways, let’s talk about how I structure and do my reviews.

me holding camera
Me testing the Tamron 20mm F2.8 (aka posing awkwardly).

How I Test Lenses

So, first up we have lenses. Lens reviews make up the vast majority of what I cover, so I’ve more or less got a system set up.

I will typically test a lens over the course of a couple weeks (sometimes a week for ultra-budget ones). I take a few trips into the city, take it on a few hikes (weather permitting) and do my best to take it on a mini roadtrip or to an event. Here is a quick summary on what I look for:

  • Build Quality (durability, longevity, weather sealing, size & weight)
  • Ergonomics (general usability, button layout, comfort to use)
  • Image Quality (sharpness, distortion, flare, etc. and bokeh)
  • Focusing (autofocus speed and accuracy, manual focus feel)
  • Conclusion (budget alternatives and who the lens is good for)

So that’s my super basic stripped-down explanation, keep reading if you want to dive deep into my nitty-gritty testing process.

Lens – Build Quality

For lens build quality I’ll just do a visual and physical check. Does it feel solid in the hand? What are the materials like? Is it super plastic-y or is there a lot of metal? I try to avoid reading other reviews first as I don’t want them to sway my opinion.

Does it have any sort of weather sealing? Typically I try to chase inclement weather when shooting with sealed/moisture resistant lenses to fully put them through their paces (needless to say, I do get insurance on my gear!).

I typically also lump size and weight under build quality. I’m a big fan of shooting with small kits, so I put size/weight high on my priority list for my reviews. I measure and weigh every lens myself to see if my own measurements deviate from manufacturer specs.

tamron 28-75mm f2.8
How is the build quality? Has the lens held up well against weather, bumps, and scrapes?

Lens – Ergonomics/Usability

Somewhat related to build quality, I also cover the general ergonomics and usability of lenses.

Do they have a physical AF/MF switch? Do you have a physical customizable button (like Sony’s focus hold buttons)? Do the focus ring and zoom ring (where applicable) rotate smoothly and accurately?

Is the lens comfortable to lug around all day long? Does it offer decent grip and does it fit in my bag? Finally, I also cover aesthetics. I’ll use an ugly lens if it’s strong, of course, but I do give bonus points to aesthetically pleasing glass!

me using sony 20mm f1.8 g
Does it feel “nice” to hold? Does it have a focus hold button or any AF/MF switches?

Lens – Image Quality

Next up, I talk about image quality. The term “image quality” is a little bit loose these days, as it covers anything from sharpness to optical flaws like distortion and whatnot.

For sharpness tests, I don’t use MTF charts or any formulaic testing. I don’t pixel peep to the extreme and if an image looks great on my giant 4k monitor, then it’s good enough for me. While I care about perfect sharpness, I feel as if many photographers can get a little too obsessive around perfection.

Next, I’ll do a series of tests for optical flaws. For distortion, I’ll take pictures of architecture (straight lines) and compare before/after distortion correction. For vignette, I’ll shoot at various F-stops and compare corner darkening.

Chromatic aberration tests are usually branches against a sunny sky or cars on bright days. I show before/after correction in post. For flare resistance I’ll shoot a few pictures directly into sun and bright artificial lights.

Finally, I cover bokeh and my opinion of it. Bokeh beauty is somewhat subjective, of course, so I typically try to get a large pool of sample images for readers to judge for themselves.

sigma 18-50 lens
How is the sharpness? Is it better at 18mm or 50mm? Does the lens handle distortion, vignette, CA and flaring well? Is the bokeh creamy?

Lens – Focusing/Other Notes

Autofocus tests tend to be pretty straightforward. Although there are duds out there, the vast majority of modern lenses offer incredibly fast and reliable autofocus. There’s usually not too much to say unless there are significant flaws (like a particular Tamron lens with loud AF…).

I make sure EyeAF and AF-C (subject tracking) are accurate and snappy, then I drop it into manual focus. While in MF, I check the accuracy of the focusing ring and judge whether or not I think it feels good. Some modern AF lenses fall flat in their “manual focus feel” so I want to make that clear to other fellow MF enthusiasts.

Finally, in this section, I’ll cover some other random notes that didn’t fit in anywhere else. This could be anything from built-in stabilization, lack of filter support, weird docks for lens customization (that’s a Samyang thing) and anything else that’s odd.

me out of focus
(oops) Is the autofocus reliable? Does EyeAF and subject tracking work well? Does manual focus actually feel good?

Lens – Conclusion/Summary

Before I round out my reviews, I almost always like to recommend alternative lens choices. Everyone has a different budget, different needs, etc. and I try to accommodate for that. For most reviews, I’ll have 2-4 alternatives at various price points and “levels” for you to consider. In some cases, where a lens is best-in-class (like the Sigma 30mm for example), sometimes I’ll have less.

Finally, I cover: who I think the lens is best for, whether I personally think it’s a good value, and if I think you (as the photographer) should buy it. Like I said, I try to consider all skill and budget levels. Beyond the conclusion, I’ll typically have a subsection with a huge dump of “extra” sample photos that didn’t make it anywhere else in the article.

How I Test Cameras

When it comes to cameras, they’re a whole different beast. Unlike a lens, I truly believe that you need to use a camera for AT LEAST a month before you can formulate any sort of cohesive opinion on it. I’ve owned my a6000 for 5 years and my a7iii for just about 1 year.

Those two have been my main “personal” cameras, but for rental/test cameras I aim for about a month of use before I write on them. Here is a shortlist of pretty much how I test and structure my camera reviews:

  • Size & Weight (measurements and weighing on scale)
  • Build Quality (materials, durability, unintentional drop tests, etc.)
  • Weather Sealing/Resistance (outdoor rain/snow tests, some intentional)
  • Ergonomics/Comfort (grip size/strength, if it’s comfortable to carry)
  • Button Layout (buttons, customizability, general usability)
  • Focus System (including tracking, EyeAF, etc. and manual focus features)
  • LCD & Viewfinder (quality, visibility in sunlight, blackout, framerate, etc.)
  • Battery Life (tests of OEM vs off-brand batteries, how to extend battery, etc.)
  • Image Quality (MP count, lowlight performance, dynamic range)
  • Video Quality (resolution, max framerate, picture profiles)
  • Video Features (mic jack, flippy screen, stabilization)
  • Ease of Use (good for beginners or is it more advanced)
  • Comparisons (vs Fuji, Canon, Nikon and other Sony bodies)
  • Conclusion (who it’s for, whether it’s worth it these days)

That’s just a summary of how I write and execute my camera reviews. There’s obviously a LOT that goes into it, and if I wrote out all my methodology, you’d be reading a wall of text 5000 words long.

How I Test Accessories

Finally, accessories are a very vague and general term, but I mean anything like: bags, microphones, flashes, etc. The testing process and my criteria are incredibly different for all of these, so it’s really hard to put an exact “formula” into words.

For microphones I’ll record in various situations (my terrible echo-y room, in the woods, by a busy road, etc.). I’ll cover their build quality, shock mounts, connection options and battery life (where applicable).

For bags, I prefer to use them for a LONG TIME before I review them. I touch on anything from comfort, to aesthetics and to, of course, how much camera gear they can actually hold.

Besides that, I’ll cover random stuff like flashes, drones, tripods, etc.

So yeah, that’s how I structure and do my reviews here. I like to take my time and make sure I have everything “right” before I put anything out to the public. For example, I recently bought a ZV-E10, but you won’t see the review for months as I want to make sure I test EVERY single aspect of it.