Plugged In: Beware false reviews in savvy shopping

Redoubt Reporter photo contest

The Redoubt Reporter is holding another round of its reader-submitted photo contest, this time with the theme, “Capture the Kenai.” We’d like see your take on what makes the Kenai, the Kenai. What images say life on the Kenai Peninsula to you? Is it salmon in the Kenai River? Alpenglow on Mount Redoubt? Your favorite seasonal activity? Potholes in gravel roads during breakup? Moose poop in your garden? We want them all — the good, the bad and the ugly, as long as they speak to the unique character of this place. And as always, we’ll be looking for good photography, regardless of how “good” the subject matter might be.

The deadline to submit photos is Aug. 2, 2013. All submissions must be in high-quality digital format. Submit no more than five JPEG images by email to redoubtreporterphotos@gmail.com.

Entry rules:

1. Our theme is “Capture the Kenai.”

2. Entrants must be amateur photographers who are residents of the central Kenai Peninsula.

3. Photographs can be of any subject fitting the theme but must have been taken of the Kenai Peninsula on or after Aug. 1, 2012.

4. If you submit photographs in which people are recognizable, you must also provide us with their permission for us to publish any such photographs.

5. Please do not submit portrait photos. Do not submit photographs whose content would not be appropriate for publication in a family newspaper. Do not submit photos of illegal subject matter. All such photos will be deleted immediately without notice to you and at the sole discretion of the editor.

6. Photographers must include their name, telephone number, email address, town of residency and each photo’s date, location and description of subject matter.

7. Submitted JPEG images should be of the best possible technical quality. Good technique and technical quality are important, but originality, creativity, interesting subject matter, artistic merit and good composition are even more important.

8. By submitting photos, you agree to our publication of them in the Redoubt Reporter newspaper and on our Web site. The Redoubt Reporter will have the right of first publication of your photos. However, you will retain the copyright for all other purposes and your name will be listed if we publish any of your photos.

9. Our decisions about what’s published or selected for exhibition are final and are admittedly subjective. Space is limited, and the judging panel and editor reserve the right to choose photos at their discretion.

10. Retain your original digital files of all submitted images. We are not responsible for preserving copies of your digital images.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

User evaluations of a product strongly influence later potential purchasers. They’re a hallmark of user-driven Web 2.0. Unfortunately, some of the most persuasive user product reviews are deceptive or fraudulent.

Less than 2 percent of purchasers write online reviews. Of these, only a relatively small proportion tend to be deceptive. Highly negative reviews and comments tend to be significantly more persuasive and influential than positive comments. That’s true not only in general society but also with online reviews.

It’s a matter of real concern for anyone who takes user evaluations into account when purchasing photo and computer equipment from any source. A few years ago, an internal study by Amazon found that unemployed writers were sometimes paid a mere $5 to $10 to write lengthy, apparently sincere reviews of products as a marketing ploy. That’s flatly fraudulent.

Sometimes, fraudulent eval-uations are published with the intent to extort money from businesses whose reputation is wrongly damaged. That’s particularly common with terse, one-star Google evaluations apparently done as blanket computer-generated postings supposedly by people, often with obviously foreign names, who’ve had not even dealt with the business being trashed. I’ve seen that firsthand.

Deceptive product reviews, on the other hand, are usually not written by “rogue reviewers” who intentionally seek to extort money, boost a particular product or damage reputations for competitive benefit. Rather, a recent MIT study suggests that deceptive user evaluations are usually written by so-called “fan boys,” self-appointed “brand managers” who are emotionally involved with specific brands and try to push vendors in a desired direction.

“Fan-boy” flaming often doesn’t stop with deceptive product reviews but often extends to trashing web-published articles by highly respected photographers and technicians. In fact, a few of the better photo blogs that I periodically read refuse to publish “fan-boy” comments or, in some unfortunate instances, ceased publishing for a while because the authors felt, rightly, that the verbal abuse simply wasn’t worth it.

The MIT study, which analyzed thousands of online evaluations using sophisticated linguistic analysis, found several indicators that can help all of us sort out deceptive online user evaluations from the real thing. Because deceptive reviews are often based solely on “fan-boy” reactions to published reports rather than individual use, they show some general similarities:

  • Deceptive reviews tend to be outliers, showing one or two stars where most other reviewers rate a product with four or five stars.
  • They’re longer than most reviews for a product and the language tends to include observations unrelated to the product at hand.
  • Deceptive reviews are often not produced by verified purchasers of a product. Some vendors, such as http://www.bhphotovideo.com, check their purchase and review databases against each other and show whether the review is from a verified purchaser. Amazon generally does not. MIT studies apart, it’s common sense that a review by a verified purchaser will likely be more reliable. This is the strongest indicator of a deceptive review. It’s a good argument for buying from online merchants who verify that reviewers have actually purchased the product that they’re claiming to evaluate.
  • They’re less likely to contain specific information that can only be determined by physical use, although that’s not as good an indicator with photo equipment because most online professional reviews describe those issues in detail.
  • Deceptive and fraudulent reviews tend to use a lot of exclamation points and vivid, strongly worded language. The language tends to be less complex, using shorter words. Opinions are less balanced, lacking nuance.

It’s worth carefully scrutinizing those strongly negative reviews because they tend to influence potential purchases more than positive experience. That’s human nature, but it tends to result in distorted markets, hurting consumers through inaccurate evaluations of potentially good products and unfairly damaging commercial reputations. So, when you’re evaluating a product or a business, be aware of the indicators of fraudulent and deceptive online reviews and do your own evaluation of the purported reviewer.

Gear, reloaded

Canon digital SLR cameras are among the best-selling consumer cameras featuring interchangeable lenses. DXO, a highly reputable French company that’s the gold standard for testing and comparing cameras and lenses, recently published a list of the best-scoring lenses for Canon APS-C cameras. The list is lengthy, so I’ve limited the selections here to lenses selling for less than $1,000. That seems like a lot, and it is, but quality optics are expensive to produce. It’s usually a case of getting what you’ve paid for.

Some of the less-expensive optics are best-buys for Canon users, particularly Canon’s 40-mm f/2.8 and 50-mm f/1.8 prime lenses, and Canon’s newest 18- to 55-mm and 18- to 135-mm kit zooms. Some third-party lenses, especially newer models from Sigma, score very highly in absolute terms.

Below is my selection of those top-scoring lenses for Canon-mount cameras from all manufacturers, with the DXO resolution score in parentheses. Higher numbers represent better overall optical performance, but all listed lenses should prove satisfactory for nearly all users except, perhaps, professional users.

  • Sigma 85-mm F1A EXDG HSM Canon $969 (24).
  • Canon EF 35-mm f/2 IS USM $850 (24).
  • Sigma 35-mm Fl.4 DG HSM A Canon $899 (24).
  • Canon EF 100-mm f/2 USM $440 (21).
  • Sigma 50-mm f/1.4  EX DG HSM Canon $500 (20).
  • Canon EF 50-mm f/1.4 USM $385 (20).
  • Canon EF 35-mm f/2 $400 (18).
  • Canon EF 50-mm f/1.8 $99 (19, seriously, the best lens buy, ever).
  • Canon EF 40-mm f/2.8 $249 (18).
  • Sigma 30-mm f/1.4 DC HSM A Canon $499 (20).
  • Canon EF 85-mm f/1.8 USM $379 (18).
  • Sigma 17- to 50-mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM Canon $670 (16).
  • Sigma 70-mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro $499 (18).
  • Tamron SP IF 70- to 200-mm f/2.8 DI LD (IF) Macro $770 (15).
  • Tokina AT-X 11- to 18-mm PRO DX Canon $659 (15).
  • Sigma 17- to 70-mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM C Canon $500 (15).
  • Tokina AT-X 12- to 24-mm AF Pro DX Canon $400 (15).
  • Tamron SP 28- to 75-mm f/2.8 XR DI LD $499 (14).
  • Canon kit lenses, particularly Canon’s newest 18- to 55-mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II, free when buying a Canon dSLR camera, otherwise $178, scores nearly as well (13), as more-expensive, aftermarket zooms.
  • Tokina AT-X M35 Pro 35-mm f/2.8 macro $599 (17).
  • Tamron 17- to 50-mm f/2.8, DI II VC Canon $650 (14).
  • Sigma 50- to 150-mm f/2.8 EX DC APO HSM $469 (14). This is Sigma’s less-expensive older version. It’s not quite as sharp as Sigma’s newer OS version $999 (20), which is a very sharp telephoto zoom.
  • Canon 18- to 135-mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM $549 (newer version) (13).
  • Canon 18- to 135-mm f/3.5-5.6 IS $349 (older version) (12).

With a few exceptions, single-focal-length prime lenses tend to be noticeably sharper than zoom lenses, where versatility and convenience are more important than ultimately image quality.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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