Ken Rockwell

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Ridge08, Feb 3, 2009.

  1. Ridge08 macrumors member

    Feb 2, 2009
    Seems like a controversial guy! What`s all the fuss about? Does anyone like him?

    I`m mostly writing because, as a beginner who wants to get better, I`ve been reading a lot on the net. Ken Rockwell`s site is one of the first I came across and I`ve read a lot of what he`s put up there.

    I`ll tell you why I like the site:

    1) He continually emphasizes that the camera is less important than the photographer. He warns you not to become too much of a technology fetishist. This did a lot to reassure me when I started researching on the internet a few weeks ago, only days after buying a Nikon D40 and wondering if I should`ve spent more money. It gave me more confidence to get out and take photos. He strongly stresses the importance of learning composition, which I think is really good advice for someone starting out.

    2) He talks about his own impressions based on using equipment for taking real photos. This seems sensible to me. I`ve always felt pretty clearly that he was presenting his personal opinions too.

    Of course, he also writes quite a bit about technique not being important, and even about the camera not being important. Both of those claims are patently untrue; but as I read his website, it became pretty obvious that he knows it`s not true too; and it seems to me that his point is really something more like the idea that a bad photographer with great equipment will take bad photos, whereas a good photographer with bad equipment will still take good photos.

    You can tell I`m quite sympathetic to his message, even though I have no idea if his opinions on various lenses or whatever are shared by other people in the community.

    If you disagree with the above, please tell me why!
  2. rogersmj macrumors 68020


    Sep 10, 2006
    Indianapolis, IN
    I read his stuff to get a decent real-world sense of what some of the equipment is like. He's more down-to-earth about actual use cases than many reviewers.

    That said, the one HUGE flaw he has is that he never allows for differing cases or opinions. He goes on massive diatribes about how everyone should shoot in JPG (because he shoots in JPG), and that everyone should only buy Nikon- and Canon-brand lenses (because he only buys Nikon- and Canon brand lenses), etc. There's lots of situations where if he doesn't use a certain feature on a camera, like exposure bracketing for example, then people who do use it are "weirdos" or "stupid". He doesn't test many third-party lenses, yet he calls them "garbage".

    He's a good photographer and, while he mocks gearheads, he's quite a gearhead himself, which makes him decent at reviewing stuff. Just try to extract the valuable information from his severe self-centered bias (everyone should do it like me, because I'm awesome, there's not possibly any other way to do it) and his site is fine to read. Newbies have to watch out though, I was suckered by some of his statements when I was first starting out -- like for awhile I believed him that there were no good third-party lenses.
  3. leighonigar macrumors 6502a

    May 5, 2007
    A lot of people go mad over him, and, IMO they're missing the point. It's not a super-serious site all the time and some of the stuff on there is kind of bunk, but in general it's an entertaining read that does more good than harm. If only in the sense that you can sit there going 'oh, no, no, no... Ken, KEN!'

    Keep your brain ticking and you can pick up the good bits while chucking the bad. It really is the photographer, as he says. He's also pretty clear that he knows he's a mediocre photographer at best (artistically), but he still has respect for real artists, even if he's not always sure who they are.

    He's a hell of a laugh.

    Edit: Forgot to say, what I really like is that he makes all his money from people buying gear off the back of his reviews and yes he spends half of his time saying 'it doesn't matter'. It's genius. Personally I'm getting back into the olympus trip -
  4. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    Some people have a strong dislike of him. Although I do think he has a few good points: (i) Don't overestimate the importance of `noise curves' and `corner sharpness.' (ii) You take the photo, not your gear. `Gear is overrated.'

    That's good advice to some noobs who are concerned, because the newly released Nikon D90 has better noise behavior than their beloved Canon 450D, they have made a big mistake and should return the camera first thing in the morning. So I have to disagree with you and say that in many ways, the camera is not important (unless it really limits you -- which is less and less of a case these days).

    Some of his opinions can be rather controversial, one cited example is the `pointlessness of shooting RAW.' His latest piece on that topic starts with
    In my opinion at least, he makes a good point: many amateurs shoot RAW, because `they're afraid to lose something, it's just safer.' I do not agree with the point he makes later on, namely that shooting RAW is a waste of time and space for him and that most people shouldn't shoot in RAW.

    However, later on, he makes a few good points later on if you assume his audience to be noobs/amateurs (e. g. people who don't know what RAW is should probably use jpg).

    This is just an example, but I find some of his advice very reasonable if you make the assumption on the target audience. If you read his opinions with an open mind and ask yourself critically if that makes sense to you. Also, many other sites have a different target audience in mind, so if you were to check a website aimed at professionals whether you should shoot RAW or not, then the answer is simply `yes' these days (unless you have a good reason not to). However, the advice is probably not adressed at the group you're in.

    Some people also don't like his photographic work. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. I find his work is nothing special, some good, some not so good. But he certainly is a commercial photographer (as he makes a living of photography, last but not least with his website).

    I think he makes a lot more sense, if you extract `the spirit' of his advice rather than taking it literally. He makes tests where he shows that a simple $200 P&S takes approximately as good a picture as his Canon 5D with $2k lens on it. Then he makes tests on corner sharpness and noise behavior. If you think of the spirit of the advice, namely that many people think they can't take decent pictures, because they don't have equipment xyz, he's absolutely right. And that specifications and test results of equipment are overrated these days. If you've taken a good photo nobody (except for another photographer who sees that you've done something special) will ask: was this shot with a Canon or Nikon?
  5. drlunanerd macrumors 68000


    Feb 14, 2004
    Really? Last time I read any of his stuff then saw his photos I came away with the impression he was overstating his talents somewhat, and I think that's his Achilles' heel. If you bang on and on about how your technique is great then you better have some stunning work to back it up with.
    His blogging is full of contradiction, hypocrisy and sometimes awful patronisation. As his site is a revenue-generator for him I'd expect a bit more rigor in this sense, because self-labelling his site as "a joke" "not to be taken seriously" is clearly a cop-out to justify him to continue writing sloppily.
    His technical information on gear can be useful though.
  6. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    Ken Rockwell talks a lot of sense IMO. Fretting about photo gear is playing the game the manufacturers want you to play. They want you to be paranoid and spendthrift. So some of Ken's messages can be a welcome antidote to this techno-nonsense.
  7. leighonigar macrumors 6502a

    May 5, 2007
    Technique is not the same as 'vision' his technique is fine. He knows how to use a camera, he's just not very creative. It's the art bit he's missing. I can't remember exactly when it was but a while ago I checked his new updates page and he had linked to some photographs that a woman had taken on holiday with just a 50mm, after borrowing the camera from her boyfriend. He said something like 'I've been shooting for years and my photos aren't as good as this, she's got vision and I lack it'.

    It's surprisingly hard to be a one-man-band, write enough to keep people interested and the site therefore making money and maintain rigour. I don't think it's always possible, and I also think that there is a niche for something a bit more light hearted. Ken fills it, and I think that's good.
  8. drlunanerd macrumors 68000


    Feb 14, 2004
    And paradoxically, as a previous poster has pointed out, is how he makes his referral income. The majority of his site is about camera gear.

    Conspiracy theory: the newbie who started this thread is actually Ken himself, drumming up interest in his site (credit-crunch is hitting him) :D
  9. Cliff3 macrumors 68000


    Nov 2, 2007
    SF Bay Area
    Too many of his equipment related opinions are made without having had the benefit of actually using the equipment in question. That calls his integrity as a reviewer into question.

    Ken Rockwell is opinionated and entertaining and occasionally, probably through sheer dumb luck, informative. There are other, more level-headed resources out there on the web for information. They're linked in the sticky at the top of the forum.
  10. drlunanerd macrumors 68000


    Feb 14, 2004
    Fair enough. But it really isn't that light-hearted, he takes himself quite seriously between the lines, and sometimes on them; he was slagging some other reviewer off the last time I frequented his site and that put me off. Whatever though, live and let live, as the previous post reminds us there are lots of arguably better resources out there.
  11. Ridge08 thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 2, 2009
    Thanks for the opinions, everyone!

    Especially like the remarks that he talks about gear being unimportant but devotes most of his site to writing about gear, and even makes money by linking to dealers.


    Cliff3, I glanced at that thread earlier. Following those links is on my to-do list.
  12. H2Ockey macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2008
    If you read anything on his site with two things in mind:
    1)It is all one persons opinion
    2)No different than asking a question here, except there is no contrary point of view
    you will be just fine.

    He's found a way to make money with photography even if not in the traditional sense. His opinions are no more off base than many other experienced professional photographers who frequent Digital Photography forums. Just remember to look for more opinions than just his. Yes there are better reviewers out there and more respected sites, like Thom Hogan; but he is just giving his opinion as well and is still disagreed with at times.

    Ken is just one more opinion out there to read when researching something.

    OH and one thing he does have right even if it was just another way to get money making links on his site.
    If you see a camera package listed significantly cheaper than B&H or Adorama beware its probably a scam. Holy cow, there is another one of these just popped up...
  13. Ryan1524 macrumors 68000


    Apr 9, 2003
    Canada GTA
    I agree with a lot of the things he says. However, as mentioned before, there are things you need to take with a grain of salt. Especially his more 'opinion' based articles. His camera and lens reviews are very solid and informative. I followed his advice on getting the Tokina 11-16mm (3rd party lens) which he praised to no end, and I am absolutely in love with it after trying it out.

    I completely agree with his school that the gear does NOT make the photographer. It helps, but a truly talented photographer should be able to extract amazing shots out of a cheap point & shoot. This is exactly why I'm constantly delaying upgrading from my D70s. And I find myself working harder on composition and manually doing exposure calculations or focusing (cause my camera is sometimes not fast enough in busy moments) This gives me a better sense of light and exposure settings.
  14. pdxflint macrumors 68020


    Aug 25, 2006
    Oregon coast
    I don't read Rockwell that often, or Hogan... mainly read DPReview when I want the techical goods on a camera/lens... but, I completely see how easy it is to get all geeky about which camera is best, etc. etc. I spent more time than probably was necessary researching cheap digicams, since I wanted one for my pocket and one for my girlfriend. I kept analyzing, researching tech stats, etc. until I was sick of it. I just narrowed it down to two, and went out and bought one of each.

    Since then, I've learned so much more about what really matters, at least to me, when it comes to these technology choices. Most of them will take generally decent images, and all will produce really bad ones. It's all about the real world, and how you use the tool. How easy can you work quickly? How possible is it to apply some creative adjustments when needed for tricky lighting? How does the thing feel in your hand? Do you find yourself pulling it out and using it a lot, or the opposite? Are the modes easy to switch quickly when you're reacting quickly to a situation? Exposure compensation quick to adjust? These are all things most serious technical reviews probably won't answer the same way a more down-to-earth user review might, or spending some serious time with the camera.

    That's what I like about Rockwell's real world opinions. I might not share them, but I appreciate them. It's too easy to get carried away with pixels and resolution, brand name, etc., while ignoring the things that might have a greater effect on the picture quality you can, or will be more likely to obtain, with a particular camera/lens.
  15. Nicholie macrumors regular

    Jul 6, 2008
    Huntsville, Al
    Its a website with one guys opinion on it. If ya don't like, don't read it and do whatever suits ya. It really is that easy.
  16. thunng8 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 8, 2006
    And he has a thing against Sony. He never ever reports anything to do with Sony products even though they have released some important products recently like the A900. In his world, Sony does not exist.
  17. jbernie macrumors 6502a


    Nov 25, 2005
    Denver, CO
    The simple way to look at this part is this. Give a rank newbie a Canon 1DsMarkIII and all the L lenses in the world and they will still be able to take really bad photos.

    Give a pro a Rebel XS with basic kit lenses and they will still figure out how to take top quality pics they can sell for profit assuming you aren't asking them to do something beyond the capability of the camera.

    At some point the two cross over where no matter how good you are the equipment cant cope and no batter how bad you are you will still eventually nail some shots so good that people think you are a pro.

    It doesn't matter how good your tools are, if you do not know how to use them or make the most of them then their capabilities are wasted on you.
  18. Ridge08 thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 2, 2009
    I did find it quite noticeable that he has a strong preference for Canon and Nikon lenses (and fairly often dismisses the competition). Interesting that many other people like those lenses and sometimes (often?) even prefer them to the Nikons and Canons.

    I`m currently using the 18-55mm lens that came with my D40. I`m taking Rockwell`s advice on really getting to know that one before rushing out to buy more equipment.

    It`s nice to learn about all these other sites I can take a look at when I`m really thinking about buying another lens though!
  19. AlexH macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2006
    It's a fun, casual photography site featuring one man's opinion. I read it.
  20. sonor macrumors 6502

    Jan 15, 2008
    London, UK
    I used go to his site quite often and would stay around for a while...he can be quite entertaining...but before long he tends to say something unbelievably stupid, so I don't bother much now. If you don't take him too seriously, or regard him as anything of an authority, then I suppose he's fairly harmless and occasionally useful. Just ignore everything he says about tripods, raw vs jpegs, dslr vs medium format, colour settings...
  21. wheelhot macrumors 68020

    Nov 23, 2007
    KenRockwell do give some good advice and tips but do yourself a favor and ignore his personal opinions cause he tend to be very biased and anything that he dont like is considered stupid, pointless and etc. etc. etc.

    Eventhough he says he owns both Nikon and Canon system, he is biased towards the Nikon system to no end, heck when he created a review for some of Canon system he enlarged the image not to 100% but to 107% something like that (I read it somewhere, get many people angry and fed up with him). Heck he seem cannot get used to how a Canon body works, he expect both Nikon and Canon body is to work the same, FYI Nikon and Canon are 2 companies which compete each other, there is no way they will copy 1 or another camera body system (how it functions).
  22. rogersmj macrumors 68020


    Sep 10, 2006
    Indianapolis, IN
    It depends on the lens. Some of the third-party lenses from Sigma and Tamron and Tokina a very highly regarded, while some aren't really that great. The Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, for example, is loved by many for its great performance at less than half the cost of the Nikon equivalent. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 HSM is favored by quite a few people as well. The one thing that holds true about the first-party (Nikon, Canon) over third party lenses tends to be quality control. It's exceedingly rare to get a bad copy of a Nikon or Canon lens, while it tends to happen more often (that doesn't mean a lot, necessarily, just more often) with the others. That said, for the often substantial cost savings, most people are willing to put up with the slight chance of having to send a third-party lens back to get recalibrated or replaced.

    That is definitely sound advice. I've spent a little over a year with my D40 kit, and now I'm upgrading because I know what I want out of my gear. I bought a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 prime for low-light shooting, and a D90 body is on the way. I'm holding onto my 18-55mm kit and 55-200mm VR for now, but the next lens purchases will be the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 D ED (about $700-$800; this is one example where it doesn't make much sense to purchase the third-party options because they're not going to save you money and that Nikon is excellent), and then later the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 I mentioned above. After a year of shooting, I knew what I should spend my money on and in what order or priority.
  23. chocolaterabbit macrumors regular

    Nov 2, 2008
    That's pretty nasty. i did not know that. Maybe i should be even more careful of his comparisons next time.
  24. OceanView macrumors 65816

    Sep 16, 2005
    He's an idiot.
    He makes controversy so that people will get upset.
    He even admits it on his website.
  25. jaseone macrumors 65816


    Nov 7, 2004
    Houston, USA
    So does that make him the idiot or the person that gets upset? ;)

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