Saturday, July 30, 2005

Web brings amazingly useful info about digital camera choices

Back in the Seventies I was hooked on photography. My friend Mark Riordan and I had a secret darkroom in a closet in the Computer Center, set up with the assistance of our colleague Dean Franklin. Justin Kestenbaum, an MSU professor and one of the finest photographers I ever met, encouraged us.

Back then, I religiously read magazines such as Modern Photography and Popular Photography. It was sometimes suspicious how a favorable review of a camera or lens would appear next to an advertisement for same, but I read their words closely nonetheless. A couple of years ago when in the market for a digital camera, I stumbled on a Web site called Digital Photography Review. It blew me away. The site appeared to be a labor of love by a U.K. camera aficionado named Phil Askey.

Askey's reviews of digital cameras are in depth. A review in a magazine might be a few pages long. Askey isn't limited by the cost of print, so he reviews every aspect of a camera and its lenses in deep detail.

Askey is an example of a "subject matter expert" who's managed to parlay his expertise into a highly successful Web site. His site now features banner ads and ways to buy a camera after you read a review. He's affiliated with a number of retailers and I bet he is making money hand over fist through sales referrals.

I can't overstate how much deeper Askey's work is than what the magazines used to offer. And he's been doing this for years. Eventually his work will become an important history of digital photography technology. Of course, he's not alone; others try to emulate his success.

Another example of such an expert is John Beale, who covered in minute detail the features of a wonderful Sony camcorder, the TRV900. Before and after I bought that camcorder several years ago, I turned to Beale's Corner for his expertise and wisdom. Here's how he describes his site:

The Sony TRV900 is a high-end consumer MiniDV camera. Sold from 1998-2002, it has demonstrated a lasting value rare in electronics, remaining popular with both hobbyists and professionals, for its compact size and good performance. This page represents my collected knowledge about the TRV900, some other cameras, the test models, and digital video in general.
The Web enables a single person with very deep expertise in a niche topic, e.g. the Sony TRV900 -- or a particular domain, e.g. digital cameras -- to set up shop and outstrip anything a conventional publisher could offer. The end result is far better information for the disorienting consumer -- and, one hopes, monetary reward for one-man-band experts.

In the late 90s a term came into vogue: "microcontent." Recently a new term has come into fashion: "the long tail." It's plus ca change: offer unique value to your audience, whether small or large, and you win.

No comments: