Last year I was slapped by a blind man. I forget the circumstances surrounding the event but last year, Chris Gampat (a.k.a. The Phoblographer), gave me a slap. Chris was vocal about photographers giving away their work for free to Unsplash. I was aware of the controversy but, like a lot of other people, I was lazy, chose to ignore the issue, and used some Unsplash images when I was getting LLFNP up and running.
This was a particular transgression for me because in another life I was known as “The Independent Voice of Veterinary Radiology.” Part of my life work was explaining to anyone who would listen that there was (still is) a problem in my industry-where radiologists were giving away their work for less than market rate in exchange for fantasy promises of a work-life balance. I fought that battle for 15 years but recently gave up the fight after declaring the situation a lost cause. Regardless of whether or not we are losing a similar fight in photography is a story for another time but I – more than anyone – should have known better.
Anyway, getting back to our story, I think I asked Chris a question, and after he responded he proceeded to slap me sideways about the Unsplash images. He was correct and I could sense his passion for the situation. Within 24 hours, all of the Unsplash images on LLFNP were removed but I am not the hero in this story.
In the age of influencers, You Tubers, and pay to play social media stars, the real heroes are the ones who turn down opportunities, risk upsetting other people, and speak up for what they believe in even if the consequences come at the expense of their own financial well being. I have reason to believe that Chris belongs in that group. Moreover, it is rare to find someone who still understands that long-term success almost invariably comes at the expense of a few clicks or dollars in the short term. Chris plays the long game.
Being an influencer or pundit who isn’t paid off is not a glamorous job. During my experience with digital radiography, I was always under the threat of litigation, flame wars, and a never-ending stream of hate. Back then we didn’t call it cancel culture but cancellation was very much a threat. I imagine that, from time to time, Chris lives under a similar cloud of suspicion from the vendors and understands the anxiety that comes with helping people even though his help could have untoward effects on companies and people working in the photography industry. What he is doing is commendable but, having been there, I don’t envy the position he put himself in. Fortunately (at least for us), we can benefit from him and what he is doing with The Phoblographer.
The slap wasn’t my first run-in with The Phoblographer. Chris has been at this since before blogging was cool, before most us used the word YouTuber, and most everyone else online doing reviews online was still playing on the playground (1). Back when I was doing some research on zone focusing rangefinders there was one..single…lonely… little video by some dude sitting on a couch talking about zone focusing that I found worthwhile. There might have been others but I never found them or don’t remember them because they were so awful. That was my introduction to The Phoblographer.
My second major encounter with Phoblographer was after I fried my Fuji X-100s with a little snow and I was thinking “why doesn’t anyone do water testing of these things. Weatherproofing is more important than other stupid nonsense they talk about.” Lo and behold Phoblographer is the only website I know of that routinely does weatherproofing tests in their reviews, actually puts water on the camera, and doesn’t just regurgitate specs from the vendors (2).
Phoblographer user tips
1. You need to read the reviews. Actually read them The good stuff is in the middle. Read the disclosures. Don’t just jump to the conclusions at the end. Sometimes Chris takes out the sledgehammer and goes to town but, more often than not, you need to read and reread the article a few times to get what you don’t get elsewhere. From what I can tell, Chris and the rest of the staff aren’t beholden to anyone (4), and any and all conflicts of interest are fully disclosed. After communicating with Chris, even if there is a sponsored page his agreements with the sponsors are such that he is able to write and say exactly what he wants. Editorial oversight of reviews by vendors is off-limits. Therefore, even if you see a disclosure statement, keep reading. I know of a few posts with a disclosure statement where Phoblographer gave an unflattering review. This is so rare these days it almost feels strange.
2. The Phoblographer team generates a solid amount of content. Like every website, some of it doesn’t apply to me and I am sure some of it won’t apply to you either. That comes with the territory. The net effect is that I am unable to keep up with it all. The easiest way for me to follow the site is to click the Instagram stories daily. I miss RSS. Geeks rule.
What does this have to do with Leica?
Because I switch between M lenses and autofocus lenses, I am researching a move to a Leica SL system for my commercial work with the goal of consolidating camera systems (3). In my experience, Phoblographer has been accurate and candid about Leica for years. With new Leica releases and products, Phoblographer is one of the few I really trust. Most other reviews of current Leica gear are either fanboy content or generated by a sponsored photographer (4). Case in point, while everyone was fawning when the SL2s was released, The Phoblographer review was lukewarm. When the camera was updated, the review was updated as well.
If/when I do make a switch to the SL system (3), I will be looking no further than Phoblographer for lens recommendations and my own testing in stores. This will help
So there you have it, my love letter to The Phoblographer because they have been at it since 2009, they tell it like it is…. and did I mention Chris is legally blind?
1. I started in 2002 which was sometime after I was playing on the playground and before Blogger. Coding my own email scripts was terrible. Joomla was terrible. Don’t let anyone tell you that things online were better in 1999.
2. Until I fried that camera in the snow, I never paid much attention to the water tests. I would always see cameras covered in water droplets and think “that’s nice. Bit excessive – but nice.” Live and learn eh?
3. I currently shoot Sony for most of my commercial work and bring along a Panasonic S1 with a Kolari thin sensor conversion to use flash with m-lenses. After doing this for a year, I like using the Panasonic better than the Sony. Don’t get me wrong, the Sony images are great but that stupid little camera body isn’t entirely working for me anymore. Moreover, at the time of writing, Sony cameras are terrible with adapted lenses for a number of reasons. The major impediment to consolidating around a single platform is a lack of Profoto support by Leica cameras. I require HSS for my work. Come on Leica and Profoto can you please make nice and be friends? Profoto support by Leica (or is it Leica support of Profoto?) is an absolute requirement before I can realistically consider a switch.
4. It might be of interest to note that some (not all given that they have been doing Leica reviews for years) of the current Leica content on Phoblographer is sponsored which, if you read it, is surprising. After discussing this with Chris by email, his sponsorship agreement with Leica is that he can say whatever he wants – and it shows. In my experience with digital radiography vendors, the best vendors weren’t the ones who threatened to sue me when I gave a bad review or the ones who tried to ignore me. The best vendors were the ones that took my opinion seriously, fixed the issues, and then made me do a mea culpa when the problems were fixed. If my digital radiography experience has any bearing on the photography world, Leica is (or at least might be) one of those vendors. All of the evidence to support my thesis can be found in the Phoblographer SL2-s post and the updates throughout the post.
Disclosure statement: there are no disclosures. This is not a sponsored post. I have no relationship with The Phoblographer other than getting slapped.