The Online Darkroom Store

Wednesday, April 23

A Blogger's Life...

It can be hard being a blogger. You toil away writing posts and trying to think of new subjects for no reward but even then some people, who get to read that content for nothing, like to tell you what a terrible job you're doing. Just as well I'm thick-skinned.

I experienced this first hand on the Rangefinder Forum when I wrote the post critical of Ralph Gibson's decision to go-digital. Then, after writing Part One of "Why Do We Talk Such Rubbish About Lenses?" I got it again on APUG*. Serves me right for trying to "promote" these posts on other forums, I guess, but how else am I supposed to reach a wider readership if I don't let people know what I've been writing about?

Shock Jock

The APUG criticism had me laughing at one point. One commenter advised others not to visit my website because I relied on "shock value". And then another, presumably looking to be suitably shocked, said he was disappointed, having expected a Ken Rockwell-like rant. As I said to my pal, Phil, I managed to please none of the people all of the time!

The exact comment from Gerald C. Koch was,

"The article is drivel because it is subjective and not based on careful resolution tests. There is a difference between lenses which is usually reflected in their relative costs. 
"Years ago photographic magazine routinely published useful tests making it easy for people to determine whether a lens would be of value to them. BTW, this is something that each person must decide for themselves. 
"This is the second time that someone has published an article from this source. The author typically goes for shock value. Ignore him."

"Disappointed" Momus replied,

"It is I who is disappointed....I was hoping for some Ken Rockwell rage! Turns out it's the other guy. 
"Actually I like Ken. I'd probably enjoy having a beer with him. But then I'd enjoy having a beer with anyone who is buying. I do generally ignore him. Funny guy though, not so much the online photographer."

I think Momus has confused me with Mike Johnston. :)

Newt-on-Swings said,

"Pointless article, and not even proof read (unless he really did shoot 400 speed film the odd film speed of 40). The macro lens is specialized for macro why shoot at infinity for comparison?"

At least, he had the good grace to acknowledge his mistake when I pointed out that the 400 speed film really was shot at 40 ISO.

Sic Note

There was this one from Thuggins who seemed to be feeling unwell,

"This "review" has serious methodology problems. He uses a no name, 400 speed print film that is the "cheapest film in the UK". The (sic) he scans it and expect (sic) that after all of this to glean some information about lens quality! I have also tested the 50MIJ agains (sic) the standard Zuiko 50f1.8 and 50f1.4 using Kodak VS and there is definately (sic) a difference when the slides are viewed directly under magnification. 
"Also, Zuiko lenses are like sex. Even when they are not very good, they are still pretty good. Back when photo magazines did tests and reviews of lenses, Zuikos consistently came out at the top of the heap.** 
"I have seen many images blown up to ~4' x 6' (yes, that's feet, not inches). At this size the lens quality is very apparent. Some of this (sic) images still retain sharp details while others are so muddy they are painful to look at."

I replied,

"It's a "review", as you put it, of the lenses as I use them. I'm sure you'd agree there's not much point in me testing them according to how you'd use them. 
"From past experience, if it doesn't show up in a 3200dpi scan it certainly won't show up in a 10x12 print which is as big as I'd generally go from a 35mm neg. Might there be differences in a 4'x6' print? Personally, I don't know and I don't care. I would never print anything like as big from 35mm and I don't know anyone who ever has. If I ever had a need for a print that size I'd use large format, certainly not 35mm. 
"The "no name" film is rebranded Rollei Retro 400s as I said in a reply earlier in this thread which you may have missed. Think Arista Premium 400 which, for those of us in the UK, is a "no name" version of Tri X. Regular readers of my blog are aware of the Firstcall/Rollei thing but you're right: I should have said it again for new readers, particularly those from overseas. I'll amend the post accordingly."
Which I did.

Defending Your Rights

There were some other comments along a similar theme and one or two supportive ones, particularly from Ian Grant who reads this blog. Thanks, Ian! I'm not looking for sympathy or even understanding in mentioning these critical posts. I'm a libertarian and people should be free to say whatever they like especially when I might find what they have to say objectionable. The crucial test of free speech is that it allows us to say things that other people will not like. If we were just free to say nice things all the time then we'd be living in an overly-oppressive, politically-correct state. Oh, wait, we are!

Wiser from these exchanges but wishing to exercise my own freedom of speech, I included this preamble when I went back into the lion's den to promote Part Two.

"I've posted Part Two of my "Why do we talk such rubbish about lenses" article on my blog. The first part attracted a lot of flak when I started a thread about it here last week. So as not to upset people or waste their time, here's a general health warning. Don't read the articles if you: 
1. Only consider completely unbiased resolution charts issued by lens makers to be valid
2. Think subjective lens tests are generally a waste of time
3. Are an artist and consider talk of lenses to be beneath you
4. Aren't an artist but still consider talk of lenses to be beneath you
5. Can't grasp the concept of "light entertainment"
6. Have so busy a life that reading something you might have no interest in is viewed as five minutes of your time you'll never get back 
Seriously, though, I unintentionally seemed to hack a lot of people off with Part One and I don't want to annoy anyone else if I can avoid it. So please bear in mind that it's a hands-on, real-world, subjective look at a few standard lenses and not a technical review of lenses for the next Mars mission. If that kind of thing might interest you then please feel encouraged to drop by. If you're looking for an Erwin Puts-type review then you'll be disappointed but, now that you've been warned, it'll be your own fault. "

Raising Awareness

That seemed to appease the more critical commenters and I got a comparatively free ride for Part Two. But now I come to the nub of this post: how can I raise awareness of the blog and find new readers short of going on to other forums and annoying people?

Well, posting more regularly certainly has had an effect. I'm basically writing twice as many posts and the result has been that monthly hits have more than doubled to over 30,000 on average. That figure has been stable for a few months and I'm pleased with how it's gone. But there are still loads of film and darkroom or analogue/analog photographers out there who have never heard of The Online Darkroom. I'm writing in a niche market so I can never hope to get anywhere near the sort of readership figures that digital bloggers can achieve but I can still do better.

As I've said from time to time, it would be great if every reader was able to let a few pals know about TOD or referenced it online when appropriate. Meanwhile, if there are any blog experts out there amongst my readers I'd love to hear any suggestions you might have to boost readership or spread the word.

* Here's the APUG link if you have some time on your hands.

** I've read this claim several times before but it's usually written by Americans. My recollection of lens reviews in UK magazines of old is that Nikon and Canon lenses almost always came out at the top. Zuikos, Rokkors and Pentax lenses usually vied for third place. Leica and Contax lenses might well have stolen the show but they were seldom included in group tests. But Zuikos heading the field?


Anonymous said...

RFF, APUG say no more...

C Winters said...

"But now I come to the nub of this post: how can I raise awareness of the blog and find new readers short of going on to other forums and annoying people?"

Why that would be like having your cake and eating it too! :)

In my experience, you can't. I annoy loads of people with both the content of my blog and the style of my writing. Over the years I have learned to simply ignore it. There will always be a category of people who, when they perceive their own views as being challenged or threatened, will lash out. And there will always be another category of people, who "smell blood" once someone else begins such a lashing-out and gleefully pile on incresingly hostile comments, egged on by one another. It is the way of internet forums. Until human nature changes, the only way to deal with it IMO is to build up an immunity.

Ksenija Spanec said...

Do you think it is essential to get more audience? For me, my blog is like my photography...I am doing it for myself and if someone like it and is interested about I am glad, but I wouldn't stop doing it if nobody liked it. But I know, motivation is very personal thing.
By the way I think you have a fine number of persons that follows your blog. The first time I heard about it, was when I searched some information about adox films and I decided to follow you, because, first I liked your photos,than your texts as well (maybe this would be a bit helpful to you :) )

clicknroll said...

i can give you one advice for what NOT to do - don't write a blog in Hebrew (as i do) - that will dramatically diminish your readership-growth potential :)

Lucas said...

All reviews are subjective. Interpretation of scientific data is subjective. Those photo magazine reviews were subjective.

Lens prices are determined by many different factors. To infer that one lens must be better than another because of the market price is ridiculous.

If all lenses were tested under the same conditions with the same film then the "serious methodology problems" aren't.

steve said...

The rookie mistake you made was to go to apug. They only have armchair experts and trolls. G+ has a better community of people who respect other people's opinions even if they differ from their own.

Michael Stevens said...

Hopefully at some point your blog will gain enough critical mass that you don't have to expose yourself to the rough-and-tumble of promoting it on the various photo-fora so often.

In the meantime, keep a stiff upper lip and rest assured that it's always a pleasure to stumble across your various well-argued postings whatever the venue.

Antonio Aparicio said...

Apug and RFF seem to have more than their fair share of idiots IMO. Don't take them too seriously, they are just trolling for al bit of attention most of the time.

Tim Fitzwater said...

A "Puppies are Cute, Glazed Donuts are Tasty" post would get slammed by people on the internet as unscientific and biased. Keep doing what you're doing!

Eric said...

Have you thought about advertising? Google ads or whatever they call it. I don't know what it costs but if an ad for TOD started appearing regularly on the photography sites it might put a lot of people in your direction.

Bruce Robbins said...


Don't worry - I annoy people on Google+ as well. And RRF, APUG, FADU, Flickr…

I agree with you about Google+ but I still think FADU is the friendliest, most polite and respectful forum out there.

Your writing is excellent. It was the thing that attracted me to your (bicycle) blog in the first place. If your writing annoys some people they must be dyslexic. :)


I get it: take more pics and write more. Sounds like good advice to me.

Hmmm. Never considered advertising before. I'll look into it. It would obviously cost money but might be worth it when it comes to opening The Online Darkroom shop.

Nasir Hamid said...

I totally agree with Ksenija Spanec. My blog is like an online notebook where I post my photography, some info about what's going on in the shots and some tech info (camera/lens/film/developer). It's for me to look back through and for others to dip into as well.

I've found I get a lot of views/visitors but not many comments. I'm fine with that. Post interesting content and the likelihood is people will come. If they don't, it's okay so long as you enjoy blogging. If it's a chore, don't do it :-)

Derek said...

Hi Bruce

Well you have certainly rattled a few cages there and provoked a strong response. Nice to know that people thought enough of the articles to respond, thats one way to get readership to rise.

Shock and awe tactics or Devils Advocate?

Now how about the translation in Hebrew, can Google do that for you?

Why not let Herman Sheephouse promote his article on the Ralph Gibson Experiment via your goodself and see what response that brings? Stir the pot and see what comes to the top.

Look forward to the next instalment!

Fartypants said...

I'm in the minority as to gear - what I have is all I'm going to use. Other bloggers like Ming Thein and Kirk Tuck experience high traffic when they do gear reviews, but I skip those. I did like your Gibson post which was about gear in a way. I wonder if his adoption of Leica Mono is because of clipping of highs and lows being comparable to his over-expose and over-develop. Just asking.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Your problem Bruce is that you're not writing up-to-date 'gear' reviews, and by 'gear' I mean hardware . . no one gives a toss about olde film shite in this day and age . .why the hell aren't you writing about Noctiluxes and your new Monochrom? Come on, sell your house and buy them . .we, your audience demand it. Only then will you bask in the glow of digitally satisfied audience adulation.
In the meantime, keep on patching the holes in the road . . you don't need to do anything else - so you annoyed a bunch of knobs, well keep on goading is all I can say.
I search the web for (what I would classify as good)images frequently, and to be honest, I see little photography being done these days, only comparisons of sharpness and bokeh, which says to me the whole thing has become nothing more than an exercise in mine is bigger than yours . .well mine is newer than yours . . well mine is this sharp . . oh yeah? well mine cost this much . . .
It's sad.

Bruce Robbins said...

You know, Phil, I would probably do most of the "tests" I do anyway whether I had a blog or not. Sometimes it's useful to know stuff about the gear you use. In my case, I've still got too much equipment and knowing that any of the 50mm lenses I have is, to all intents and purposes, no better or worse than any other helps me to decide what to keep and what to sell.

I know what you mean about today's images. I think the problem is that they are too clean and perfect. It's like art where you have painters who try to capture a scene or person in near photographic detail versus Impressionists. I prefer the latter.

Marcel Schepers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Herman Sheephouse said...

Yeah, I agree with you on both counts!
I do the testing stuff too . . current one is . . if I shoot Tri-X at EI 1200 . . which developer do I use:

Rodinal or
Dalzell-modified Stoeckler . . .

You can't beat your brain for entertainment . . .

Nick Jardine said...

Hi Bruce.

I enjoyed the lens testing. It was robust enough for me, as an experienced amateur, to make some useful conclusions if I were in the market to buy some second hand gear.

And thats the value of this blog. It's real world. it's not the latest fancy gadgets and latest technology that costs a fortune. It's a real world second hand market of analogue photography that most people can actually afford.

The lens tests were extremely useful and you make a valid point. If people know their practice, ie, 'I'm never going to print larger than 16x12' - then knowing a 'cheaper' lens can give you pretty much the same results as one twice it's price then that is a worthwhile topic of discussion.

It's ridiculous that people may be disparaging to posts that don't pander to their specific photographic practice.

I find this blog to have a pretty welcoming atmosphere, I'm interested in all the threads because it's all about the journey. They may not relate directly to my equipment or practice, but they will to someone and they're always worthwhile.

Richard G said...

I agree with C Winters. I really think it's important for your success with this that you don't respond or get fired up about these things. I think this thread is a little off-putting and you gain little from quoting these guys. You have some great ideas and that's what counts and that's what I'd rather be reading. Someone will have read this thread and decided you're not up to the game, and possibly a previously loyal reader. Being mistaken for Mike Johnston is a plus. I know very little about blogging and only look at yours and his. I do marvel at his range and lightness of touch and mixture of passionate insight and self deprecating personal revelation - not too much, but just enough. At your best you hit those notes too. Alain de Botton was on the radio the other night opining on the vitriol of below the line comments on the internet. He likened them to letting off steam in a private diary, thanks to the anonymity of the internet. Ignore it all.

imagesfrugales said...

Hm, don't know what's the sense of this lament. Trolls are everywhere, and I try to give up missionizing since long, but I also often fail. Maybe you say I'm also a troll. That's fine. Everyone has to make up his own mind.

Ads: I probably could have made a few bucks with my blog, but I don't sell my soul. Only 20 % of the money wasted for ads worlwide could extinct world hunger.

Best - Reinhold

Kevin Allan said...

It is a shame that your real-world findings attracted such a negative response, but not surprising. The class of camera-gear-owners who have spent a lot of money on acquiring the "best" may not like to be advised that they have wasted their money.

A few years ago I sold two 50mm f1.4 lenses when I realised that I'd never actually shot them at f1.4. I simply didn't have a need for such a narrow depth of field, and the extra brightness in the viewfinder over an f.18 lens couldn't justify paying twice the cost.

On my modest blog, with a much lower readership than yours, I try not to write too much abut equipment - and yet I know from the stats that it is the articles about gear that are most commonly read.

I'm becoming less and less equipment orientated and am preparing to sell of a few cameras and lenses. If that means my subsquent blog posts receive less "hits", then so be it.

As somebody else (can't remember who) said " I take photographs for myself. If other people like them, that's just too bad !". The saying could be adapted for blog writing.

Joe Iannandrea said...

Take heart Bruce; I think history has shown often enough that negative attention can be as good as (or better than) positive attention. Doubly so here I think as any thoughtful reader will easily be able to see how badly the critical posts have missed the point. As is also the case with humans, we often put too much stock in how lenses do on artificially contrived tests when what really matters is how well they do their job.