Black Friday Is Aptly Named: The Dark Tricks and Lies Within the Photographic Industry

Unscrupulous manufacturers manipulate you to buy their products. It’s much more severe than you can probably imagine. With Black Friday fast approaching, there are things we should be aware of before buying a camera.

Like many others, I used to rely on reviews in magazines. But I lost my faith in them. The reason behind that was that I saw the same camera being reviewed in two magazines. The review was glowing in the first and damning in the second. The manufacturer took out a full-page advert for the camera in the first magazine, whereas the other magazine was dominated by adverts from its main rival. If I could not trust reviews in these two well-established magazines, both of which are now defunct. Could I trust any?

Why I Believe Fstoppers Reviews Can Be Trusted

Here at Fstoppers, there is no financial incentive to add bias to our reviews, so there is no reason for us not to give a balanced view. In most cases, we writers have either bought the product ourselves or have been loaned it to try it out.

I have reviewed products and been so impressed that I bought them, putting my money where my mouth is. We will get a free license with some software because we need to use it to review it. But often, those apps are not what we would otherwise use in our workflow. I know that we here try to be honest and balanced about a product.

I am sure many other review sites are the same, even if they sometimes sensationalize tiny, relatively unimportant features. However, some reviewers elsewhere create hype about gear’s minor positive and negative attributes. That sensationalism does the prospective buyer a disservice, distracting them from the features they need.

I only review things that I would happily use myself. Moreover, no product is perfect, so Fstoppers insists that we include what we like and what we would improve in all reviews. It’s not like that everywhere.

Customer Reviews and the Art of Avoiding Deception

Several years ago, like many people, I started looking at customer reviews to understand what users thought of a product. It is now well-known that fake reviews are rife, but back then, I thought they were more trustworthy than the magazine reviews I used to read.

Spotting fake reviews is hard. However, there are telltale signs. They are often generalized and fail to include specifics about the product. Sometimes, an incentive (bribe) to write a positive review is offered, and they often carry a request to have photos or videos in the review.

Products promoted this way will also have very high numbers of five-star reviews, often posted within a short timeframe. Also, repeated phrases appear in different reviews because the same person writes them.

Those who write such reviews know how to manipulate them, so theirs appear in the “Top Reviews” or “Most Helpful.” Therefore, try changing a list’s order to “Most Recent.” New reviews may also include tests by now disgruntled or happy customers.

Fighting Back Against the Fraudsters

Amazon is taking legal action against the administrators of Facebook groups that are promoting fake reviews. One such group, since taken down by Meta, has around 43,000 members who would be offered refunds for buying a product and writing a positive review. That included camera tripods. Amazon is also pursuing action against four companies that it alleges flooded its site with fake reviews. It isn’t a small operation, as three of the companies had 350,000 people writing for them. One such firm, Matronex, has since ceased trading.

Once the big players have been punished, one expects that Amazon and others will start to target individuals who place fake reviews. Fakers beware.

Negative Attacks on Reputable Businesses and Products

Negative reviews are faked too. They are weaponized and aimed at discrediting competing manufacturers. Common features of fake bad reviews include over-the-top, emotive, and inflammatory language, incorrect details, and non-specific complaints. One-star reviews should always be treated with caution, as a competitor may have written them to damage a product. Sadly, bad reviews do influence purchases and even destroy businesses.

It’s a shame that happens, because some genuine new companies with excellent products are losing out. They won’t cheat the system and, at the same time, are targeted by unscrupulous competitors who have no such qualms. Let’s hope the laws are strengthened to punish fraudsters.

One would expect that established brands with long-standing and respected products are less likely to be seeking to bolster their reputation with fake reviews. Intermediate, a darker side suggests that even big brands are embroiled in producing bogus assessments of their products.

Fakespot Identifies the Fraudsters

There is a helpful tool called Fakespot that identifies fake reviews. It is a free browser plugin that analyzes the reviews of products on Amazon and elsewhere. It then re-scores the product rating with the fake positive reviews removed. Fakespot doesn’t only take heed of fake positive reviews, but negative ones too. Placing multiple negative reviews is called review bombing. Cameras and other equipment can get a higher score if a reviewer carries out a sponsored bogus attack on a product.

I hope that the likes of Amazon, Google, eBay, Walmart, and others work closely with Fakespot to tidy up their act and stop this practice. It’s in everyone’s interest for them to do so.

Here in the UK, the government’s competition regulator is looking into whether Amazon and Google are breaking consumer law by not taking sufficient action over fake reviews. It will be made illegal to pay someone to write a fake review or host those reviews. Fines will be 10% of a company’s worldwide turnover. The Federal Trade Commission is exploring making rules to combat them in the USA.

Camera Brands’ Fake Reviews

Yes, as reported in Michelle VanTine’s recent article that’s well worth a read, it is happening in the camera industry. Reading it, I was taken aback by some popular cameras that appeared to have a glowing 4.5-star rating that dropped to two stars once the fake reviews were removed.

Negative Attacks in Online Forums

It isn’t just reviewed in shops where photography products are falsely praised or attacked. You will see it happen in online communities too. I am a member of a few photographic groups on different platforms. It is not unusual to see people who have never commented before asking a question or making a comment that will put doubts into others’ minds about a product.

Has anyone else been having problems with the XXXX’s focus?
My camera is shutting down, and I have to take the battery out to reset it.
I’m fed up with this system and going to sell it and go back to using XXXX.
I had high hopes for it. Now I’m really disappoited in the XXXX

If it’s on Facebook, the user account will be locked down, so you can’t easily see that they are not genuine users.

Where Will This Lead in the Future?

A few years ago, the car manufacturer VW reprogrammed their cars’ computers to detect when they were being tested for emissions. The vehicle would then change the levels of harmful gases from the exhaust pipes. They were met with hefty fines and class actions against them.

One can anticipate that if camera manufacturers are found to be cheating their customers by falsifying their reviews, they will also face criminal and civil actions and harm their reputations.

Hopefully, manufacturers of photography equipment will smarten up their acts. It’s also entirely possible that “fanboys” of certain brands are damaging the reputation of their favorite manufacturers because of the over-enthusiastic reviews of products they haven’t even bought.

Seven Ways to Help Fight the Deceivers, Liars, and Cheats

  1. If you are offered a bribe to give a positive review online, write a truthful review and include that they tried to bribe you.
  2. Report the bribe to the retailer.
  3. Install the Fakespot plugin on your browser.
  4. When you see online comments that praise or criticize a product, check the person’s comment history. Consider mentioning that in a reply if it’s their first or second comment. “Thanks for signing up to make that comment” and similar replies advises others of the commenter’s reputation.
  5. Write complete and honest reviews.
  6. Read balanced three and four-star reviews that include positives and negatives.
  7. Buy a different brand instead.

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