Why you shouldn't trust "photography" channels like Tony Northrup

March 4, 2018

Today I watched Tony's Northrup's "What's in my camera bag?" video, where he showed which gear he took on his recent trip to Morocco. These kind of videos are fairly common and popular recently, so I could've chosen some other channel as well, but since he's one of the top photography influencers on Youtube in 2018, an area I am personally interested in, I decided to choose him to share some of my opinions about these kind of videos, and the state of photography influencers in general, as well as the problems I have with it.

First let us see the video.



These are my 4 conclusions after watching Tony's video:

1) It's promoting exorbitant consumerism

I'm sure that the gear in Tony's and Chelsea's travel bags consists of items that the couple personally loves. Both Tony and Chelsea strike me as honest and down to earth, so please don't take my criticism as a personal attack. It's not that at all. It's a syndrome of a greater issue affecting a big portion of Youtube tech reviewers. The issue I have with their travel gear is that it's extremely expensive. Check the value of the items Tony listed in the video's description (I checked the prices one by one and made this chart):


18,000 USD in total! And that does not include Chelsea's smartphone, her Sony lenses and additional accessories, because they weren't mentioned, but I think it's safe to assume that in total both of them travel with gear in value that's way over 20,000 USD, which is insane in my opinion. That's a cost of a good quality sedan where I come from. While Tony is not saying one should have such expensive gear when they travel, but as influencer with nearly 800,000 subscribers he is sending such message to his viewers, because a lot of them purchase based on his recommendation or look up to him (and by listing hot links to Amazon he hopes people buy this gear). With this video he is promoting a photography lifestyle of exorbitantly expensive gear, whether he intended it or not. And that's not the only video that he posted with such implications, nor is he the only channel that does so. This is becoming increasingly common on Youtube, unfortunately.

2) Expensive gear doesn't make you a good photographer

In the video Tony shows some of the photos he made during his Morocco trip. The photos are actually what triggered me to write this post, because in my opinion, they are terrible. They look like they were done with a cheap smartphone while he was walking. Here 3 screen shots:



You don't need a 6000 USD worth professional Nikon kit to take such awful photos, a 300 USD Android phone will do the job as well. And the poorly made blur is not the main thing that is awful, there is no composition, no depth to these photos, these are snapshots that a lot of tourists with point and shoots make. For such a big photography influencer like Tony I believe the bar should be much higher than for your average Joe Shmoe, though.

3) Photography influencer does not equal photographer

I'm perfectly fine with gear reviewers who are masters of explaining the technology behind gear, and give useful tips about how to use the gear in terms of functionality and don't claim to be photographers, but Tony and Chelsea brand themselves as being photographers (Tony's Instagram description says "Photographer, author, & YouTuber"). They also have several videos and books out there on teaching photography, so they're trying to be everything: gear reviewers, photography teachers, and photographers. That would all be fine, if they were able to take a decent picture to begin with. If you check Tony's and Chelsea's portfolios, you will see that they're full of boring and heavily post processed images with bad compositions, made with heavily corrected expensive lenses, and with a strong emphasis on sharpness. Interestingly, I like Chelsea's portfolio much more, you can feel that unlike Tony she has an artistic sense. Tony on the other hand is such an engineer type of guy, probably operating with numbers and DxO Mark values in his mind when he takes photos, not with his heart. His images reflect that to me by being incredibly mundane. For comparison, click on the portfolios of Lee Jeffries, Dani Diamond and Portraits by Sam and compare the portraits to Northrup's. Or compare their landscapes with Philipp Richert, Daniel Cheong, and Iurie Belegurschi work. No offence, but this is like night and day.

4) Hotlinks to Amazon imply bias

A screen grab from Tony's video description:


Tech reviewers who often link to Amazon and other commercial platforms in their video descriptions are not impartial. By the very essence of that act they are biased towards promoting gear that is expensive, because they increase their kickbacks with every purchase made through that link. If a part of their income is based on that, that will heavily impact their decision as to which gear to mention in their videos, and it's usually not the cheap and good value gear, because they won't earn much. Even if they think they're not consciously being biased, they are subconsciously. It's just another way of how brands buy them (besides the "free" trips to various locations like Sony usually does).

In conclusion

Beware of "teachers" and "experts" who are not able to practice what they preach. Beware of the gear acquisition syndrome, because that's what the brands and influencers are trying to trap you in, so that it ensures their continuous revenue stream. And don't think that you need the latest and greatest and most expensive photography tool to be a photographer. Go out and shoot with an entry level DSLR, and don't waste your time with Youtubers. The more you shoot, the better you will get. Photography is an art of manipulating light and mastering the skill of composition. Gear is secondary and doesn't ensure you to be a great photographer - the Northrup's prove this point every day. Same can be said about Fro Knows Photo and most of the Youtube photography channels.

33 comments:

  1. I hope there is more of this kind of comments.
    These Youtube experts have been misleading... some of them actually lack knowledge but there are good ones to.

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    Replies
    1. @VIGNES K: Yes, totally agree. Check my post about the Top Youtube Photography channels of 2018 by clicking on my name. I have listed some of the good ones at the bottom.

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  2. Replies
    1. @NEOPLATONIST: Thank you very much! Big honor to have you commenting on my blog :)

      Please also check my post on Top 100 Youtube Photography Channels of 2018, you are mentioned as well.

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    2. This is a great list, good job: http://taipeigeek.blogspot.com/2018/03/list-of-top-100-photography-youtube.html

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    3. But this is you now too Ken, just a camera stroker and don't take anything decent with it. You don't make money from the photos you take, that is clear. What isn't clear is where it does actually come from... but it aint photography.

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  3. Chortle, Hee, Hee, Hee! Very valid although subjective observations! But hey, photography critqes are always subjectve. I think, I might have been quite satisfied with taking either my Fujifilm X-T2 and my 23, 35 and 56mm lenses (all in their fastest iteration). Or my Nikon D810 and my (all f/1.8 G series) 35, 50 and 85 mm lenses and accomplished quite satisfying(to me at least) imagery. Best wishes Ben. Instagram @benjaminkanarek website: www.benjaminkanarek.com

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    1. @BENJAMIN KANAREK: I agree that my opinion on his photos being "terrible" is subjective by nature, however all the other criticism are objective and logical. Thanks for your comment, your portraits are awesome!

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  4. Ok, fair enough review. But gear is what most people have questions about .. not that they could not do the same with lesser gear, but most of us lack the money to "buy-try-resell-recover-and repeat" .. and these YouTube reviewers do a lot of things many of us think about. We all know a good photograph but many wrestle with the "how" aspects and "is my camera good enough" -- for that I welcome their contributions and I'm smart enough to know when they "jump the shark" on what is good. And to be honest, we all know it isn't the gear .. it's the photographer's skill and artistic eye that is most relevant. Some of my prized personal work is done with the lesser camera and lenses .. you probably would not like it but it has meaning of time, place, experience and sometimes art to me.. I like new gear but don't depend on a new program and sensor to take me there. Let's keep it real, let's keep it fun and be satisfied .. and let the gear-evaluators have some room to pontificate if it pleases them.

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    Replies
    1. does your definition of pontification include outright lies, and worse still often repeated ones?

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    2. @ANONYMOUS 4:54 AM: There are many Youtube gear reviewers that are not in bed with brands, or straight up deceiving for money. I listed them in my recent post List of Top 100 photography Youtube channels of 2018. Check it out by clicking on my name here. I have nothing against people making Youtube reviews about the passion of gear or photography, but I will always expose channels who are becoming an advertising machine for various brands, and who are spreading falsehoods about photography and gear.

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  5. I shoot with my older Canon 1D mark3 and I love it.
    I don't like there staged video's. I thought I was the only one who saw these pics of him where crappy. Great article.

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    1. @ANONYMOUS 2:55 PM: That's great, happy shooting. And thank you

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    2. those pics weren't crappy, they were tinfoil hat level insanely bad.

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    3. Where are your photos for comparison, Ken?

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  6. Tony Northrup is no engineer, he is mathematically illiterate. At 6:20 in the video below, he claims SNR = P / SQR(P), where P is "the amount of photons". This is so incoherent it is NOT EVEN WRONG. Anyone familiar with high school algebra will immmediately note that the formula is not even reduced to its simplest form: SNR = SQR(P). In other words, Tony Northrop is claiming that signal-to-noise rato equals the square root of the total number of photons that strike an image sensor.

    That is mind-numbing bullshit, exposing Northop's technical incompetence.

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  7. https://youtu.be/DtDotqLx6nA?t=380

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  8. Excellent, Well written article and 100% correct in all that you say. Well done sir.

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  9. This is so spot on. I will be doing a youtube video about this very topic. Is there a way i can talk to you about this article even mention it when i do the youtube video

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    1. Yeah, sure. Btw, how did you find this article? Was it posted or linked in any forum?

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  10. Is he really biased when he has links to damn near everything?

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  11. The purpose of his video was simply to show you what he carries, something I did want to know. Not what a beginner carries but what a professional who has a proven track record in photography carries.
    Sounds like Your a little bitter of his success. First...Your numbers are not accurate. I'm not sure where you shop, I would assume you typically shop for the best prices. Jet has most of these items much cheaper, new with free shipping. This isn't a jet.com plug, just a fact. He did not carry the a7r lol in his back, his wife had that camera, I'm sure she had lenses as well but we shouldn't count those in his bag either.
    The 24 70 2.8 vr can be bought all day long for $1879, not $2403. 70 200 vr...1700 not 2796. 14 24....1339 not 1896. I've never known a zip lock bag to cost $16.00. The difference on just these items from the list you created vs reality is $5238.00 significant difference...oh, and Photoshop and Lightroom were not items in his bag, but post production software that is loaded on a computer...a must for all photographers. I got it for $10 a month when I first started. If I had priced every item I have no doubt your number would be thousands less that the number your giving.12762.00 vs 18000.00 is a significant difference in and of itself. He did say he normally would only carry the 1 lense so basic deduction if you wished to mimic his bag would be an additional 3100.00 and change off of the 12762.00. Most photographers already habe some of these items if not all. If you're a beginner...well, this wasn't a video for a first timer just getting ready to take their first set of amazing photos...thats what beginner kits are for and, well...seriously...do you really think he would pack a beginner kit? Common sense goes a long way. Some of your critique made it clear that you didn't listen to the content of what he said but chose to narrate via an obvious bias towards him. I appreciate very much when the critiques are honest, and there are great alternatives given to what someone might say. But slam posts are rarely accurate and filled with false information, as your post makes clear. My suggestion to others who read your post...do your own research, actually listen to the videos being critiqued. Gear is important...not all 24-70's are created equal...listen, learn and if do your own research. If someone slams everything about another individual...usually it's personal. In this case... Tony Northrups video was exactly what he said it was. Not a suggestion for what anyone should run out and buy...simply, "This is what I chose to have in my bag on my trip". Glad he did too. Example...the difference between a hammer and nail gun are vast. One costs a little more, but you can always find a deal...but that hammer will never perform like a nailgun.. kit/Gear is important and as I buy more camera equipment and improve my A game, I prefer the professional version and higher quality gear and most important end product...or...to complete the analogy...the nailgun over the hammer every time. Oddly, I familiar with Sony's work, not just as a YouTube participant, he's well known, but I have never seen your name or work...anywhere. hmmm, who to put my trust in? I will keep learning from the professionals.

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    1. First to one of your points, jet.com does sell cameras cheaper but most off them are gray market meaning they aren't covered by the companies US Warranties as they are marketed for other countries, and the companies who sell have dubious business practices at best. That being said you can always find deals but your mileage may vary, used or gray market items can be a toss up sometimes good other times not so much.

      Second your tone is unnecessarly combative as the author clearly prefaced his statement by saying they seemed like honest and down to earth people. That being said no one is above constructive criticism, and Gas (gear acquisition syndrome) takes no prisoners no matter how pure the persons intentions are. Who is a professional? So many days people judge a "professional" by how many likes, and subs they have but that means nothing in the long run. Now have they taken some nice pictures. Yes but objectively no one is perfect.

      To borrow your analogy true you can hit your thumb with a hammer if you don't know how to use it, but you can also just as easily shoot yourself in the foot or the head with a nail gun if you rely on gear instead of skill. Also your analogy isn't always correct many times a hammer absolutely beats a nail gun, as someone who has worked on construction sites for 10 years. Unlike your statement "professional" gear and more expensive will not improve your A game, if you don't learn the right skills to begin with, no amount of money you throw at the wall will magically change anything. I'll take a pholographer who knows what he's doing even with less expensive gear over a wallet warrior who is dependent on gadgets any day.


      To end my statement I think the Northrup are really awesome, kind people. But again the pricing in their links is as was represented in the blog post, that you shopped around is irrelevant to what was posted
      Even if that's just what they use, it can send the wrong message that the more expensive your gear the better you'll be.

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  12. All the prices listed are from Tony's own links. I think you did not get the point of my post. Not surprised you believe such channels.

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  13. There are additional criteria that i look for in not so credible videos/reviews.

    A: They live in the USA and quote American prices support and sales which is not so for the rest of us.
    B: They claim that taking photos in a bit of cold weather is "extreme" and that it is not normal.
    C: Where they tested the cameras & gear is more often than not in ideal conditions.
    D: Their desperate need for social acceptance and the only thing that counts is social media.
    E: The way they jump the gun on comment replies showing that can't read basic English needing you to explain everything in caveman terms to them.
    F: Using another language in comments. Tony really bit into me for writing a comment reply in french.
    G: The need for a world wide exposed portfolio.
    H: Taking joy and making several videos on litigating some one for stealing your photo(s). When every day the US steals ideas and IP from people all over the world and then litigates those some people.

    That's enough as i would probably go through the entire alphabet and then some in bullet points.

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    1. Excellent points. Some gear is often much more expensive outside the US, for example Europe.

      Yes, I have had some bad interactions with Tony in the comments. He's not very open to discussions or criticism. He will either ignore or delete comment, and he usually likes and responds only to positive reactions. That show's he's insecure in what he's saying (deep down he knows he's not a photographer, that's why).

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  14. Addendum. On a Pentax forum a moderator tried to fool me with several charts and formulas. It was so blatantly obvious that the math was nothing more than a cut and paste montage that could never factor out. I remain very irritated about that one.
    All show and no fact, that's what society has become.

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  15. A lot of haters here. I have found his video's informative. What he has in his bag is irrelevant. He has his own desires. He is just showing what he has in his bag. If it is too expensive for your tastes or comfort level get something cheaper. Why should he change what he brings because you don't like it.

    His videos and books clearly promote that the gear you actual use is one of the last things you should worry about. You may or not like his photos and others may or may not like yours. It's just the way it is. Just seems like a lot of unnecessary bashing in the article and some of the comments. Also there is similar self promotion here, which I have no problem with, because it's what people have to do.

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    1. Let's not forget the Northrups have plenty to say about other people's photos, so this isn't anything to do with hating or bashing. I think those with the ability to think for themselves are tired of listening these types of photographers, regardless of their intentions. It's fine that you like them, because that's your choice and it's commendable that you've articulated your views. Conversely, it's also the right of others to dislike the Northrups and the material they produce. Everything is subjective my friend, so please don't be too hasty to denounce all those who exercise some ability to think independent tly as haters.

      Leave that to the teenagers.

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  16. We sometimes fail to analyse the motives of our sources of information.

    We can’t seem to filter the propaganda.

    Regarding Sony Northrup we can “follow the money” embedded in those affiliate links to determine whose interests they serve.

    Zoom out to the wider world and we see organisations like Fox News owned by a right wing extremist and run by assorted careerist cretins. Whose interests does Fox News serve?

    Independent journalism and product reviews need to be just that - “independent” of corporate sponsorship, which impacts journalistic integrity.

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