If you follow the photo industry and, in particular, the world of Canon photography products, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Fake Chuck Westfall blog.
A direct descendent of the Fake Steve Jobs persona that humorously parodied Apple’s leading luminary on The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs blog, Fake Chuck Westfall has been spoofing Canon’s main camera guru and the photo industry in general since 2008.
Fake Steve Jobs turned out to be writer Dan Lyons but Fake Chuck Westfall has remained anonymous…until now.
After tweeting on the FCW Twitter account last week that he was planning to pull the plug on Fake Chuck Westfall, the man behind the controversial blog agreed to be interviewed by PDN to explain who he is, why he created FCW, and why he’s putting an end to it. (And no, it’s not because Canon is threatening legal action, as it did back in 2009, which turned Fake Chuck Westfall into a photo industry Internet celebrity and caused the blog’s traffic to skyrocket.)
So, without further ado, meet photographer Karel Donk, aka Fake Chuck Westfall. Donk will give a more in depth account of the entire Fake Chuck Westfall saga in a post on his blog on Monday morning. (UPDATE: Here’s Donk’s FCW farewell post.)
Q: Tell us about the man behind Fake Chuck Westfall: who are you and how did you get involved in photography?
A: My name is Karel Donk, and I’m from Suriname, South America. I know this is going to surprise a lot of people as I think most of them probably assumed I lived in the USA. Photography was always something that interested me, from very early childhood. I used to read science books for kids, and there were experiments in there with optics, like building pinhole cameras and things like that. And it fascinated me.
I once took apart my dad’s binoculars just so I could play with the lenses and use them to build “projection systems.” Later on when I saw a digital camera for the very first time I knew I had to have one. But it would take a few years before I could afford and buy my very own digital camera and it’s been a hobby ever since. Eventually I got reasonably good at it to the point where I started getting some paid jobs and right now I also do it professionally as well.
Q: Why did you start the Fake Chuck Westfall blog?
A: I wanted to draw attention to the issues we were having with Canon years ago around the time of the 1D Mark III debacle. I and many others around the world were not satisfied with the way Canon was handling things and with their lack of honest and open communication. So I decided to set up the blog to discuss these issues.
Q: Why did you pick now as the time to identify yourself?
A: I spent a lot of time on the FCW blog, and it’s mostly been my free time as I wasn’t getting paid for this. I want to spend my time on more important issues in life now; issues that also lie at the root of the problems we had with companies like Canon in the past, and these days also Nikon. I will elaborate on this on my personal blog.
Q: Do you feel you accomplished what you set out to do with the Fake Chuck Westfall blog?
A: Yes I do. I think with the FCW blog I managed to draw more attention to the issues and certainly got Canon Inc. to notice, since they tried taking down the blog at first.
And with the 1DX and 5D Mark III I see a lot of our feedback included in those products, including the AF system from the 1D series in the 5D Mark III – something I personally fought for. The 1DX and 5D3 are truly amazing.
The only thing that seems to not have come across is the fact that the megapixel race is pointless when it also means more noise per pixel. Canon did listen with the 1DX and 5D Mark III, by keeping the megapixels reasonable, but I’m not too sure about the future. I’ve spent many posts on my personal blog as well as the FCW blog to make the point that megapixels don’t matter as much as the quality of the pixels (noise, dynamic range, color reproduction etc.). I would pay more for a 5D Mark III with the 18MP sensor from the 1DX in it for example.
Q: Where did the Fake Chuck Westfall persona come from? FCW is certainly a lot different from the real Chuck Westfall.
A: I just made it up and it continued to evolve with each blog post. The only thing that was clear to me is that it had to be an executive inside Canon who was fed up with the way things were going and wanted to speak frankly about it in public.
Q: Were you ever worried that you might be offending the real Chuck Westfall with FCW?
A: Yes I have to admit that sometimes I did think about that, and that was never my intention, because I love the real Chuck Westfall. But Fake Chuck was our superhero inside Canon, just like real Chuck is in many ways to photographers around the world. So I hope real Chuck wasn’t offended.
Q: How many other people knew who Fake Chuck Westfall was?
A: About 5 people who I personally told for various reasons, and I know for a fact that there were a couple more who made the connection all by themselves.
Q: Early on, I noticed that FCW was linking to several stories on your personal Karel Donk blog and, for a moment, I wondered if you were the person behind FCW. But then I dismissed it as too obvious. All along you were actually giving a lot of clues that FCW was you. Are you surprised more people didn’t guess it?
A: Yes I do, but like you said, it was too obvious. Sometimes the best way to hide something is in plain sight.
Q: Your FCW blog posts have been more positive about Canon’s products in recent years while you savage Nikon and other competitors. Do you feel that Canon is now on the right path?
A: Yes since 2012 things have been awesome with Canon when it comes to product releases. I’m afraid for the future, but I hope they continue on the same path. They even send out advisory notes for known issues in a timely manner, although recently it seemed like known issues with some lenses were not being published (CanonRumors had a story on that not too long ago). So it remains to be seen how things will be in the future.
It’s up to the entire photography community to provide the feedback to Canon when things look like they’re getting worse again. Especially the big websites and well known photographers have to be more critical. Kissing ass won’t help Canon to improve, and in the end we’ll all suffer again. Take a good look at what’s happening with Nikon right now.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Basically the same, only without updates on the FCW blog. I want to focus my time and energy on my personal research and on more important issues in life that need attention. I’ll have more on this on my blog.
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