I wouldn?t usually bother making any comment about the TIPA awards, but this year I feel I must. I?m not commenting because TIPA is a rival association to the association that AP belongs to, or that rival UK magazines belong to TIPA, but because I?m annoyed that TIPA seems intent on devaluing product awards in general.

I appreciate there is often a feeling among a number of readers that somehow manufacturers are able to influence the nominations and choices of winning products in our own AP Product Awards with promises of advertising and incentives, and cynics will always speak with the waft of corruption beneath their nostrils when any product awards programme is discussed. Some suspicion is unfortunately inevitable, and we have to swallow it.

Yet announcing that a particular product is the best of its type before it could have been used or tested properly does not help. I really wonder how well TIPA members have tested anything that has been awarded this year, when it is clear that two of those products could not possibly have been examined to any decent extent. The first finished model of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 available in the UK only arrived in the AP office at the end of last week, with the firmware only just updated, and Adobe?s Photoshop CS5, while pre-disclosed to us some time ago, the final version is still not available for testing. In both cases each product appears great on paper, but one can hardly say either is the best in its class unless it is tested thoroughly. Even if a good solid model of the G2 were available when the awards were decided, that could demonstrate exactly what consumers will buy themselves, I wonder how many of the 29 TIPA members got to use it.

Of course, thorough testing presents some difficulties. It takes time, and that can mean that a product might not be completely investigated by the deadline for the awards. If you don?t get it in this time you might miss the opportunity for the manufacturer to get the benefit of your accolade. If it is a really good product and you leave it until next year to present the award, there is a good chance it will be nearing the end of its shelf life ? and the period in which the manufacturer will be interested in paying to use your award logo or advertising that product in your magazine.

Perhaps, though, it is important to remember that product awards are for the benefit of consumers, rather than for the good of manufacturers. A small point perhaps.

When we decide our AP Awards the choices are made on the basis of which have been the best products tested within the past 12 months. Sometimes it is obvious that a product is coming to the end of its shelf life when we present the award in the January of one year, when the test was published in a January issue the year before. Yet as long as that product is still available, the award is a service to the reader; it is direct buying advice concerning the product and an indication of the quality of the system. The manufacturer will be pleased to win, but is unlikely to increase its advertising spend, and retailers will corner me in the bar after the awards and ask why we don?t pick products that have only just come out. The answer is always the same ? we don?t choose the awarded products, they choose themselves. The product that comes out best in tests in that year wins an award whether it will benefit our ad department or not.

The Photo Panel of EISA, of which AP is a member, is also very strict that members should have tested award-winning products in a meaningful way. Some less mainstream products might not have been tested by every single member, but so long as the majority have, and the others can read the published tests, and agree, a product can win.

Maybe I am wrong, and the majority of TIPA members have tested finished versions of all these products so they can testify to their readers, and to the European camera-buying public, that they fully understand exactly how these products perform. If they haven?t, they are damaging the trust of consumers in any awards programme, and they are failing in their duty as magazines to direct their readers with honestly and integrity.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong.