Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: Beyond Point and Shoot: Learning to Use a Digital SLR or Interchangeable-Lens camera

Beyond Point and Shoot: Learning to Use a Digital SLR or Interchangeable-Lens camera by Darrell Young and published by Rocky Nook does an above average job of informing its target audience. As the title states, the target audience for this book is someone transitioning from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR or a mirrorless ILC. As a professional photographer, instructor and a reviewer for O’Reilly I scrutinized Young’s writing to assure that the target audience was not misguided.

Young does very well at bringing terms into clarity for the layman. When he’s not going to dive deep on a term or topic at that moment he clearly states as such. He also does well at describing the relationship between ISO, Shutter Speed and f-Stop. Overall I think this is a valuable introductory book for the intended audience. As advanced amateurs are not the intended audience there is very little they will gain from this book.

  • Good at defining terms and concepts to a layman level. Choice to assume reader knows nothing is perfect for the target audience and even most entry-to-slightly-mid-level photographers.
  • Good at mentioning he’ll be talking about an advanced topic later when he’s not going to define a term. Doesn’t leave the reader hanging.
  • Really nice job talking about how the number of Megapixels can be a detriment based on sensor size and making it clear that larger pixels on larger sensors tend to lead to more accurate color, sharper and lower noise images … all hallmarks of what are considered ‘high quality’ images.
  • Emphasis on better glass and how generally you don’t know what you need until you need it is solid advice. That said, it still may lead to people buying higher-end to top-of-the-line cameras first due to fear that they might need better. I was enthusiastic and didn’t need more than a Minolta X-370 until my skill level grew to the point where I could make money with my photography if I upgraded equipment (especially lenses). I explain my point further in this sub-point. You can skip it if you want.
    • Like anything you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t know I’d do this professionally when I first started. All I knew was I enjoyed making photographs and wanted an inexpensive 35mm camera to learn on. Once I learned how to control the camera I was hooked. I agree with Young that having to switch systems is expensive. Like cars and computers it’s not “one camera/system fits all.” Just because a system can achieve something doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job. I can use my Mamiya RZ67 to shoot sports or my Minolta Maxxum 7D to shoot portraits and landscapes. The Mamiya blows away the Minolta in landscapes and especially portraiture. The Minolta handles much more nimbly shooting sports than the Mamiya. Point is, you may eventually switch systems because your needs change. So, just because the author loves Nikon doesn’t mean Nikon is the best choice for your needs. I don’t recommend any particular equipment to my students until they know that they want to commit to this very expensive hobby/living.
  • Pleasantly surprised Young didn’t overlook sharing how stopping down the aperture past f/11 typically results in higher diffraction which causes softness. This is something often ignored in entry-level books I’ve looked over.
Cons or erros in the book:
  • Misguided information on Zone and Hyperfocal focusing and the use of the Depth-of-Field scale. If you took away the parking brake in my Jeep I wouldn’t use the parking brake. The reason why the Depth-of-Field scale is used less and less is because the manufacturers have taken them off (most likely to save a few bucks). Zone focusing is very much used by street photographers. Young is on the fence when it comes to Hyperfocal focusing yet seems to be willing to let it fade away as an “old technique.” This technique is used all the time in landscape photography and a lot in travel photography. I think this is a failure on the part of the author to dismiss Depth-of-Field scales in this way.
  • Incorrect terms used when talking about the inverse relationship of equivalent exposure. Young states: “In other words, if you reduce the size of the aperture one stop (f/5.6 becomes f/8), you must increase the shutter speed by one stop to compensate for it (1/125s becomes 1/60s).” The user is NOT INCREASING the SHUTTER SPEED, they are DECREASING the shutter speed. They are INCREASING the TIME in which light is allowed to reach the film by using a slower shutter speed. Editors really should’ve caught that!
  • Shunning Manual exposure as if you’ve “decided to approach photography as if it were 1905” is unbecoming rhetoric. This ignorant way of looking at manual exposure will propagate to the inexperienced reader as though they should avoid it like the plague. It’s rhetoric like this, along with inexpensive low-end cameras and lenses, that has everyone who can afford to buy a DSLR thinking they’re a professional photographer when they don’t know an f-stop from a bus stop. Try using aperture or shutter priority with studio strobes and see what happens. Just because the target audience of this book is currently not working on becoming a professional photographer (or even advanced amateur) it doesn’t mean they won’t go in that direction. Bad advice early on leads to long-term ignorance.
  • Center-weighted average meter description is more like a large spot meter. Center-weighted average meters typically read heavier in the center and bottom of the frame, de-emphasizing what would be the sky in a horizontal landscape photo. I’ve seen this in a number of camera manuals over the years represented the way I’m describing it. Basically, if your subject is standing in the middle of the frame and the horizon split the viewfinder horizontally down the middle then it should read the central subject and ground with more emphasis than the sky. There may be some now that work like a giant spot meter but in the past that was not so much the case with center-weighted average in my experience.
  • BibbleLabs sold out to Corel in January 2012. The core of Bibble Pro 5 became the basis of Corel’s Aftershot Pro. As a big fan of Bibble I’d hate to see users having to spend money on Adobe Lightroom because a writer misled them by directing them to a product that didn’t exist at the time of printing.
  • Fluorescent lights are not always corrected by adding blue. In the case of the book it references the greenish color which is corrected by magenta. Actually, I’ve never heard of having to add blue to fluorescent lights but only to tungsten lights. Doesn’t mean there aren’t fluorescents out there that need blue just that since all the way back to the film days magenta (FLD Filter) was the correction for fluorescent lights.
  • Learn through repetition approach can seem like author is just trying to fill space at times.
Overall I say this book is worthwhile for the target audience of those transitioning from point and shoot to DLSR/MILC. I will recommend it to my students or anyone I meet who I feel can benefit from it. That said, I will also point out the caveats mentioned above and hopefully Young and Rocky Nook will correct some of the errors or clarify on what has created a difference in opinion between myself and the author.