The Sony a7 and a7R: The Unofficial Quintessential Guide – #photography #bookreview

sony_a7_a7r

The Sony a7 and a7R

The Unofficial Quintessential Guide

Brian Matsumoto and Carol F. Roulland

(Rocky Nook - paperback, Kindle)

 

Rocky Nook has gained a hard-earned reputation for publishing excellent digital camera how-to guides. And this new one does not disappoint.

The Sony a7 and a7R: The Unofficial Quintessential Guide is aimed at both professional photographers and newcomers who recently have acquired, or are still considering, various elements of the Sony a7 and a7R digital photography and video system, including camera bodies, lenses and accessories.

The authors, who both have extensive photography experience, praise the a7 and a7R as “a breakthrough camera design…the lightest, least expensive, full-frame interchangeable lens cameras available to professional and amateur photographers” at the time their book was written.

The a7/a7R system has some innovations, including, for example, “a completely electronic viewfinder” that provides “immediate feedback on errors in white balance, focus, and exposure.” You also can use the viewfinder to “preview the image with additional artistic elements, such as saturated vivid colors, or muted colors and subtle shades, to decide how to create the proper ambience for the scene.” You also can preview the image in black-and-white.

But Matsumoto and Roulland offer a caution, as well. The a7 and a7R cameras are not well-suited for “taking action shots with a rapid-fire burst capability.” They recommend some of the “heavier digital SLRs,” instead.  The a7 and a7R, they contend, are “eminently suitable for those photographers who are interested in taking pictures at a more deliberate rate, who are concerned about critical composition, and whose aim is to take landscapes close-ups, portraits, or scientific photographs.”

Their 11-chapter, 362-page book wisely includes a chapter titled the “Basics of Digital Photography” near the front of the book, so users new to the a7 and a7R series–particularly those moving up from simple point-and-shoot cameras can learn to how to set their cameras on Intelligent Auto mode or Superior Auto mode and take good pictures while they are becoming familiar with menus, options and features.  (Superior Auto mode “is able to fine-tune the camera settings to create a better-quality image,” the two authors point out.)

Like many other of today’s digital cameras, the a7 and a7R offer “scores of menu commands and options, which can discourage even the most experienced user” if time and care are not taken to learn the ones you will use most often.

Matsumoto’s and Roulland’s excellent how-to book begins with chapters on “Getting Started” and learning the basics of photography, including f/stops, ISO numbers and some essential settings when shooting pictures or video.

The remaining chapters cover:

  • Managing Your Images
  • Automatic Settings
  • Taking Control of the Camera
  • Manual Control
  • Additional Features
  • Working with the Camera’s Wireless Functions
  • Accessory Lenses
  • Flash Photography
  • Making Movies

Two appendices also are included. Appendix A covers menu commands. Appendix B focuses on error messages and warning messages and how to resolve them.

A caution is offered for those who may use the a7R with telescopes, long telescopic lenses, or microscopes. “In comparison to the a7, movement of the a7R’s mechanical shutter can generate significant vibration which can blur the image.”  However, Matsumoto and Roulland also offer some tips to minimize the vibration’s effects.

If you have or are considering this new Sony camera system, The Sony a7 and a7R: The Unofficial Quintessential Guide packs a lot more clear and useful information than you will find in the official user manuals.

The book is richly illustrated, and it provides clear, step-by-step procedures and recommendations for every feature. You’ll need and want it in your library and in your camera case.

Si Dunn

 

Mastering the Fujifilm X-E1 and X-Pro1 – Are you ready for some RAW+JPEG? – #photography #bookreview

Mastering the Fujifilm X-E1 and X-Pro1

Rico Pfirstinger
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

As a photographer, I enjoy reading other photographers’ first-person books–even when their books that happen to be how-to texts created to supplement and expand upon the lackluster user manuals typically shipped with new cameras.

Rico Pfirstinger’s latest book is a well-composed guide to learning how to use a new Fujifilm X-E1 or the similar X-Pro1. What are their key hardware differences? The X-Pro1 has a hybrid viewfinder that can show either an optical or electronic image, depending on your preference, and, also unlike the X-E1, the X-Pro1 does not have a built-in flash (which many pro photographers disdain anyway).

The two cameras’ “buttons, dials, menus, and connections” are given big labels and adequate illustrations and explanations, particularly if you are an intermediate, or better, photographer.

Once you get past the initial familiarization tour, Pfirstinger takes you into the process of using the features, picking settings, and dealing with many of the finer points, including how to shoot panoramas and double exposures.

There is one surprise you may not have encountered with some other digital SLR cameras: the ability to do firmware updates. “The X-Pro1 and X-E1 are novel cameras in many ways, and they also exhibit a few quirks,” the author notes. He describes how to determine which firmware version is installed in your camera. Then he outlines how to download newer firmware from a Fujifilm website to your personal computer. From there, you move the newer firmware onto an SD card that first has been formatted in your camera. Then you must carefully follow some steps after the SD card is re-installed in your camera. Once the firmware has been updated, you may also need to follow Pfirstinger’s steps for resetting the frame counter.

The book contains numerous photos by Pfirstinger and some fellow professional photographers, along with information regarding camera and ISO settings, lenses used, and other details relevant to how the images were obtained and processed.

Pfirstinger is a strong advocate for the Fujifilm cameras’ RAW features. “If you spend time in online photography forums,” he explains, “you’ll discover that there’s hardly a debate that generates more controversy and discussion than the question of whether it’s better to shoot in RAW or JPEG format. Since this back-and-forth has been raging for years already, you can assume that there’s no right answer.”

But what the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras (and some other camera brands) offer are settings that enable you to shoot and save in RAW and JPEG at the same time. “Today the RAW file is the digital equivalent of the negative, and a JPEG file is the digital counterpart of a photographic print. This means there are many different possibilities for interpreting a RAW file and ‘developing’ a JPEG from it.”

If you choose to not save RAW files, he contends, you are choosing to “reduce your X-E1 or X-Pro1 to a sort of instant camera….” In other words, you get one JPEG from a shot, and that’s it.  Of course, you can make many copies of that JPEG and edit them in many different ways. But his point is that RAW format lets you focus on composition, focus and exposure and gives you numerous digital post-processing capabilities that you can work with later, “when  you have time to sit in front of a larger monitor to evaluate your images….”

Rico Pfirstinger has a very diverse background as a writer and photographer. According to his website “Fuji Rumors”:

“Rico Pfirstinger studied communications and has been working as journalist, publicist, and photographer since the mid-80s. He has written a number of books on topics as diverse as Adobe PageMaker and sled dogs, and produced a beautiful book of photographs titled Huskies in Action (German version). He has spent time working as the head of a department with the German Burda-Publishing Company and served as chief editor for a winter sports website. After eight years as a freelance film critic and entertainment writer in Los Angeles, Rico now lives in Germany and devotes his time to digital photography and compact camera systems.”

Pfirstinger’s new book includes a chapter on how to connect and use third-party lenses that have appropriate X-mount adapters. It’s not simply a matter of attaching the lenses and firing away. You have to change several menu settings to ensure that a lens is recognized and that the exposure,  focus and certain other features work properly.

Si Dunn

Mastering the Nikon D7100 – Another fine how-to from ‘Digital Darrell’ – #photography #bookreview

Mastering the Nikon D7100

Darrell Young
(Rocky Nook Press – paperback, Kindle)

I love Nikon cameras, and I love the high-quality Nikon how-to books that Darrell Young–“Digital Darrell”–writes for Rocky Nook Press and Nikonians Press.

One of the reasons I like Digital Darrell’s works is that he used to be a 35mm film photographer and understands the shock and awe of making the awkward transition from film and wet chemicals to digital imagery.

Years ago, when I worked as a photographer for newspapers, I charged into action carrying up to four black-body Nikons, each with a different Nikkor lens and some with bulky motor drives. Every camera was freshly loaded with 35mm film, typically Kodak Tri-X. And I tried to have at least 20 spare rolls of film in my jacket pockets or taped, in little film cans, to some of the carrying straps that crisscrossed my body (and frequently got tangled up as I quickly let go of, say, a Nikon with a 24mm lens and grabbed a Nikon with a 300mm lens and motor drive).

When covering fast-moving news events, there was no time to swap lenses. There also was no excuse for running out of film. And you had to know your cameras well enough that you could roughly set the focus, count f-stops and shutter speed clicks, cock the shutter and verify your flash synchronization setting by feel, all while jogging to the next vantage point to photograph the President of the United States or an angry protest march or fire crews fighting a big pipeline blaze.

After I left the news business and sold off most of my film cameras, I eventually and reluctantly made the move to digital cameras–black-bodied Nikons, of course. And my initial reaction to what I saw through the viewfinders and on the camera bodies and lenses themselves was a mixture of confusion, depression and anger. The most polite translation of my thoughts was: “What the &%$#@ is all of this &^%#>!!!???” I was ready to throw the cameras against the nearest wall and go back to a future where film was still king.

With a Digital Darrell book, you typically don’t have to think “&^%#>!!!???,” etc. You just look in the table of contents or index, turn to a specific section, and get a clear explanation of a feature and its menu options, plus setting recommendations drawn from Darrell Young’s extensive hands-on experience.

Mastering the Nikon D7100 is a well-written and nicely illustrated guide to this “new flagship DX camera” and its many features and wide ranges of settings.

“The D7100,” Young writes, “has everything an enthusiast photographer needs to bring home incredibly good images, without jumping through hoops. The massive resolution of the 24-megapixel (MP) sensor, with a wide dynamic range and no anti-aliasing (AA or blur) filter, make the D7100 one of the world’s best DX cameras for advanced enthusiast photographers.”

Young continues: “The image is what counts, and the Nikon D7100 can deliver some of the highest-quality images out there. It’s a robust camera body designed to last.”

His new how-to guide (a hefty 539 pages in print format) is structured with 13 well-focused chapters:

  • Basic Camera Setup
  • Playback Menu
  • Shooting Menu
  • Custom Setting Menu
  • Setup Menu
  • Retouch Menu
  • My Menu and Recent Settings
  • Metering, Exposure Modes, and Histogram
  • White Balance
  • Autofocus, AF-Area, and Release Modes
  • Live View Photography
  • Movie Live View
  • Speedlight Flash

Photography beginners take note: For the most part, this is not a guide that shows how to compose better pictures of people, clouds, seascapes or wild animals. There are a few fine photographs positioned at the opening of each chapter. And notes about the images and who took them are presented at the back of the book. But the major emphasis in Mastering the Nikon D7100 is on exactly what the title says — understanding the new camera’s amazing array of features and choosing good menu settings when using them.

Si Dunn

Canon EOS 6D – A menu-oriented how-to guide for a feature-rich DSLR camera – #photography #bookreview

Canon EOS 6D

The Guide to Understanding and Using Your Camera
James Johnson
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

This definitely is not another “how to take great digital photographs” guide. Yet, you will be able to take better pictures if you pay attention to the author’s explanations, recommendations and experiences in this 263-page how-to manual.

As the subtitle states, James Johnson’s new Canon EOS 6D book shows how to understand and use your camera by getting comfortable with the EOS 6D’s many menu settings, feature options and accessories.

The Canon EOS 6D is a new addition to Canon’s line of full-frame DSLR cameras. It shoots digital images and digital video, and it has built-in Wi-Fi and GPS. You also can connect it to a TV screen using an HDMI cable.

The text is well written, and the book is adequately illustrated with menu screenshots and other graphics. And the author doesn’t pull many punches when he describes a feature he thinks is hard to use or doesn’t quite live up to its marketing hype from Canon. For example, he’s no big fan of the new GPS feature. “[I]t’s not a strong performer; satellite signals are lost quite easily,”  he writes. And: “I find that by simply rotating the camera on the tripod, I can induce an error of 100 to 300 feet in surface measure, or 50 to 80 feet in elevation.” But not everyone needs great accuracy when using the GPS feature, he concedes. “With the GPS feature enabled…the EOS 6D will record GPS data (surface coordinates, elevation, UTC time and date) along with each photo.” And the data will stay with the images when they are transferred to a computer. The internal GPS “can also log locations, totally separate from photo-recording” for a time period set in a menu option.

The Wi-Fi feature generally works well, he notes, and he explains how to use it. But “[t]he Wi-Fi data transfer speed is slower than the USB cable transfer speed, so you will see some delay, and probably some jerkiness in moving objects, in the Live View display on your computer screen.” On the plus side, he adds: “In my own environment, I can reliably maintain a Wi-Fi connection up to 75 feet (I have not tested beyond that), and from that 75-foot distance I can shut off the camera and have the Wi-Fi connection automatically restored when I power on the camera.”

The EOS 6D camera package is offered in two versions, the body-only package, and the body and lens kit, which includes Canon’s EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Johnson calls it “a very good general-purpose lens” but says little else about lenses in his book. The focus remains on the camera body, its accessories and options, and using the EOS 6D’s extensive array of menu choices to support whatever lenses you choose.

Essentially, Johnson covers all features great and small, right down to the eyepiece cover. “Many Canon owners are not aware that this piece exists,” he points out. “Its purpose is to completely block ambient light from entering the viewfinder’s eyepiece. This is useful if you’re capturing an image when you don’t have your eye at the viewfinder.” For example, you may be taking a long-exposure shot or using remote tripping to take a picture while you are a safe distance from the camera. Cautions the author: “Ambient light entering through the viewfinder can influence exposure metering, resulting in underexposed photos.”

Many DSLR cameras are equipped with tiny pop-up flash units that some photographers like and others consider as insults to their photo-lighting skills. The EOS 6D does not have an internal flash unit. But: “Canon designs, builds, sells, and supports a line of electronic flash units under the name Speedlite. These units represent a broad spectrum of power and capabilities,” Johnson states. And: “I won’t pretend to address the choice of a Speedlite, but will cover what the EOS 6D can do to communicate with and control an external flash, or a flash commander, mounted in the camera’s hotshoe. A flash commander is capable of managing several remote flash units, configured in numerous ways.”

Of course, you can’t really discuss flash settings without using some kind of flash unit to help activate the camera’s menu settings. Johnson uses the new Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite in his descriptions and cautions readers that “[i]f I cover a feature in this section that does not appear on your flash unit, don’t get frustrated trying to find it. However, you may want to evaluate the feature and determine whether you really can live without it.”

From hooking up the camera’s wide carrying strap to cleaning the sensor, managing folders on the memory card, and plugging in an external microphone, this book offers solid how-to guidance for photographers with intermediate-level experience using DSLRs.

Canon EOS 6D: The Guide to Understanding and Using Your Camera can help you master the features you need and want to use and introduce you to new capabilities that can bring you even greater satisfaction with your photography.

Si Dunn

Mastering the Nikon D600 – Digital Darrell’s excellent new how-to guide – #photography #bookreview

Mastering the Nikon D600
Darrell Young
(Rocky Nook – Kindle, paperback)

Digital Darrell is at it again. This time, he has delivered an excellent how-to guide for using the Nikon D600 camera. This high-quality new digital SLR, he says, “can deliver some of the highest-quality images out there.”

Furthermore, he notes, the D600 offers “a rugged camera body designed to last. With this camera, we can return to the days when we seldom bought a new camera body and instead put our money into new Nikkor lenses. Wouldn’t you like to have some new lenses?”

As you would now expect with a feature-rich digital SLR, “the Nikon D600 is a rather complex camera, and it requires a careful study of resources like this book to really get a grasp on the large range of features and functions.”

The Nikon D600 is not recommended for total newcomers to digital photography. But it definitely looks like a rugged, yet lightweight winner for hobbyists and professional photographers alike. And it can be, the author says, an excellent choice for hiking, skydiving, underwater activities,  and other environments where camera weight and sturdiness are important.

Darrell Young’s hefty 547-page book devotes most of its pages to menu choices within the camera, plus step-by-step procedures for using features, changing settings, and picking the best settings for various situations.

Digital Darrell has written about 10 other books on Nikon digital cameras, including Mastering the Nikon D800 and  Mastering the Nikon D7000.

His new book is best read while working hands-on with a Nikon D600, getting it configured for the way you want it to work. (“Your Nikon D600, like a chameleon, can change to a different style of shooting with a mere turn of the Mode dial” once you’ve worked your way through various parts of  “an incredibly dense series of 50 functions,” Young writes.

Example photographs are kept to a minimum. If you need some basic, how-to-take-good-photographs help, add another Darrell Young book to your collection. But definitely get this one, too, if you want to get the most you can from your new Nikon D600.

Si Dunn

HDRI, Digital Zone System, Canon EOS 5D Mark III – 3 new #photography books – #bookreview

Rocky Nook, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., recently has released three handsome new how-to works focused on digital photography and image processing.

The books are: The HDRI Handbook 2.0, The Digital Zone System, and Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The HDRI Handbook 2.0
Christian Bloch
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

Every chapter has been significantly updated in this new edition showing how to use high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) “to digitally capture, store, and edit the full luminosity range of a scene.”

Author Christian Bloch notes: “We’re talking about all visible light there, from direct sunlight down to the finest shadow detail.” Using HDRI, “[t]he old problem of over- and underexposure—which is never fully solved in analog photography—is elegantly bypassed.”

This is not a quick guide. Its 659 pages (in print format) cover everything from “the ideas and concepts behind HDR imaging” to tone mapping (“where you learn to create superior prints from HDR images”) to using HDR images in 3D rendering.

If you are ready to learn how to use HDRI in photographs or computer graphics projects, definitely get this well-written book. It is packed with tips, tricks, step-by-step tutorials, stunning images, and other useful information. Even if you already have some experience with HDRI, you can learn new things and improve current skills using this updated guide.

The Digital Zone System
Robert Fisher
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

In famed photographer Ansel Adams’s Zone System for film cameras (which many people still use), the mantra is: “Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights.” The goal is to capture more details in the shadow areas without losing too many details in the highlight areas.

Of course, much of the artistry of Ansel Adams resided also in his ability to convert his low-contrast negatives into stunning prints using photographic chemicals in “wet” labs.

The Digital Zone System is a methodology for using Photoshop, Lightroom and other digital photography tools to echo the spirit and goals of Adams’s Zone System (which he used primarily with large-format, black-and-white film).

Much of this book’s focus is on showing how to gain greater control over digital images by isolating and adjusting colors and luminance values within specific areas.

One of the important goals of teaching the Digital Zone System is to help speed up workflow and reduce the tedium caused by using traditional methods (such as layer masks) in Photoshop. Zone masks, Fisher notes, are “self-feathering,” so they can give you “smooth transitions and maintain smooth tonal gradations or transitions in your images.”

While color photography is emphasized, the author also shows how to convert digital color images to black-and-white images and apply the Digital Zone System to enhance tonal separations, sharpness, and other aspects.

“Wet lab” film purists no doubt will disagree. But the Digital Zone System described in Robert Fisher’s book can help open the way to creating and producing stunning photographs in color and black-and-white.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
James Johnson
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

James “Jim” Johnson’s new book is a solid, well-written how-to guide to using “the latest in the famed series of Canon EOS 5D full-frame DSLR cameras.” The book , Johnson states, is aimed squarely at “photographers who are comfortable with basic photography, but who need an understanding of the myriad features, functions, options, and settings available with the EOS 5D Mk III camera.”

The 5D Mark III, photographer Juergen Gulbins writes in the book’s Foreword, “may be used for portrait, landscape, and sports as well as for studio work.” And it offers “dramatic” improvements over the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, he adds.

The 22.3 MP resolution is “sufficient for all kinds of photography,” and it allows for print sizes well beyond 17 inches by 24 inches–“if you have a sharp, well-focused image,” Gulbins emphasizes.

James Johnson’s nicely illustrated text starts with what you’ll get in a Canon EOS 5D Mark III package. Then it moves to showing and explaining the purpose and operation of each of the camera’s buttons, connectors, switches and dials. After that, you get some pointers on digital photography, including focus and exposure, while also learning to use the camera’s rich range of menus. And the camera’s video-shooting capabilities and its in-camera photo processing features are explained, as well.

For example, in the section on Live View, the author hails it as “probably the most straightforward implementation of shooting with the LCD monitor that I’ve come across.” But he also cautions: “The LCD monitor uses a great deal of battery power, so when in Live View, you will want to watch the remaining charge level a bit more closely than usual.”

With this excellent guidebook in hand, you can toss aside the camera’s problematic instruction manual and get some real-world explanations from an experienced photographer who also happens to be an experienced technical writer.

– Si Dunn

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Panobook 2012: Award-Winning Panoramic Photographs – #bookreview

Panobook 2012: Award-Winning Panoramic Photographs
The Kolor Team
(Rocky Nook, hardback)

Beautiful.There are few other words to describe this gathering of 150 prize-winning panoramic color photographs.

The photographs were judged as the best of the 1,647 entries in the Panobook 2012 competition sponsored by Kolor, developer of Autopano image-stitching software. The software enables individual images shot with conventional digital cameras to be stitched together to create expansive panoramic photographs. 

Professional and amateur photographers all over the world submitted photos for the competition.  And, in the words of the book’s editors, the results included “[s]ublime landscapes, original compositions, artistic and technical performances …exceptional images that invite you on a unique journey around the world.”

The stunning shots range from the interior of a basilica in Krakow, Poland, to an idyllic landscape in West Virginia, to an amazing tangle of trees in New Zealand, as well as elegant city skylines, landscapes, shorelines, building interiors, and even panoramic underwater photographs.

Almost anyone who likes photography and pursues it as a profession or hobby will find many inspiring and engrossing pictures in this collection.

Si Dunn