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 Nikon D610 – Another helpful how-to from Digital Darrell – #photography #bookreview

Mastering the Nikon D610

Darrell Young

(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

d610_hr

Today’s digital SLR cameras have many more features than most of us can possibly use. And, certainly, they have many more features than most of us can readily employ without cracking open a how-to guide.

Still, I am both a fan and user of DSLRs. I am also a fan and user of some of Digital Darrell’s books on how to master various Nikon cameras.

Yes, the instruction manuals that come with new DSLRs are supposed to tell us how to use every button, setting and indicator. Often, they do. Yet, that’s all they usually tell us: the bare basics.

In a Digital Darrell book, on the other hand, you get more than detailed coverage of every dial, button, indicator, and menu setting. You also get color photographs of menu options, plus recommended settings and numerous tips based on Darrell Young’s shooting preferences and experiences in the field. Those recommendations and tips can be valuable savers of time and frustration, whether trying out a feature for the first time or using a feature not touched in several months.

Darrell Young’s new Mastering the Nikon D610 is a world-class how-to book that deserves to be kept handy by anyone who uses this new, feature-rich, full-frame (FX) camera.

Young has written more than a dozen photography books, primarily detailed guides for specific models of Nikons. “The massive resolution of the 24.3 megapixel (MP) sensor, an amazing dynamic range, and clean, broadcast-quality video make the D610 one of the world’s best digital cameras,” Young states.

“In my opinion, the image is what counts, and the Nikon D610 can deliver some of the highest-quality images out there. It’s a robust 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.”

Whether you get one D610 or a dozen, you may really like keeping a copy of this well-crafted, 547-page book handy for quick—and detailed—reference in the field or studio.

Si Dunn

Our Beautiful, Fragile World – Excellent photographs by an environmental artist – #bookreview

Peter Essick's new book will inspire photographers to work harder and help readers to better understand the fragility of our planet.

Peter Essick’s new book will inspire photographers to work harder, and it will help readers better understand the fragility of our planet.

Our Beautiful, Fragile World

The Nature and Environmental Photographs of Peter Essick
Peter Essick
(Rocky Nookhardcover, Kindle)

Most of us are content to take a photograph and just settle for what we get under the current circumstances.

That’s not how Peter Essick works.

Essick has spent more than 25 years traveling to remote corners of the world, but also to many spots in North America, as a photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

“Many of my successful photographs,” he writes in his noteworthy new book, “are the result of discovering a scene and then going back several times to get the best picture possible.”

Our Beautiful, Fragile World presents a collection of Essick’s excellent nature and environmental photographs. And almost all of the photos are accompanied by a one-page essay explaining where and how an image was taken, what circumstances surrounded the shot, what environmental issues or crises are represented, and what Essick wants readers to take away from the story behind the photograph.

His book likewise contains a technical information section where specific details of each shot are described, including camera (Nikon or Canon), lens, film (typically Fujichrome 100) or digital camera settings, and how he had to work to get the photograph (i.e., use an underwater housing, or shoot from a light plane, or “look for a place where the sunlight was bounding off the sandstone and reflecting golden light on the opposite wall.”

There also is a fine foreword by Jean-Michael Cousteau, son of the famed, late ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. “I feel much hope for the future,” he writes, “when I see the talented work of artists like Peter Essick and understand the message he conveys through his stunning environmental images.”

Our Beautiful, Fragile World will inspire almost any photographer to try to take better nature pictures. And it starkly highlights how we continue to run roughshod over the delicate elements and natural forces that keep us alive on this threatened planet.

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

Beautiful LEGO – Photos and insights from some of the LEGO world’s top artists – #bookreview

Beautiful LEGO

Mike Doyle
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Wow! That’s one of the best words to describe the snap-together works of art that can be created using LEGO plastic bricks. Mike Doyle’s excellent new LEGO art book offers some 400 color pictures of everything from a rotary-dial telephone to a Thanksgiving turkey, plus robots, space weapons and a magnificent, futuristic city, constructed by some of the world’s top artists in the LEGO building community. (LEGO®, incidentally, is a trademark of the LEGO Group.)

In his book, Doyle asks several of his fellow artists a key question–Why LEGO?–and gets an intriguing array of answers and insights to accompany the photographs of their creations. Doyle himself says: “It is a medium that offers instant gratification. No matter how large a project is, at the end of the day, I can look at the section I’ve built in its finished state. LEGO is a one-step process; there’s no gluey mess, sanding, or painting to worry about. I just build. This gives me the opportunity, after each session, to assess visually how the piece is working as a whole.”

His book’s eye-catching cover shows a six-foot-tall model titled “Contact,” a movie-like cityscape that took Doyle some 600 hours and 200,000 LEGO bricks to assemble.

Another artist, Arthur Gugick, explains how he constructs LEGO models of landmark buildings such as Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and Notre Dame, after determining the proper scale for each structure. “It often depends upon the scale of a particular element,” he says. “The White House’s scale depended on the scale of the windows. Notre Dame’s scale depended on the scale of the buttresses.” Gugick sometimes has to resort to mathematics and even to writing software while creating his models. “The Roman Coliseum is an ellipse with a width-to-length ratio of 6:7. There is no formula for the circumference of an ellipse like there is for a circle,” he notes. “To find the circumference, I use the arc length formula from calculus. The Dome of the Rock,” he adds, “required a bit of trigonometry. To build the dome accurately, I wrote some software that easily allowed me to build any dome shape.”

Beautiful LEGO is, indeed, a beautiful book, one that will give fans of the plastic bricks many ideas for future projects–and no doubt a few bouts of artistic envy to accompany the inspirations.

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