Book Review: The DSLR Field Guide by Michael Freeman

Page content

The Digital SLR

Today’s DSLRs are undoubtedly technological marvels. Their bodies and shapes may not have changed all that much over the years, but the technology that drives them is constantly being improved and worked upon. Understanding how this technology works, and the best ways to use it, is the basic premise of this incredibly comprehensive reference book. It’s not perfect, but its benefits outweigh its flaws.

Organization (3 out of 5)

The DSLR Field Guide

Essentially there are only two chapters that span the 250 pages of content in The DSLR Field Guide. Technically, three sections are listed on the contents page, but the last - the Reference section - is merely a glossary of some of the more precise terms that are used throughout the book.

The first half of the book is entitled The Digital Environment. It is a very broad overview of everything from digital camera sensors to dynamic range, camera profiles, HDR imaging and more. For me, this was a little too broad and could have benefitted from further sub-division in order to provide more focus and clarity on the topics in hand. It also had some information that I probably could have done without. For instance, the pages devoted to camera menus. I have a camera manual for my DSLR that is much more specific and informative than the broad overview given here.

The second half of the book is devoted to image editing and how best to process and archive your photos. However, you have to read a good 40 pages before you actually get to the image editing part of this chapter. The first 40 pages are devoted to choosing the right software, calibrating your monitor, archival media and so forth. It is all very useful information, but in my opinion it could have benefitted from a standalone chapter.

Content and Style (4 out of 5)

Nikon D5100 DSLR

The first thing that will strike you about this book when you read it is the level of detail and information that Michael Freeman employs as he takes you on a journey through the technology behind today’s DSLRs. No stone is left unturned as he delves into almost every conceivable facet of digital photography. An encyclopedic knowledge of each topic is clearly on display here.

However, the second thing that will strike you as you read this book is the slightly strange decision to brand it a field guide, because as good as the information it provides actually is, The DSLR Field Guide is not likely to be the kind of book that you will pack in your camera bag before you go out on a shoot. Unfortunately, this makes it a little harder to forgive the small fonts and compact formatting, but once you get over this mental hurdle, you will find a lot to like about this book.

For instance, the author does a great job at explaining some relatively difficult, technical subjects like color profiles and metering zones, and he effortlessly dissects the various components of a digital SLR to educate the reader as to the function of each part. Freeman then builds upon this knowledge and applies it to photographic techniques like HDR photography or panoramic stitching.

There is ample space in the book devoted to lenses, tripods and lighting equipment, and some sound recommendations are made for the kind of software, storage media and LCD monitors you could use to process your images. The mini tutorials for the likes of sharpening, the shadows and highlights tool, and tonal adjustments are all solid introductions to these common editing techniques, but you may yearn for a book that is a little more detailed if you are really looking to develop these skills.

If I had one criticism to level at The DSLR Field Guide, it’s that it feels a little dated at times. There is nothing specific that makes the information it provides obsolete, but images that include the six-year-old Canon 350D, or worse yet the nine-year old Nikon D100, do not help to garner the feel of a modern digital photography manual. Neither does the labeling of Lightroom and Aperture as “recent innovations”, but that could depend on your definition of recent.

Value for Money (4 out of 5)

If you can live with the fact that this book is not really a field guide, and is perhaps not quite as well organized as it might be, the $10 you are likely to pay for this book is not a bad investment. Michael Freeman clearly has an admirable depth of knowledge, and a skill for communicating it in an easy to digest format. It is not really a book for a complete beginner, but if you are already starting to find your way in photography, and are looking for a more in-depth look at some of the more technical elements associated with DSLRs, then this is a good choice to expand your knowledge of digital photography.


Book cover image courtesy of Focal Press.

Nikon D5100 image courtesy of Nikon USA.

This post is part of the series: The Focal Press Photography Field Guides

Photography book reviews of the popular Field Guide manuals from Focal Press. These pocket-sized books are the ideal companion for any kit bag and a handy quick reference guide when you really need it. They are written by pro photographers, but in a style that is easily understood by all.

  1. A Review of The Wedding Photography Field Guide
  2. A Review of The Bird Photography Field Guide
  3. A Review of The Exposure Field Guide
  4. A Review of The DSLR Field Guide
  5. A Review of The Photographer’s Eye Field Guide