Picking up from last time...(and like the last column, this one winds up with a question for readers that I don't have an answer to).
Nobody knows everything. Nobody can even understand everything. Even within their limited areas of expertise, no expert knows or understands everything.
No matter how brilliant nor educated my friends are, none of them think they can know or understand it all. I am an expert in dye transfer printing; I know as much about it as anyone else in the world. But some aspects of the process and technology are not within my grasp. I understand when people write about emulsion making, but I don't know the subject well and I couldn't write about it myself without study. When the conversation turns to dye chemistry, I'm pretty much lost. Sure, if I went back and cracked my organic chemistry books and studied for a long time, I might be able to suss it out (more likely not). At my current level of understanding, this material is beyond me.
I have a friend who is without question the most brilliant industrial physicist/electronics genius I know. How good is he? He can tell you precisely how to build a supercomputer starting from a bucket of sand. No exaggeration; he's awesome. And he's commented to me that some of the really new electronics based on quasi-particle physics (don't ask, just don't ask) is stuff he has a lot of trouble wrapping his head around. He might be able to if he had to, but so far he hasn't.
You would think all this could go without saying. Apparently not, else why would some people take umbrage when I suggested that the DxO website is going to be too technical for them? That's a rhetorical question, not the one I'm asking today. I don't really care what the answer to that one is. That's their problem, because if they can't get past that emotion, they're never going to get any smarter or learn anything new. It's not an insult to be told you don't know everything or can understand everything. If you think it is, it'll block you.
Now, here's my question for you, one I don't know the answer to and would like to. What are some examples of good, technical introductory literature on optics, photographic science, and metrology? I know there has to be stuff out there. People do learn this stuff! Trouble is I am so far removed from it these days that I don't know what to recommend to people. Rather than just tell people that they won't be able to understand a particularly technical website or paper, I'd love to be able to direct them to resources where they could educate themselves if they wish.
So that's my request for this time. Give me a reading list, please? Print, websites, videos, whatever. Thanks!
Mike responds: I'll start. The best basic introduction to camera optics I've ever found is the appendix to Canon's EF Lens Work III called "Optical Terminology and MTF Characteristics." The chapter can be downloaded for free as a .PDF file from this start page. The chapter called "EF Lens Technology" is good too, although much less appropriate as a general introduction.
Also, as I've said before, a very good single-volume introduction to digital photography is The Creative Digital Darkroom by Katrin Eismann and Sean Duggan. (I can't say if it's "the best," simply because I'm not personally familiar with every instructional book that exists.)
Featured Comment by Warren Frederick: "Louis Bloomfield is a physics teacher at the University of Virginia and he has written several books about how things really work. His latest is How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary. Here is his description of his book. It really is true; his explanations are understandable and detailed:
'This 720-page book contains nearly everything I have ever written about how things work. It is the culmination of a lifetime's worth of tinkering with everyday objects and a fifteen-year mission of trying to teach what I've learned to ordinary people.
'Unlike other "what-makes-it-work" books, How Everything Works goes well beyond structure, engineering, and history; it also examines the real scientific foundations behind the myriad objects and activities it explores.
'As I hope you can already see from this web site, I work hard at expressing serious scientific issues and insights in ways that are accessible to anyone. How Everything Works is the result of thousands of hours of careful writing and it is meant to be read like a novel, not put on the shelf or table as an exhibit. I am not a magician, I am a physicist, and my goal has always been to give away all the secrets. If you, the reader, can't follow or understand what I have written, then I have failed. I hope that you will take a look at How Everything Works and find that I have met my goal.
'There is much hand-wringing in this country (USA) about how far behind we are in science and math. But talk is cheap and action is what counts. Here is my attempt at doing something about scientific literacy in this country and elsewhere. Whether you're 10-years old or over 80, reading this book will teach you an enormous amount of physics and physical science. And most importantly, you'll discover that science is truly part of your everyday world.'
—Lou Bloomfield, Professor of Physics, University of Virginia"
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "I second Mike's recommendations, particularly for Canon's EF Lens Work III. Although Canon needs to update this book for its latest lenses, EF Lens Work III presents a wonderful section on lens design and optical terminology that's quite engaging without being too geeky. (I'm actually giving someone a copy for Christmas...shhh, don't tell her!) I also recommend the Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, Fourth Edition: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science which features excellent sections on photographic optics, color measurement, photometry, and other technicals. This stuff can be interesting reading on a rainy day but, of course, it's not particularly productive or informative towards one's own photography.
Featured Comment by Oren Grad: "For optics, start with any decent undergraduate text. I have Optics by Hecht and Zajac [OoP] on my shelf. Sidney Ray's Applied Photographic Optics, Third Edition is a rich reference for optical considerations specific to photographic lenses. One caveat is that I'm not sure even the latest edition fully addresses issues specific to imaging on digital sensors, although my older edition does have a limited amount of relevant material in a section on optics for video. A standard text for analog photography more generally is Stroebel et al, Basic Photographic Materials and Processes, Second Edition. Phil Davis's Beyond the Zone System, Fourth Edition is excellent for gaining a practical understanding of sensitometry for traditional analog emulsions."
Mike adds: I have all of Oren's recommendations save the Hecht, and although they're very good, I might question whether any of them quite satisfy Ctein's crucial adjective "introductory"...caveat emptor only on that score.
Featured Comment by Patrick Perez: "What I don't know about optics could fill every book about optics. But from reading over the years, I've gathered that Rudolf Kingslake's Optics in Photography is something of a classic text on the subject. I've never read it myself, being quite illiterate in the area of applied sciences. But as Popeye said, 'I may not be a physgacist, but at least I knows what matters.' "
Mike adds: An anecdote pertinent to Ctein's point about expertise: I contacted Mr. Kinglake at the end of his long life to see if I could entice him to write something for Photo Techniques. Still sharp at age 96 or so, this optical polymath, protegé and son-in-law of the great Prof. Conrady, founder of the Optics Department at the University of Rochester, author of numerous books on optics, and longtime head of Optics at Eastman Kodak, told me he hadn't really kept up as well as he should and that, quote, "I hardly know anything about optics any more."
Also don't miss his A History of the Photographic Lens.
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "I would put in a personal plug for Ctein's brilliant Post Exposure. It's not addressing optics per se. However, I've never seen a more brilliantly succinct explanation of all the issues of visual perception, of contrast control/dynamic range from subject to film to print, and the entire chain of image quality start to finish. I still feel the need to re-read it every year or two just to keep my head straight.
"Some really interesting observations from other posters. I can personally comprehend the reality that it's difficult to be expert at everything; I'm a rural family doctor. I have a very solid grasp of all the relevant primary care stuff, and given the lack of local resources I'm more than competent at most cardiology and obstetrical problems. But I can't be expert at everything. Given time I can puzzle out most clinical issues and therapies, even quite complicated things like chemotherapy regimens or renal/electrolyte problems; but I don't have that time! There just aren't enough hours in the day, even working 80 hours a week.
"And I still have to save a little time for photography."