Our friend Lloyd Chambers has a new "book" out. Note the quotation marks—this isn't a paper book, an ebook, or even a PDF file. It's a set of some 180 web pages, readable online only. It's called Making Sharp Images. The price? $44.95 for a one-year subscription.
Go here to see the complete table of contents of the book.
The book is focussed on a single topic—sharpness and lack thereof in all its manifestations. It's not a treatise on good photography, per se, although Lloyd regularly touches on that subject. This is a strength, not a weakness. Lloyd never claims that sharpness is the be-all and end-all of photography. If it's not of special interest to you, the reader, then this is not the book for you. If you find yourself wishing a photograph was sharper or wondering why one was not, then read this book.
Along the way Lloyd will happily scare the bejeezus out of pixel peepers. He describes more sources of blur than you can shake a sensor at. Some years ago, regarding darkroom printing, I observed that given the number of things I'd found that could go wrong in the darkroom it was quite amazing that any of us ever managed to successfully make a fine print. Well, when you're done reading the chapter "All About Blur," you'll feel much the same way.
Lloyd has many helpful in-camera technique hints and tips in this book. For example he devotes several web pages to using LiveView most effectively (it's not as easy as you'd think), especially with cameras that can make it a bit tricky.
The book is not limited to matters of camera technique. The chapter "Digital Sensor Technology" includes a fine grab-bag of post-exposure methods for sharpening up photographs and increasing fine detail. I think there was even one or two I didn't know—the book is that extensive
Lloyd also offers up a very practical (and dauntingly complete) set of lens tests that most readers can perform themselves. A few recommendations, like obtaining multiple samples of a lens, are beyond the means of most lens testers, self included, but most of the tests do not demand unreasonable resources or skills.
Do I have any quibbles? Of course; there will always be quibbles. I think Lloyd makes a bit too big of a deal about diffraction and achieving pixel-level resolution, although he's technically accurate. This is the difference between a judgement call and facts. We agree on the facts, but not on the judgement. You get to decide for yourself.
I did find one repeated error: "Depth of field doubles every two stops, so stopping down from ƒ/4 to ƒ/8 doubles the depth of field." I think this is simply a miswrite—depth of focus increases in direct proportion to the f-number. Depth of field varies in a much more complicated way.
My biggest quibble is with the pricing structure. $44.95 is not unreasonable for a book of this quality and scope. But once I buy a paper book, I can read it forever. If I understand Lloyd's approach, after a year this web book becomes inaccessible to the buyer unless they fork over additional money (annual renewals are $14.95). I recognize that Lloyd is trying to establish an analogue to people buying new editions of a physical book, but I think it's a bad fit. As an author I certainly hope that people will buy new editions of my books when they're published, but no one is obligated to do so or else suffer losing access to the older edition they did buy.
In summary, though, highly recommended. Unequivocally so, if Lloyd can revamp the price structure.
Note: Beginning next week, Ctein's weekly column will appear on Wednesdays rather than Thursdays. If you tune in looking for it on Thursday, as usual, you might have to dig back in the stack a bit. —Ed.