Nikon D300 Digital Field Guide by J. Dennis Thomas

Published by Wiley

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

In his introduction, J. Dennis Thomas acknowledges that his book covers much of the same ground as the “D300 User’s Manual” from Nikon, but in a manner that’s easier to comprehend and more interesting to read. It seemed to me that Thomas didn’t quite reach his goal.

Part I of the book starts out with a quick tour of the camera which describes how to set the most basic functions necessary to use the D300, followed by a physical description of each of the controls on the camera. The author then follows up with a slightly longer discussion of the camera’s functions, followed by a line-by-line description of each of the camera’s menu items. In Part II, the author provides generic discussions of Nikon’s family of lenses, photography essentials like exposure and composition, the use of light, a long chapter devoted to snippets on different kinds of photography, like architectural or landscape photography, and then a chapter on viewing and editing images in-camera. There is an appendix which describes a few accessories in the broadest possible terms.

Every equipment guide has to aim at a broad range of users from beginners to professionals, although the Nikon D300 is such a sophisticated machine that it is more likely to be used by more experienced photographers. I suppose that a beginner might find new information here, but only if he didn’t want to go through the small print, black-and-white only, manual that comes with the camera. On the other hand, a lot of essential information was not discussed. For example, although the author often refers to options offered by the camera relating to the differences between the JPEG and RAW formats, he never gives a full explanation of the benefits of one format over the other. Another example is in his description of the number of focusing points available in dynamic area mode. Although he describes the difference between 9, 21 and 51 point modes (more points-duh!), he doesn’t explain why it doesn’t make sense to just use the most points for any occasion. The author doesn’t tell you that the more points you select, the slower the camera focuses because it must sample each point for changes in the scene.

There were even a few cases where Thomas included less material then the Nikon manual. He describes a menu item called “Print set (DPOF)” which did not even seem to appear on my D300’s menu! After frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with my camera, I looked in the “D300 User’s Manual” where I found that this is a menu setting that probably isn’t even available until certain other conditions have been set up. (I eventually found the item by scrolling backwards through the playback menu.)

Most of the material in part II is just too broadly brushed to be very useful. A new photographer might learn that there is such a thing as a soft box, but never learn how to use one with the D300.

Some material provided is misleading as in the image that’s included with the explanation of histograms that shows the histogram divided into five sections while the D300’s histogram is divided into four sections. In other cases, illustrations that would help one understand the discussion were not available, as in the failure to include a screen capture in the discussion of picture controls.

Although this volume may be enough for beginners who don’t want to go through the tiny print, flimsy paged “D300 User’s Manual” provided with the camera, more serious users would be better off with “David Busch’s Nikon D300 Guide to Digital SLR Photography” (even though I must acknowledge that Thomas does provide a better explanation of fine-tuning auto focus lenses).

This post sponsored by Lensbabies.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. The main attraction to “TWIP” brand for me is the honest opinions shared in the podcasts, forums, and reviews. I have a new D300 and this review was definitely a timely submission.

    Scott/Alex & Team, Thank You for keeping your podcasts on track, entertaining, and informational.

    Robert in Tokyo,

  2. The D300 is my second DSLR (my first was the D2h)… over the years, I owned a multitude of Canon and Nikon 35mm SLRs. OK, so I know one end of a camera from the other… and I never gave the manuals any more than the briefest of glances. That changed when I got my first DSLR. I found myself referring to the manual quite often in an attempt to become “at one” with all the parameters. Like many, I found the official manual just, well… useless. It’s not that the information isn’t there, it’s just presented in such a way as to make it almost impossible to absorb (for me). This opened up a whole new market for third-party camera manuals from people who could actually write, and moreover, had mastered the art of presenting technical information in a readable way.

    The trap these authors fall into (usually) is padding the book with a re-hash of basic information. I do not need another description of the interplay of aperture, shutter speed and iso. Thank you, but I already understand things like stopping fast action with a fast shutter speed, hyper-focal distances and how to keep the background out-of-focus with a wide aperture etc. The rule of thirds and other such information about perspective, portraiture & landscapes are very well documented in other technique-style books, and do not need to be re-hashed in each and every model-specific third-party manual (especially at the higher-end). The alternative (i.e. leaving this stuff out) can sometimes lead to a somewhat “thin” book that highlights the lack of real model-specific content.

    If I need to reference any general technique issues, I always seem to reach back to my old Photographer’s Handbook (1977 edition) by John Hedgecoe. I understand this has been regularly updated, but although technology has marched forward, general principles remain the same.

    I agree with the reviewer that David Busch’s D300 book is probably a far better bet for anyone looking to have a substantial and comprehensive companion to their D300. He touches the basics, but doesn’t belabor the points, and all information is geared towards the D300 user. Within ten minutes of opening the book, I’d had a number of “doh!” moments.

    I’ll also echo Robert’s comments and thank you guys for the whole TWiP endeavor. Nicely done.

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