DSLR How-To App Is Kind to Newbies
The array of functions and features offered by even entry-level DSLR cameras are enough to make a novice's head spin, and learning the ins and outs of photography through the product manual can be pretty dry. "Master Your DSLR Camera" isn't so much an app as it is an interactive e-book for DSLR newbies who want to know how it all works.
12/20/11 5:00 AM PT
Master Your DSLR Camera: A Better Way to Learn Digital Photography, an app from Open Air Publishing, is available for US$9.99 at the App Store.
Every year around this time, droves of pocket-cam photogs are turned into newly minted DSLR users. If someone in your life is generous enough to give you one of these relatively large, complex cameras during the holidays, and if you've never had a chance to use one very extensively before, then the dozens of new features and controls at your fingertips might be a little confusing. Pocket cam users rarely have to worry about things like shutter speed, aperture, color balance, lens selection and so on. Go from that to a DSLR, and it's tempting to just set the thing to the simplest automatic setting and leave it there forever.
Do not do this. The auto setting on a DSLR is like your best friend from early childhood. For a short time you'll be inseparable, but it's often a friendship of convenience. You should grow a little and spend time with other settings and modes, even if at first they seem challenging or even downright useless. You can still comfortably revisit auto mode every now and then -- it's a great setting to hang out with on certain occasions. But if you don't broaden your horizons, it's barely worth it to lug around one of these bulky cameras.
Yeah, easier said than done. I suppose one could try to jump into learning the ins and outs of DSLR photography by reading the camera's manual. But something like "Master Your DSLR Camera: A Better Way to Learn Digital Photography" will probably be much more digestible (though you should still hang on to the manual).
The Book as an App
"Master Your DSLR" is an app to the extent that it's sold in the App Store. But it's really an interactive e-book. The home screen is a series of chapters -- basics like "Key Concepts and Settings," slightly more advanced material like "Fix Common Image Problems" and up to "Do More With Your Camera" for finer points like bracketing and some very broad strokes regarding editing software. The book even briefly extends into topics like achieving a proper white balance, though that's about as advanced as the subject matter gets.
Each chapter breaks down into sections and sub-sections. For example, "Skylines" is contained in the section "Landscapes," which is part of the chapter "Take the Photo."
Each section and sub-section is kind of short, when you consider how much text it really adds up to. And that's fine, because it's also concise, and who wants to wade through page after page of text when you've got this brand-new camera you want to learn to use? Just tell me how work this function and let me try it out for myself.
One thing that quickly becomes clear -- and it's something the app's authors readily acknowledge -- is that this app is a rough tutorial for people whose experience with photography is basically limited to pocket cams and phone cams. The term "Master" in its title perhaps isn't quite right, but maybe "Know What You're Doing With Your DSLR Camera" sounded awkward.
This isn't a textbook for a photography class, a stiff technical manual or a book on criticism. It's for people who've perhaps never touched a DSLR but are interested in using all the intricate settings a camera like that offers, or at least learning what they're for. It's a beginner's guide that does its best to avoid jargon.
Sometimes technical terms and unfamiliar words are inevitable, though, and that's part of the advantage offering this guide as an app. Words in the text that may not be familiar to a novice are highlighted. Touch one and a definition pops up instantly.
Other interactive features include the ability to search the whole app for a particular word, add bookmarks and add your own notes. Several slideshows can be accessed for seeing the difference between shooting with method A versus method B side by side. There are also a few video demonstrations for techniques like working with available light.
One of the first questions any new DSLR owner might have is "What do all these dozens of buttons do?" The "DSLR" app does contain a little information on that in the "Understanding Your Camera" section, though the fact that there are dozens of different cameras out there means it would have to include a massive catalog to provide exact details for each particular model. Instead, it has diagrams for just two cameras: a Canon T3i and a Nikon D5100. If you're a beginner with DSLR photography, chances are you have a model very similar to one of these. Still, I think it might have helped to address a third brand that's popular with consumers, like Sony or Pentax.
You'll see so-called Buyer's Guides in various places around the app. Once it tells you what a certain piece of hardware does, like how different interchangeable lenses affect the shot, a Buyers Guide button can be found nearby. Buyer's Guides are basically just collections of links to Amazon, though, and sometimes only one SKU will be listed for a given item, even though there are several companies that make many different versions of the product. Perhaps this is a deliberate decision by the book's editors, and these products are what they consider to be the best options for a beginner. Still, you may want to shop around on your own.
If you don't have much experience with an SLR camera -- digital or otherwise -- then education will be vital for your enjoyment of your DSLR camera. Not knowing the basics of how to use it defeats the purpose; you'll probably be better off packing a high-res pocket camera. If the thought of learning the basics from the camera's technical manual makes you cringe, "Master Your DSLR Camera" is a good place to start.
As for the price: At first the app's price struck me as a little high. iPad users are generally accustomed to seeing a $10 price tag on stuff like premium games, enterprise-grade software and e-books. I guess you could say this app is an e-book of sorts, though it's definitely shorter than a novel, a biography or an in-depth guide on advanced photography. Then again, straight e-books -- as defined as the stuff you get on iBooks or Kindle, for example -- typically don't have detailed images, a vital feature of a photography guide. If "Master Your DSLR" was an actual book that you could find at a brick-and-mortar bookstore, would it cost about $10? I think it would.