Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 1)

By Dave Powell

Over the decades, my “photography-book GAS” filled a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. But I’ve gradually weeded it back to just one 35-inch shelf of my favorite volumes. They are my most concentrated, interesting, unique and useful resources.

Of course, “usefulness” is subjective. But I think these volumes should also appeal to many 35mmc readers– who collectively shoot both analog and digital images, enjoy reading about photographic techniques, and love hands-on equipment projects. So I decided to share these favorite resources in this two-part article.

I purchased most of the books years ago– and now see eye-watering online prices for some. So if anything here interests you, definitely look it up on Amazon and other online vendors (including my personal fave: thriftbooks.com.) But as I did, also haunt yard sales, thrift shops, used book stores, boot sales, church bazaars, and library clean-outs. The best bargains often hide there.

I’ve grouped the books into five categories:

  • Film Cameras & Systems
  • Digital Photography & Processes
  • Photographic Arts & Techniques
  • Famous Photographers’ Lives and Methods
  • Tips, Tricks & DIY Equipment

This first article includes the first three categories. Part 2 will cover the last two. But a disclaimer: This is by no means a survey of all available materials out there! These are simply the volumes I’ve kept over the years for their continuing interest and usefulness.

Film Cameras & Systems

Ivor Matanle’s “Collecting and Using Classic Cameras” (and “… SLRs”)

 

Matanle collecting and using classic camera books

In 1999, I paid around $25 for each of these delightful volumes at a local camera store. Written in the U.K. and printed in Germany on quality glossy stock, they are must-owns for anyone interested in vintage SLR, non-SLR, twin-lens, medium-format, and folding/non-folding rangefinder systems. One can happily dip into them at random as one’s moods dictate, or read them cover to cover.

Each volume offers system histories, gear shots, and classic B/W photos captured with the cameras themselves. Matanle also details known quality issues, available lenses (as of 1992 and 1997 respectively), optional accessories, buying considerations and competing systems.

NOTE: The “Classic Cameras” volume in particular is where I learned that the Agfa Super Silette with f/2 Solagon lens was (as Matanle put it) “a considerable ‘find’… with tremendous potential for quiet and unobtrusive available-light photography.” That was great news, because I’d inherited the camera’s American version– the Ansco Super Memar– in unused condition from my father. And now that I’ve obtained a bulk roll of Kodak 5222 Double-X, I’ll review the camera in a future article. But (spoiler alert) it’s surprisingly well-built and useful for “Sunny-16” shooters.

One warning though: Don’t buy Matanle’s books if you’re fighting Gear Acquisition Syndrome. They won’t help!

B. Moose Peterson’s “Nikon System Handbook”

Moose Peterson Nikon system book

According to his surprisingly short Wiki page, Bruce Moose Peterson is:

“An American wildlife, aviation and landscape photographer whose work has been published in a variety of magazines worldwide and in over twenty books. In 1998, he was the recipient of the John Muir Conservation Award for his efforts as an endangered species advocate. Peterson’s primary area of interests center on rare and endangered species in North America, particularly in California. “

He’s also been a dedicated Nikon user and long-time “ambassador” for the company. This paperback book (its 6th Edition now listed on Amazon for $19 used or $110 new!) is mandatory for current or future Nikon SLR users. Heck, it’s required reading for anyone who wants to mount vintage Nikon glass on modern mirrorless digitals. That’s because “Moose” doesn’t shy away from listing equipment strengths and weaknesses when he sees ‘em. (And the book is extraordinarily well indexed for quick look-up’s.)

Joe Lippincott’s “Care and Repair of Classic Cameras”

Lippincott camera repair book

I included part of this illustrated book’s contents above so that you could see the specific cameras it covers. But the book also offers disassembly and servicing instructions for some classic lenses and shutters– plus a slew of sections about other repair issues.

It may have cost me $30 back in 2008, but at this writing, there’s only one copy on Amazon.com… for $54. And while there are a ton of great repair vids on YouTube now, this book still offers valuable ancillary information. So if you look around, you should be able to find a less expensive copy.

Digital Photography & Processes

Anything by Tom Ang!

Tom Ang digital photography books

Tom Ang does a great job writing about a variety of subjects. The books on my shelf are:

  • Silver Pixels: An Introduction to the Digital Darkroom
  • Photoshop for Photography: The Art of Pixel Processing
  • Digital Photographer’s Handbook

Of course, I can’t guarantee that they’re the best out there on these subjects. But I still keep returning to them over the years.

Tom Daly’s “The Digital Printing Handbook: A Photographer’s Guide to Creative Printing Techniques”

Daly digital printing handbook

This lovely 2002 Amphoto paperback is, I think, correctly billed as “a darkroom manual for the digital age.” While written for Photoshop 6 users, many of its procedures can be adapted to later versions and other photo-editing software.

Though parts may be basic for experienced digital photographers, more unusual and advanced digital-darkroom techniques are covered too. And Daly’s later books extend up to Photoshop CS4 (and on Amazon, are listed at up to $269 for new hardbounds)!

Photographic Arts & Techniques

Eric Renner’s “Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique”

Renner pinhole photography book

Anybody interested in pinhole photography (and related technologies) will love this book from Focal Press. Its early chapters are more about history, but I included a shot of its second contents page to give you a better idea of what’s covered after that.

I don’t remember what I paid for this second-edition paperback in 2009, but on Amazon, I see a later edition (which also covers digital pinhole) for $44 (paperback) or $183 (hardcover). But my favorite Thrift Books site (linked earlier) currently lists copies of later editions for from $9.49 to $33.

George Schaub’s “How to Photograph the Outdoors in Black & White”

Schaub black-and-white outdoor photography book

Anyone who has read Shutterbug, Camera Arts, American Photography, the Sunday New York Times “Arts & Leisure” section, Popular Mechanics, Men’s Journal, Travel & Leisure or any of George Schaub’s 20-some books knows that his photography and writing are first-rate. This 1999 paperback was a gift from a co-worker and friend. And it’s a must read for anyone shooting black-and-white film landscapes… or wanting to do so.

Though packed with tips, tricks and inspiration, it’s not in the least technical or intimidating. And the only portion that could be considered out-of-date (due to the book’s age) is its list of George’s five favorite B/W emulsions. But there’s still a lot of meat here. And I’m amazed that it’s only $5.97 on Amazon. But then, it IS about “old-fashioned” film!

You also owe it to yourself to at least browse Amazon’s list of other Schaub books. He’s got stuff for digital shooters too. I might have to grab this one for Christmas!

Lou Jacobs Jr.’s “Expressive Photography”

Jacobs expressive photography book

I’ll let this well-known photojournalist, Shutterbug writer, and author of many books describe this unusual volume’s theme in his own words:

“The technical and creative aspects of photography can be learned and exploited at the same time. But the mastering of technique doesn’t make an ‘artist.’ … Seeing and feeling go together in the creation of pictures you may never have thought of taking.”

This is one of the more unusual discussions of photo creativity that I’ve seen, and its contents page above may give you a better idea. Printed in 1979, it doesn’t discuss digital. But what it says still applies. And it’s only $8.35 on Amazon. In addition, his more recent $4.95 book may interest many 35mmc readers (especially Hamish)!

O.R. Croy’s “Design by Photography: Step by Step”

Croy design by photography book

In 1950– at the age of 48– this Austrian-born author became the editor of Foto-Magazin, at the time one of the industry’s most lavish journals. This unusual 1972 Focal Press hardcover is one of the many books he also wrote about cameras and photography. It illustrates many techniques for using photo images in art, illustration and graphic-design projects.

While mostly about black-and-white images, it also touches on color processes. And many of the techniques can be extended to digital. At the very least, it offers a wealth of ideas when one’s in a creative slump. And at this writing, there’s a $10.87 copy on Amazon.

That’s it for now. If you have any favorite volumes, please tell us about them in a comment!

And in Part 2, I’ll describe my favorite ephemera about:

  • Famous Photographers’ Lives and Methods
  • Tips, Tricks & DIY Equipment

There’ll be a lot of cool stuff there!

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

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About The Author

By Dave Powell
Trained in mathematics, physics, cosmology, computer programming and science journalism. Retired mathematician, award-winning technical and journalistic writer. 1989 winner of the Bruce B. Howat Award-- an international business-journalism equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. (Only one Howat was awarded each year, IF the committee in Geneva found an article they really liked. But I don't think the prize is granted anymore.) Also a past author and editorial advisor for Sesame Street... where I regularly worked with Jim Henson and Kermit!
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Comments

James on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 1)

Comment posted: 04/12/2023

Thanks for the titles. I've built a nice photography library thrifting - most under $5.00, some freebies. Freeman Patterson is my current favourite - I'm trying to acquire every one of his books for my library. It's a fun task!
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 04/12/2023

Thanks James! I just looked and our entire library network has only "The Art of Seeing." I've put a hold on it and look forward to delving in. (You certainly have a task before you... Patterson has a few books out there!) Dave

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Alan replied:

Comment posted: 04/12/2023

I have a couple of his books on my shelves. I bought them new back in the 1970’s. They are well worn but you have reminded to look at them again.

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 04/12/2023

Hi Alan, They all do look fascinating. I'm looking forward to reading our library's "Art of Seeing"! Dave

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James replied:

Comment posted: 04/12/2023

"Art of Seeing" is a good one. I'm currently re-visiting "Photography, For The Joy Of It." A relaxing read...

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 04/12/2023

That sounds like excellent winter reading, James. I shall look into it too! Dave

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Alan Peres on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 1)

Comment posted: 29/11/2023

Thanks for the recommendations. Now we will watch their prices increase :)
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Sroyon on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 1)

Comment posted: 27/11/2023

Great article and as a fellow photo-book enthusiast, I look forward to Part 2! I've actually had an article in mind for some time, about different categories of photobooks. But too many article ideas, too little time... I have the 4th edition of Renner's book, I like it a lot. And I have Tom Ang's Photography: The Definitive Visual History which is a really good all-purpose book. Part 2 of the Schaub book looks very interesting. A lot of books deal with technical aspects like metering, focal length, etc. and even rules of composition, but this seems more general/philosophical. Unfortunately my local libraries in Singapore don't seem to have this book. The Jacobs book (also not available at my local libraries) looks super intriguing too. Especially chapters 10 and 14, because next year I'm planning to try some more experimental stuff in the darkroom :)
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 27/11/2023

Hi again my friend! I'm so glad you enjoyed the article... and have some of the authors' books on your own shelves! Schaub's book is indeed general, philosophical and inspirational... and Part 2 is definitely in that vein. Rather than discussing "previsualization" in the same technical depth as Ansel Adams might, Schaub boils it down to "thinking about what your photograph will look like before you take the picture." I might even add the bracketed words "[you want]" between "what" and "your" in the above quote! In Jacobs' book, chapter 10 is ITSELF rather bizarre... with eerie multi-exposure images, light paintings and other shots that are just plain strange. And chapter 14 picks up where 10 left off to combine such images using techniques like sandwiching, photograms, Sabattier, and temperature changes during film development. Some of the results remind one of Man Ray... and Jerry Uelsmann also makes appearances. Overall, the book has frequent Gothic overtones! And just FYI, the second part of my article is scheduled for December 21st. Not too long to wait! If you have any other questions, though, please feel free to ask! Cheers, Dave

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Dave Powell on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 1)

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

Hi John Bennett! I tried three times to "Reply" to your excellent comment. And none seem to have gone through. So for this fourth attempt, I just posted it as a new "Comment." Thank you so much... just the kind of info I was looking for! Some of those may fit more with this article's next installment. But I'll still look for your titles in our library network... and then for possible online purchasing. They are excellent recommendations! I'm also working on an article about a photographer who's probably on nobody's list-- largely by her own design-- but deserves to be better known. So thanks again John, and let's see what happens when I hit "Post Comment" this time! Dave
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Murray Leshner replied:

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

I also like www.abebooks.com, web presence of what is/was known as Advanced Book Exchange. It has worldwide sources, calculates shipping if not included in seller's price, and has a pretty good filter set to search with. You can elect to receive notifications when a wish list item is listed. The only problem I see (on my phone) with the issue Hamish provides updates on, is that while 'Read More' (sometimes) doesn't load the article after the screen goes white, opening the article initially by clicking on the 'headline' caption apparently works every time for me (I have more than my share of browser dysfunctions (elsewhere, not here) with Android phones).

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John Bennett replied:

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

Thanks, Dave! I am seeing your comment here. Books, both instruction manuals and photographer's portfolios, are such a great way to expand both skills and horizons. Onward!

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

Thanks so much Murray! I too like Abe Books, but haven't yet checked their photography titles. I'll definitely do so this week! I also tried clicking on article titles in the announcement emails... and yes, they seemed to work when the "Read More" links didn't! And when I tried clicking the "Comment" buttons in the emails, they too opened articles properly. So there's something especially borked about those "Read More" links! I'll update my notes at the top of upcoming articles to reflect this. Thanks again! Dave

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

That's great, John. Onward indeed! Dave

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John Bennett on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 1)

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

The best book I've found about how to *take* photos is Henry Horenstein's Black & White Photogaphy; A Basic Manual (Third Edition, Revised). And I wouldn't be without Robert Frank's The Americans; Walker Evans's American Photographs; and any number of collections featuring the work and biographies of Henri-Cartier Bresson; Garry Winogrand; Lee Friedlander; Lee Miller; and Inge Morath.
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Robert Mirgans on Some Cool Books for 35mmc Readers (Part 1)

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

Link doesn't seem to open
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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 26/11/2023

Hi Robert, Sorry about that! Since all the links within the article seem to work, I'm assuming you encountered a known issue with the site right now! The link in the initial email announcement may or may not work. And that's being looked into. You can, however, always go directly into the 35mmc site and open articles there! Until the announcement email issue is fixed, I'll add the above info as a note at the beginning of my articles... so that the information will appear in the announcement emails. Thanks for letting us know! Dave

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