On User Manuals, Digital Books, Travel, The Importance of eBooks and The Foresight of Thom Hogan
I like physical books. By that I mean I like a book I can hold in my hand, feel the texture, and maybe even revel in the smell of the paper and the ink. I like to consume well-done images that inspire or instruct. I like books that open themselves flat and allow me to look at them without having to hold down both sides of the tight binding of a signature in the book without being afraid that the book would snap closed if I turned lose with one or both hands.
But then I have to say that there is a “but” that goes with all of that. The bigger a book gets the less likely I am to have it along when I want it. Big books in heavy bindings don’t fit easily into the weight requirements of modern-day air travel. They’re, well, “big” and “big” and “ease of travel” are oxymorons. They just don’t work interchangeably.
Enter the book on CD or DVD and some aspects of taking a book with you change. In my case, my laptop computer (which happens to be a 17” MacBook Pro) is almost always with me. I put up with the inconvenience of the larger, 17” model for the “Wow” factor when I show images to a client—the bigger screen does make a difference. But, having my laptop along means that I can load it up with books that I didn’t want to leave at home. The kinds of books I want along consist of about 75% technical manuals—usually camera manuals—and the latter 25% is light reading for when I have time to kill.
I recently carried a new-to-me camera for a trip. I’d acquired a Nikon D300 to play with after Van Redin did a story for DigitalAppleJuice about the high ISO capabilities of the D300, so I wanted to play with one. I needed a manual that was more comprehensive or perhaps easier to read than the reference manual that is packed with the camera—though I had that manual too in the side of my camera bag.
The Nikon D300 camera is not new, as it appeared a number of months ago and already Nikon has released the D3 and the D700 among others. But the D300 was new to me since I had stuck with my older Nikon D2x through all the turmoil of the release of new models. Yes, its operation was similar to my D2x, but similar was not identical.
I’ve always wished that Nikon hired a better team of writers when they put together their manuals. The manual that comes with one of their cameras requires you to read information on dozens of separate and separated pages to follow one idea from beginning to end. Thom Hogan instead follows one idea from start to finish on consecutive pages most of the time.
Frankly, I wish Nikon would hire Thom Hogan to write their manuals. I did the next best thing: I bought The Complete Guide To The D300 by Thom Hogan. It’s an excellent review/manual combination sold as an electronic book delivered on CD. In the case of the guide to the D300, it actually also contains a written and printed supplementary book that accompanies the CD. The eBook weighs in at 151.7 megabytes, with all the included instructions about “read me’s” and copyright and other notices. You can further reduce the "weight" by stripping out the training movies and related materials, leaving only 31.6 megabytes to carry around. I should tell you that the eBook guide to the D300 is 776 pages compared to the printed Nikon manual of 421 pages.
Upon receipt, I immediately recorded Thom Hogan’s Complete Guide To The D300 to my laptop hard drive. Adobe Acrobat will read it.
I think just because I could and I might want it otherwise, I recorded it to the four GB thumb drive I carry around my neck as I travel between my regular laptop computer and other computers I might use. As long as I have access to a computer, I can read the material. That thumb drive carries a number of other manuals (including Thom Hogan’s D2x eBook) and a large number of fiction books for reading when the opportunity arises, and losing it, if that should happen, will not compromise my business or personal information.
One of the joys of the layout of Thom’s electronic books is the running combination Table of Contents/Index that runs down the left hand side of the page. Called Bookmarks this arrangement allows you to spring to a topic instantly. The chances are if you can put a name to the concept, you can find it. There’s a search function block at the top right of the Acrobat page that allows you to type a work or phrase to activate a search it. The page springs to the first example. Hitting the “return” key will move to the next example. Continual hits to the “return” key will eventually move you through the entire eBook and find every example of your search word or phrase.
I’m one of those people that if I don’t use a particular setting or configuration on a camera for a while, then some things simply slip my mind. When confronted with a radically new situation that I didn’t anticipate, then I need some help. It doesn’t happen often, but I hate being blindsided when a camera manufacturer moves a command or menu item to a new and different location from my expectations based on a previous camera model. All this is to get you, the reader, to realize that I find Thom Hogan’s writing superb and his organization of material outstanding.
So, what if it’s not a D300 that you need a manual for? For a lot of the Nikon line he’s has already completed manuals and they are available as eBooks. The titles include:
For the Digital SLR Complete Guide eBooks:
- Nikon D40 and D40x
- Nikon D50
- Nikon D70/D70s, 2nd Edition
- Nikon D1 Series, 3rd Edition
- Nikon D200
- Nikon D2h/D2hs, 2nd Edition
- Nikon D2x/D2xs, 2nd Edition
- Fujifilm S2 Pro
- Fujifilm S5 Pro
In the Digital SLR Complete Guide + To Go Guide there are:
- Completed Guide to Nikon D80
- Complete Guide to Nikon D300
- Complete Guide to the Nikon D700 (coming)
- Complete Guide to the Nikon D3
And for 35mm Film SLR eBooks:
- Complete Guide to the Nikon N65
- Complete Guide to the Nikon N75
- Complete Guide to the Nikon N80
- Complete Guide to the Nikon F100
- Complete Guide to the Nikon F5
- Complete Guide the Nikon F6
If you are interested in Thom Hogan’s eBooks check out his website. In addition to the eBooks that you can purchase, you will notice that on the left side of the introductory page he has twenty-six reviews, any one of which will provide some interesting and relevant information to the Nikon photographer.
Oh, and just for the record, I buy my eBooks online just like you will if you decide you need one. We don’t receive "reviewer’s copies". I’ve written this commentary because I think any Nikon user will profit by Thom’s approach to the writing of manuals. Simply put in my opinion, Nikon camera manual writers should follow Thom’s example and writing style. I think it would make a lot of camera users a lot happier and better informed.