Book Review: The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion by Ben Long

The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion by Ben LongIf you’re still thinking about buying the Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi in the USA), I’ll let you in on one little secret: the $900 XSi can hold its own in terms of image quality against the more expensive ($3000) full-frame Canon 5D and Nikon D700 (see this review here). So, go ahead and buy the XSi; you’re getting a very good camera at a very good price.

Now, once you have your shiny new Canon XSi, what to do if you’re new to DSLR shooting? The very best thing is to attend a photography workshop where they teach the basics of shooting with an SLR camera. There’s nothing like a real live instructor to turn to for immediate answers to your questions. So, there too, go ahead and attend a photography workshop if you can. It will make you a better photographer.

But what if there’s no photo workshop within a hundred miles of your neighborhood? Or you don’t have the time to attend one? The next best thing is to curl up with a book in your neck of the woods, a very good book that can teach you how to use the Canon XSi DSLR. No, you can’t turn to your manual for that, camera manuals are for the birds (don’t lose that manual just yet, though).

You need a very good book that not only teaches you how to use the XSi but also shows you how to make really good photographs. The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion, subtitled Practical photography advice you can take anywhere, is one such book. This one is by Ben Long, published by O’Reilly.

Ben Long is a photographer, videographer and writer based in San Francisco and is the author of several books including Complete Digital Photography and Real World Aperture. He’s one trusted resource for things photographic. He maintains the website.

In his new book, Ben first takes you on a mandatory tour to get acquainted with your new gear. Sort of like your manual presented in a more enlightening and engaging way. Very instructive, telling you what buttons does what and suggesting that you reset your camera to his settings so you can follow along correctly.

But you want to be able to enjoy your new camera right away, right? You’re right, of course, and Ben wants you to be taking pictures with the XSi right away. On the very first chapter, Ben tells you to shoot with the XSi right away.

Then he takes you a little deeper into understanding your camera. The whole book after all, was written with the thinking that to use a creative tool well (that’s your camera), you must understand both the technique and the craft of the tool, as well as have some sense of artistry when you use it.

And that is where this book shines. First it lets you understand the basic operation of your camera. Then, it tackles the details of shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings to let you achieve that perfect exposure to make a good photograph. Then it opens the door for you to the artful world of photography.

This book is intended to serve as a full-on photography class, one that covers everything including technical matters and exposure theory, composition theory, and how to find images and expand your visual sense. The difference is that, unlike a regular photography class or workshop, the class presented in this book is specifically built around the XSi.

Of course, there are the mundane details of installing the Canon software and transferring images to your computer, amply covered in the book; workflow, as they call it in pro circles. The histogram is also very well explained, why you need to look at it once in a while, and there’s the matter of understanding the light meter. Shooting with a flash and shooting in Raw, these things are covered too. Every little technical detail that could help you become a successful photographer is covered in the book. The book is also well illustrated with superb photographs and graphics to illustrate its points.

But what I really like most are the sections that let you understand the art of photography. Chapter 5, Photography 101 aims to get your exposure right by fully grasping the exposure mechanisms of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Then there’s Chapter 8 about finding and composing a photograph. Understanding the art part is what it is all about. Here, Ben gets you into the creative discipline of photography as an art.

Thoughtfully, the book also introduces the new XSi owner to the various Canon lenses available for his camera. After all, one of the great advantages of using an SLR is the option to changes lenses for creative purposes. In the book, Ben does a good job of explaining how to choose the right lenses for different purposes and makes suggestions.

No doubt, this book will be very useful to owners of the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D, especially those who are picking up a DSLR for the first time. With its small size – 5½” x 8½” – it is easy to take along as a field guide. It’s all of 271 pages and only a little over half an inch (14mm) thick.

The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion: Practical photography advise you can take anywhere by Ben Long, Published by O’Reilly Media Inc., September 2008 First Edition, 5½” x 8½”, 271 pages, US $24.99, CAN $24.99.



Chapter 1 – Getting to Know the Rebel XSi
Shooting Snapshots Using Full Auto Mode

Resetting the Camera’s Defaults
Snapshot Shooting in Full Auto Mode
Framing Your Shot
Autofocus, or “How to Press the Shutter Button”
Take the Shot
The Viewfinder Status Display
The LCD Status Display
Viewing Your Images
Using Scene Modes
Watch that Headroom: Fill the Frame
Don’t Be Afraid to Get in Close
Lead Your Subject
Remember That Your Knees Can Bend
Watch the Background
Watch Out for Backlighting
Understand Flash Range
Cover Your Shot, or “One Shot is Rarely Enough”

Chapter 2 – Anatomy of the Rebel XSi
Learning to Hold and Control Your Camera

What Is an SLR Anyway?
Cleaning and Maintenance
The XSi Battery
The Media Card
Body Parts
Camera Top
Camera Front
Camera Sides
Camera Back
Camera Bottom
The Rebel XSi Menu System
Holding the Camera
The Grip
Feet, Elbows, and Neck
The Lens
Understanding Focal Length
Types of Lenses
Lens Controls
Lens Care
Sensor Cleaning
More Full Auto Practice
Work with Fixed Focal Length

Chapter 3 – Playing Back Images
Reviewing and Analyzing Images on Your Rebel XSi

Image Review
Image Playback
Navigating Images with the Main Dial
Playback Zoom
Exiting Playback
Viewing Image Thumbnails
Viewing Image Info
Image Rotation
Manual Image Rotation
Slideshows in the Filed
Erasing Images
Deleting an Image During Image Review
Deleting an Image During Playback
Deleting All of the Images on the Card
Protecting Images

Chapter 4 – Image Transfer
Copying Images to Your Computer

Media Cards
One Big Card? Or Lots of Small Ones?
Card Management
Transferring from Your Camera
Installing the Canon Software
Transferring Images to a Windows Computer
Using Adobe Photoshop Elements for Windows
Using Adobe Photoshop
Transferring Images to a Macintosh Computer
Configuring Your Mac for Image Transfer
Transferring Images Using Canon ImageBrowser
Transferring Images Manually Using Windows of the Mac
Using the Camera to Select Images for Transfer
Organizing Your Images
After You’ve Transferred Your Images

Chapter 5 – Photography 101
The Fundamental Theory of Exposure

Over- and Underexposure
Exposure Mechanisms

ISO: The Third Exposure Parameter
Shutter Speed
Why There Are Two Ways to Control Light
How Shutter Speed Choice Affects Your Image
How Aperture Choice Affects Your Image
Shutter Speed/Aperture Balance
Fractional Stops
Thinking Again About Full Auto Mode
Summing Up

Chapter 6 – Program Mode
Taking Control and Understanding More About Exposure

Switching to Program Mode
Focusing Revisited

Understanding Focus Points
Focus Modes
AI Servo
AI Focus
What To Do When Autofocus Doesn’t
Manual Focus
Getting Creative with Program Shift
Handheld Shooting and Shutter Speed

Image Stabilization
Changing ISO
Setting ISO
A Real-World ISO Change
White Balance
Custom White Balance
White Balance Shift
White Balance Bracketing
Drive Mode and the Self-Timer
Using the Self-Timer
Choosing an Image Size and Format
Summing Up Program Mode

Some Things to Try

Chapter 7 – Advanced Exposure
Learning More About the XSi Light Meter and Exposure Controls

The Light Meter Revisited
Metering Modes
What Your Light Meter Actually Meters
Exposing So That Black Looks Black
Using Exposure Compensation to Over- or Underexpose
Exposure Compensation and Program Shift
Controlling Color Tone with Exposure Compensation
Using The Histogram
Recognizing Over- and Underexposure in the Histogram
Recognizing Contrast in the Histogram
The Three-Channel Histogram
Using Priority Modes to Control Exposure
Aperture Priority
Shutter Priority
Manual Mode
Exposure Bracketing

Auto Bracketing
Scene Modes Revisited
Picture Styles

Selecting a Picture Style
Adjusting Predefined Picture Styles
Creating a Better Exposure with Fill Flash
A Word About Dynamic Range

Chapter 8 – Finding and Composing a Photo
Exploring the Art of Photography

Learning to See Again
Seeing Exercises
How to Make a Photo
Recognizing a Potential Photo
Working with Your Subject
Choosing a Camera Position and Focal Length
Composing Your Shot
Art and Craft

Chapter 9 – Specialty Shooting
Using Special Features for Shooting in Specific Conditions

Live View
Enabling Live View
Activating Live View
Focusing in Live View
What You Don’t See in Live View
Shooting Panoramas
Choosing a Focal Length for Panoramas
Panoramic Exposure
Shooting Panoramic Frames
Stitching a Panorama
Low-Light Shooting
When to Use Flash in Low Light
Shooting in Low Light at High ISO
Low-Light Techniques
Shooting Sports of Stage Performances
Low-Light White Balance

Chapter 10 – Flash Shooting
Using a Flash and Other Tools for Better Control of the Lighting in Your Scene

Controlling Existing Light
Using The XSi’s On-Camera Flash

Flash Exposure
Red-Eye Reduction
Using an External Flash

Bouncing a Flash

Chapter 11 – Raw Shooting
Using Raw Format to Gain More Control and Better Image Quality

What is Raw?
Why Use Raw?

Changing White Balance
Highlight Recovery
More Editing Latitude
A True Digital Negative
Easy Batch Processing
Raw Hassles (the Disadvantages)
Shooting Raw with the Rebel XSi

Picture Styles, White Balance, and Raw
Processing Your Raw Files

Chapter 12 – Customizing the XSi
Configuring Custom Settings and Adding Lenses and Accessories

My Menu
Building My Menu
Organizing My Menu
Make My Menu the Default
Changing Screen Color
Custom Functions

Choosing a Lens
Some Lens Suggestions
Evaluating a Lens


[Site: O’]

Published by Chris Malinao

Chris teaches Lightroom as workflow software to photography students at the FPPF, Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation. He also teaches smartphone photography.