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Introduction

Introduction

Sony has done it again! The most demanding photographers have been asking for an affordable, extra-high-resolution full-frame camera, and Sony has delivered it. At the time I write this, Sony’s nearest full-frame competitor with similar resolution is priced at nearly $8,000 (without a lens!)—yet this camera can be purchased (body only) for less than one-quarter that amount.

In the Alpha A850, Sony has packaged up the most alluring features of advanced digital SLRs and stuffed them into a rugged, yet still compact, body that retains the ease of use that Alpha cameras are known for. It smoothes the transition for those new to digital photography. For those just dipping their toes into the digital pond, the experience is warm and inviting, even though the camera is one of the most sophisticated digital SLRs on the market. This is a dSLR for the thinking photographer.

But once you’ve confirmed that you made a wise purchase decision, the question comes up, how do I use this thing? All those cool features can be mind numbing to learn, if all you have as a guide is the manual furnished with the camera. Help is on the way. I sincerely believe that this book is your best bet for learning how to use your new camera, and for learning how to use it well.

If you’re a Sony Alpha dSLR owner who’s looking to learn more about how to use this great camera, you’ve probably already explored your options. There are DVDs and online tutorials—but who can learn how to use a camera by sitting in front of a television or computer screen? Do you want to watch a movie or click on HTML links, or do you want to go out and take photos with your camera? Videos are fun, but not the best answer.

There’s always the manual furnished with the Alpha. It’s compact and filled with information, but there’s really very little about why you should use particular settings or features, and its organization may make it difficult to find what you need. Multiple cross-references may send you flipping back and forth between two or three sections of the book to find what you want to know. The basic manual is also hobbled by black-and-white line drawings and tiny monochrome pictures that aren’t very good examples of what you can do.

Also available are third-party guides to the Alpha, like this one. I haven’t been happy with some of these guidebooks, which is why I wrote this one. The existing books range from skimpy and illustrated with black-and-white photos to lushly illustrated in full color but too generic to do much good. Photography instruction is useful, but it needs to be related directly to the Sony Alpha dSLR as much as possible.

I’ve tried to make David Busch’s Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 Guide to Digital Photography different from your other Alpha learn-up options. The roadmap sections use larger, color pictures to show you where all the buttons and dials are, and the explanations of what they do are longer and more comprehensive. I’ve tried to avoid overly general advice, including the two-page checklists on how to take a “sports picture” or a “portrait picture” or a “travel picture.” Instead, you’ll find tips and techniques for using all the features of your Sony Alpha dSLR to take any kind of picture you want. If you want to know where you should stand to take a picture of a quarterback dropping back to unleash a pass, there are plenty of books that will tell you that. This one concentrates on teaching you how to select the best autofocus mode, shutter speed, f/stop, or flash capability to take, say, a great sports picture under any conditions.

This book is not a lame rewriting of the manual that came with the camera. Some folks spend five minutes with a book like this one, spot some information that also appears in the original manual, and decide “Rehash!” without really understanding the differences. Yes, you’ll find information here that is also in the owner’s manual, such as the parameters you can enter when changing your Alpha’s operation in the various menus. Basic descriptions—before I dig in and start providing in-depth tips and information— may also be vaguely similar. There are only so many ways you can say, for example, “Hold the shutter release down halfway to lock in exposure.” But not everything in the manual is included in this book. If you need advice on when and how to use the most important functions, you’ll find the information here.

David Busch’s Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 Guide to Digital Photography is aimed at both Sony dSLR veterans as well as newcomers to digital photography and digital SLRs. Both groups can be overwhelmed by the options the Alpha offers, while underwhelmed by the explanations they receive in their user’s manual. The manuals are great if you already know what you don’t know, and you can find an answer somewhere in a booklet arranged by menu listings and written by a camera vendor employee who last threw together instructions on how to operate a camcorder.

Once you’ve read this book and are ready to learn more, I hope you pick up one of my other guides to digital SLR photography. Four of them are offered by Course Technology PTR, each approaching the topic from a different perspective. They include the following:

Quick Snap Guide to Digital SLR Photography

Consider this a prequel to the book you’re holding in your hands. It might make a good gift for a spouse or friend who may be using your Alpha, but who lacks even basic knowledge about digital photography, digital SLR photography, and Sony Alpha photography. It serves as an introduction that summarizes the basic features of digital SLR cameras in general (not just the Alpha), and what settings to use and when, such as continuous autofocus/single autofocus, aperture/shutter priority, EV settings, and so forth. The guide also includes recipes for shooting the most common kinds of pictures, with step-by-step instructions for capturing effective sports photos, portraits, landscapes, and other types of images.

David Busch’s Quick Snap Guide to Using Digital SLR Lenses

A bit overwhelmed by the features and controls of digital SLR lenses, and not quite sure when to use each type? This book explains lenses, their use, and lens technology in easy-to-access two- and four-page spreads, each devoted to a different topic, such as depth-of-field, lens aberrations, or using zoom lenses. If you have a friend or significant other who is less versed in photography, but who wants to borrow and use your Sony Alpha dSLR from time to time, this book can save you a ton of explanation.

Mastering Digital SLR Photography, Second Edition

This book is an introduction to digital SLR photography, with nuts-and-bolts explanations of the technology, more in-depth coverage of settings, and whole chapters on the most common types of photography. While not specific to the Alpha, this book can show you how to get more from its capabilities.

Digital SLR Pro Secrets

This is my more advanced guide to dSLR photography with greater depth and detail about the topics you’re most interested in. If you’ve already mastered the basics in Mastering Digital SLR Photography, this book will take you to the next level.

Why the Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 Needs Special Coverage

There are many general digital photography books on the market. Why do I concentrate on books about specific digital SLRs like the Alpha? When I started writing digital photography books in 1995, digital SLRs cost $30,000 and few people other than certain professionals could justify them. Most of my readers a dozen years ago were stuck using the point-and-shoot, low-resolution digital cameras of the time—even if they were advanced photographers. I took tons of digital pictures with an Epson digital camera with 1024 × 768 (less than 1 megapixel!) resolution, and which cost $500.

As recently as 2003 (years before the original Alpha or its Minolta predecessors were introduced), the lowest-cost dSLRs were priced at $3,000 or more. Today, anyone with a little less than $2,000 can buy one of the most advanced digital SLR cameras on the market, a full-frame model with 24 megapixels of resolution. The professional-quality digital SLR is no longer the exclusive bailiwick of the professional photographer, the wealthy, or the serious photography addict willing to scrimp and save to acquire a dream camera. Digital SLRs have become the favored camera for anyone who wants to go beyond point-and-shoot capabilities. And Sony cameras (and the Minolta models that preceded them) have enjoyed a favored position among digital SLRs because of Sony’s innovation in introducing affordable cameras with interesting features, such as SteadyShot image stabilization, and outstanding performance. It doesn’t hurt that Sony also provides both full-frame cameras and smaller format digital cameras and a clear migration path between them (if you stick to the Sony lenses that are compatible with both).

Who Are You?

When preparing a guidebook for a specific camera, it’s always wise to consider exactly who will be reading the book. Indeed, thinking about the potential audience for David Busch’s Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 Guide to Digital Photography is what led me to taking the approach and format I use for this book. I realized that the needs of readers like you had to be addressed both from a functional level (what you will use the Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 for) as well as from a skill level (how much experience you may have with digital photography, dSLRs, or Sony cameras specifically).

From a functional level, you probably fall into one of these categories:

  • Professional photographers who understand photography and digital SLRs, and simply want to learn how to use the Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 as their main camera.

  • Individuals who want to get better pictures, or perhaps transform their growing interest in photography into a full-fledged hobby or artistic outlet with a Sony Alpha and advanced techniques.

  • Those who want to produce more professional-looking images for their personal or business website, and feel that the Sony Alpha will give them more control and capabilities.

  • Small business owners with more advanced graphics capabilities who want to use the Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 to document or promote their business.

  • Corporate workers who may or may not have photographic skills in their job descriptions, but who work regularly with graphics and need to learn how to use digital images taken with a Sony Alpha for reports, presentations, or other applications.

  • Professional webmasters with strong skills in programming (including Java, JavaScript, HTML, Perl, etc.) but little background in photography, but who realize that the Sony Alpha can be used for sophisticated photography.

  • Graphic artists and others who already may be adept in image editing with Photoshop or another program, and who may already be using a film SLR, but who need to learn more about digital photography and the special capabilities of the Sony dSLR.

Addressing your needs from a skills level can be a little trickier, because the Sony Alpha is such a great camera that a full spectrum of photographers will be buying it, from a few brave absolute beginners who have never owned a digital camera before up to the professional with years of shooting experience who will be using the Sony Alpha as day-to-day working tool.

Before tackling this book, it would be helpful for you to understand the following:

  • What a digital SLR is: It’s a camera that generally shows an optical (not LCD) view of the picture that’s being taken through the (interchangeable) lens that actually takes the photo, thanks to a mirror that reflects an image to a viewfinder, but flips up out of the way to allow the sensor to be exposed.

  • How digital photography differs from film: The image is stored not on film (which I call the first write-once optical media), but on a memory card as pixels that can be transferred to your computer, and then edited, corrected, and printed without the need for chemical processing.

  • What the basic tools of correct exposure are: Don’t worry if you don’t understand these; I’ll explain them later in this book. But if you already know something about shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity, you’ll be ahead of the game. If not, you’ll soon learn that shutter speed determines the amount of time the sensor is exposed to incoming light; the f/stop or aperture is like a valve that governs the quantity of light that can flow through the lens; the sensor’s sensitivity (ISO setting) controls how easily the sensor responds to light. All three factors can be varied individually and proportionately to produce a picture that is properly exposed (neither too light nor too dark).

It’s tough to provide something for everybody, but I am going to try to address the needs of each of the following groups and skill levels:

  • Digital photography newbies: If you’ve used only point-and-shoot digital cameras, or have worked only with non-SLR film cameras, you’re to be congratulated for selecting one of the very best digital SLRs available as your first dSLR camera. This book can help you understand the controls and features of your Sony Alpha, and lead you down the path to better photography with your camera. I’ll provide all the information you need, but if you want to do some additional reading for extra credit, you can also try one of the other books I mentioned earlier. They complement this book well.

  • Advanced point-and-shooters moving on up: There are some quite sophisticated pocket-sized digital cameras available, including those with many user-definable options and settings, so it’s possible you are already a knowledgeable photographer, even though you’re new to the world of the digital SLR. You’ve recognized the limitations of the point-and-shoot camera: even the best of them have more noise at higher sensitivity (ISO) settings than a camera like the Sony Alpha; the speediest still have an unacceptable delay between the time you press the shutter and when the photo is actually taken; even a non-interchangeable super-zoom camera with 12X to 20X magnification often won’t focus close enough, include an aperture suitable for low-light photography, or take in the really wide view you must have. Interchangeable lenses and other accessories available for the Sony Alpha are another one of the reasons you moved up. Because you’re an avid photographer already, you should pick up the finer points of using the Sony Alpha from this book with no trouble.

  • Film SLR veterans new to the digital world: You understand photography, you know about f/stops and shutter speeds, and thrive on interchangeable lenses. If you have used a newer film SLR, it probably has lots of electronic features already, including autofocus and sophisticated exposure metering. Perhaps you’ve even been using a Minolta film SLR (a distant predecessor of the current Alphas, which used the same lens system) and understand many of the available accessories that work with both film and digital cameras. All you need is information on using digital-specific features, working with the Sony Alpha itself, and how to match—and exceed—the capabilities of your film camera with your new Sony Alpha DSLR-A850.

  • Experienced dSLR users broadening their experience to include the Sony Alpha DSLR-A850: Perhaps you started out with another Sony or Konica Minolta digital SLR. You may have used a digital SLR from another vendor and are making the switch. You understand basic photography, and want to learn more. And, most of all, you want to transfer the skills you already have to the Sony Alpha, as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

  • Pro photographers and other advanced shooters: I expect my most discerning readers will be those who already have extensive experience with other advanced dSLR cameras. I may not be able to teach you folks much about photography. But, even so, an amazing number of Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 cameras have been purchased by those who feel it is a good complement to their working toolkit.

Who Am I?

After spending years as the world’s most successful unknown author, I’ve become slightly less obscure in the past few years, thanks to a horde of camera guidebooks and other photographically oriented tomes. You may have seen my photography articles in Popular Photography & Imaging magazine. I’ve also written about 2,000 articles for magazines like Petersen’s PhotoGraphic (which is now defunct through no fault of my own), plus The Rangefinder, Professional Photographer, and dozens of other photographic publications. But, first, and foremost, I’m a photojournalist and made my living in the field until I began devoting most of my time to writing books. Although I love writing, I’m happiest when I’m out taking pictures, which is why during the past 12 months I’ve taken off chunks of time to travel to Zion National Park in Utah, the Sedona “red rocks” area and Grand Canyon in Arizona, Major League Baseball Spring training, and, for a few days, Las Vegas (although I did a lot more shooting than gambling in Sin City). The past year also saw me visiting Prague in the Czech Republic, and taking a week to shoot in Valencia, Spain. You’ll find photos of many of these visual treats within the pages of this book.

Like all my digital photography books, this one was written by someone with an incurable photography bug. One of my first SLRs was a Minolta SRT-101, from the company whose technology was eventually absorbed by Sony in 2006. I’ve used a variety of newer models since then. I’ve worked as a sports photographer for an Ohio newspaper and for an upstate New York college. I’ve operated my own commercial studio and photo lab, cranking out product shots on demand and then printing a few hundred glossy 8 × 10s on a tight deadline for a press kit. I’ve served as a photo-posing instructor for a modeling agency. People have actually paid me to shoot their weddings and immortalize them with portraits. I even prepared press kits and articles on photography as a PR consultant for a large Rochester, N.Y., company, which shall remain nameless. My trials and travails with imaging and computer technology have made their way into print in book form an alarming number of times, including a few dozen on scanners and photography.

Like you, I love photography for its own merits, and I view technology as just another tool to help me get the images I see in my mind’s eye. But, also like you, I had to master this technology before I could apply it to my work. This book is the result of what I’ve learned, and I hope it will help you master your Alpha digital SLR, too.

As I write this, I’m currently in the throes of upgrading my website, which you can find at www.dslrguides.com/blog. I hope you’ll stop by for a visit.

Meet My Co-Author, Alex

I am very happy and grateful to have, with this book, the opportunity to make my second foray into the “big leagues” of digital photography guidebooks. Like David, I have had a love affair with photography since the 1960s, when, as a teenager, my tolerant parents allowed me to set up a very smelly darkroom in the basement of their Philadelphia home. I was entranced by the process of rolling the exposed film onto a plastic spool, sealing it in a tank, and later placing the developed negatives into an enlarger to produce what to me seemed like great works of photographic art. For those who have long memories or a love of older movies, I must say that one strong influence that sparked my love of the darkroom was the terrific film Blow-up by Antonioni, which deepened the mystique of enlarging at leisure an image that was captured by the lens and film in an instant, and that may hold the key to an intriguing and disturbing mystery. I ventured into amateur cinematography and tried my best to emulate the great director, but I’m afraid my Super-8 productions fell a few lightyears short.

Later, after studying broadcasting and film at Stanford, I got sidetracked by military service for a few years, and I guess it was my more practical side that guided me to law school, like several family members before me. But I have kept up with photography and filmmaking through the transitions to digital photography and video. I have used a wide array of equipment, and have been continually amazed at the increasing sophistication of the cameras that have become available in recent years. Finally, when I got a Leica D-Lux 4 in 2009, I was so impressed by the camera that I felt compelled to write a book about its use. No one asked me to write that book; I just wanted to do it. Because of that book, though, I was asked to help David write his previous book on the Canon PowerShot G10/G11 cameras. We both enjoyed working together so much that we decided to collaborate on this Sony book as well. I am immensely pleased to have another opportunity to share some of my love of photography and of modern digital cameras with a wider audience.

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