A timely book review. If you shoot Canon it's a "no-brainer."

Usually, if I review a book it's a non-competing book like Steven Pressfield's incredible book about artists' motivation, The War of Art.  But I'm not about to sit on self interest when I find a book this good.  Here's the executive summary:  If you shoot with Canon cameras and often use their flash, and often find yourself cursing at the randomness of the results; you'll save yourself time, money, aggravation and, perhaps, even clients if you just buy (and read) this book.

This is not a fluffy picture book.  It's not an overview.  It's an encyclopedic and detailed study of what makes your Canon camera and flash work together for best results.  But beyond the rigorous exploration of things electronic flashy it's a pretty good primer about lighting with small lights in general.

The photos are not "high art," they are working tools that visually describe the process and the results.  For one lighting exercise there may be a dozen very well captioned photos that take you along for the ride and show you step by step what he's talking about in the text.

There are no Nikon, Pentax, Sony or Olympus flashes covered in the book.  But even for non-Canon users there's a plethora of good information about lighting up the world with small flashes.

The book is weighty at over 300 pages and Mr. Arena's writing style is terse and choppy. Lot's of sidebars and little boxes with "tips" and "nerd words".  That's good when you want to dig in and learn a section at a time.  If you want to curl up with a good book and get into a cohesive narrative you're barking up the wrong tree.

I just had a moment of Satori!  What Mr. Arena has done is to write the ultimate owner's manual.  The owner's manual we all wish we had gotten with our flash gear (and specifically our Canon flash gear) when we bought the stuff.  This book is maniacally detailed and well researched.  It's dense and packed with examples and information.

Disclosure and final word:  Don Giannatti (lighting genius)  told me about this book.  I asked for a review copy.  The publisher sent me one.  Free of charge.  After reading the book over two days I can honestly say that if I didn't get to keep the book (which I do) I would run right out and buy it.  I learned ten new things about the Canon flashes and the way they work with different Canon cameras.  And everything I learned is cogent to my work.  


Kurt Shoens said...

I put in my pre-order for this book at the first opportunity and agree with your review 100%. Just last night I re-read the chapter that explains E-TTL and compared it to the discussion in the 5d2 and 580ex2 manuals. It's astonishing how much Canon neglects to tell us.

In my opinion, Canon should promote this book in every possible way. It would really help them sell flashes.

Beyond the details of how Canon flashes work, there's a lot of good manual-level information there about flash modifiers including pictures that show the effect each one gives.

The book goes beyond being a manual when Syl tells us what he usually finds effective. Manuals never tell you that some features are virtually useless.

And then all that great instructional material in how to use the tools to make the pictures we want.

Thanks so much to Syl for the book and to Kirk for this review and the many practical insights he shares. Thanks to Don Giannatti also for his role in producing this fine book.

kirk tuck said...

Just to expand a little. When I shot Nikon one of the selling points was how well the flash system worked on TTL. The common wisdom was that Canon's flashes and system were flawed. I mostly use my Canon stuff on Manual. After reading Syl's book I can now get repeatable, well exposed ETTL flash with my Canon's. What's that worth?

Anonymous said...

I switched from Nikon to Canon...my one regret is how ridiculously over-priced the Canon flashes are compared to Nikon. Furthermore, as you stated, the Nikon iTTL was way better than Canon's solution. These two points will keep me shooting manual and will keep me from buying any Canon flashes.

kirk tuck said...

NO. I didn't state that Nikon's flashes were better. They are just easier to learn. Once you understand how they work and how to work with them best they are as reliable and repeatable as the Nikons. I didn't believe that until I started practicing the stuff Syl outlines in his book. It's making a huge difference for me with my Canon stuff.

Daniel said...

Thanks for this review Kirk. I had seen on Amazon that this book was consistently at the top of many sales lists and really didn't know how truly great it is...

Will be ordering soon.

Chris said...

Flashes? Who uses flashes anymore now that LED constant lighting and video capable DSLRs are all the rage right now? (end sarcasm). :)

kirk tuck said...

I don't need me no hammer. I got me a bag of screwdrivers! (no end to the sarcasm....).

Please note that I've said constantly that LEDs are not a replacement for flash. They are another lighting tool. You don't have to buy them if you are happy with the lights you have.

The earth is flat. It was a brave man who ate the first oyster. Not all crazy people are institutionalized....some are politicians.

Archer Sully said...

Big fan of "The War of Art." A great, quick read whenever motivation is flagging. Which means its time to go read it for me.

Craig Ferguson said...

My copy finally arrived yesterday, after a delay caused by everything here in Asia closing for a week for Chinese new year. So far, all I've done is flick through the book but I've already picked up a couple of things I didn't know. I've been using my speedlites in manual for years and never had a clue how to get them to behave properly in E-TTL. I'm really looking forward to spending some time now learning the ins and outs of Canon's E-TTL system.

I remember being at a McNally workshop last year and there were 3 Canon shooters and 12 Nikon. None of us Canon shooters had a clue how to get things to work - Joe said something like "Syl Arena is the only man who understands Canon flash".

Mail Order Mystic said...

Bought this book a few weeks ago, and I could not agree with you more. Glad to see that you and Don like it also.
I really like your blog and your books also. Plus, Don says you are a helluva nice guy in person too, and that is a great endorsement. I took one of Don's workshops last year, and I learned a lot.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge,

Kvistgaard said...

Kirk - does the book apply to users of older Speedlite and EOS cameras too? This looks just like the book I've wanted to read for at least 10 years, but not sure if it covers a speedlite 540EZ and Canon EOS film cameras? I'd appreciate your advice before placing an order.

Søren Kvistgaard,

Kurt Shoens said...

@Søren Kvistgaard, Syl wrote a series of blog posts called "Lessons I Didn't Learn in Photography School." This one of those answers your question: "89. Kodachrome is dead. Long live Kodachrome." He seems to have left film long ago with no regrets. The book doesn't talk about film cameras and the EZ flashes get only a brief sidebar mention.

I'm sure you could apply a lot of lessons from the book to flash photography on film. Some you'd have to adapt, such as Syl's suggestion to substitute a digital camera's histogram for the traditional light meter.

Sharna said...

Kirk, I heard about this book on the strobist blog and was so excited to order it. I'm reading it from cover to cover now, and once I'm done doing that I will read it again with Canon flashes and camera in hand. I'm truly excited by this book.