Review of Todd Gustavson’s Camera: A history of photography from Daguerreotype to Digital

the cover for todd gustavson's camera book

 

[I] read one of the most ignorant statements about the new Canon mirrorless yesterday. Not that I care about it but the statement was so flabbergastingly ignorant beyond my wildest dream that I wondered if the dude was for real. He was. While one can classify his statement as opinion, it got me thinking about information on the internet: While we do live in the age of information, I belive that we live more accurately in the age of misinformation. Let's face it, there is a load of junk info out there in the world, more so when it comes to controversial topics like global warming, political stuff, etc.

 

 

Why a lecture on information in a book review? Because I believe there is too much misinformation about photography-cameras online or otherwise. You do not know what is true because everything is cut and paste information with nobody bothering to cross reference, fact check and dig out primary sources, that is why I like to get my information from reliable sources, people who I know either really know their stuff or check their information. Because the nature of information is TRUST, you trust whomever you are getting it from.

 

With the book Camera, you are trusting Todd Gustavson for telling you camera history, his credentials (Curator of George Eastman house) and knowledge of the topic (you do have to know some stuff to be curator). My whole point here is that you can get information for free on the internet but that has the high potential of being false, or you can pay to have a book that was written by somebody knowledgeable on the topic. It's a long introduction, but a necessary one, because not everybody gives out good information (That might include me, so double-check everything I say! I make no presumptions on anything besides wanting to know things myself)

 

the cover for todd gustavson's camera book with size comparison

Pretty large book, cameras are for size evaluation

 

What's in it?

This book is huge and thick, and it is basically the history of photography as defined by ground breaking cameras. It flows like a museum tour of the George Eastman House museum in Rochester, NY because all the cameras are from their collections. While the subtitle is “A history of photography from daguerreotype to digital”, the history of photography part is really the icing on the cake, the cake being the cameras, their impact, history and specs. The book being mainly about cameras themselves, you can learn about the icons of the past like the Brownie, Kodak Retina, Leica I, Speed Graphic amongst many others.

 

If you want history of photography per se, get another book, because the history of photography part is really on a strict diet: the Group f/64 only gets 21 lines of text broken into two paragraphs. And if you are looking for digital camera history, look again as they have only 8 pages dedicated to them (it is still young indeed with few ground breaking). So if you want camera history from the earliest to mainly the previous generation, this book is for you. A sample story from the book is about Canon: A motion picture worker, Goro Yoshida simply tore down a Leica to see why the camera costed so much, to his astonishment the parts were all inexpensive. He got angry because the prices were high, so he set out to make an inexpensive camera, the Kwanon (named after the Buddhist goddess Kwannon whom Yoshida was a devotee)

 

a page from todd gustavson's camera book

 

The book is very generous on images, and they feature most prominently Cameras, not photographs. You will get some iconic photographs like the Iwo Jima one sprinkled here and there, but they are definitely not the main focus point. Each page is composed either of one camera of many, with they accompanying text/description around them. There is a “main storyline” that goes on in most pages in the bottom, so you can read it as a real book, and not an encyclopedia of cameras (which it is). The cameras are interesting to look at, and you can see the evolution of everything with milestones like small film, AF, motor drive, etc, etc. A most interesting book, well written that you can read from start to finish or pick up for a quick reference.

 

Here is a video on how the book came about:

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkDCZrTKQaI

As you can see, the history of photography part was an addendum for increasing sales. Retailer says, retailer gets.

 

 

a page from todd gustavson's camera book with epson rd1

I couldn't resist doing this 🙂

 

Who is it for?

All photographers need this book, there are very few good books on cameras, the good ones that I know of being old and outdated. I believe only good can come out of knowing history, and this will certainly fill that gap between {photography was discovered} to {I've got my DSLR}. A camera historian could be interested in the book simply for the sheer amount of information that is in it, but if you want deep, rich history of particular cameras, the book only covers the basics. I believe than any other reader besides those interested in photography will find this book boring, encyclopedia like, so it is definitely reserved for photography enthusiasts that want to learn more about the cameras that shaped our past. Collectors will want to avoid this book to avoid the risk of making their wallet very light, because there is around 350 cameras in there.

 

a page from todd gustavson's camera book 2

 

Why get it?

The whole point of the book is getting good, reliable information on the cameras past. Gustavson is museum curator and I trust him that he knows the history of the cameras that are in his museum. Of course that does not make him infallible (we're humans after all) but I prefer his information compared to a Joe Average photographer on the internet.

 

a page from todd gustavson's camera book 3

 

a page from todd gustavson's camera book 4

 

Where to get it?

Here, there is a hardcover version with dust jacket and a paperback version. For $25, this camera encyclopedia is a very good buy, a trustworthy reference.

 

Verdict?

approved review

 

 

 

 

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