I recently picked up Ansel Adams' first book on photography, The Camera. I figured it might help improve my photography.
Well, I'm not sure if it will have done so, or not, but it certainly did help my theoretical knowledge of how the whole system works. I already knew the practical side of a lot of concepts, but it's always good to know the theory that goes with it.
And this book breaks down the major pieces that go into a camera, and talks about how they work.
One thing that I found interesting was that I had always associated him with landscapes and large format work. But he worked with all kinds of cameras, it seems. The most surprising was him talking about the lengths he went to for pinhole camera photography (well, he didn't talk about it at length, but the level of detail in what he hinted at was pretty impressive).
But the biggest surprise was how current it was. Really, digital doesn't change all that much, except the output format of the data. Some pieces, later in the book, were a little out of date. For instance, there was talk about small format cameras, but to Adams, 35mm IS small format. The tiny-sensor point-and-shoots or mirrorless cameras didn't exist.
The definition of in-focus changed a little bit. In analog terms, it was the size of the circles of confusion of points in the view. In digital terms, it'd be something like the number of pixels to show finest detail. And one interesting thing there was his definition of in-focus: the circle of confusion of a point had to be less than 1/1000th of an inch. Modern cameras can have pixels that are only 4.7microns (only a hair larger than that size).
But I did learn a lot of details of how different pieces of a camera work. In particular, I hadn't realized exactly how a modern focal plane shutter worked (mostly, I had no idea how they got it so fast). Interestingly, that wikipedia link actually has more information on it, but Adams' discussion was a good starting point (perhaps with more historical info).
It also talked quite a bit about perspective (and choosing lenses to match a perspective), and had a lot of encouragement to just shoot.
There was also a long enough discussion of what makes a view camera so good that I was really wishing I had Nikon's 24mm PC-E lens to try out some of the things a view camera allows you to do. I suspect Ansel thought 35mm cameras were rather crippled, without those adjustments. At least, after reading that, I could see why he might think that. It's unfortunate that it's still not economical to get a large-format (4x5 - 8x10) digital sensor. That would be neat to play with for landscape photography.
There were a couple of details about aperture controls that didn't get mentioned, that surprised me. Those were blade count and blade rounding, and how that affected bokeh. Actually, bokeh was not even mentioned, which was also a bit of a surprise.
The other things that were a bit out of date had to do with tripods (no mention of quick-release gear or ball-heads, nor of carbon fiber), filters (nearly non-existent now, with digital postprocessing), and about meters. Actually, not sure how changed the latter is, but suspect a bit different. Oh, and there was no mention about white balance either, although I suppose that would go in the second volume (The Negative, which I have, but have not yet started) if the issue existed back then.
But overall, it was an excellent book, and would be especially valuable to the beginner.