A Brief History of the American Cinematographer Manual

With the new 11th Edition now available, here’s a look back on how the “Filmmaker’s Bible” came to be.

With the idea of offering professionals a concise field guide featuring pertinent technical information and charts, the American Cinematographer Hand Book and Reference Guide was first published in 1935. Author Jackson J. Rose, ASC noted in the book’s introduction, “With the rapid advance and progress in the art of cinematography… the cinematographer is continually besieged with mechanical problems, which to solve under the pressure of speed, often leads to many costly errors and the loss of valuable time while on production.” 

Jackson J. Rose, ASC and the first edition of the Hand Book.

The solution? This pocket-sized 84-page tome, which was the first of its kind to offer accurate information on motion-picture film characteristics, lenses and their use, depth-of-field guides, the effects of filtration, frames-per-second camera speeds, shutter angles and their effect on exposure, and many other vital subjects. 

The book sold for $3.50, which would be about $72 today when adjusted for inflation.

An instant success, the Hand Book was updated and revised through nine editions, with the project ending in 1956 following Rose’s death on September 23 of that year.  

In 1960, the ASC published the even more substantial American Cinematographer Manual.

The first edition of the AC Manual (1960).

Edited by ASC member Joseph V. Mascelli, Society fellows Arthur Miller and Walter Strenge served as technical advisors and additional editors.

The first edition of the Manual offered a collection of “cinematographic production data which has never before been equaled.” In many ways, the evolution of the Handbook to the Manual reflected the changing times, as cinematography had become ever-more complex, requiring a more in-depth understanding of diverse topics, calling for subjects to be broken out into individual chapters with top experts in those fields then writing on their respective subjects in detail. 

In addition to topics covered in the Handbook, the 484-page Manual included informative discussion on various widescreen systems, new cameras and accessories, shooting background plates, shooting film for television, day-for-night and underwater cinematography, and even audio recording tips while using various camera systems.

Priced at $7.50 (about $72 today), the 1960 Manual was essentially a top-notch film school bound between two covers and a handy reference for solving pressing technical issues on the set. 

Subsequent editions added new chapters on the evolving technology and techniques of the day, and the most recent — the 10th, published in 2013 — clocked in at a hefty 938 pages. 

Editors of subsequent editions of the Manual also include Charles G, Clarke, ASC (4th Edition), Fred H. Detmers (6th Edition), Dr. Rod Ryan (7th Edition), Rob Hummel (8th Edition), Stephen H. Burum, ASC (9th Edition) and Michael Goi, ASC (10th Edition.

Curated from the AC Manual, the Student Cinematographer book was personally devised by Burum. 

A secondary publication, Selected Tables, Charts and Formulas for the Student Cinematographer, is a handy collection of vital data curated from the Manual. Designed for the education market, it was offered at a greatly discounted price. The 4th edition of this book, itself 168 pages — was curated by Burum.

In 2002, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented an Award of Commendation to the ASC for its ongoing publication of the Manual.

The 11th edition of the Manual — edited by M. David Mullen, ASC and associate member Rob Hummel and containing 686 pages — has been printed and is now available for from the ASC Store. Only 3,500 hard-back copies will be made available.

Contributors to this updated edition include Society members Bill Bennett, Christopher Chomyn, Richard Crudo, Richard Edlund, John C. Hora, Levie Isaacks, Dennis Muren, James Neihouse, Sam Nicholson, Steven Poster, Christopher Probst, Pete Romano, Roberto Schaefer and David Stump.

Here’s what’s inside this new version:

American Cinematographer Manual Eleventh Edition - Table of Contents

  • Foreward
  • Origins of the American Society of Cinematographers - David E. Williams
  • Responsibilities of the Cinematographer
  • Basic Digital Concepts - Marty Ollstein
  • Resolution, Acuity, and Contrast Sensitivity and Their Contribution to Cinematography - Daniel S. Rosen
  • Criteria for Evaluating Digital Cinema Cameras - David Stump, ASC
  • Take Ownership of Your Sensor - Richard Crudo, ASC
  • Exposure Meters - Nasir Zaidi
  • Measuring Light - Christopher Chomyn, ASC
  • Light Sources and Lighting Instruments - Phil Rhodes with Frieder Hochheim and Tim S. Kang
  • Lenses - Iain A. Neil
  • Anamorphic Cinematography - John C. Hora, ASC
  • Depth of Field - Rob Hummel
  • Compositional Considerations When Choosing Aspect Ratio & How Shooting Film vs. Digital Impacts Those Choices - Rob Hummel 
  • Set Safety - Steven Poster, ASC and Michael Chambliss 
  • Filters - Ira Tiffen
  • Camera-Stabilizing Systems - Larry McConkey, SOC
  • Monitor Setup for Accurate Picture Review - Lou Levinson and Gary Mandie
  • 16mm - Roberto Schaefer, ASC
  • Imax - James Neihouse, ASC 
  • Aerial Cinematography - Jon Kranhouse and David B. Nowell, ASC
  • Underwater Cinematography - Pete Romano, ASC
  • Day-for-Night M. David Mullen, ASC
  • Introduction into 3D Cinematography - Buzz Hays
  • Emissive-Screen Cinematography in Virtual Production - Noah Kadner
  • Photographing Displays, Past & Present - Steve Irwin
  • Infrared Cinematography - Bill Bennett, ASC
  • Arctic-Tropical Cinematography - James Neihouse, ASC
  • Specialty Lenses - Mako Kowai
  • Macro Cinematography - Christopher Probst, ASC
  • Virtual Reality / 360° Cinematography - Noah Kadner
  • Variable Frame Rate - Jonathan Erland
  • The Cinematographer and the Laboratory - Rob Hummel
  • Previsualization - Colin Green
  • Digital Postproduction for Feature Films - Sarah Priestnall
  • ASC Color-Decision List - David Reisner and Joshua Pines 
  • The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) - Annie Chang and Andy Maltz
  • Working with Greenscreens and Bluescreens - Sam Nicholson, ASC and David Stump, ASC
  • Photographing Miniatures - Dennis Muren, ASC 
  • In-Camera Compositing of Miniatures with Full-Scale Live-Action Actors - Dan Curry, VES
  • Motion-Control Cinematography - Richard Edlund, ASC
  • Film Format Dimensions
  • Formulas - R. Evans Wetmore, P.E.
  • Postproduction and VFX Glossary
  • Digital Glossary - Marty Ollstein and Levie Isaacks, ASC
  • Tables
  • Further Reading
  • Index
  • About the Editors

Order today for yourself or as a gift.

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