David E. Elkins,

Camera Operator - Retired
First Assistant Cameraman - Retired








While preparing the camera assistant class at Columbia College-Hollywood, I discovered that there was no book available that dealt with the subject in any detail. There are many fine cinematography books that briefly discuss the job responsibilities of a 1st and 2nd AC, but none of them were very complete. And so I started to prepare notes based on the day-to-day responsibilities and tasks that I performed as an assistant cameraman. I spoke with many of my colleagues to get their input because I knew that I wouldn't remember everything. After showing my notes to one of the camera operators I was working with, he suggested that I get it published. Since there was no detailed book on the subject I decided that it was worth a try.

In May 1991, The Camera Assistant’s Manual was first published by Focal Press. It was intended to be a complete step-by-step guide for a beginning filmmaker to learn the jobs of a First and Second Assistant Cameraman. By the end of the 1991 it was one of the top ten best selling books for Focal Press. As a result, I was asked to write a book for their Focal Handbook series. In April 1993, Camera Terms and Concepts was published. It is a dictionary/glossary of camera related terminology and names of equipment.

After a few years and the success of
The Camera Assistant's Manual, I felt that a new edition should be done to include any information left out of the first edition as well as new information. In June 1996 The Camera Assistant’s Manual - Second Edition was published. This was an expanded version of the first edition containing updated as well as new information. The first edition of this book was translated into Spanish in 1993 and the fifth edition was translated into Spanish in 2011 and is currently being used in the Spanish speaking countries of the world. In September 2004, the third edition of the book was translated into Japanese by the Japanese Society of Cinematographers.   In 2009, the fourth edition of the book was translated into Korean.   The fifth edition was published in March 2009 and sold out its first print run in less than nine months.   The most recent, and sixth edition of the book was released on February 28, 2013.

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The Camera Assistant’s Manual

The Seventh Edition of The Camera Assistant's Manual has been completely updated to reflect the technology of today, providing crucial guidance to student filmmakers as they prepare to enter the professional world and work as camera assistants.

David Elkins has the technical know-how to provide students with easy to follow advice about how to act on set, what a camera assistant is expected to do, and all the tips and tricks that will make a first or second camera assistant ready to advance to the next level. Readers will learn how the skill sets of a 1st or 2nd AC (Assistant Cameraman) in film and digital (HD) intertwine, how they differ, and all they need to know to do both jobs well. The advancements in HD and digital video are only adding to an already demanding job, and this seventh edition of The Camera Assistant's Manual provides Camera Assistant novices and experienced ACs alike with valuable knowledge that they need to work in both formats. 

This nuts and bolts guide covers the basics of cinematography, how to maintain a camera, how to transport a camera, how to troubleshoot common problems that arise on set, and even advice about interviewing for the job. The new edition has also been updated to include new forms, checklists, tables, and illustrations that will be essential to the success of any camera assistant. Using problem solving skills, readers will hone proficiency both on the set and off, and they will find a vital tool for their toolkits in this book. 

* Completely updated for the latest film and digital technologies, including the multi-skill set needed to work in both film and HD

* The author's companion web site provides online tutorials, clips, and techniques that camera assistants can easily use while on location (www.cameraassistantmanual.com)

* Aspiring camera assistants will never be left in the dust again by using this complete guide


"In its seventh edition, David Elkins' book retains its stature as a Must Have reference - not only for aspiring camera assistants, but all practitioners of the trade.
Elkins has impressively updated this quintessential classic, leaving no question unanswered."

Tom Ackerman ASC


Click here to go to the companion web site
for The Camera Assistant's Manual 

Chapter 1: Basics of Cinematography
Chapter 2: The Camera Department
Chapter 3: Camera Trainee and Camera Production Assistant (PA)
Chapter 4:
Second Assistant Cameraman (2nd AC) and Film Loader
Chapter 5: First Assistant Cameraman (1st AC)
Chapter 6: Film Productions - Problems and Troubleshooting
Chapter 7:
Chapter 8: 
Before, During and After the Job
Appendix A: Digital Cameras
Appendix B:
Equipment and Apps
Appendix C: Camera Department Checklists, Production Forms and Labels
Appendix D: Tools, Accessories & Expendables
Appendix E: Tables and Formulas
Recommended Reading

Sixth Edition Endorsements

The film industry is finding itself in the most dynamic technical changes in its history, yet David's manual continues to keep up with changing trends. I not only recommend this book to the new camera assistant, but anybody who wants a real world understanding of what to expect on-set.

Jim Roudebush, Panavision Inc


I had the good fortune of working with David Elkins as my camera assistant for many years. He is an elite craftsman who really knows his stuff! “The Camera Assistant Manual” contains all of the essential and up to date information on how to fulfill the duties of a camera assistant with complete professionalism. If you aspire to a career in the camera department, this is a must own book! 

Randolph Sellars, Director of Photography and founder of Reel Pro Mentor


A lot of changes in the motion picture business have evolved since David Elkins printed his first edition of The Camera Assistant’s Manual in 1991, and over the years he has updated it with four additional editions, all printed out of necessity and in a timely fashion. Now, it’s time again. The Sixth Edition.

We find ourselves in 2013 and much has changed and much has stayed the same. Many Film Schools are no longer using film cameras in their curriculum; they’ve moved forward with the times and offer courses focused on digital media. The path is clear; with Arriflex and Panavision ceasing the manufacturing of film cameras, it’s only time until Digital Cinematography wins the battle and eliminates film as a viable or economic choice for image acquisition.

The aspiring film maker however still needs to learn the ropes if he or she wants to join the “film community.”  Those of us who worked our way up the lonely ladder of acceptance into the Hollywood Film Industry learned as much about film making as we learned about “people skills,” protocols, hierarchy, and edict. These skills take just as long to hone, and by learning accepted practices within the industry as a foundation, you will out perform those who have only cinematic skills.

David Elkins has shared his experiences with us in the written word. For those of us who got started before David, we had to figure out for ourselves the key to being accepted as a Hollywood Insider. Film School can teach you the basics of film making but unless you are fortunate enough to work with mentors right away, the path can be bumpy or impossible to navigate all together. The Camera Assistant’s Manual is the Bible, and it’s the key to the door which blocks those who don’t utilize the code of ethics which are instrumental to either having or not having a long career in the main-stream motion picture business.

Everything I learned about interacting with all of the other crew members has not changed, even with the new technologies that are rushing into the digital film making process. Without a complete understanding of your job and how your existence on the set relates to the others, you will not succeed. You might even see others with less perceived raw talent than you, get more jobs opportunities… and this does happen, and its because of their people skills.

I was a camera operator when David wrote his first edition, and I have owned and read every edition since then. His 6th Edition of The Camera Assistant’s Manual once again blends technical information, with descriptive procedural narration, that will help you to be in the right place at the right time, and  perform those duties that are expected of you as a member of  the Camera Crew. 

It’s actually easy to memorize this book. Each piece of information is priceless as much as it is essential knowledge. You’ll drink the words right off the pages, but your thirst will always be present. …and that’s why you will find a copy of  David’s book in almost every camera technician’s kit, and as you find yourself on bigger and bigger projects, you’ll notice multiple copies of his guide on every camera truck.

Personally, I do not know one member of the International Cinematographer’s Guild , other than a few old-time masters,  who have not read one edition or another of this book and referred to it during their careers. If you are a new aspiring Cinematographer, by all means, put this book at the top of your reading list, and if you’ve been in the business for years, but have not brushed up on the latest procedures, it’s time to review and gain new knowledge, all at the same time.

Stan McClain,
Cinematographer, Local 600 Member, Past President, Society of Operating Cameramen, President, Filmtools ®


The last ten years have seen more change in filmmaking than in its first century, but that doesn't mean a hundred years of accumulated camera assistant knowledge is obsolete. Elkins takes the best of the old school–techniques used to craft the best films ever made–and updates them for the digital world. Short of being on a set, this book is a great introduction to the most technically critical job in production.

If a camera assistant does their job well, nobody notices. If they screw up, EVERYONE NOTICES. Elkins passes down a century of hard-won knowledge--compiled by assistants working under adverse conditions on the greatest films ever shot--and updates it seamlessly for the digital age. This book is your first best step toward working in one of the most crucial jobs in production without uttering the camera department's most feared word: "Ooops."

Art Adams, cinematographer/educator, ProVideoCoalition.com


Fifth Edition Reviews from Amazon.com

 David accomplishes his quest for the 5th Time., April 27, 2009
I've owned a copy of all four previous editions of "The Camera Assistant's Manual" and found that David has always had impeccable timing when releasing an update. The 5th Edition is no exception. In just the past 2-3 years we've seen a remarkable shift in the amount of work "Filmless Cameras" have acquired. With this shift from film to digital, fast paced technological changes and advancements have bombarded us. In Chapters 3 and 4 expands into working with SD and HD video. Film stocks have been changing and David has updates those tables as well. The appendixes are updated to help videographers and a new and updated glossary will keep the reader up to date on all of the new language used in daily production.

The is a very worthy book and all camera technicians, experienced, or just starting out, should own a copy and keep it with them at all times.

Stan McClain
Past president, SOC

 Editorial Reviews

A very well done book on cameras and assisting and for any budding cinematographer or assistant."
-Ron Dexter, ASC

  "The Camera Assistant's Manual is well written and easy to comprehend--an essential read for all interested in doing a camera job well done." -Georgia Packard, SOC


Click here for Society of Camera Operators Magazine review of "The Camera Assistant's Manual, Fifth Edition"


Fourth Edition Reviews from Amazon.com

Amazing reference! May leave you a soulless husk if you read it all the way through..., January 9, 2007
By  J. Wolfsberger    
I bought this book when I was hired to AC for a project on equipment I had never worked with before. For one of those, "Holly crap! I agreed to do a job I only know how to do part of!" moments, this book is great. Every question I could think of was answered thoroughly and I mean THOROUGHLY. If you want to learn exactly what the responsibilities of an Assistant Camera Person are and how best to execute them read this book! If you are a working AC and want an easy to read, text-book style reference this is it.

The Best Book On The Subject. PERIOD., December 3, 2005
By  Leon Sanginiti   
Nothing comes close to David Elkins' book. It's that simple. This is the best, most complete book on the job of the camera assistant. PERIOD. If you are new to the job of the camera assistant, this book is an absolute must have. If you are a seasoned "vet" who has years of experience working on motion picture sets, again, this book is an absolute must have. Elkins' total description of every aspect of the AC's job is so concise, it's like a classroom in a book. Loaded with every conceivable diagram and chart, and covering every motion picture camera currently being used, this book goes well beyond your typical "job description" type tome.

The bonus materials alone make this book invaluable. Along with the companion website, the reader has vast amounts of precious material available for when the job calls for it...label templates, charts, manufacturer links and contacts, the list goes on and on and on. The best part is the writing style is clear and informative, almost like Elkins himself is teaching you as you go.

Look no further than this book. It's all here.

The Best Technical Book on Moviemaking, November 29, 2005
David Elkins's The Camera Assistant's Manual, Fourth Edition is the best technical book around, and one of the best books on movies, period.

Dave manages to cover every aspect of an assistant's job, no matter how obscure or infrequently encountered. But the completeness is only one aspect which recommends it to any aspiring or working cinematographer.

Written in a clear, conversational manner, Dave manages to demystify both the jargon and the sometimes strange job of an assistant. His accounts of procedure for both first and second assistants clarify what we in the business call "industry standard": the accepted, professional way of conducting yourself and doing a job. Outside of a job on a
Hollywood set, it is nearly impossible to learn these classic, time-saving routines. And unless you've been a pro in the business, you're not going to know about such things as the relative merits of Magliner and Rubbermaid carts for hauling equipment.

The book covers the general characteristics of film, cameras, and lenses in such a way as to give a general technical education. Dave also gives a valuable overview of the camera department and its place in film production overall.

What many readers will find most useful are the sections on troubleshooting, the diagrams and threading patterns of every currently used camera, and the wealth of forms and lists to organize the on-set work.

I've tried to give a good idea of what the book covers, but it contains much, much more. I've been using The Camera Assistant's Manual since the first edition. This is the biggest and the best version. I only wish that, when I started as a camera assistant, I had had access to such a clear, helpful book.

Beginner to Pro, October 17, 2005
The 4th Edition of the Camera Assistant's Manual by focal press author David Elkins is a must have for the beginner as well as the seasoned pro. From how to set up a darkroom, to threading diagrams on all "in use" cameras, to lifelong useful tables and charts, this edition has it all.

Must Have Manual, September 27, 2005
The Camera Assistant's Manual is a must have reference book for both beginners and experienced professionals in the camera department. If you are a beginner, this manual will teach you all of the basics as well as the advanced details of camera assisting. Although not a substitute for actual experience, author David Elkins also coaches you on how to act efficiently and professionally on a set. This can save you countless embarrassing blunders on your "first barbeque." But before learning all of the AC's duties, the reader is introduced to the basics of cinematography and a complete overview of the camera department. This is extremely helpful - allowing the beginner to understand the "big picture" first. If you are an experienced professional, Elkins gives you hundreds of tips and suggestions that will add to your knowledge base and help your job go smoothly. This 4th edition contains the most complete and up to date camera diagrams, tables, and formulas of any single reference source. Imagine your relief when you have to load and thread a new camera for the first time. The Camera Assistant's Manual is worth it's weight in gold.

The Camera Assistant's Manual is a great tool to have., April 30, 2005
The Camera Assistant's Manual, 4th edition is packed with a wealth of valuable tips, tricks, explanations, illustrations, and suggestions for the modern-day camera assistant. This is a good book to have, an excellent reference for a working professional camera assistant and a great teaching tool for film students and people new to the camera department. The companion website offers a collection of links and forms, a superb resource that is always accessible.

THE Textbook for Assistant Camera, March 17, 2000
Having been trained by David Elkins from the original manuscript of this book, I was eager to read the second addition.

This book is the perfect primer for the beginning Assistant Cameraperson. The details of the camera department, each department broken down into chapters, gives not only an overview, but a detailed step by step description of the tasks and duties of an Assistant Camera.

This has been an invaluable text book for my beginning Film Students.

Third Edition Reviews

Stan McClain, SOC (Past President) Filmtools-President
"David Elkins, SOC does it again. In this latest edition David covers all of the latest cameras and
accessories that have been invented since the last edition. This is truly the "Bible" for seasoned
camera assistants, and an indispensable tool for all veteran and student film makers."

Click here for Operating Cameraman Magazine review of "The Camera Assistant's Manual, Third Edition"

Second Edition Reviews

Booknews, Inc. , 12/01/96:
A new edition of the manual giving "everything you need to know" information on the job functions of
a first and second assistant cameraman, and providing ready reference on equipment and technique for professionals. Elkins (a camera operator himself) describes the basics of cinematography, the camera department, cameras, troubleshooting, and how beginners in the field can get and keep jobs..... Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Midwest Book Review :
... The Camera Assistant's Manual is comprehensive, practical, informative, well-organized, and the
most valuable book an assistant camera operator could have on his or her reference bookshelf.


Click on any of the below links to purchase "The Camera Assistant's Manual"


The Camera Assistant's Manual
Previous Editions

First Edition Second Edition Third Edition Fourth Edition Fifth Edition Sixth Edition

The Camera Assistant's Manual
Foreign Language Editions

Spanish Edition Spanish - Second Edition Japanese Edition Korean Edition

Camera Terms and Concepts

Answer Print • Cut Away • Dirty Single •
Dolly • Space Blanket

For students and professionals alike, terminology is often the first barrier to succeeding in the film industry. Once understood, however, film industry jargon opens doors to the development of professional skills and lends additional credibility to the neophyte.

With over 100 illustrations, "Camera Terms and Concepts" defines more than 600 words that every camera operator and assistant needs to know to function in the real world of motion picture production. In addition to the terms from the camera department, this book defines terms from closely associated departments, such as lighting and grip.

The author, a working professional and teacher, has based "Camera Terms and Concepts" on his daily on-the-job vocabulary. He knows what terminology will confuse students and beginning professionals and has clarified these words in this portable dictionary.

Currently out of print.

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©2021 David E. Elkins
Last revised - September 2021