Key Points:

In his spellbinding 2002 book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, Michael Ondaatje quotes Orson Welles: the real film-maker is the editor, not the director and "the notion of 'directing' a film is the invention of critics".

It was an apt demonstration of the book's thesis but, since you can't cut what you haven't got, I prefer Robert Bresson's idea that a film is born three times: when it's written, when it's shot and when it's cut.

This book, the first attempt at a comprehensive survey of New Zealand cinematography, looks at the second stage in that process - and it has, in large part, a happy story to tell. The most loyal fans of New Zealand movies have wondered over the years how some films that made it into cinemas were even funded for a second draft of the screenplay. But even the sternest critic of this uneven output - and I have numbered myself among them - has to admit that some of the worst turkeys in our cinema look damn good.

It's not too much to say that New Zealand cinematographers are among the best in the world and, in the introduction, Petrie touches on the reason: the versatility and adaptability they have learned making movies in our island climate. Free of atmospheric haze, we are bathed in a harsh light that makes life tough for anyone capturing images, moving or still, on film or digital media.

The difference between light readings in full sunlight and full shadow "is probably more extreme than anywhere on the planet", one cinematographer is quoted as saying.

Another talks of the frustration in spring and autumn shoots of "clouds going across the sun", effectively turning the lights on and off, "and we just tear our hair out". It's no accident that Hollywood was established in southern California: no clouds disrupt schedules and, once they had filled the sky with smog, the diffuse light was perfect.

In surveying, in alphabetical order, the careers of our dozen best, devoting between 20 and 30 pages to each, Petrie - a Scot who took over as Professor of Film at the University of Auckland in 2004 - adds a volume to the reference literature and pays due credit to some of the most consistently professional craftsmen of our cinema.

But anyone looking for the explication of the field promised by the title, or even an intelligent visual appreciation of New Zealand cinema, won't find it here. A book that never seems to decide what its audience is, Shot in New Zealand is littered with observations that are either obvious ("Cinematographers require a thorough knowledge of the technical aspects of their craft") or banal ("The Hercules films are also punctuated by dramatic shots of distinctive New Zealand landscapes, anticipating a similar integration of real environments and fantasy in The Lord of the Rings." Emphasis added).

Meanwhile, there are far too many occurrences of unexplained technical terminology. After a lifetime of enthusiastic moviegoing, I do not know what it means to say that a cinematographer was "using mini-brutes through tracing frames". That may be remiss of me, but it is a good deal more remiss of Petrie to have the phrase occur unexplained in a book. Ditto, perhaps, "neutral-density gels", "matte painting" - the finer points of which some people in the book's target audience may not have mastered - or even the definition and significance of continuity.

A glossary would have been useful since he is, presumably, aiming at a general audience. A chapter, perhaps an appendix, outlining some of the rudiments of the craft and explaining the complicated artifice deployed to sustain the illusion of naturalism would have been even better.

A passing mention in the introduction as to how lighting can serve a narrative function - which will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen a horror film - is not enough.

Beside this fundamental failure, some of the small carelessnesses - misspelled names and quotations unrelated to the point they purport to illustrate - only irritate. The genuinely interesting passages on the cinematographer's craft add up to a minute proportion of the text, too much of which gives synopsis or production history which is irrelevant, not to mention available elsewhere.

The Ondaatje book on editing is marvellous because it is the work of a passionately enthusiastic non-specialist as keen to understand his subject as to get the reader to appreciate and enjoy it.

By comparison, this is name-checking which will offer little to the initiated and leave the non-specialist little the wiser.

Like so many Kiwi films (and here is the most eloquent tribute to our cinematographers), it looks much better than it is.