Would this work? (Zone system on a DLSR & in the field)

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by cathexis, Nov 5, 2017.

  1. cathexis

    cathexis TPF Noob!

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    Hey Folks,


    My goal with this thread is to ask the group if my understanding of the Zone System, when practiced in the field and with a DSLR is correct or not. I understand there’s a lot more to Zone system than just field work but that’s not what I’m asking about. The camera I have is a D600 and this scenario is predicated on how it would work using the Spot Meter function in lieu of a separate spot meter device. We can imagine the shot in question is a landscape on a sunny day where the most important subjects are all within the Zone II to Zone VIII range and no more than 10% of the picture falls outside the “Dynamic Range” and can be disregarded. In that case I would:

    Set the D6oo to M mode (my preference) and set metering to Spot.

    Read spot values as best I could of those areas falling in the upper zones that are most important to me.

    Read the most important areas of the lower end as well.

    Decide if shifting exposure of upper areas down by 2-3 stops will still render lower zones workable in PP.

    If OK, underexpose the whole shot such that important highlighted areas are minus 2-3 stops where a step could be aperture or shutter speed as long as the same relation is maintained between the two. Done.

    Obviously, there are other decisions such as focus and shot alignment and even shifting light values, etc.

    But the D600 will use center area for spot metering even in Auto-AF although it is possible to fudge that depending on your focus settings. In my camera it doesn’t actually read a number as such; you have to twiddle the command and sub-command dials to adjust the f/stop and/or shutter speed but basically if you have an “OK” balance than you can extrapolate what the spot meter is reading a selected area as. The same process seems to work even if you zoom in on an area that may be too far to spot meter otherwise. So this dial twiddling seems rather tedious but I think it works.

    However, it seems to me that this method doesn’t actually let me say, for example, “Those rocks are a Zone VI.” Instead, it just allows me to establish a “virtual zone” based on the readings comparisons of the various metered areas. That is, the major important areas cover an exposure range of “x” stops and I can assign virtual values from that. So, I’m left wondering if this is really an example of the Zone System in practice or something else? And once I put that shot into a histogram isn’t it going to show all kinds of clipping? I thought that was a bad thing but perhaps that’s a job for PP? What do you all think?


    As always, thank you all very much,

    Andrew


     
  2. fmw

    fmw No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    If you feel your camera metering system isn't working well for you, just buy a handheld incident meter. They never miss because they don't have to deal with reflectivity. The zone system was good in its day but it still deals with the reflectivity of elements of the subject.
     
  3. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    The main issue is that your camera's "spot meter" is reads a much larger spot than a traditional 1 degree spot meter, thus preventing you from measuring specific areas.
     
  4. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    The D600 has a VERY wide dynamic range....you can set the highlight exposure and "protect" the highs from burning out, and then in software can "lift" the lower tonal values up, without much of an issue. There is not much need for the Zone System, which was for B&W film and Plus-Normal-Minus development, rather crude tools compared against modern post-processing with computers.

    Secondly: the NIKON metering system measures RGB COLOR, and reflectivity...it's not the same old "dumb" spot metering Ansel and Minor used...it's much smarter...it itself is determining not JUST reflective value, but can literally SEE and analyze the colors of objects...you trying to tinker with the metering will in some cases, lead to worse results than allowing the meter to determine the best exposure.

    Look into the subject of ISO invariance; you've now got one of the most-capable tools ever invented for exposure and image manipulation, and you're thinking about using a 1940's B&W film exposure and film development technique on a medium that has an entirely different method of exposing and "developing", and you're also comparing a method meant for negatives and film against positive color and all-electronic imaging
     
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  5. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    The Zone System does not apply to digital. The foundation upon which the zone system is built is the characteristic of negative films such that film density increase over time during development is disproportional over the film exposure range. Remove that foundation and you're flailing around without purpose. The SD card from your camera doesn't take well to immersion in a solution of HC-110.

    Are you shooting and saving CR2 (raw) files or are you shooting to save camera JPEGs? That will determine how your should proceed with an exposure methodology.

    Joe
     
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  6. cathexis

    cathexis TPF Noob!

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    To All,

    My goal is B&W - I hope this doesn't mess you up as far as your replies. I've learned that B&W digital is best (in fact only) produced in PP. I am shooting and saving all as raw files and I'm going to be working in Darktable to produce such B&W, at least initially. I am aware from you guys the many other progs out there but it is going to be Darktable good or bad, at least while I learn more. But I still need files to work on. Message received on the subject of iso invariance - need to smart up on that.

    I'm interested in natural light landscape or outdoor B&W photography. No interest in anything to do with flash or studio settings at this time. I want to begin with my D600 rather than film. Perhaps better questions to have asked might be: What should I be studying to max out my camera's abilities in the field to take photos that will give me the most creative possibilities in B&W once I'm in PP? And what are the smartest choices for chasing or acquiring such knowledge? I thought the Zone System was one way of doing that since the camera always gives neutral results if it can.

    I have my camera's manual and the David Bush Guide, both of which are helpful but not on the level I seem to be looking for, it seems. I see I'm kind of stumbling around. Anecdote: I spent 32 years as a hospital RN, most in ICU. We used to joke about hospitals as an "un-system." You know, like 7-UP had the old ad as the Un-Cola. We'd say there's the way the system says it works and then there's the way it REALLY works and what you have to know to get it to do what you want- that's the Un-System. That's what I'm looking for; The REAL way to stroke your digital camera to get what you want out of it. In this case, best possible material for digital PP B&W final results.
     
  7. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    B&W versus color as far as digital is concerned there's no real difference managing exposure. I missed your camera brand earlier, I thought you had a Canon but I see it's a Nikon. You're NEF (raw) files will be captured in color. Converting to B&W -- there are myriad options.

    There are various ways to approach the task of setting a camera exposure. Most photogs rely on the camera's built-in exposure system and then chimp the camera JPEG on the camera LCD. I get students every semester who just use the camera LCD as a meter and adjust exposure till they think the JPEGs on the LCD look good -- I bang my head on the desk and mumble noooooo over and over but to no avail.

    Join the crowd:
    option 1) Trust the camera's exposure system. Engage the matrix meter mode on your D600, zero the meter and shoot. Under most lighting conditions you'll get a good usable exposure -- don't worry be happy. The camera meter will have trouble with extreme contrast and backlight and you might benefit in those situations to intervene but generally it's going to get you a photo. Chimp the JPEG and keep shooting.
    option 2) Matrix metering is running a software algorithm designed to analyze the lighting condition and make adjustments based on that analysis. "Thinking machines" that can't read your mind or intentions are going to perform erratically at times. If that starts to bug you then switch to center-weighted average metering. Now you have a measuring tool that isn't trying to second guess you. The job of analyzing the lighting condition and making adjustments is entirely on you. Can you do better than the matrix metering in analyzing and accommodating the lighting? Most can not. Chimp the JPEG and keep shooting.

    Nikon has done a very good job with the camera meter system and you can trust it to work quite well. Derrel has that right.

    option 3) Join the nut job crowd: RawDigger is an exposure analysis tool that will allow you to examine and fine-tune your raw exposures. But seriously those of us that get involved in this kind of stuff tend toward over-the-top obsessive compulsiveness.

    Joe
     
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  8. cathexis

    cathexis TPF Noob!

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    BIG thanks, Joe. (Although I had to google "chimp" ha, ha ). I hear what you're saying.
    BTW, I'd like to say thanks to Darrel as well for his suggestion to look up iso invariance.
    I went to this site's discussion of it here:

    ISO Invariance Explained

    It was fascinating and I think very relevant to this thread. I was especially impressed by
    the before/after photos of the pony shown on that site. Amazing possibilities!

    But right now half-time is almost over so Go Skins! & Have a Good one,

    Andrew
     
  9. 480sparky

    480sparky Chief Free Electron Relocator Supporting Member

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    False. The Zone System was designed to make sure the film was capable of recording the dynamic range of the scene. Same applies to digital. A given film stock had a maximum dynamic range, and knowing what that range is helped the photographer set the exposure for a scene to render details in the shadows without blowing out the highlights.

    Same applies to digital. One can still use a spot meter to check the luminosity of the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights and set our exposure accordingly.

    We do it every day when we look at the histograms on our camera's monitors.
     
  10. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    When the Zone System photographer spot measured the shadow detail she wanted to render with detail and set the exposure and then spot metered the highlights and discovered they would blow out with normal development what did she do?

    Joe

     
  11. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    The D600 and D610 have a very amazing degree of post-exposure image manipulation if shot in either 12-bit or 14-bit NEF (raw) modes. For the absolute most, possible post-exposure image manipulation, use the 14-bit .NEF mode. Use center-weighted metering, and set the center circle area (it's a bit different than the 'old" 12-mm diameter circle, but you can see it if you use a modicum of imagination) so that it has the most emphasis to be "tight".

    See page 226 of the D600 User Manual here http://www.nikonsupport.eu/europe/Manuals/d600/d600_en_01.pdf

    where it shows you that you can set the center-weighted circle size to one of four Nikon D600 metering adjustments.jpg sizes, or to measure over the entire frame, (which I tend to think of as being the old Nikon 60/40 centerweighted metering). The spot metering measurement area on the D600 is a 4mm circle, covering 1.5% of the frame. (see page 109).

    I would generally not use Matrix metering when shooting in a Manual, match-diode mode, but rather center-weighted metering. The issue with "spot" metering is that it's more-prone to exposure variability, demanding absolutely exact, precise placement of the metering area; in spot mode, a very,very slight mis-aiming of the metering area can result in a HUGE swing or error in the exposure recommended. By using a somewhat larger area, but NOT the old 60/40 entire area of the frame method, you get a tight, yet controllable heavily center-weighted metering area; I like the 12mm circle size, since it works with both my AF lenses AND the several manual-focusing lenses I use with my Nikons.

    Keep in mind that when using a wide-angle lens, it can cover a lot of real estate, even with the circle diameter set to 8mm or 12mm, so close-in readings might be better than long-distance readings when wide-angle lenses are being used.
     
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  12. 480sparky

    480sparky Chief Free Electron Relocator Supporting Member

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    Decide which will not have detail.... shadows or highlights. Film or digital, take your pick.
     

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