A more relaxed Zone system - March 2019

Discussion in 'Articles of Interest' started by Tim Tucker 2, Mar 6, 2019.

  1. Tim Tucker 2

    Tim Tucker 2 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Reproduced from my latest blog post.

    A more relaxed Zone system - March 2019

    A bit of a departure for me as I shall delve into the technical, not to the n’th degree but some practical guidelines that have helped me.

    With digital cameras being so capable and automated these days I got to wondering whether the small increments in technology actually made any difference to the images at all, and if so if that difference was positive or negative.

    It’s not as odd an idea as it may seem. Recently on a forum I read a thread that wants stats and comparisons of Electronic View Finders in different cameras so they can be compared. But are these differences visible in a finished image? It seems to me that we spend so much time researching insignificant details in automation and technology that we spend our entire time looking at the camera and what it does to the point that we seem to have forgotten to look at what we are photographing.

    We all accept without question that an increase in sensor DR is an improvement in sensor design, but have we asked the question about whether it actually improves the images visually? Output media has a fixed output, the brightest white and darkest black are immovable, they do not alter and so squeezing a high DR scene into that fixed space whilst maintaining a sense of depth and clarity of colour is a skill often lacking in many tone-mapped and over HDR’ed images that I see.

    Though I appreciate the advantages that technology has brought, the biggest problem with all the automation is that it does the thinking for us, and when we don’t think we neither understand nor learn.

    A Chair in the Stables
    img121_sRGB_ss.jpg

    So I have gone in the opposite direction, as I often do, and mounted an uncoated Zeiss Tessar from circa 1910 (it predates surviving serial number records so a guess) on my 1958 Linhof Technika. I took it with me on a tour of Lochaber but it rained most of the time and I only took one shot. But as I was a little unsure of it’s accuracy or even it’s ability I decided to make a test shot and see how it developed.

    I’ve been interested in a chair we have in the stables. Nothing special just one of those non-descript pieces of furniture we have that gets superseded. This one ended up in the stables where it has been living for the last 20 years and gathered the patina that bars it from ever regaining space in the house. As to viewfinders, well try looking at a ground glass screen through an f7.7 lens in a barn on a rainy day. It will change your opinion about whether the difference between two modern digital cameras is at all significant.

    Now I’ve seen many threads on forums questioning Ansel Adams’ teachings, the sort of “history is bunk” kind. But I think he was much misunderstood by the predominantly “left-brained” thinkers you find on many forums. The Zone System was never designed to make photography the slave to numbers. You are supposed to visualise the tones of grey and see the finished image, not a series of zones that are merely labels. He always taught observation. Look at the subject and understand it, then look at the image and see how it differs from what you expect. This shows you how the process abstracts the image, the goal was only to understand this and how to repeat it, or refine it to what you want. There is no real point in precision, in fact most equipment makes it pointless, the 1910 Tessar has dubious shutter speeds and a level of flare that can confound even the most accurate readings. Close is good enough.

    What I do is crib Ansel Adams notes as a starting point. I start with film speed, or the amount of light necessary to make a reaction in the emulsion or the first measurable density. It’s quite easy with a modern lens, I simply make a note of the Zone 1 placement and after development check, if it is black with little to no detail then it is correct, if too much detail then I have the film speed too low, if the black extends too far I have it too high. With HP5 I find that 200ASA is about correct and FP4 is about 80ASA, the same as AA tested and I’ve not found that I’ve needed to alter it with the modern films as the results I get are much as I expect. I then make a note of the highlights or a Zone 8 placement and adjust development until I get this correct. There are differences in the local water, thermometer calibrations, agitation etc that make this time unique to you but using AA’s notes you should get usable results that you can fine tune. It’s important to vary and try different times and observe the effects, the idea is to get the best density range in the negative, you will see how it improves and degrades and learn to recognise the optimum with simple observation.

    I found that trying to find a logic or narrative in words often prohibits a visual understanding. You only need to look and understand what you see and eventually you will gain a visual understanding and it will make sense. A more complete understanding will form by itself, rather than trying to fit something into a framework you think makes sense. You will learn to trust your eyes as to what does work rather than what you think should work.

    St Mary and St Finnan RC Church at Glenfinnan
    img122_sRGB_ss.jpg

    I’ve always found churches in Scotland to be rather austere, almost dark and foreboding from the outside. They exert a solid presence and influence, especially on the Western Isles. This is often enhanced by granite walls, darkened when wet from frequent rain. It is a beautiful church in a stunning glen, and if you get the chance wander inside. I’m certainly getting the hang of sheet HP5+, it seems to prefer a minute pre-soak and definitely benefits from a more dilute HC110, I use it at 1+63 from concentrate and 14mins for lower DR scenes, 12mins for standard and around 10mins for a 10 stop DR. Both the negatives shown had the 14mins development.

    (Edited 84ASA to 80ASA)


     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2019
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  2. bulldurham

    bulldurham TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    Not meant as a rebuttal but more as a muse, I wonder what the results would be if you used a Kodak film like Panotomic X (if you could find a sheet) and using HC110 developer with these same conclusions?
     
  3. Tim Tucker 2

    Tim Tucker 2 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Exactly the same. All silver halide emulsions behave in much the same way.

    Expose for the shadows

    It takes a set amount of energy, (level of light), to produce the first reaction in the film. This is you basic film speed, the level of light needed to produce the first measurable change of density in the developed negative. As development is more of a percentage increase in density with time your shadows at say 0.5% opacity are changed very little by a 20% increase and are pretty much fixed by film speed and exposure rather than development...

    Develop for the highlights

    ...The highlights at 70% opacity are greatly changed by a 20% increase in density. This is really what you're doing, setting a *normal* reference point DR scene so you can predict shadow detail and where the level of light records maximum density, (pure white). If you have a scene with a reduced DR of say 7 stops then normal development will produce a flat negative, you simply don't give the highlights enough light to produce a full density and so waste most of the tonal range available to you. By increasing development you achieve the range of density in the neg by boosting the density of the highlights. It's much the same as ETTR in digital, gain the maximum information rather than push a minimum and expose the flaws. To do it you need a reference point of *normal* or what range of tones record where when you give development time 'x'.

    You don't need to look at the *numbers* to understand this. In fact if you look at the numbers you sometimes fail to look at the image and gain a visual understanding. Once you have the film speed set you know exposure, if you then under-develop you will know what that looks like. If you then optimise development you gain an understanding of how that looks and responds, and by overdeveloping you gain a visual understanding of what it looks like to pass through the optimum and out the other side.
     
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  4. dennyr

    dennyr TPF Noob!

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    Sorry if i missed it, but you said with HP5, you set your meter to 200.
    When you develop the film, do you use the time recommended by whatever developer you are using for HP5 400 ASA, or do you modify the time.?
    Thank You
     
  5. Tim Tucker 2

    Tim Tucker 2 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    You have only written a few lines so excuse me if I make too many assumptions...

    200ASA is much closer to the true film speed of HP5+ than 400ASA.

    As an analogy you seem to be thinking in two dimensions whereas a clearer understanding comes with a more fluid three dimensional model. It's a problem I had, making that leap because you have to let go of what you think is correct. The film speed on the box is not absolute or even true but a suggestion that when used with the development times will yield usable results with a fast enough shutter speed to be hand held. But it is a compromise.

    There is no simple answer that I can explain in one or two lines that will circumvent for you the years I spent trying to get my own head around it. But I did buy Ansel Adams book "The Negative". It intrigued me and I tried the film speeds and development times he suggested in the appendix, two of those results are below. They are scans from 35mm FP4 from the early 1980's on a cheap scanner. The results blew me away compared to what I got by following the instructions on the box. I threw the box and that sheet of paper away but I still have the book, though much dog-eared and with as many bookmarks as there are pages...

    As a starter film speed and development are not directly linked as you think, film speed governs exposure and the tonal range resulting from that exposure is controlled through development.

    img114 copy.jpg

    img124 copy.jpg
     
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  6. dennyr

    dennyr TPF Noob!

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    Are you talking about HP5 sheet film.?
    If not, and you are shooting roll film and (typically) using one developer, i am simply wondering if your developing times were Shorter, Longer, or the Same as what that developer recommended at 400.?
    Thank You
     
  7. Tim Tucker 2

    Tim Tucker 2 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I gave my times near the end of my original post. But as I said the speed and development times on the box are *not* a reference and the times I use are not derived from them, (it's pointless to compare numbers without understanding the fixed point of reference, and I don't know the reference of what's on the box). Also the film speeds I am talking about are the true speeds of the emulsion which doesn't really change with development and not the meter sensitivity (ASA setting) you dial in on your camera.

    With the two shots in the OP both were made with the spot meter, (there is no meter in the camera), set to 200ASA. But it could also be argued that the actual shutter/aperture combinations I used could also relate to the chair being exposed with the meter set at 400ASA and the church at 200ASA. Without understanding my point of reference the last sentence will be as meaningless to you as your question is to me. In fact the whole point of the post is to say that once you have a reference point (true film speed) you can work out the development time yourself via visual inspection and understanding rather than just comparing numbers on charts that have no common point of reference.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
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  8. vintagesnaps

    vintagesnaps Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    The pictures are beautifully done. I'm going to print this so I can read it later when I have time, looks interesting.

    I've got those three Ansel Adams books, The Camera, The Negative, and The Print, and keep meaning to get them out. I think I'd get a lot more out of reading them now.
     
  9. dennyr

    dennyr TPF Noob!

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    I gave my times near the end of my original post. [/QUOTE]

    So you did...i missed that.
    I looked it up the info.
    It was, kind of, what i thought.
    Thanks
     

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