Zone System - Contemporary Usage

flyinglentris

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A bit of a survey here ...

How many members still employ the Zone System in their photography?
Are you professional? Ameteur? Artist? Landscape? Portraiture?
Do you use the Tiffen contrast lenses that replace the original Kodak Wratten #90?
Do you use the Zone System with digital cameras?
Provide any further insights, for example, using digital software, metering systems, etc.

Thanks in advance,
 

Ysarex

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A bit of a survey here ...

How many members still employ the Zone System in their photography?

Nope, shoot entirely digital now.

Are you professional? Ameteur? Artist? Landscape? Portraiture?

Retired professional: 35 years teaching college/univ. students photography. Fine art B&W printing and Zone System practice were specialties of mine. I still teach part-time -- last class of the semester meets tomorrow am.

Do you use the Tiffen contrast lenses that replace the original Kodak Wratten #90?
Do you use the Zone System with digital cameras?

Of course not, the Zone System doesn't apply to digital. The foundation science upon which the Zone System is based is the disproportional density response of film to development. There is no corollary to that phenomenon in the process of exposing a digital sensor and processing the data. Remove the foundation stone that defines the Zone System and you have something else. Something else should be called something else otherwise you're liable to get confused.

Provide any further insights, for example, using digital software, metering systems, etc.

Thanks in advance,

You're welcome.

Joe
 

Derrel

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We covered this, thoroughly, in the other thread, the thread you just dug up. The Zone System does not apply to digitial imaging, in which simple Plus-Development, Normal Development, and Minus-Development were used to control the degree of contrast of Black and White ___Negative___ materials. Now, with digital, we are using __color positive__, in which ADDING exposure does not build density in a negative, but blows out the color information.

The Zone System does not apply to digital imaging. Seriously. It. Does. Not. Apply.

We are no longer exposing negative film! We are no longer developing blindly, in a light-tight developing tank, with crude controls, but have precise, full-daylight, computer controlled processing of our images.

If you want to do contemporary Zone System stuff, it would be best to buy some sheet film, some film holders, and a sheet film using camera, so that every exposure and the development of the two sheets of film in each film holder can be tailored to the right degree of gamma desired in the film.
 

Ysarex

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I'm going to make a couple assumptions here without exact information and forgive me if I'm wrong. OP, the common mistake that folks make with this topic is to equate "The Zone System" with the exposure control aspect of the process: dividing up the tonal range of the scene into "zones," measuring that range of zones and determining what should be recorded from that range in the final image with some "visualization" thrown in. That's an aspect of The Zone System -- it's not The Zone System. So my assumption is that you're doing some variation of the same.

Derrel makes some really critical observations in his comments. In The Zone System once we made our exposure measurements We made a call to place the shadow detail which then determined our exposure. Hence the Zone System photographer's prayer; expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. All of that was based on exposing and processing negative film stocks. If there's a film analogy to digital it's color positive not negative. With color positive the priority is expose for the highlights and there is no variable development option that's analogous to negative film development. In fact many people who shoot digital and embrace the discipline of creating camera JPEGs think of what they're doing as most closely related to shooting color transparency film -- you can talk to JC about that.

If you find it helpful to still divide the scene tonal range into zones and measure that variation that's fine, but if you're using a digital camera I recommend you do not then establish your exposure based on shadow detail placement. Noise in the shadows can be worked with, blown highlights can't. So right there we have a big difference in practice. If you're working with a digital camera you're much more concerned with highlight placement in exposure.

A digital sensor records data linearly, period. You can't do anything about that at all. The foundation of The Zone System is film's non-linear and disproportional recording of data that can be manipulated in development. Repeat: a digital sensor records data linearly, period. Once recorded you can manipulate that data in ways that would make old Ansel piss his pants if he saw it. Which begs a flip side question: why for heaven's sake would you want to limit what you can do with digital to the more limited capabilities that we struggled with using The Zone System?

Joe

P.S. 12-16 Back from class today and I just couldn't help adding a little irreverence to the end of this post. The devil made me do it.

ansel_dumpster.jpg
 
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Derrel

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^^^^ That photo! OMG! LMAO at that!
 

Vtec44

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If you're referring to Ansel Adams' Zone System then yes I still use it to meter a precise exposure in both digital and film. How I meter in digital is different than how I meter in film, but the Zone System can be used as a foundation for either.
 

AlanKlein

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If you're referring to Ansel Adams' Zone System then yes I still use it to meter a precise exposure in both digital and film. How I meter in digital is different than how I meter in film, but the Zone System can be used as a foundation for either.
How do you use the Zone system in digital?
 

Derrel

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If you're referring to Ansel Adams' Zone System then yes I still use it to meter a precise exposure in both digital and film. How I meter in digital is different than how I meter in film, but the Zone System can be used as a foundation for either.
How do you use the Zone system in digital?

I'd be interested in hearing details and procedures on how one arrives at the Exposure Index that one rates one's digital Black & White negative film at, to do one's shadow-tone light metering using one's hand-held reflected light meter. And also, about what percentage of normal film development times one uses to arrive at a suitable film-development time to get those perfectly dark-but-yet-detail-revealing Zone I and Zone II Black & White negative zones in the final darkroom silver-gelatin print. Oh, wait...the digital camera shooter does not shoot Black & White negatives, and does not develop negative film in liquid chemical solutions with controlled strength, controlled temperature regulation, and controlled chemical agitation, and does not control film gamma (degree of contrast of the final negative) to make a darkroom silver gelatin system enlargement (a projection print or contact print).

We're not projecting light through silver-based negatives to make prints based on negative data [black negative areas turn white!], but are working in a positive system, more like color transparency film. And yet, NOT really all that much like how transparency film is developed to one, final "correct" development degree.

Careful light metering using a color-positive digital camera is not using the Zone System. Electronic images that are not contrast-regulated by the developing solution's strength, its time, its temperature,and the worker's development agitation routine are not made using Zone System methods. Again, careful and consistent light metering and exposure determination is not using the Zone System.

Perhaps it's time for some type of new description of how skilled workers perform light metering and exposure setting routines for their digital exposures? In the 1980's, we referred to this as "pegging the highlights", which is using the light meter to determine the brightest tones we wanted to look bright, but which we did not want to "blow out" through over-exposure. With a Nikon and 12mm scribed viewfinder circle and Nikon's traditional 60-percent/40-percent metering, this would involve swinging the metering circle up to the sun or light source, and placing that just outside the 12mm scribed circle, then metering, then setting that exposure or closing down the lens diaphragm to anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 of an EV value, OR alternately, using an incident light meter (you know the one one's with the white frosted hemispherical dome) and setting that meter's suggested reading (with some wiggle room), in order to "peg the highlights". That however, was not Zone System either, because we were metering highlights, we were not regulating film development, and we were not controlling the film gamma (degree of contrast) through development.

In digital imaging, there is an entire list of things that Minor White and Ansel Adams never saw in their lifetimes. Thinking that we are using their film- and chemical-based and time-based and agitation-based 1940's-era working methods with twenty-first century digital cameras is an erroneous understanding of what the Zone System truly was and is. Oh well, I've said my piece about this for the last time (in this thread at least). I think I shall retire to the sitting room and listen to some phonograph recordings on the Victrola while my beloved prepares a roasted chicken supper from the chicken we raised and butchered yesterday. We have also just recently taken delivery of a parcel containing a bottle of fine French wine that we ordered by postal mail and which recently (a month ago) arrived across the Atlantic by way of ship's cargo for the princely sum of $2.19 for the wine and trans-Atlantic shipment. Oh, what a fine supper we shall enjoy!
 

Vtec44

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How do you use the Zone system in digital?

I use it for metering and I keep it really simple. You judge a scene, pick a subject that you want to use for metering, put that subject into the zone that you think it should be in to get a neutral exposure, then either over expose or under expose. For color negatives, I generally pick the darker part of the scene (typically Zone 2) then over expose about 1 stop to get the tone I want. For digital, I try to pick a neutral part of the scene (typically something in Zone 5).
 

Ysarex

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How do you use the Zone system in digital?

I use it for metering and I keep it really simple. You judge a scene, pick a subject that you want to use for metering, put that subject into the zone that you think it should be in to get a neutral exposure, then either over expose or under expose. For color negatives, I generally pick the darker part of the scene (typically Zone 2) then over expose about 1 stop to get the tone I want. For digital, I try to pick a neutral part of the scene (typically something in Zone 5).

That's not using The Zone System. An essential part of using The Zone System is the darkroom process manipulations that make up the foundational science upon which The Zone System is based. You're not applying the darkroom practice. Even the language you use belies any use of The Zone System. A Zone System photographer for example would never say they meter a specific tone in a scene and then "over expose about 1 stop" -- that's antithetical to Zone System thinking. And for heaven's sake you're shooting color film! Color film will not tolerate the processing manipulations that make The Zone System work in B&W.

Thinking in terms of "tonal zones" while metering is not using The Zone System. Derrel said it above, "Again, careful and consistent light metering and exposure determination is not using the Zone System."

Joe
 
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Vtec44

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That's not using The Zone System. An essential part of using The Zone System is the darkroom process manipulations that make up the foundational science upon which The Zone System is based. You're not applying the darkroom practice. Even the language you use belies any use of The Zone System. A Zone System photographer for example would never say they meter a specific tone in a scene and then "over expose about 1 stop" -- that's antithetical to Zone System thinking. And for heaven's sake you're shooting color film! Color film will not tolerate the processing manipulations that make The Zone System work in B&W.

Thinking in terms of "tonal zones" while metering is not using The Zone System. Derrel said it above, "Again, careful and consistent light metering and exposure determination is not using the Zone System."

Joe

There are multiple parts of the Zone System, exposure and meting is just a part of it as is development. I'm using the Zone System for exposure, others use it for development in the darkroom. It's not a mystery like some people are trying to make it.
 

Ysarex

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That's not using The Zone System. An essential part of using The Zone System is the darkroom process manipulations that make up the foundational science upon which The Zone System is based. You're not applying the darkroom practice. Even the language you use belies any use of The Zone System. A Zone System photographer for example would never say they meter a specific tone in a scene and then "over expose about 1 stop" -- that's antithetical to Zone System thinking. And for heaven's sake you're shooting color film! Color film will not tolerate the processing manipulations that make The Zone System work in B&W.

Thinking in terms of "tonal zones" while metering is not using The Zone System. Derrel said it above, "Again, careful and consistent light metering and exposure determination is not using the Zone System."

Joe

There are multiple parts of the Zone System, exposure and meting is just a part of it as is development. I'm using the Zone System for exposure, others use it for development in the darkroom. It's not a mystery like some people are trying to make it.

It certainly is not a mystery, don't see that anyone is trying to make it a mystery. It is in fact extremely well documented. Best place to start is at the source:

2065769.jpg


You'll find in there that it is not a metering method that can be separated from the processing method. One informs the other and they are inseparable. Metering decisions using The Zone System can only be made in conjunction with processing decisions and vice versa. The whole point of The Zone System is to select an appropriate film processing manipulation based on the metering calculations and then follow through with the indicated print processing manipulation. They work together as a unified whole process.

There is no Zone System for exposure and there never has been. (There is also no Zone System exclusively for darkroom development -- never has been).

Joe
 

Vtec44

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Zone System was originally developed for the darkroom but can be adapted for exposure and digital. I may not use it in the way it was originally developed for but I reference in my metering method. It’s pretty simple and straight forward. :D
 

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