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Zone system
Old 10-12-2011   #1
cosmonaut
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Zone system

Since in the past I have scanned my negatives and could do some post work on my computer I never really gave the zone system much thought. But now I have been making darkroom prints a friend has given me a book on the zone system and it has changed my whole outlook on exposure. It looks to me shooting street work and thinking zone system would be hard. Do you think zone system and any quick tips or do you just throw the camera.up meter and fire away?
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Old 10-12-2011   #2
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It doesn't work very well w/ roll film. More of a LF sort of deal. You'll need to have a spot meter too.

I normally look around for a middle value and let it go at that. Works great. Or, if your shot demands it, meter the area of importance and let the rest fall where it may. No way you're gonna do zone system 35mm street photography unless you're shooting statues.

Last edited by Steve M. : 10-12-2011 at 15:13.
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Old 10-12-2011   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve M. View Post
It doesn't work very well w/ roll film. More of a LF sort of deal. You'll need to have a spot meter too.

I normally look around for a middle value and let it go at that. Works great. Or, if your shot demands it, meter the area of importance and let the rest fall where it may. No way you're gonna do zone system 35mm street photography unless you're shooting statues.
In the past I have always shot more for the shadows with film and the highlights for digital. I agree street shooting would be hard to zone, with that said I do see a lot of flat B&Ws. I try not to just throw the camera up. If I am shooting something with a lot of whites, snow, wall ect I try and compensate so it's not gray. I hate gray snow.LOL
I was reffering to 35mm landscaping too. If I am shooting a static object with plenty on time I work harder on exposure.
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Old 10-12-2011   #4
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Many modern films cannot handle more than 1 zone of expansion or compression. If you are doing landscapes with 35mm, I would consider 3 bodies, though technically they would have to have shutters calibrated within about 1/3 stop. That way you could have bodies for -1N, N and +1N scenes as long as all were loaded with the same film.

Personally I would use different dilutions of Rodinal to achieve the required contrast control, but other developers with different dilutions or times might work just as well. I've just not messed with others very much lately.
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Old 10-12-2011   #5
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It works just fine with roll film, I've used it for 35mm and 120 film for 15 years. It is not always possible to use for street work because it takes a few seconds to make the readings and think through the exposure, but a lot of times, the light remains consistent so do the readings once and everything in that light can be given the same exposure.

Getting perfect exposure makes printing SO MUCH EASIER in the darkroom or when scanning. I have never gotten a bad exposure once I learned to use the zone system. If you're working in changing light with fast moving subjects, you'll just have to take a reading with the camera's meter and adjust it by best guess.
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Old 10-12-2011   #6
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Even if not technically possible due to roll film or street shooting, understanding zone system is invaluable.
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Old 10-13-2011   #7
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As far as I understand, taking full advantage of the zone system with film requires a careful spot metering of the scene and adapting the exposure, film choice, development and the printing process according to ones artistic previsualisation. That requires quite some technical knowledge and visual skill. As far as I can see, sheet film or digital photography are the media of choice. Digital photography may even be more convenient, as it is possible to process each frame separately in post processing software in contrast to roll film.

For street settings, there may be something like a reduced zone system to get the most out of it in fast paced situations.

1. Judge the overall scene with sunny 16 or meter for zone 5.
2. Decide in which zone you would like to place the key object, know your contrast, know your development, know your printing.
3. Adjust exposure setting accordingly. Factor in desired depth of field.

Example:
- Shady side of street on a dull day. ISO 400 film.
- Exposure for overall zone 5, maybe 125/f8 (meter if in doubt)
- Want to place faces in zone VI, open up one stop or choose 1/60.
- Focus, frame shoot.

Ideally these decisions should just take a fracture of a second. Anticipating, that is constantly adjusting exposure and focus according to light conditions and anticipating the scene helps. Wide angle lens help.

After that:
- Low contrast scenes-> maybe give a bit more agitation than standard, adjust curves in scanning or post processing if using digital.
- High contrast scenes-> pull, stand development.

This is just my idea of it. I have not used it yet extensively, but have been thinking about it lately. I guess it is possible to get more unusual exposures than the ones that result with just the average metering of a camera. I am happy if a more experienced photographer or even printer could chime in and show some results and share some technical experience.

However, these considerations do not take into account the strength of a scene. The viewer will probably be more forgiving with regards to technicalities, if the scene in itself is strong. But a good technical finish is the icing on the cake. +++

There is another - highly experimental and very little explored by me - technique that I would like to share: Exposing e.g. Tri-X at 6400 and adjusting development accordingly - semi-stand in rodinal for example to prevent overly blown highlights - gives very steep gradation curves. Judge the scene and select a key element like a face. Expose precisely for mean gradation of the key element. Anticipated result: Overall very high contrast negative, but the key element shows some nice gradation, putting it even more into focus. Just an idea. I have tried just only one roll using that technique. Just some ideas, try at your own risk, share your results!

Last edited by gho : 10-13-2011 at 17:12.
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Old 10-13-2011   #8
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One thing that makes it faster for me, is not using a spot meter, but one of the Gossen digital meters that show a wider contrast range in stops. For example, the Multi Pro or similar.

Roland.
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Old 10-13-2011   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ferider View Post
One thing that makes it faster for me, is not using a spot meter, but one of the Gossen digital meters that show a wider contrast range in stops. For example, the Multi Pro or similar.

Roland.
In my opinion a spot meter is nice, but quick reflective or incident readings - depending on the light situation and scene - work also very well. A key element - in my opinion - is really juding the zones by your eye and your heart, knowing your processes. The readings of a meter and the resulting negatives or files are giving a good anchoring point, but the ideal is meterlessness that comes with experience and not fuzzing too much with too many different techniques and variables. At least I think so.

Last edited by gho : 10-13-2011 at 17:29.
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Old 10-13-2011   #10
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The book I am reading though dated covers mostly 35 mm. There is a speed test also for your camera to see just how close a camera is shooting compared to box speed. The book states that your camera can be off as much as two or three stops and needs to be tested for each film and developing work flow you choose. An interesting read.
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Old 10-14-2011   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cosmonaut View Post
The book I am reading though dated covers mostly 35 mm. There is a speed test also for your camera to see just how close a camera is shooting compared to box speed. The book states that your camera can be off as much as two or three stops and needs to be tested for each film and developing work flow you choose. An interesting read.
Think about it for a moment: 3 stops over at 1/125 is 1/15 (very few shutters run fast, so you can ignore 3 stops under).

The reliability/credibility of this observation alone would lead me to question the overall value of such a book.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 10-14-2011   #12
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Well, it is difficult to use zone system as such on street photography. What one normally would do is use two bodies, one for sunny scenes where the sun is full on, the shadows are black. On this body you would do -1N (one stop overexpose) and when you develop, you develop 10% less. On your second body, you take only pictures of indoor/soft shadow scenes (i.e when it's all cloudy, soft or no shadows) then shot normal box speed and dev normally. If it is a really flat scene, you could do +1N and dev for 10% longer to get more contrast, but this is mostly a rule of thumb thing.

Also worth checking out is this site: http://zonesimple.com/ (click ENTER, then Zone Simple)

And you might want to drop a PM to Juan

I don't do any of this though, too much hassle... two bodies... I shot generally and do rodinal stand dev. One day when I get my darkroom this is going to bite me in the ass though :-)
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Old 10-14-2011   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moriturii View Post
Well, it is difficult to use zone system as such on street photography. What one normally would do is use two bodies, one for sunny scenes where the sun is full on, the shadows are black. On this body you would do -1N (one stop overexpose) and when you develop, you develop 10% less. On your second body, you take only pictures of indoor/soft shadow scenes (i.e when it's all cloudy, soft or no shadows) then shot normal box speed and dev normally. If it is a really flat scene, you could do +1N and dev for 10% longer to get more contrast, but this is mostly a rule of thumb thing.

Also worth checking out is this site: http://zonesimple.com/ (click ENTER, then Zone Simple)

And you might want to drop a PM to Juan

I don't do any of this though, too much hassle... two bodies... I shot generally and do rodinal stand dev. One day when I get my darkroom this is going to bite me in the ass though :-)
... or one could use XP2 overexpose by two stops and sort it out while printing
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Last edited by Sparrow : 10-14-2011 at 05:18.
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Old 10-14-2011   #14
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Using the Zone System is a bit like being a Jehovah's Witness: it makes a valuable addition to some people's lives but most find they get along fine without it.
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Old 10-14-2011   #15
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I think once understood the principles of the Zone System go well beyond a sheet of 4x5 film.

The idea that the photographer is in command of the tones he wants in the photograph is just as relevent with a histogram as it is with the tone curve of a film. Being able to creatively think about what the end print will look like as you make an exposure is something many photographers can't do, so the end result is always an unknown. So the Zone System teaches you to be creatively in charge and to think ahead, and if nothing else that principle is good for 35mm or a RAW file equally. You work with purpose.

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Old 10-14-2011   #16
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I have always been intriqued by the thought of learning and practicing the Zone System, but never got around to it.

Has anybody heard of or used the YOB System?
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Old 10-14-2011   #17
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This book makes Zone System 'make sense' to me:
Zone System Photography by Glenn Rand
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Old 10-14-2011   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ferider View Post
One thing that makes it faster for me, is not using a spot meter, but one of the Gossen digital meters that show a wider contrast range in stops. For example, the Multi Pro or similar.

Roland.
Nearly any spot meter can be modified quite cheaply to reflect zone placement and exposure range. I have such an adaptation from Zone VI Studios (tells you how old it is) on my Soligor. Works perfectly, and I could reproduce it any time I wanted. It's just a paper strip that is glued to the lens barrel, with markings for each zone.
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Old 10-14-2011   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Think about it for a moment: 3 stops over at 1/125 is 1/15 (very few shutters run fast, so you can ignore 3 stops under).

The reliability/credibility of this observation alone would lead me to question the overall value of such a book.

Cheers,

R.
It might not be that far fetched.
Consider that there are variances in all the elements involved - shutter speed, aperture opening, film speed rating, film development. I suppose these variances can work out to cancel each other, but can also add up. 3 stops off is quite bad, but I won't be very surprised if 1-1.5 stop unsuspected difference is not possible to happen this way even on seemingly ok equipment.
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Old 10-15-2011   #20
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It might not be that far fetched.
Consider that there are variances in all the elements involved - shutter speed, aperture opening, film speed rating, film development. I suppose these variances can work out to cancel each other, but can also add up. 3 stops off is quite bad, but I won't be very surprised if 1-1.5 stop unsuspected difference is not possible to happen this way even on seemingly ok equipment.
Sure, a stop and a half is credible -- if, as you say, you incorporate all variables and they all go in the same direction -- but it sounded as though the author was talking only about the camera. And even if you are considering all variables (and add sloppy metering to boot), 1/125 to 1/40 (1.5 stop shutter speed compensation) is not quite the same as 1/125 to 1/15.

Many years ago, the head of a major importer in the USA told me about selling cameras via "the fear factor", summed up as "Well, yes, your camera can do that, but can it do this?" "This" was of course a feature of the camera you were trying to sell.

An awful lot of the Zone System strikes me as very similar: looking for a precision that isn't there, and wouldn't matter even if it were, but relying on people's innate fear that everything looks too easy if they don't use the Zone System.

Once a negative is adequately exposed, it is adequately exposed, and the penalties for doubling the exposure are negligible (slightly bigger grain, slightly less sharpness, both completely irrelevant with large format and substantially irrelevant with rollfilm). The risk of blown highlights is negligible: look at any manufacturer's d/log E curves.

A LOT of Zonies are actually relying on their chosen films' (and formats') tolerance for overexposure, making up for sloppy metering and underdevelopment (the latter seemingly an article of faith) with more or less gross overexposure. Critical metering is meaningless unless you read the shadows with a spot meter, because that's how film speeds are determined, but there are Zonies who use incident light meters...

Yes, the Zone System (or basic sensitometry) can teach you a lot, if you understand what you're doing; but many don't, and treat it as a religious ritual.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 10-15-2011   #21
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So glad I understand exposure, development and the "Zone System". I gave up religious rituals for lent.
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Old 10-15-2011   #22
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There are many work arounds for roll film Zone System. I have developed my own and another RFF member has offered this idea:

http://www.zonesimple.com/

I actually tried this method (because I live in sunny California), but I still preferred my method but some of you may get a kick out of it.
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Old 10-15-2011   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Once a negative is adequately exposed, it is adequately exposed, and the penalties for doubling the exposure are negligible (slightly bigger grain, slightly less sharpness, both completely irrelevant with large format and substantially irrelevant with rollfilm). The risk of blown highlights is negligible: look at any manufacturer's d/log E curves.
I tend to live by this, and it always serves me well. When I come up against a repeatable scene, and it is really important to me, I always make several exposures. I increase the second exposure by a stop (usually one shutter click when working quickly). If it's really, really, really an important scene, I shoot three exposures, the third being two stops over the indicated reading.

Bingo! Now, I have a choice of negatives to review before doing the final printing. This method is great when you want maximum shadow detail in your negs. And, that can only be changed by varying -exposure-.

Works for me. It's good to have a choice.
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Old 10-16-2011   #24
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I do use the Zone System when I shoot sheet film. But the Zone System also influences how I shoot roll film. With roll film, I shoot to capture maximum information (I usually develop roll film as N-1), and I print on higher grades of paper when necessary. YMMV.
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