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Thread: Zone System Frustration

  1. #1

    Zone System Frustration

    I first read about the Zone System about 30 years ago, but never fully got into it because of marriage, children, etc., etc.. Well I'm back with the same enthu ziasm I had 30 years ago. I've got a new 4x5 camera and a couple of lenses and I am ready to go. I picked up a used copy of The Negative and read it from cove r to cover. I UNDERSTAND the Zone System. What I don't understand is the negat ive developement times associated with N-1, N+1, N+2 etc. Ansel's left brain re ally kicks in sometimes and I felt like I was back in my college physics and che mistry classes. Thats OK, but way more information than I need. Ansel wants you to do all the testing on this matter yourself. I don't want to. I find the sp ecs. from film mnaufacturers a bit confusing and also an unwillingness to commit to any of this by Kodak when I e-mailed them. They suggested I read The Negati ve. What part of the film specs should I be looking at, the contrast adjusting p art, or the push processing part ? The push processing part would seem appropri ate for N+1 and N+2, but wouldn't be much help for N-1 or 2. My best guess for m ost films is 1.5 times nomal dev for N+1 and 2 times for N+2. I'm not sure on N -1. Can anyone get me going in the right direction on this ? Thanks

  2. #2

    Zone System Frustration

    >>Ansel wants you to do all the testing on this matter yourself. I don't want to .<<

    Until you decide to test for yourself no amount of reading and advice from other people will help you use the Zone System to improve your technique. If you want to get going in the right directio n then you'll need to apply your own brainpower and find out what works for you. Just because a specific technique wo rks for me, or another photographer on this forum, does not mean it will work for you. You could get 10 different suggestions here. All would be correct for the person making the suggestion. So how are you going to c hoose the one which is correct for you? By testing this matter yourself.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    May 1998
    Posts
    220

    Zone System Frustration

    I agree entirely with Darron. The Zone System is entirely about control. If you don't want that degree of control, that is fine, but if you do, it needs work.

    Suppose you wanted to buy a car. You ask the manufacturer how fast it goes. You get an approximate answer. You continue "But what if I press the accelerator down exactly 1.5 inches? How fast will it go then?". A manufacturer can't answer the question. If they are diligent, they will talk to you about all the variables such as hills, wind, loading, whatever. But no way will they commit to anything.

    But to assist you in your journey, yes, you increase development for N+1, and more for N+2. Conversely, decrease development for N-1 or N- 2.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Nov 1998
    Posts
    94

    Zone System Frustration

    Testing is the only way to know for sure what exposure and developer corrections are needed. Another thing that good testing will do for you is give you the chance to see if you can get repeatable results from your processing, without that you are hoping that things are consistant. You didn't say which films you are using so I will give you starting points for T-Max films and assume that you know how to get a Normal exposure and development.

    N+1 is 1/3 stop less exposure and a 30% increase in development time from Normal.

    N+2 is 1/2 stop less exposure than Normal and a 30% increase in development time from N+1.

    N-1 is a 1/3 stop increase in exposure and a 20% decrease in development time from Normal.

    N-2 is a 2/3 stop increase in exposure from Normal and a 20% decrease in development time from N-1.

    These are good starting places for zone system controls but I would still encourage more testing but if you want to go and make some images with these corrections I think you will find that they will work.

  5. #5

    Zone System Frustration

    The short answer is...If you want the control...you have to do the calibrations. And that's why there are really no 'commercialy available' guides with all of this stuff pre-worked out. What you're doing is calibrating YOUR equipment, and technique with your aesthetic tastes and eye....and you only really need to do it all once or twice..until you change something in the equation. Or..more simply put.."expose for the shadows..develop for the highlights"..(and, conversley..when printing)..."expose for the highlights and develop (and adjust contrast range) for the shadows"

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Mar 1998
    Posts
    1,987

    Zone System Frustration

    Establishing your norms is called, to quote an old R&B song title,

    "Paying the Cost of Being the Boss." That is the entire point of the Zone System: being in control of the process so you can have it be at your service and not in the way of your vision.

  7. #7

    Zone System Frustration

    The real key element in the Ansel Adam's Zone System (and the one which is generally left out of discussions) is "Previsualation". Weston refered to it as "the flame of recognition"...Cartier-Bresson (in a slightly different context) as "the decisive moment" All the calibrations and testing part do is try to enable one to hopefully and repeatably translate what this to the limitations of the photographic (or even digital) medium. Considering that a scene which might have a brightness range of (say) 150 stops is first rendered on film which is capable of capturing (say)20 stops (I forget the actual number, here) and then finally presented on a sheet of photo paper which can render a scale of 10 stops (or steps of the gerey scale)...this rendition can be a daunting task. Adams had a concert pianist's mind and habits..he was looking for a measurable way to (for him)define, simplify and understand how to do it. Weston worked intuitively. While he didn't use the zone system per se..he did rely on his early training and exposed for the shadows, and developed (by inspection) for the highlights. He saw his image in his mind before he opened his Packard shutter. While all of the calibration WAS a pain in the ass for me..it did supply me with a more intuitive, instinctive understanding of how the medium works which I probably could ONLY have gotten from doing it. Every time I expose a sheet of transparancy film (with ,say, a 15 stop range)in my studio which is intended to be offset reproduced (at best a 5 stop range)...I instinctively understand better what I have to do to take this compression into account so that the final image renders as I intended it (and promised my client that) it would. I still don't understand everything Adams is talking about, and probably never will...but I do have a better intuitive understanding how to work with my medium.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Oct 1998
    Posts
    65

    Zone System Frustration

    Adams suggests that E2 to C2 (N+2 to N-2) can be reached with one type of film with one type of developer. There are some important remarks to make here, IMHO.

    First of all, only some films are appropriate for the Zone-system in the above sense. Secondly, only some developers are. Thirdly, only certain developer-film combinations are really suited for this purpose. Quattro, most important: you may succeed in getting technically E2 through C2 with one film-dev combi, but then this does not mean that in this combination you LIKE the tonal scale in every step (E2, E1, N, C1, C2). In my case, when I want C2, I know that Delta100 in X-tol is very beautiful for me. You will mostly use C2 in sunlit situations. When I want E2, I do not like the Delta100 combi. Besides, it will be in bad light situations many times that I want E2. Then I take HC110 with Tri-X. If I still want E2 in sunlit situations, I take technical pan in its own soup or agfapan 25 in rodinal for instance.

    You are so right in stating that contrast-control is something different as speed-control. But these things are correlated. In my view, Adams did not spend enough attention to the fact that in E2, the speed of the film is enhanced. You have to correct for this, which can easily amount to 2/3 stop or more. 'The Negative' does not address this problem, only schematically, it does not give the exact corrections.

    If this requires too much testing for you, forget Adams. You have to do what works for you, and take the amount of technical involvement that is right for you. Adams was creative with his fargoing sophistication of technique. There are wagon-loads of photographers who perform outstanding with less technical sophistication. Kodak's 'Professional Guide to B&W Photography' gives you the basics of testing films for your own equipment (but adaptation of film/dev combi to the paper is the more important goal of testing) to an extent which is fairly adequate in these modern times of variable contrast paper. Diving into Adams meant for me that I tended to forget what I wanted. Shadow-details for instance, why would I want that? In what situations would I want that mostly? What film would I use in that situations, apart from the goal of contrast-control?

    Adams suggests further that E2 through C2 can be reached with variation in time. My last idea is that I much more like it to develop not longer than 6-8 minutes and to vary the strength of the solution. Very short development-times become very critical on temperature and agitation. These are primary conditions, which cannot always be held constant very easily in practice, but which are certainly affecting contrast to an unknown extent (did anybody test this, did you test this, for that specific film, for that length of development?). I suspect that variation of solution-strength (or temperature) gives me a nicer tonal scale than variation in time.

    Adams' model departs from a linear model. In reality this is not true for many films, many gamma-curves are not straight lines, but are bubbling, even in zones 4-6. This deviation from linearity comes in effect especially in E2 and C2 developments, which leads to conclusions like: I like the zones 7 and 8 in this development, but I do not like the shadows here and/or vice versa.

    These are just my humble experiences, not meant as a directive in a certain direction and not meant as stepping on toes of Adams-fans but just as an illustration of my advice to find your own way and to be clear about the goals which you are striving at. If you want intuitive insight: just develop at least 50 films of the same type in the same developer. If you want to scientifically understand the chemical processes in film development, go further on the Adams track and keep on testing and testing and testing .....

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Mar 1998
    Posts
    1,987

    Zone System Frustration

    You needto determine what normal film speed and development times are for <I>you r

    combination of film+developer+agitation+water supply. Only you can do that !

    Start with the normal ISO and development times as recommended my the manuf acturer. If you then follow the procedures laid out in "The Zone VI Workshop" bo ok by Fred Picker you will be able to determine what will be for you are the "re al" film speed and development times. You can then apply the factors that Jeff s uggested above.

    Ansel Adams was a great photographer and an excellent innovat or and teacher, but sometimes in the translation from field to classroom to pape r the lessons gets way bogged down.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Mar 1999
    Posts
    8

    Zone System Frustration

    </I> Fixing the italics. I hope.

    Zone system is just a relatively systematic way for you to figure out how to expose/develop negatives to obtain enough shadow detail and a good contrast range. With enough experience, you can work this all out by trial and error (that's what I do in 35mm). If you'd rather have more systematic measurements, do the tests. No big deal.

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