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Thread: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

  1. #1

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    Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    I'm new to LF and was wondering what metering/ exposure evaluation techniques people are currently favouring in practice? I've always metered either with my camera's inbuilt lightmeter (either evaluative, spot - or partial spot on the Leica) or an incident meter.

    I probably need to buy a handheld meter, but which meter, as this is probably dictated by what technique I should use? The Pentax spot is probably ideal for Zone use, but is everyone using this for colour work, and is it suitable unless one is quite experienced as to what in the scene should be placed on certain zones? I've heard Joe Cornish say he uses a Pentax spot, but not for Zone work per se, he takes shadow/highlights then averages them for a 'bridge' exposure.

    What about combination meters by Sekonic and others - I guess in a lot of situations it would be helpful to take an incident reading, then some spot readings of highlights/shadows for comparison and see where they fall around the incident reading? Does one then slide the readings up/down the scale to assess the latitude and use an ND grad if neccessary?

    Any advice on techniques that have proved successful would be greatly appreciated!

    James

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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    incident, with a back up spot meter for the tough scenes.

    A meter in the hand is worth two in the camera! ha
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    I love incident metering unless I can't measure in the same light as the subject or the lighting seems very tricky. In those cases I spot meter. I've found that if you have your personal film speed and development time dialed in so you get really good negatives, there's not a huge need for expansion or contraction. I recently got a deal on a Sekonic L-758DR and it's very handy with both spot and incident functions, but it's expensive new. I like the way it plots multiple reading on an analog scale and can average stored readings, but truthfully any type of meter with good consistent technique is going to get you to the same place.

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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    I'm relatively new to LF and having gotten decent results so far using a combination of incident and spot metering (Sekonic L-358) and my Canon 5D. Mostly it's the former, incident and spot the range and then take 2 bracketed shots which so far I've found hard to beat for the optimum results. But I've also used the 5D for testing and viewing the results and histogram. I never got the hang of the Zone system, so I shoot for average metered scene with one shot 1/2-1 stop up or down depending on the scene. So far I've been lucky to realize nothing beats experience and practice.
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    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    I use the Zone System with a Pentax digital one degree spot meter. It works beautifully for B&W and color both. It works so well for me, it's so accurate and repeatable, that for years now I've made just one exposure of any scene. The exceptions being scenes with some wind induced motion where I feel that the motion might have spoiled the first attempt.

    The Zone System is just a tool though. The whole point is to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. What the Zone System does for me is let me nail the shadows each and every time. If I screw something up, it's hardly ever the exposure! But you should find and use a system that you find comfortable to use. Something that lets you put the craft side of photography on autopilot so that you can expend most of your efforts on the creative side. The Zone System and a one degree spot meter does that for me, in spades.

    Oh yes, you asked about color. For color negatives the Zone System works almost exactly the same as for B&W. The difference is the relative lack of development controls with C-41. You can't really pull process with C-41 at all.

    For color positives, you just invert it -- expose for the highlights. So instead of placing the shadows you want detail in on Zone III like you do for negatives, you place the highlights you want detail in on the highest zone the tranny material you are using can support. Usually Zone VII. Depends on the exposure latitude of the film though, and that's something you have to test for. Yet another reason I don't do tranny film ;-)

    Bruce Watson

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    Leonard Metcalf's Avatar
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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    I use both incident and spot. I carry one of each, so that if one fails I have a back up. Spot for my black and white work, and incident for most of my colour work. I have the spot set up with my b&w iso & the incident set up with my trannie film. This reduced errors when shooting alternative colour & black and whites. If you end up with a spot, you can always use a gray card to get incident readings.

    On long bushwalks I leave the spot at home and use a tiny incident meter.

    It is also possible to use incident for zone work. This technique was shown to me, and I haven't seen it documented on the web.

    Which ever one you use, you will be able to master. I think you should make your decision based on the type of work you plan to do. Are you going to be indoors and use flash, or use trannie film, or black and white film, zone or partial zone. Or are you a landscape guy. (your Cornish reference)

    Regards, Len

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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    Thanks everyone that's very helpful. Now, a few follow up questions, if I may?

    - To everyone who's using incident, or a mixture of incident and spot metering; how are you checking that the exposure falls within the latitude of the film you're using, and assessing whether you need to use any ND grad to retain detail in, say, a bright sky, or sunset, etc.? Is there a modern incident+spot meter which allows something similar to 'placement on zones' like the Pentax. I feel like I'd like a system which uses both incident and spot, but I've used a Pentax digital before and really liked the intuitive way you just dial and then look at your possible combinations. Any digital readouts which allow you to do the same thing? Barry, can you 'slide' the metered readings up and down the scale on the L758DR to use it as a Zone type readout, or place low readings on shadows then calculate how much ND to use?

    - Bruce, thanks for the detailed reply; my fear with using Zone metering is lack of experience in spotting which tones in a scene should be placed on which zone. How much film and missed shots am I going to go through in your experience before I begin to get to grips with the Zone system?

    Thanks again to all!

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    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    Quote Originally Posted by jamesw View Post
    ...my fear with using Zone metering is lack of experience in spotting which tones in a scene should be placed on which zone. How much film and missed shots am I going to go through in your experience before I begin to get to grips with the Zone system?
    Not much if my experience is any guide. Which it may not be, who knows? But I found that I lost more shots due to other problems, even early on. The biggie being the learning curve for learning the whole view camera thing, working exclusively with a tripod, focus and movements, seeing the word upside down and backwards (composition errors), all that. After about six months everything came together fairly solidly and working with a view camera became pretty predictable and somewhat second nature.

    In the beginning you won't have the experience. Even if you are hitting the exposures on the head, you won't have the confidence to know that you are at the time of exposure. What I found is that I was very consistently correct in my exposures for months before I started to believe it. I had to have the data before I could see (and believe) the trend. When I began to get that confidence, I acted on it and stopped shooting the extra exposures. IOW, I completely quit bracketing. This makes me more careful and more thoughtful, which is all just part of the view camera experience. It forces me to know what I want to accomplish up front. And that, IMHO, is a very good thing.

    Of course there are many paths to the waterfall. My path might not be your path, but most of the paths will get us there eventually. And that's the main thing.

    Bruce Watson

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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    James--experience trumps metering. So, I have a pretty good idea of the dynamic range of a scene. Not that I'm a human meter, but you get a feel for flat light or bright skies with a dark foreground. The L758DR will easily let you quantitate the exact amount of ND needed to bring down a sky and has pretty much every function you can think of. It's very simple to use with just about any variant of the zone system. I'd honestly recommend starting with a simpler meter and see how it works out.

    Edit: Damn! Who's rich enough to bracket sheet film?

  10. #10
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Favourite/ Most Successful Metering Techniques - to Zone or not to Zone?

    I don't believe in "latitude" whatsoever. Color transparency films have very little latitude to begin with, and exposing even black-and-white film in such a manner means
    that something won't be exposed in an ideal manner. The Zone System is just a shorthand method for assigning the film the correct development time for contrast
    control. The Pentax spotmeter makes this extremely easy to do. I generally make
    a higlight reading, midtone reading, and a reading for the deepest shadow in which I
    wish to hold detail. Where these points will be depends on the specific film and development. But even when I am working with a small camera with TTL metering, the
    spotmeter is still generally preferable for critical exposures. But I use the Zone System
    per se only for B&W, since I rarely push or pull color development. And I never bracket.

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