View Full Version : Which Zone System book?

12-Dec-2005, 18:34
I used Steve Simmons' book (Using the View Camera) to start the large format photograph. It is a very good book. I was asking my instructor for a Zoom System book. He showed me following books that he has collected for many yeas.

(1) The Negative - Ansel Adams
(2) Beyond the Zone System Workbook - Phil Davis
(3) The Practical Zone System - Chris Johnson
(4) Zone System Step-by-Bystep Guide for Photographers - Brian Lav
(5) The New Zone System Manual - White;Zakia;Lorenz
(6) Zone Systemizer for Creative Photographic Control - John Dowdell;Richard Zakia
(7) The Zone System Craftbook - John Charles Woods
(8) Zone VI Workshop - Fred Picker
(9) The Art of Photography - Bruce Barnbaum

Could you tell me which one is the best to follow?

Thank you

William Blunt
12-Dec-2005, 18:59
This could get ugly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sergio Caetano
12-Dec-2005, 19:04
I recommend '' The New Zone System Manual '' ( White, Zakia and Lorenz ) . Detailed instructions for 35mm, 120 and large format.

Henry Friedman
12-Dec-2005, 19:20
Beyond the Zone System. You'll read it several times before getting the message, but once you do, and go through the graphing, you'll get an incredible amount of information from five sheets of film. See the posts from a day of two ago.

Joe Smigiel
12-Dec-2005, 19:36
I think there are things in the White, Zakia, Lorenz book regarding approach that you will not find in the others. It is a difficult read at first because of Minor's contribution, but ultimately that is what makes it special . Lav's book looks good from the brief read I gave it.

Another that I would recommend not on your list is John Schaeffer's Ansel Adams Basic Guide to Photography Book 1. Schaeffer has excerpted Adams' books (The Camera, The Negative, The Print, etc.,) and put together what I consider to be a pretty good practical introduction to Ansel's concept. Not as meaty as the individual Adams' books, but a good introductory look at the Zone System. The Negative is the Bible of the Zone System and has enough in it to keep you occupied for several years and readings.

I'd also recommend Ansels' Examples: the Making of 40 Photographs which give you insight to how he actually worked in the field and visualized the images.

Picker is worth about 5 minutes of your time. Pick up a copy at the public library and read it over lunch. Haven't seen Barnbaum's book but I suspect he'll guide you through the standard zone system approach and then tell you to bleach everything with potassium ferricyanide. :)

My $0.02

Witold Grabiec
12-Dec-2005, 20:27
1. Fred Picker Zone VI workshop to start quick (you can have a copy for a few bucks)

2. John Schaeffer's Ansel Adams Guide Basic Techniques of Photography Book 1 & 2

3. Ansel's books are I think a must. Not only the 3 (Camera, Print, Negative - both old and new editions as there is wealth of information in older ones but that made them a bit more complicated). Also "Examples - The making of 40 photographs"

4. Basic photographic Materials and Processes (Focal Press - by Stroebel, Compton, Current, Zakia). Here you will get a quick yet technical overview of the Zone System, but this book is in my opinion THE one volume every photographer should have as it covers most every aspect of the photographic process.

I'm sure that books mentioned by others will help too.

Kirk Gittings
12-Dec-2005, 21:43
8) Zone VI Workshop - Fred Picker

Do what he says, keep good notes, and learn from your mistakes. If you always do a "proper proof" and compare it back to your field notes, it will come to you quickly.

John Berry ( Roadkill )
12-Dec-2005, 22:46
Another vote for beyond the zone system.

Robin Coutts
13-Dec-2005, 04:21
I have most of the above books and read them .
Fred Picker is a good introduction, but I would like to reccomend " John Blakemore's Black and White Photography Workshop" . It is a recent book by a commensurate artist and teacher who explains the Zone system in a clear, sensible and practical way. The book is also an education in the process of working as an art phototographer. You can see from his work just how much of a master John is.

steve simmons
13-Dec-2005, 07:08
My book has a quick start zone system section that is based on Picker's method. I will be doing another how-to in the Jan issue of View Camera.

Since this seems to be such a hot topic View Camera will be looking at different testing methods in 06.

Try Schaeffer's book. He was very knowledgeable.

steve simmons

neil poulsen
13-Dec-2005, 08:33
I got my start with The New Zone System Manual - White, Zakia, and Lorenz. I own and have read some of the others, and this is the one that stands out as the best overall for me. I had to read and reread this book, but it all finally fell into place.

Although Ansel Adams (and Fred Barker?) came up with the zone system, I had a difficult time trying to figure out the zone system by reading his three books. However, his three books are a must have for black and white photography. They are masterful. One can't find a better reference. Whenever I have a question about black and white, just about regardless of what it is, I go to his books and the answer's there, written in his clear and authoritative style. If you don't have these and want to purchase them, get them in the original hardbound versions.

Once I understood and could use the zone system, I reread his books on that topic. That improved my understanding and use of the zone system.

Michael Kadillak
13-Dec-2005, 10:58
I own and have read four of the books from your list extensively (bored during business travels) and feel that the latest edition from Adams "The Negative" is the first one to read as it is an excellent well written reference point. Once you get to a point where you comprehend the principals of the Zone System, I would recommend that you go through the BTZS manual to take what you just learned in the Negative and get a practical understanding of how those principals work in the field. The first time I read Phil Davis's book I did not understand the significance of the graphing until I got to the section on metering and his discussion of the various options we have and the pros and cons of each. Phil is a very articulate educator that has a foundation in what the field photographer needs to accomplish his objective as efficiently and as effectively as possible.

Gradually you will migrate towards a technique that meets your needs. The key here I believe is to keep an open mind, bring your field notes back with you to the darkroom and proof everything (thank you Michael Smith) so you can learn and grow from both your succcesses and failures. When you get frustrated, reach out for assistance immediately. That way you will continue to purchase film for years to come and that is a very good thing for the LF comunity at large.


Caroline Matthews
13-Dec-2005, 17:46
Use Picker's book. It's short, simple and very straight-forward. Save Phil Davis book for later. It's longer, more-complicated, and can be confusing. Good luck. You're doing the right thing if you start with testing your film and developing time, as well as reading up on placements, etc. when you're getting started.

Nacio Jan Brown
14-Dec-2005, 13:28
A couple of things: you don't need a densitometer and you sure as hell don't need to brush up on logarithms (pace Phil Davis). There is a website with a set of simple tests you can use to establish film speed and film development times for each film. It uses 'minimum-time-for-maximum-black' paper exposure times for testing each paper/film combo. I can't remember the site name (it was odd) but someone here may recall and post it. The routine described cuts right to the chase by using an enlarger and a paper exposure time of 'minimum-time-for-maximum-black' to determine when negative shadow detail is adequate (film speed) and when the highlights look right (film development time). And don't be intimidated by the Zone System mystique. It pretty much boils down to only a couple of things: 1) how to figure out how much exposure you need to get enough silver on a negative for the dark parts of a scene to show up on a print, and 2) how to tweak the film exposure/development to get flat or contrasty scenes printable without too much dodging or burning in. Oh yes, you also need to know that if you shoot a large white wall, a large gray wall, and a large black wall, all per meter readings, the negatives will be identical. njb

Ken Lee
14-Dec-2005, 14:45
Is this the site ?

http://www.photovisionmagazine.com/articles/behind-harrop.html (http://www.photovisionmagazine.com/articles/behind-harrop.html" target="_bllank) ?

Kirk Gittings
14-Dec-2005, 18:00
That is basically Picker's approach in that site and he coined the phrase 'minimum-time-for-maximum-black' in his Zone VI manual. I am a little annoyed that this info is being presented there as the authors method with no mention or credit to Fred.

Nacio Jan Brown
14-Dec-2005, 18:56
I didn't mean to suggest that "minimum-time-for-maximum-black," either the phrase or the concept, were mine. I came across the phrase some years ago on the internet (the specific site long forgotten) and remembered it as being perfectly apt. I meant to use it in this descriptive sense and included the quote signs to indicate that the phrase/concept had a life "out there in the world." Had I known to whom to attribute it to I certainly would have done so. And for Wang, I think you might look at Roger Hicks & Frances Schultz's "The Black and White Handbook." It's a pretty exhaustive look at things monochrome. njb

Ken Lee
14-Dec-2005, 19:03
Books are great, but there are also a number of descriptions of the Zone System online.

A quick search with Google revealed this one: http://www.zone2tone.co.uk/techpagemenu.htm (http://www.zone2tone.co.uk/techpagemenu.htm" target="_blank)

Depending on where you live, you might find it easier to hook up with someone who knows the system and would be willing to talk about it, etc. Perhaps if you tell people your general locality, someone will step forward and contact you off-line.

Kirk Gittings
14-Dec-2005, 20:03
No Nacio, Sorry I was refering to the website that Ken Lee suggested.

N Dhananjay
15-Dec-2005, 08:50
The books give you slightly different things. The Ansel Adams, Picker and Barnbaum books will be illustrated with photographs accompanying the concepts and how-tos. They are also liberally peppered with anecdotes, opinions and notes from the field, as it were. The Zakia books basically will add a bit of sensitometry theory to show the links between the zone system and sensitometry. Phil Davies is a little more theoretical and closer to sensitometry rather than zone system per se. After some time, the books, especially the zone system ones become onerously repititive. So, my suggestion is - save your money, make a trip to your local library where you should be able to pick up at least a couple of these titles and go from there. You will eventually figure out which level facilitates your photography the most.

Keep in mind that the zone system is, in a sense, just sensitometry in different garb. The clever thing about it is that it takes sensitometric ideas and translates them into visual ideas that photographers understand and can use. For example, while most people would find the notion of a 1.2 density level relatively abstract, everyone more or less understands the idea of "zone III is a deep shadow with just a hint of detail." In my opinion, there is some loss along the way - for example, ideas of curve shape and how they impact the print are better (more easily) understood with sensitometry rather than the zone system, and the zone system appears to place extraordinary emphasis on the negative with scant regard to how it is negative-paper systems that determine how prints look. But as the saying goes, what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts - the ZS is probably more accessible, especially at the beginning.

Really, at the end of the day, the volumes of books can be boiled down into the one simple rule that came out of Hurter and Driffeld's empirical work - expose your negatives for the shadows and develop them for the highlights. All the more esoteric photographic controls - water bath, pre-flashing, latent image bleaching etc are just ways to tweak that relationship a little bit.

Cheers, DJ

Brian Ellis
16-Dec-2005, 06:10
I've read most of the books you mention. For a basic understanding of what the zone system is all about I'd suggest either Adams - "The Negative" or the Picker book. For a more in depth study I liked "The Zone System Craftbook" that you mention. Phil Davis' book is excellent but I don't think I'd use it as an introduction to the zone system, it would be a better book to study IMHO after you have a basic understanding of the zone system. Barnbaum's book was good for other reasons but I don't remember all that much in it about the zone system. The testing methodology taught in the White et al book is much too time-consuming for my tastes and I thought the book makes the whole subject more complicated than it needs to be (though it's been a long time since I read the book, maybe my memory of it is wrong).

Brian Lav
27-Dec-2005, 08:42
I've done a lot of reading and research on the zone system. I even had the opprtunity to study with Ansel Adams. I feel that most of the books on the zone system are too difficult to follow. I might have an advantage, however I do believe the book Zone System by Brian Lav is the most user friendly.

Ed Richards
27-Dec-2005, 09:54
I like Fred Picker for a quick, limited BS intro - minimum time for maximum black is a really useful notion for silver printing. While not a pure zone book, Way Beyond Monochrome by Ralph W. Lambrecht, Chris Woodhouse, deals with real life zone problems in a both a quick and dirty and very analytical way.