View Full Version : Beginner Question

Jerry Cunningham
7-Jan-2006, 10:24
I am still working on the issue of testing film. I have read Picker, Adams and Davis.
I have a densitometer and am learning to use it. In Adam's book "The Negative" he recommends .010 above base/fog for the film speed. That is simple enough. Then he tests development to zone 8. This also seems simple enough. However, other testers (Picker for one) feel that the fine tuning must be done by contact printing the negative to paper being used with the min. time for max. black method. Yet I don't think Adams even mentions contact printing with the negative for setting film speed. Of course, the BTZS system goes entirely another direction. Once again, I can't remember the mention of contact printing of the negative in the BTZS book.
Question One: Is contact printing of the negative a dead issue or is it necessary for fine tuning of film speed?

I have used the method of shooting the same scene at several film speeds using the spot meter on the same shadow with surprisingly good results. I simply picked the best print. Yet I confess I am more tech minded and yearn for a more precise method.

Question Two: Is there a simple cookbook description of the BTZS method with step to step examples?

With due respect to Mr. Davis I find parts of his book difficult. However, I would gladly buy his programs if there were truly simple steps to run them. I am not bashing Mr. Davis, it is clear he has made something important. I just don't grasp the steps. I am not interested in sending film to The View Camera Store. It is an excellent service but I like to understand what I do. There are probably others like me. If there is an off-line mentor I would be interested in conversing.

Any help or comments would be appreciated.
Jerry Cunningham

neil poulsen
7-Jan-2006, 11:34
I do both. I find a maximum black, or more to the point, I find an exposure time that gives me maximum black, and then I print a bunch of negative densities in the film I'm testing at that exposure until I find a Zone 8 I like. So, this presumes a paper. In the past, I've used Galerie #3, so that I don't have to deal with the variability of VC. (I have a VC enlarger head that's variable.) More on this paper choice in a bit.

I think one's Zone VIII, or Zone VII if they wish, needs to be a personal choice. (I've been thinking about changing and pivoting on a VII instead.) You're looking to get a certain effect from your highlight that has density. So, take some time and figure out what you like in that density. It's easy enough to print some negatives 1/3rd stop apart in and around Zone VII or VIII to get the different density negatives.

Once I find that density, I determine the development times to bring a IX down to an VIII as N-1, a X down to an VIII as N-2, a VII to an VIII as N+1, and a VI to an VIII as N+2. This is not a straight BTZS approach, but one can do the analogous testing.

As to my choice of Galerie 3 for testing, as I said, this avoids the variability due to VC printing. I like working with a paper that's a tad more contrasty, and Galerie 3 falls in between (what used to be) a Grade 3 and a Grade 2 paper. Some may quibble with the fact that I don't necessarily print on the paper I test. But, neither did Ansel Adams; eventually, papers he started using were no longer available. When I print with VC papers, even though I tested to a graded paper, I print to taste. My testing gets me close enough to obtain the results I like.

By the way, I've found that being too rigorous on obtaining an absolute black black as maximum black can throw off the results. (My experience.) Sometimes, I 'll back off a bit on the maximum black (lessen the exposure somewhat) , if I detect this is occuring. Not by much, though. Again, not exactly according to Hoyle, but it works for me. When printing, one can always drive the blacks down by slightly increasing the exposure and increasing the contrast a tad.

7-Jan-2006, 11:49
Neil is correct regarding max black. Fred often said that if he could rewrite the Zone VI workshop he would change this part. He said it should be as close as possible under a casual look using a normal light. I've seen people intently staring at the test print under 500 watt lights. As with most tests very few people just do them and move on to making pictures. They turn it into a quest for a holy grail. They're only to get you into the ballpark. You can adjust as you make pictures and prints down the line.

Joe Smigiel
7-Jan-2006, 12:45
What you need is a definition of zone VIII density. Adams and company have already defined Zone I density for you as .010 above fbf. To define zone VIII you have to think about what that means to you. Is it a threshold light gray relative to a zone IX paper white, or is zone X paper white with zone IX the threshold and zone VIII with some texture as well as tone.

In order to do this you need to define the threshold light gray and then get a step wedge and find the printable exposure scale by contact of the paper you will be using. This will tell you whether zone VIII should have a density of 1.20 above fbf, regardless of what the various authors relate from their tests. You may find that a density of 1.30 or something else is more appropriate for your materials and methods.

You may also find down the road that a net density of 0.15 or some other value works better for your speed point target value when all other zones look good as a result of testing.

Kirk Gittings
7-Jan-2006, 12:45
You are involved in three different related methodologies with the same end in mind. You will find passionate proponents of all three here. All work well. Ansel's speak for itself. I started with his approach. Pickers is the simplest in my opinion and I have used it successfully for 25+ years. BTZS is perhaps the most challenging up front but apparently very easy to use once you get it down and perhaps the most accurate. For myself, I like to keep things simple as I get confused easily and make stupid mistakes.

7-Jan-2006, 13:33
I have printed negs from another photographer using Davis' method, and to me, they were overly dense and too contrasty. I too, think simplicity is best; with today's variable grade papers there is more latitude than when graded papers were all that was available, that being a major part of what the Zone System was about, making the neg fit the paper, limiting as it was in the old days.

steve simmons
7-Jan-2006, 16:39
As a start don't try and integrate 3 different methods. I would suggest the Picker method. It is the simplest and most straightforward for a beginner. You can try and find a copy of Ther Zone VI Workshop on Ebay, or there is a dsescription in the Jan/Febv 06 issue of View Camera magazine or in Using the View Camera that wrote as a book for beginners. Check your local library.

Other good books for beginners are

Larege Format Nature Photography by Jack Dykinga


Usrer's Guide to the View Camera by Jim Stone

There are also several good articles for beginners on


and then click on Free Articles.

steve simmons

Jerry Cunningham
17-Jul-2006, 19:01
I want to thank everyone for their kind replies.
Jerry Cunningham

Ed Richards
17-Jul-2006, 19:08
Get yourself of a copy of Way Beyond Monochrome if you want the best contemporary explanation of development and printing controls. It gives a clear explanation and directions for both involved densitometry and for quick and dirty approximations. I think I have read most of the stuff over the years and this is the best of the technical books. That said, I think Picker is great for quick and dirty. This is all for silver printing, however. If you scan, the game is different.