View Full Version : Where's Zone VIII ?

13-Jan-2008, 22:22
After setting my Zone I / EI the next step has been doing the Zone VIII / development time test. The Zone I test is objective, being .1 over film base+fog. The Zone VIII test, however, is subjective because it requires trying to figure out what Zone VIII looks like on a print without anything to compare it to. I ordered a Zone VIII sample from Circle of the Sun and received a computer printed piece of paper with paper base and Zone VIII to compare it to. I also watched the Fred Picker tape about 'the negative' and watched his Zone VIII test.

It seems like the Circle of the Sun Zone VIII is an extremely faint gray compared to that which Fred Picker showed. Fred also said that it really doesn't matter as long as you know where your Zone VIII is. That is, if you place Zone VIII very high, you just can't place anything you want any tonality in the print to be higher than that. If you place it lower, then you can go above Zone VIII.

What is the consensus (if any) about this? Where do most people place it?

John Bowen
14-Jan-2008, 05:00
I think the Circle of the Sun printed piece of paper does a good job of illustrating a Zone VIII tone. If my memory is correct, Picker stated that you should see the faintest tone compared to the white paper base. I also recall having the same question you did when I first did the test....many, many moons ago.

You don't mention whether you think your Zone VIII test looks a little too dark (likely) or too light. If it looks too dark, just do it again and this time develop for another 20%

Bjorn Nilsson
14-Jan-2008, 05:04
In Sweden we had a sports commentary who always commented figure iceskating. Of course he also had to talk a little bit about the dresses of the female skaters. Long story short: One of the dresses was "dark white". That became his "second name" nowadays: Bengt Mörkvitt Grive. ("Mörkvitt" is swedish for dark white.)
Anyhow, that's my zone VIII, "dark white".


Greg Lockrey
14-Jan-2008, 05:35
With Plus-X, I place it at around 1.07 density.

Bruce Barlow
14-Jan-2008, 05:59
You're completely right -it is subjective, which is why I supply my notion of what it is supposed to be as an example. You want what Fred Picker would have called "minimum printable density" on the print. He did call it "maximum printable density" on the negative. So it is an ever-so-slight tone on the print - you should barely be able to see it, as in my example with the kit. That way, with a proper Zone I, you're making the most of the materials you're using.

I'm sensitive to snow today, because about a foot will fall over the next several hours. Printing snow in sun needs that brilliant white, but it's not paper base - snow has texture, which means you need a little bit of tone to convey that. But not much.

I wouldn't go by the video because he was trying to make things visible on the video, rather than completely accurate and not-likely-to-be-visible. Who knows? Maybe you've got the contrast on your TV too high? I showed up to his workshop with a sample like the video and he told me it was a "good Zone VII"...

That's why dry-down becomes important, too. I spent hours one day printing snow pictures with a new paper. Guessed that its dry-down percentage was 6% and printed accordingly. Got it wrong and had dingy slush rather than bright snow. Tested for dry-down (which I should have done in the first place) and found it to be 10%, not 6%. -4% more when I reprinted made all the difference. Call it one second on a 25 second exposure.

Try it for yourself. Get a good print of a good negative - any will do. Now print two more prints: +1 second, and -1 second. Put them up side-by-side. The difference is bigger than you'd guess, and worth seeing (rather than guessing) to know for yourself.

14-Jan-2008, 07:40
Roger. I'll have to go develop that next piece of film (the 3rd one) a little more. Thanks.

Brian Ellis
14-Jan-2008, 07:40
It doesn't sound like you have a transmission densitometer (if not you should pick one up, they're simple to use and sell for next to nothing on ebay) but in standard zone system testing when Zone I is .10 above fb+f Zone VIII density isn't subjective, it's usually considered to be about 1.35 above film base plus fog if you're using a diffusion enlarger, a little lower if you're using a condenser (always keeping in mind that a "zone" is an area of similar values, not a specific point).

Greg Lockrey
14-Jan-2008, 08:11
With Plus-X, I place it at around 1.07 density.

Opps!, I stand corrected, it is about 1.30 with Plus-X and a diffusion enlarger head. (Long night. :) ) 1.07 is zone VII.

14-Jan-2008, 12:00
RE: It doesn't sound like you have a transmission densitometer

I do, and I used it to determine Zone I, but Zone I is a different animal. The minimal density of Zone I is pretty much completely developed very early in the development cycle, and it isn't affected by development time as Zone VIII is.

My understanding is that you need to make prints to determine Zone VIII. I might be able to use your densities to get close, but I'd still have to make prints. Your Zone VIII and mine will almost certainly be different because of the differences between your/my enlarger, light source, paper, paper contrast, developer and maybe even water.

Kevin Crisp
14-Jan-2008, 12:19
I always thought Zone VIII was supposed to be the lightest shade that had a least a hint or trace of detail in it. If you shoot a test of a subject that does not have some texture, determining what is Zone VIII is tough.

14-Jan-2008, 13:41
Texture is not created by a given tone, but by the juxtaposition of different tones (although one might argue that an even texture is never-the-less a texture.) The point of the Zone VIII test is to determine development time by finding the time required to achieve the maximum printable density in the negative - which relates to the minimum density above white in the print. The negative needs to be an even tone to do this (apologies - I couldn't find a link):

1) Set up a evenly toned card in sunlight - grey or white, no colors
2) Set camera on tripod a foot or so away. Fill camera's entire field with card. Focus on infinity.
3) Set meter to personal ASA / EI determined in Zone I test.
4) Take a meter reading of all 4 corners to verify even illumination
5) Meter the center of the card (Zone V reading) along the axis of the lens
6) Transfer the reading to the camera lens
7) Open 3 stops (placing the card on Zone VIII)
8) For roll film, shoot entire roll at Zone VIII
For sheet film, shoot 4 or 5 sheets at Zone VIII
9) For roll film, cut the roll into 4 pieces, hold 3 back for later
Load the 4th onto the developing reel.
10) Develop one sheet, or 1/4 roll for manufacturers recommended time.
11) Set enlarger to minimum height to cover 8x10 paper (note for later)
12) Focus enlarger with a normal photo negative (setting bellows length)
13) Replace negative with Film Base + Fog negative from Zone I test.
14) Make a full sheet test strip to determine minimum time to print Dmax
15) Use that time, to expose 1/2 sheet of paper, while holding a card above the other half.
16) Compare the Zone VIII area to the unexposed white paper area - determine if print value is Zone VIII

If Zone VIII area is too dark, increase film development time with the next sheet or 1/4 roll and repeat Zone VIII printing (#15+16)

If Zone VIII is too light, decrease film development time with next sheet or 1/4 roll and repeat Zone VIII printing (#15+16)

Until you are done. That's what I got from my reading and listening.

Kevin Crisp
14-Jan-2008, 13:57
I disagree. A light area with texture has a tipping point (say, Zone IX) where it is blocked up and can't reveal detail without overexposing the paper when you print it. If you shoot a white card (something not many of us spend time photographing in real life) then you have to puzzle over light and lighter. (Or use a net density from measurement and hope that the usual assumption of what is right is right.)

Do it with a white beach towel, a white fence picket, a white t-shirt, or a stucco wall, on the other hand, and you will clearly see the development time at which is goes from a hint of detail to just white (Zone IX). Now you know what something real looks like at Zone VIII. If you don't want detail, let it go higher.

John Bowen
14-Jan-2008, 14:09

You've made one of the most common mistakes in all of photography.....you forgot to replace the Zone I film with the Zone VIII film :-)

You need to add step 14.5

14-Jan-2008, 16:28
Oh yeah. That wasn't a mistake in photography, that was a mistake in typing. Yes, you need to replace the Zone 0 negative with the Zone VIII negative. If I had done that in reality my Zone VIII print would have been much darker :)

As far as the texture issue - I used a light gray card to do my Zone VIII exposures, but on Fred Pickers tape, he uses a white card in sunlight. I don't think it matters if you're in sun or not, but that's what I did anyway. I also did what he suggested, which is to focus on infinity to get the tone very even. I'm not sure that even if you pointed the camera at a towel that the texture would be evident when focused on infinity from a foot away.

I do plan to do further testing when I get my development time straight. I'm thinking of making one fb+f exposure, one Zone I exposure and one Zone VIII exposure on my rolls of film in my Mamiya 645 to check my testing work, so I'll take some texture shots when I do that.

I think it doesn't matter if the Zone VIII placement is very high as Bruce suggested.

Kevin Crisp
14-Jan-2008, 16:48
The whole Picker simplification of the Zone System was based on having texture in the Zone VIII placement. Put the highest value you want texture in on Zone VIII and take the picture, if I may paraphrase. If you haven't found a Zone VIII development time that retains at least a little texture, it won't work.

Bruce Barlow
14-Jan-2008, 16:54
Kevin, the problem in testing is that if you focus on a surface with texture from close in, with LF you're likely to have bellows extension issues that unnecessarily complicate things.

It works if you focus on infinity and expose for Zone VIII. I have not found it to be dependent on having texture.

Also, I don't own a densitometer and don't want to. I'll quibble with the "Zone VIII should be 1.35" statement because it doesn't take into account different materials. I sure don't develop negs for Azo for the same time that I develop them for Ilford Multigrade. My Multigrade time is a hair long for Azo grade 3, f'rinstance. Nowhere close for Grade 2. PT/PD: same issue.

I'd rather do a simple test and nail it for the materials I'm using, sans densitometer, cheaply bought or not.

Kevin Crisp
14-Jan-2008, 17:21
This is getting harder than it needs to be -- you don't need to fill the frame. Hang a white t-shirt on a fence and photograph it from 10 feet away. Or 20 feet away. Adjust the development times until you have a white t-shirt in your contact print with just a little texture in it versus a bleached out white shape. Done.

steve simmons
16-Jan-2008, 15:13
There is a good description of how to determine zone 8 in an article that appeared in View Camera a few issues ago. The article is in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site


Before you can find zone 8 you need to find your proper proof time. Finding this is also in the article.

The desired tone for zone 8 is somewhat subjective. I still like to get a little texture on zone 8 - the texture of the snow in zone 8 or white stucco in sunlight. The density is not an absolute but is relative to the paper being used. You should pick a paper to standardize on, I use a vc paper w/o a filter which is very close to a #2 filter.

steve simmons

Andrew O'Neill
16-Jan-2008, 16:20
For me, 1.35 is zone VIII. I use a cold light head.