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Thread: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

  1. #1

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    Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    In the 1970s and again around 2000 did the whole Zone system calibration. Films were Super XX and later Bergger 200. Developers Edwal FG-7 in a 9% Sodium Sulfite solution and Rodinal. Paper Dupont Varigram and Varilour and later Galerie and Zone VI. Use basically a combination of George DeWolfe (studied under him) system using an Attenuator and Minor White's very classic practical tests. Plotted H&D curves and more (Hey I went to RIT and these were second nature to do). A SEI my meter of choice. Strayed away from B&W into color and Cibachromes. Now about 4 years ago got back into using LF and ULF film.

    Well today almost all of the products that I had done my Zone testing are no longer available. Past few years have been processing in Diafine, and scanning and making digital negs to print Pt/Pl. I am able to read Zone II or Zone III and then by processing in Diafine, get negatives that scan beautifully.

    So now wish to do some traditional film/paper darkroom work. My negatives developed in Diafine, while ideal for scanning, I have found to be quite inferior to the negatives I shot before using the Zone System. Considered making digital negatives for conventional paper printing, but prefer the hands on darkroom printing experience directly from the original negatives.

    Am now considering doing the Zone System testing once more. Film of FP4 PLUS cause I participated last year in Ilford's Ultra Large Format (ULF) Film Program and now have boxes of it in the freezer. Fortunately kept and still have my MacBeth transmission Densitometer and a couple of attenuators (calibrated film step wedges). Would rather be out there shooting instead of spending many evenings doing the Zone System Calibration tests but realize just have to do it.

    Would appreciate any advice on current developers and papers to run the Zone System Calibration tests with.

  2. #2

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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    I'm using the Zone System for HP5 4x5 developed in D76, and I'm very pleased with the results that I'm getting. I'm printing on Ilford warmtone fiber, which was part of my testing. I did this testing about a year or so ago. I'll soon be conducting calibrations on medium format HP5, which I believe has a different sensitometric response.

    It's worth mentioning that "The Zone System," in essence, is Ansel Adam's application of William Mortensen's precept to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights that Mortensen spoke about in his writings. It's based on the fundamentals of how film behaves.

  3. #3
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    Except that Mortensen's precept was "Expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows," according to Mortensen on the Negative.
    "Poverty is the biggest cause of poverty." Rutger Bregman

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    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    You may wish to try pyrocat hd or hdc. The proportional stain adds density for the ultraviolet based alt process print purposes while remaining fairly normal looking under normal light for scanning or silver printing. FP4+ is a good film.

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    Tim Meisburger's Avatar
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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter De Smidt View Post
    Except that Mortensen's precept was "Expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows," according to Mortensen on the Negative.
    Well, yes and no. Mortensen understood and described the effects of varying development and exposure, and in that sense was a precursor of the zone system, which created a systematic and quantifiable approach to achieving Mortensen's vision.Mortensen focused on highlights because he was interested in portraits, and wanted to squeeze as much tonal variation as possible in zones five to seven, while avoiding blown highlights at all costs. Adam's challenge was to capture the texture of a landscape from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows, in ten or eleven zones. They were both doing the same thing, they just had different artistic objectives.

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    Kirk Gittings's Avatar
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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    I can see primarily exposing for the highlights in that case but how does one develop for the shadows when development mainly affects the highlights? Makes little sense to me. I fail to see how they were doing the same thing. As I remember it Mortensen worked in the studio a lot using lighting? I may remember that wrong. If he did that was probably a major part of his contrast control equation.
    Thanks,
    Kirk

    at age 68
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    Tim Meisburger's Avatar
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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    Well, I'm not expert, but my understanding from his book was that he didn't care about the shadows. He would sacrifice detail in the shadows to get more tones in the few zones he was interested in (the face and clothing). Also, I guess he lit the subjects so there were no deep shadows.

    I think the quote above: "Expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows," is a misunderstanding. He was actually saying "expose for the highlights, and don't worry about the shadows".

  8. #8

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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    I use a sensitometer to make test exposures, develop and graph the family of curves and derive a Time/CI chart. I use those graphs to determine developing time for a chosen Contrast Index.

    To use these with Zone System, I call 7 stops subject luminance range "Normal" and work from there. Lately, I've been troubled that Ansel Adams worked so hard to keep "gamma" and "CI" out of the Zone System, because I find them very easy to work in.

    To use with William Mortensen, its a little trickier. He was absolutely NOT on-board with the Zone System. He thought aiming for the "bulls-eye" was risky and leads to boring negatives. He considered the most exciting negatives to be the "underexposed-overdeveloped" and "overexposed-underdeveloped" frames of the "ring around" and he taught that you should try to achieve one of those interesting negatives on purpose... because it would be a waste of time trying to hit the "bulls-eye"... miss... and make a boring negative because you missed the mark.

  9. #9
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    Yes, Mortensen understood negative exposure and development, which even Ansel admitted in his The Making of 40 Photographs book. Mortensen coined his phrase clearly in opposition to Adams's maxim. Mortensen's "Basic Light" for portraiture was a light right by the lens, as well as one on the background. As a result, there were no important shadows. He advocated exposing such that development to completion would not shoulder the brighter values in the image. The idea was to maximize the number of distinct tones in the tonal area he was interested in. Thus, he gave less exposure and more development than standard Zone practice.

    Back on topic, I agree that Pyrocat in its various versions is terrific for silver printing, as well as alternative process printing due to the UV blocking stain. It's good stuff, and it lasts a long while, especially the glycol versions.
    "Poverty is the biggest cause of poverty." Rutger Bregman

  10. #10

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    Re: Was wondering who is still using the Zone System?

    If a negative is appropriately exposed for total development the shadows will be open, and the highlights will not block up if the procedure is done correctly with the correct developer.. I have a lot of experience with this method. For over 20 years I went to Death Valley for 10-20 days just after Christmas. The heavy clouds which were present most of the time, made it necessary to use total development to obtain a pleasing range in the negative. I also use it at other special times.

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