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Thread: Relevance of zone system when scanning

  1. #1

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    Relevance of zone system when scanning

    Hello,

    I'm just getting into large format. I know that the zone system placed exposures in the 10 zones. Exposed for the shadows and developed for the highlights, which should make a dense neg. That should give ansel the flexibility to make everything he wanted, sort of like a raw file. BUT, how does this transfer over when digitally scanning on an epson lets say? Is it even a good idea to do this if scanning or would a different technique be better?

    Forgive me if this is in the wrong forum, didn't quite know which one to use.

  2. #2
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    Do some searching. There was a huge discussion over a number of threads about 15 years ago or so.

    Bottom line (for me anyway) is that when used with chemical darkroom printing, a film negative is an intermediary. It lets you shoehorn the dynamic range of the scene to fit the dynamic range of the printing paper. That's really what the Zone System is about -- how to do that effectively and efficiently. And there are three major pieces to the pie: exposure, film development, and printing.

    In the scanning workflow, there are really four major pieces to the pie: exposure, film development, scanning the film, and printing. This extra step of scanning lets you unload one of the major uses of film in the darkroom printing workflow -- the act of shoehorning the usually larger dynamic range of the scene to the usually smaller dynamic range of the darkroom printing paper. This is done instead using an image editor like Photoshop as part of the scanning step (or the printing step if you like that better).

    So... the major controls of the darkroom workflow are exposure and film development. It all comes down to "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights". That's what the Zone System primarily teaches -- how to get the right exposure, and how to get the right highlight density.

    The major control with a scanning workflow is exposure. Scanning workflows often come down to "expose for the shadows and let the highlights fall where they may". It took me a lot of work and years of experience to reduce it to that. But it works for me.

    I detailed it a lot and defended it a lot back in the early 2000s. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing that doesn't need to be rehashed here. I'm sure the old timers (like me) are still sick of it.

    Bruce Watson

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    Alan Klein's Avatar
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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    I don;t know about the zone system. However, I do scan film with an Epson V600 flat bed scanner. You want to capture the full range of the negative or chrome. So first, do not let the scanner automatically set the scan. Manually set the black and white points (levels) so that they are just past the ends of the histogram. That will prevent clipping. It will allow you to capture the full range of the data. Make all adjustment afterwards with your post processing program. Where to set the various tones related to the final print paper you use is another subject.

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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    I've been using a simple version of the Zone System for 40 years and scanning my B&W film for 20 years. IMO, any "system" can be used when scanning B&W film because this film won't tax the dynamic range of most scanners. Chrome film is another story, though.

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    Alan Klein's Avatar
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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan9940 View Post
    I've been using a simple version of the Zone System for 40 years and scanning my B&W film for 20 years. IMO, any "system" can be used when scanning B&W film because this film won't tax the dynamic range of most scanners. Chrome film is another story, though.
    How do you scan chromes relative to the zone system that another person would do differently without using the zone system?

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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    One of the functions of the Zone System is to optimize the density range on the negative for the print media. If the print media is a scanner, then there must be an optimum range of densities that work best for it. Maybe it's a lot larger range than printing paper (even VC), but there have to be limits. At some point, a negative is going to have too small, or too large, a range of densities to scan well. Finding these limits would then allow you to devise a Zone System for scanning. Meter, make sure there is enough exposure and check to see if the subject-brightness range will yield a negative with an optimal density range at your chosen development. If it doesn't, then development should be adjusted.

    There may be very few occasions where the subject-brightness range is not conducive to one standard development, but there must be cases; it's simply physics.

    Furthermore, the main function of the Zone System, IM-HO, is as a tool for visualization. One can adjust a lot of the relationships of densities in the negative and, hence, the final print by changing development, using filters, etc., etc. Those considerations don't disappear when one scans the negative instead of wet printing it in a darkroom.

    Best,

    Doremus

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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Klein View Post
    How do you scan chromes relative to the zone system that another person would do differently without using the zone system?
    I don't shoot color. My point was that any method of B&W exposure/development should easily be handled by any scanner.

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    Alan Klein's Avatar
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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan9940 View Post
    I don't shoot color. My point was that any method of B&W exposure/development should easily be handled by any scanner.
    How do you scan BW negatives using the zone system that another person would do differently without using the zone system? Isn't just the development process that follows the zone system? But the scan procedure just catches the whole range of the negative like anyone else who scans without the zone system in mind. Unless you adjust the scan settings a special way?

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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    Quote Originally Posted by DmaalaM View Post
    ...how does this transfer over when digitally scanning on an epson lets say? Is it even a good idea to do this if scanning or would a different technique be better?
    My personal experience is that negatives exposed developed to accomodate typical darkroom printing can be easily scanned. I use the same film speed and development times for both methods. Epson flatbed scanners have a bit wider dynamic range than a Number 2 paper or contrast setting, but but adding contrast after scanning is trivial with an editing tool like Photoshop, Lightroom etc.

    You might find this article on film testing helpful, particularly the section on scanning: Testing Black and White Film

    You might also find this article helpful: Scanning Tips with Epson and VueScan Software

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    Re: Relevance of zone system when scanning

    Quote Originally Posted by DmaalaM View Post
    Hello,

    I'm just getting into large format. I know that the zone system placed exposures in the 10 zones. Exposed for the shadows and developed for the highlights, which should make a dense neg. That should give ansel the flexibility to make everything he wanted, sort of like a raw file. BUT, how does this transfer over when digitally scanning on an epson lets say? Is it even a good idea to do this if scanning or would a different technique be better?

    Forgive me if this is in the wrong forum, didn't quite know which one to use.
    Proper use of the Zone System, or similar alternatives, does not produce dense negatives. the Zone III shadows will be somewhat thin and detail just visible. On the other end of the scale, Zone VIII, the last with detail, is not overly dense. Zone IX is paper white,(Zone 0 is maximumblack). Don't forget The Zone System relates to the final product, the print,not the negative.
    If you want the simplest and most accurate information get and read, "Fred Archer on Portraiture". Fred was the co-experimenter in development of The Zone SYstem.

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