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Thread: Where’s all my zone system experts??

  1. #11
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    Re: The zone system. Do I have this right?

    Adams presents it as a visualization tool first and foremost. He distinguishes between measured values and placed values, as a means of appropriately exposing the film to facilitate placing the tones where we want them in the print.

    The whole densitometry and testing aspect becomes a set of tools for predictable and repeatedly achieving those tones in the negative and print, and those tools are mostly used for black and white. One might have to compress or expand the tonal range to fit measured tones to placed values. But measuring and placing tones, and the testing needed to connect them, applies equally to color.

    For example, if you know that highlights three stops above middle gray will be clear on, say, Velvia, then values that measure three stops brighter than 18% gray (if targeted to Zone V) will fall on Zone X. And if you know that values three stops less bright than 18% gray become featureless black, the those will fall on Zone I.

    So, through testing, you build this equivalence table between what you measure and the results you get. You automatically think that subject material a stop brighter than mid-gray will fall on Zone VII. Now, if the important part of the image measures a stop brighter than mid-gray, but you visualize the image such that it gets viewed or printed at mid-gray, you are “placing” that value at Zone V, and you must underexpose (relative to 18% gray) by a stop.

    If in that same image, there is a value that measures a stop less than mid-gray, and you want to preserve that, you have a conflict between two placed values. In black and white, we would compress the tonal scale during development, but that isn’t available with Velvia. So, we either have to filter it (using graduated filters), light it differently, or let the darker value go darker and try to brighten it up in printing. But at least we are doing things on purpose, and that was Adams’s main motivation.

    Rick “always a visualization tool” Denney

  2. #12
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: The zone system. Do I have this right?

    The whole problem with attempting to apply Zone theory to color film is that you are not dealing with a continuous neutral gray scale. As exposure shifts up and down that scale, the hue or color rendition itself begins shifting intolerably at a certain point. So in any kind of color application, you're really dealing with how much deviance from the box speed 18% midpoint any specific hue can handle before it becomes unsuitable for your own print or reproduction purposes. And since different hues saturates at different points, it all depends.

    Color film offers very little of the development flexibility which black and white does, because by very nature, you end up altering color saturation and contrast at the same time. That fact frustrated Adams; and he didn't have the advanced skills or equipment of some of his neighbors who back then specialized in dye transfer printing with its tremendous flexibility - and sure as heck didn't adopt his Zone System methodology for their color work!
    You've only got so much wiggle room with a color original, especially if it's positive chrome film.

    With black and white film, you use a spot meter to determine the deepest shadows and highest highlights where you want texture and detail discernible in the print, and expose and develop accordingly - a whole topic in its own right with many variables.

  3. #13
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Where’s all my zone system experts??

    (Dug out from the Lounge) ...Nope. You're way off course. Mixing Zone theory and color film is like trying to mix oil and water, a mismatch. Refer to my parallel reply above.
    Last edited by Drew Wiley; 18-Apr-2022 at 12:35.

  4. #14

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    Re: The zone system. Do I have this right?

    Absolutely brilliant post RDenny! Thank you! So….

    “ if you know that highlights three stops above middle gray will be clear on, say, Velvia, then values that measure three stops brighter than 18% gray (if targeted to Zone V) will fall on Zone ”……. I’m assuming that this is why it’s important to try and meter for the very brightest spot possible? And because you may have brought that into, for example, zone 8, your shadows have now move up as well. So, after moving said highlight to zone 8 you may have moved that shadow 3 stops to zone 5? Depending on the latitude of that particular film should tell you if you need to move that highlight back a notch to zone 7?
    Thanks!

  5. #15

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    Re: Where’s all my zone system experts??

    Quote Originally Posted by Tomsmac View Post
    Hey guys. I just want to make sure I have at least a slight grasp on exposing for the zone system. Please chime in….

    So, my meter (Using 5° spot) meters at 18% gray. Zone V. If I choose to meter for the highlights, assuming on shooting Velvia, I’m going to meter on the brightest spot and then bump that up 2 stops to bring it to zone 7. Perhaps if it’s Ektar bring it to zone 8. Then I’m going to meter for the darkest shadow and figure our the difference between them…. If it’s zone 3, 5 stops away, I’m good…if not maybe back off on the highlights and bring that back to zone 7 or in this example +2 stops from my initial reading.

    If I’ve got a grasp then it’s important to understand the limits and DR of your particular film. Also, Black and white meter and expose off of the shadows???
    Next, learning +n or -n developing.

    Do I at least have a beginner’s grasp? Thanks for looking!
    This is needlessly complicated. If you're using a zone-stickered Pentax or similar meter, peel off & bin the sticker & use the IRE scale. It'll let you properly index highlights for transparency - and tell you where shadows will start to crush to black - and let you accurately place detailed shadow values on neg film without wasting time on irrelevant & ultimately misleading 'testing'.

  6. #16

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    Re: The zone system. Do I have this right?

    Like everyone said, there will be lots of opinions. E6 slide film has no tolerance for wide range of contrast, where color negative will handle it better. Even black and white films will handle the range differently. You will never completely get it for all films, but find 1 or two that you like for your style and work with those. Find out what they can handle through experimentation. Everyone is different, some like to print starting out with a mid grade filter in the dark room, I like to see what no filter gives me and go split contrast from there. It's your pictures and your artistic vision, no one else has to like it but you.

  7. #17

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    Re: The zone system. Do I have this right?

    Great response. Thank you!

  8. #18

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    Re: The zone system. Do I have this right?

    OP
    You've mentioned both color and black-and-white negative film and color transparency film. Approaches are different for these three.

    As mentioned above, the Zone System proper was developed (pun intended) for black-and-white negative film. However, the spot-metering techniques often employed in the Zone System can be used for other materials.

    With color transparency film, it is often good to base your exposure on a highlight value; Zone VII in ZS parlance. Your description of metering and then over-exposing two stops from the meter reading to place a high value in Zone VII is correct. With most situations with transparency film, blocked shadows are preferable to blown-out highlights, so this works well as a "standard" practice; deviate as needed.

    With negative films, you base exposure on a shadow value when spot metering a là ZS. With b&w negative film, you place a shadow, measure the mid-tones and highlights and decide on a development scheme and/or paper grade/contrast setting for getting the final print you want.

    With color negative material, the development and contrast-control possibilities are more limited. Therefore, it's often necessary to compromise, sometimes sacrificing shadow detail for the highlights or mid-tones and vice versa. The distribution of tones in the scene, the lighting and what's important in the scene determine which way to go when compromising. And, then there's bracketing...

    Best,

    Doremus

  9. #19
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    Re: Where’s all my zone system experts??

    merged

  10. #20
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Where’s all my zone system experts??

    Don't be that fooled by color neg being allegedly different in practice. Yes, some varieties of it have longer exposure tolerance due to LOWER CONTRAST, but are still inherently subject to hue shifts and even color dye curve crossover issues when stretched to capacity. Amateur color neg films were engineered for sake of careless exposure, and the snapshots sure showed it quite often! As long as the skin-tones came out halfway credible, one might overlook just how far off many other hues were. But OPTIMIZING results with any color neg film is a different story entirely; and those CN films AREN'T all the same, despite the stereotypes.
    Nor are even positive color chrome films all the same, though the few remaining ones will expose reasonably predictably with the IRE scale range of the Pentax spot meter.

    I was lucky to stumble on another Pentax digital spotmeter a few years ago in mint condition for only $200; and the first thing I did with it was to peel off and throw away the silly aftermarket Zone label around the rim. It's distracting for color work, and redundant for black and white. Even I have enough mathematical skill using my own fingers to immediately recognize how Zone 2 is three fingers less than midtone five, and hence 3 EV lower on the dial, etc.

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