Understanding zone system

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by baachitraka, May 8, 2011.

  1. baachitraka

    baachitraka Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,311
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2011
    Location:
    Bremen, Germany.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I am trying to understand zone system more clearly.

    Typical landscape scene
    ===============

    - Spot Meter the shadow(18% gray) and place it in Zone 3(-2 stops from 18% gray).

    - Take a shot

    - Develop negative.

    - Decide the print ..., N-1, N, N+1, ...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2011
  2. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,066
    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2004
    Location:
    fairfield co
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    buy the little zone VI manual book that fed picker wrote....do the exercises and then you will actually begin to see the zone system come alive for you... get it used on abes or other book sites
    have a great day!
    Peter
     
  3. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

    Messages:
    1,890
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2005
    Location:
    Blue Ridge,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    My understanding of the zone system:

    Meter important shadow area, place on Zone III.
    Meter important highlight area to determine luminance range.
    Increase negative development to compensate for low contrast, decrease development to compensate for high contrast.
    Make print.
     
  4. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,210
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Exactly right, but let me repeat, slightly simplify your text, and expand the message:

    1. Meter important shadow area, place on Zone III.
    2. Meter important highlight area to determine luminance range.
    3. Adjust film development to compensate for subject contrast.

    Dan has carefully chosen his words.

    It is important to choose a shadow area that is important for the image, not just the darkest part of the subject. Zone III is where you want to clearly see texture. But be aware, Zone III is quite dark. Some Zone System practitioners recommend a placement on Zone IV instead. It's easier to visualize for them.

    It's equally important to select an important highlight area to measure the overall subject brightness range (SBR). This will determine the compensation required through film development. However, this is an often misunderstood step. The objective is not to squeeze the entire SBR into the normal negative contrast range. Let me clarify this through a typical example:

    Visualize a dark church interior with dark benches, light stone walls and a bright church window, hit by the sun, in the background. You would measure the benches and place them on Zone III. Then you measure the light stone walls and see that they will fall on Zone VI. Now you measure the window and see that it falls on Zone XI, way too much for your print to handle. So you compensate development with N-3, moving the window to Zone VIII. Well done? No! In this example the Zone System was misunderstood and wrongly applied. Why? What's wrong?

    Well, yes, the bright window is tamed and has been moved to a printable Zone VIII. But what happened to the rest of the image? Everything is gray in gray and has turned into a very unattractive mess of dark tones without the so desperately needed midtone contrast. How could this happen? It happened because N-3 development did not just pull the window from Zone XI to Zone VIII; it pulled all other tones with it proportionally. So, the light stone wall (Zone VI) got pulled to, let's estimate, Zone IV.5. At the end of the day, you have an image with dark benches on Zone III (or less), stone walls on Zone IV.5 and then nothing until we see a window in Zone VIII. Not an attractive image, and not representing what we saw and what interested us in the first place.

    What else should we have done?

    Use the Zone system properly! How?

    Do what Dan said, but pay attention to the word 'important' in his text.

    1. Measure the dark benches and place them on Zone III.
    2. Measure the bright window and realize it will fall onto Zone XI.
    3. Measure a light stone wall and realize it will fall onto Zone VI.
    4. Now visualize the image you want to make.
    5. If you want to maintain the midtone contrast and keep the light stone walls where they are, you cannot afford an N- development.

    What now?

    Keep the development normal to maintain midtone contrast, and find another way to reduce window brightness (sun behind cloud, dodging card during exposure) or live with the fact that you need to burn-in the window during printing.

    Sorry for the rant, but the important part of this note is:

    Do not use the Zone System to squeeze the entire subject brightness range into your normal negative contrast, unless you like battleship-gray prints.

    A church window example is attached.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2011
  5. erikg

    erikg Member

    Messages:
    1,460
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2003
    Location:
    pawtucket rh
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That was no rant, Ralph, that was an excellent description of the process. ZS is a really useful tool, but you have to keep your desired picture in your imagination as you go. That is why so much time is spent on visualization in the classic texts. You have explained why very nicely.
     
  6. alapin

    alapin Subscriber

    Messages:
    65
    Joined:
    May 10, 2008
    Location:
    South Caroli
    Shooter:
    35mm
  7. Toffle

    Toffle Member

    Messages:
    1,848
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
    Location:
    Point Pelee,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    + 1 for Dan
    + 1 for Ralph
    (I will read the Staler after brunch)

    Over the years, I have "collected" ZS interpretations for those who are more interested in taking good pictures than proving their maths proficiency. Among my favourites is one from Gem Singer, over at lfinfo, which is almost as good as the ones above. (but lacking the distinction of the "important" details in the shadows and highlights) There is also an equally brief but slightly different one by Rob Gray, and a rather irreverant one by Jim Brick that reduces the zones to four, "Zone Good, Zone Bad, Zone Ugly, Zone Butt Ugly." His treatment gives a bit of a chuckle, but his reasoning is sound.

    These three are posted on my site (with permission of the authors)

    Cheers,
     
  8. mikebarger

    mikebarger Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,936
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2005
    Location:
    south centra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks Ralph

    Could you explain what steps up took in your example to make the very nice print. Did you n- (guessing not), cloud come by, dodge the window area, or....

    I think a follow up with actual development/printing details will help re-enforce the principle.

    Again lovely print, thanks!

    Mike
     
  9. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

    Messages:
    20,588
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2007
    Location:
    Southern California
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    When I do not have a lot of time I meter what I want to be Zone V, 18% gray, for the exposure. When I have time, or the subject brightness range [SBR] is great, or if the photograph is one that I want to work with, I use Ralph's method.

    Steve
     
  10. mark

    mark Member

    Messages:
    5,264
    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2003
    This thread is in the 35mm cameras and accessories so I assume that is what you have. Remember that the ZS was designed for LF cameras or other cameras where every shot could be developed individually. While there are some principals that can be applied with a roll film camera the vast amount cannot unless you shoot the entire roll on one subject. This is possible if you roll your own and roll short strips. When I shot 35mm and had a darkroom available I would bracket each scene. +1-0-(-1). Sometimes would go as far as 2 stops either way. Have fun.
     
  11. Kisatchie

    Kisatchie Member

    Messages:
    33
    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2010
    Location:
    St. Joseph,
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I second the recommendation to read Fred Picker's "Zone VI Workshop."
    I also recommend Carson Graves' "The Zone System for 35mm Photographers." (Be careful - the edition I have has a misprint where it's listing f/stop - shutter speed combinations. I can't remember where the error is, though)

    As for exposing for Zone III shadows, not all shadows are that dark. And also, you can expose for half or 1/3 zones too - Zone IV-1/2 for example.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2011
  12. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

    Messages:
    16,798
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2005
    Location:
    Delta, BC, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    This is probably now apparent to the OP, but just in case it isn't ....

    To me, the Zone System is a method used to determine the development of your film.

    If you are not shooting individual sheets, or multiple film backs (N, N +1, N -1, etc.), or different bodies for different lighting contrasts than it really isn't the Zone system you are using.

    I think the OP is really just trying to figure out how to best use a spot meter with roll film.
     
  13. baachitraka

    baachitraka Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,311
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2011
    Location:
    Bremen, Germany.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That is right, even if I cannnot use ZS for landscapes with roll-film I think it is still possible to use for portraits.

    Since, I do not know whether it is good idea to put all my portraits in 18% gray ;-)

    Nevertheless, a beginner like me will be fascinated by ZS.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. ghostcount

    ghostcount Member

    Messages:
    252
    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2008
    Location:
    Near The Pla
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thank you Ralph. I also want to thank you for posting your ZS dial, it proved to be really helpful this past weekend.
     
  16. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,210
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Waiting for a cloud requires clouds to be there. Using a dodging card only works with long exposure times. However, film has great latitude for overexposure, and that's why burning-in windows works well. It does require making a custom masks, but that's no problem. Attached is a sample mask from another picture.
     

    Attached Files:

  17. puptent

    puptent Member

    Messages:
    62
    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2011
    Location:
    Walnut Grove
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I'm a 35mm shooter, I've got Carson Graves book, and others. It is true that ZS works very well with sheet film and LF cameras. But the principles of ZS help the 35mm photographer visualize his final print. Should I happen to get ONE very good or important exposure on a roll, I will develop for that exposure. In 35mm the ZS maybe isn't so much about DESIGNING the exposure as it is PREDICTING the negative. In a LF picture you can do figuring and calculations for a long time, you can sketch, plan, and then execute. Typically the 35mm shooter is going much faster between exposures, and his or her visualization of the finished print is kind of like a Reader's Digest version. That's why we bracket. But another product of learning ZS is that it increases your appreciation for THE PRINT, yours and other people's.
     
  18. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,210
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Why not? Multiple 35mm bodies are cheap these days!
     

    Attached Files:

  19. baachitraka

    baachitraka Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,311
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2011
    Location:
    Bremen, Germany.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    :smile: or may be [N-2, N-1, N, N+1, N+2] bracketing.
     
  20. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,210
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    How do you bracket development? That's even harder in 35mm.
     
  21. baachitraka

    baachitraka Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,311
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2011
    Location:
    Bremen, Germany.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think, I should come from digital mind set... ;-)

    Now, the hunt is for a camera which takes sheet film and compact as 35mm SLR.
     
  22. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    9,281
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Bergen, Norw
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    The Patent Etui. The 9x12cm version is smaller than most 35mm cameras, the 6.5x9cm version is half that again. I even think there is a very rare 6x4.5cm version - my 6x4.5 Voigtländer Bergheil is TINY, the Patent Etui is a fraction of the thickness. i.e. smaller than half a cellphone...
     
  23. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'll second the 9x12 Patent Etui being small as I have two, far less than it's rivals but while the smaller formats are still ahead of their rivals it's by a smaller margin.

    The beauty is that 9x12 sheet film is readily available as well plus roll film backs are easy to find.

    Here a Patent Etui and a Crown Graphic plus my 6x4.5 Ikonta :D Should add that the Crown & Etui both have 135mm f4.5 CZJ Tessars, the Etui's is about 10 years older and a far better lens, (The Crown had a redesigned 1932 Tessar and the glass is softer less contrast with ageing).

    etui06.jpg

    The Patent Etui is light but rigid, I'm in the process of fitting a modern lens to my second camera as I prefer coated lenses.

    Ian
     
  24. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

    Messages:
    8,004
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2008
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That is too formulaic, I think, to understand it. It doesn't incorporate much aesthetic decision making. Specifically, the idea that you must meter something that you want to be a Zone II or Zone III. You just meter whatever you want and place it wherever you want, such that it benefits you in achieving what you want, within the controls of the System. This is usually the placement of a low tone such that it holds detail or texture, but it need not be. Don't get locked into the mindset that that is the way it must be all the time and that shadows should always be of a certain value.

    Here is how I approach the actual practice of it:

    I. Calibration

    A. Find a working exposure index
    B. Find a normal development
    C. Find plus and minus development, and corresponding EI changes

    II. Shooting

    A. Decide to take a picture
    B. Decide what you want the picture to look like
    C. Decide how to expose and develop

    1. Meter the brightness range of the composition to see what you have to work (or contend) with
    2. Meter a tone you want to place (any tone; it need not be a low tone in every case)
    3. Place the tone (by deviating a specific amount from what the meter sez, or going with it in some cases)
    4. Take note of where other tones fall tonally when you place that tone
    5. Plan to use one of your predetermined development procedures, and apply any needed EI changes to the meter (for instance, if you need N-2 processing, you may need to increase your EI a bit)

    D. Shoot

    III. Film processing

    A. Follow the plan decided upon in II.C.5

    IV. Printing

    A. Print

    V. Analysis

    A. When printing, think about whether your neg is truly ideal for the print you want to make
    B. Make changes in your procedures based on your printing experiences


    The most important parts are II.A, II.B, and II.D. Everything else can tolerate some error and slop. But you need to be able to find pictures, decide what you want them to look like, and go through the work of actually shooting them before anything else in the Zone System becomes worth the trouble at all. In other words, don't do what most people do, and use the System "just because;" do it to help you achieve a personal artistic vision.

    Second most important is learning to print well, IMHO. You simply cannot give yourself any feedback as to the whole Zone System process if you don't know what you are doing to at least some degree in the darkroom. Everything in the Zone System is designed to serve the vision of the print. If you don't know what steps to take in the darkroom to get yourself there from what is on your negative, then you don't know how to properly judge and tweak your shooting and developing to help you out.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2011
  25. baachitraka

    baachitraka Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,311
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2011
    Location:
    Bremen, Germany.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I am subscribed to your posts, hope I get updated regarding modern lens.
     
  26. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,984
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Here's a twist I don't think I've seen before: My aim point is mid-way between Grade 2 and Grade 3 instead of the traditional Grade 2.

    I defined this by setting my upper and lower control limits by picking a negative that printed properly on Grade 2 with a moderate amount of burning, and a negative that printed well on Grade 3 with a little dodging. Naturally, I want to have my aim be in the middle.