Zone system - how to understand it?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by rhys, May 2, 2006.

  1. rhys

    rhys Member

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    As far as I know, it grades scenes by degrees of detail required. That's fairly easy to replicate. But upon what is the system based? Is it based on the Sunny 16 system or is there more to it? How does one assess a scene without a lightmeter? Is this built into the system also?
     
  2. Amund

    Amund Member

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    Buy "The Negative" by Ansel Adams. The Zone System isn`t explained in a few lines on an online forum. Do a Google search too, you`ll find TONS of info.
     
  3. darr

    darr Subscriber

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  4. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    The zone system is based on a normal scene. tim
     
  5. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The old standard was "Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights".

    The zone system is an attempt to answer the obvious questions: "Yes, but how much exposure is right? And how much development is right?"
     
  6. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    You will only understand it by attempting to read on it.
     
  7. BradS

    BradS Member

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    My understanding of the zone system is fairly minimal but, I've always understood it to involve a light meter.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2006
  8. rhys

    rhys Member

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    I'm lucky in being both a film and a digital photographer. I use my trusty Nikon FMs - all with prime lenses for film and am trying to get used to a Canon digital SLR.

    I'm looking at the zone system and at reading the exposure from the environment rather than relying upon a meter, purely because I'm not keen on the way digital camera meters work. I can do a lot more with a negative - even if the meter's out because it has more lattitude. Once I can get my mind around the zone system and get hold of the ANSI exposure guide rather than looking at simply the Sunny 16 rule, I should be on the path toward developing a better understanding of exposures and hence able to take better photos whether they be digital or film.

    My idea is to be able to assess a scene, work out exactly what the exposure should be and shoot that picture in film or digital and for it to be spot on for both mediums. In fact, I should really equate digital to slide film as the thinness of lattitude is about the same.

    As the ansi guide seems so hard to obtain, would you suggest using a spotmeter and designing my own exposure guide? Also, do you think that global dimming has had any effect on the accuracy of the ansi guide?
     
  9. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Subscriber

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    Don't be afraid of a good light meter. This will give you a starting point. 'The Negative' by Ansel Adams will take you from there, Chapter 4 to be precise. Not to avoid answering your question in detail, but it would take pages to do the Zone System service and Adams laid it out in an easy to follow format.
     
  10. Magnus W

    Magnus W Member

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    The zone system is easy.

    1. select where you want the darkest point that still has some texture
    1b. Expose for that.
    2. Select where you want the brightest areas that still has some texture
    2b. Develop for that.

    In the course of being able to do this, it is imperative that you know your films, papers, chemichals, enlargers and darkroom hardware and other procedures.

    Just like any good car mechanic:You immers yourself in your celler you have to apply darkroom-fu, and secret stuff that really only works for you (well , maybe that crazy geezer in Edinburg too) and after a fey days you reëmerging with stunningly beautyiful prints
     
  11. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    The zone system take a good bit of reading and a lot of practice to become proficiant in real life with the system, so hate it some love it and some use parts of it!

    Smooth move on getting the digital stuff back in there beings your exact same message on it and how it regulates to digital cameras was either moved or deleted earlier today, this is not the place to discuss the digital side of imaging.

    Dave
     
  12. Stephen Benskin

    Stephen Benskin Member

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  13. RAP

    RAP Member

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  15. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    The zone system is a subset of the H&D curve. The seven zones are only 7 of the 21 steps usually found in an H&D curve. Curves for most films and papers are found on the maufacturers web sites. Just look for the film and there is the curve.

    The reason seven were chosen is that this leaves spacing between 'steps' or 'zones' to allow for compression and expansion of the tone scale by proper use of developer. If you used 21 steps you would not percieve this as expansion or compression, but rather merely moving to the next step on the step tablet. With only 7 steps it is percieved as expansion and contraction.

    It is a useful and simple tool for judging negatives and prints.

    PE
     
  16. Stephen Benskin

    Stephen Benskin Member

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    Ron,

    I also have a theory that Adams or Archer talked to either Mees (whom he credits in his early editions) or to Jones when they were working out the details of the Zone System. I don't think it is a coincidence that the seven stop range of the Zone System is practically the same as the average luminance range of 7 1/3 stops as defined by Jones.

    Same can be said about how a fixed density speed point of 0.10 was chosen. I see the hand of Jones in many of the Zone System elements.

    Steve
     
  17. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Also, understand that Adams was a musician first. Music is analyzed by reference to the root of a chord based on where the root falls in the scale of the key of the piece. For instance, in the key of C, a D chord would be refered to as a II chord - D is the second note in the C scale. There are seven notes in a diatonic scale, thus seven intervals. To a musician such as me, the Zone System series of tones felt right at home - it's just like the series of chords in music. I have always suspected it was the same with Adams.

    I'll second Fred Picker's "The Zone VI Workshop" as the best introduction available. You can find them on ebay, too.
    juan
     
  18. rhys

    rhys Member

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    I'm not really here to discuss digital imaging. I'm interested in two things - the Zone system and exposure estimation based on the scene in front of the camera. As I understand it, the old system of estimation is pretty ancient and mostly replaced by meters in cameras these days. I'd like to return to estimation but I'm looking for an accurate way of doing it as I'm not a fan of built-in meters. They tend (even with 3D colour matrix metering) to make each photo look pretty much the same as the next - it makes images bland. It does this, whichever system is used, film or electronic.

    The Zone system, combined with estimation, can produce some really wonderful images. Who can forget Ansel Adams' "Moonrise over Hernandez"? I'm trying to get to the root of both systems in order to improve my photography. The fact I use both film and digital is largely irrelevant.
     
  19. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    There has been many good suggestions on learning the zone system given here, my suggestion would be to start doing some reading, I found the picker reading to be the easiest, but the Adams book "The negative" is not a hard read either, myself personally feel that each photographer has to read the information, take the basic understand and develop a method that relates to their particular style of shooting and printing, as long as you understand the basics of the system you should have no difficulty at all, but trying to explain the system here would take far to long...and the different writing styles of people could be confusing for some. Most of us use some kind of meter, I know a lot of shooters who use zone modified spot meters for evaluation.

    As far as relevance to digital it does become an issue around here.

    Dave
     
  20. titrisol

    titrisol Member

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    for 35mm is kinda hard to apply a rigurous zone system, there is a book called practical zone system for 35mm or something similar.
    Get a copy of that one.

    IMHO expose for the shadows (meter the shadows then close 1 or 2 stops) and the rest will fall into place
     
  21. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Not to be contrary, but Adams' account of the "Moonrise" negative is interesting. He severely underexposed the negative because he couldn't find his meter before the light was gone, so made the exposure based on f:16 sunny and holding highlight detail in the moon. As a result, the negative was not what he really wanted, the shadows were too thin, and it was very hard to print, requiring serious manipulation at the printing stage. It's not a shining example of the Zone System or previsualization.

    Lee
     
  22. titrisol

    titrisol Member

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    Exposure estimation is a completely different thing.
    Since you say you use 35mm (Nikon FM), you can rely on your camera lightmeter to give you an average of the amount of reflected light form the scene in front of you and put you in the ballpark of exposure needed.
    From then on is a matter of experience/good eye/luck to open/close a stop or two otherwise bracket to get better color saturation, etc.

    Depth of filed is another factor you may want to look at, sometimes a shallow depth of filed (lens fully open) can give a 3-D feeling to the picture.

    PS for 35mm/digital there is the simplified zone system infomercial
    http://simplifiedzonesystem.com/


     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2006
  23. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The Zone System as Adams describes it uses spot metering. The goal is to test your materials, so that you can previsualize the relationship between tones in the scene and tones in the print, and get a negative that contains all the information you want to appear in the print. It might require further manipulation at the printing stage, but better to have a negative that's in the ballpark, so you don't have to employ extraordinary measures.

    You can spot meter with a handheld meter, or with an in-camera spot metering. Matrix metering tries to do the spot metering automatically, but it makes assumptions about your composition that you may or may not agree with. Spot metering puts you in control.

    "Moonrise" required extraordinary measures. Adams based the exposure on the value for the moon--exactly the opposite of the Zone System, which follows the older principle of "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights." He exposed for the highlights, and then locally intensified the shadows on the neg, and dodged and burned to get everything to look good on the print. On the other hand, he knew that this was probably the best way to get the shot in those days, since the contrast range between the moon and the landscape is huge. Employing the Zone System in the normal way by placing the shadows on Zone III and reducing development for the moon would have produced an even worse negative, because the range would have been too great to compensate for in that way. Today maybe he would have put an ND grad filter into the equation and done it differently.

    So for a normal image employing the Zone System, the basic idea is to test the film so that the darkest area where you want detail to show in the film (usually Zone III) always will have detail if you spot meter for Zone III.

    Once you've tested for film speed, you test for development time, so that you can spot meter the brightest area where you want to see good detail in the print (usually Zone VIII), and you can adjust the development time so that wherever that area falls, you can make sure it will have detail in the print. If the light is flat, you'll use a longer development time than normal, and if the scene is very contrasty, you'll reduce development time. If you represent the distribution of tones as a histogram, like you might with a digital camera, extending development time stretches the histogram, and reducing development time compresses the histogram.
     
  24. p krentz

    p krentz Member

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    As I understand it, it took Ansel Adams 20 years to get the print he wanted. The University of Arizona at Tucon will be glad to give you a copy of any of his negs. Pat :D
     
  25. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Steve;

    I don't doubt you are right, but OTOH, the 21 steps are 3x the approximately 7 stops defined by Jones. So the 21 step chart which goes from 0 - 3 or 4 in density may have earlier roots as well.

    And, the inventors of Kodachrome were musicians too, so there may be quite a few harmonics resonating in the science of photography.

    PE
     
  26. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Subscriber

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    Also this to say, rhys, that Adams stated that the quick exposure method should only be used as a LAST RESORT. An understanding of the Zone System and the use of some sort of light metering is the way to go. Guessing is just that. Either you stand a chance to waste a lot of film or you should split your powerball ticket with us.