Zone system without a spotmeter... is it possible?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Ara Ghajanian, Nov 4, 2004.

  1. Ara Ghajanian

    Ara Ghajanian Member

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    Well, is it? I'm new to the Zone system (I used to just bracket and choose the best exposure), but I want to delve into it and master it properly. I can't afford a spotmeter at the moment, but I do have a Sekonic L328 digital meter (I'm looking into getting the 5 degree spot attachment for it. By the way, is 5 degrees enough?). Also, I've got a Hasselblad 500CM with only one film back. Should I have 3 backs in order to fully take advantage of development control or can I get away with just one?

    Thanks in advance. I can always count on you guys and gals for the best advice.
     
  2. Kate Mocak

    Kate Mocak Member

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    I've got an old (analogue) Lunasix F with 7.5 and 15 degrees attachment and find it quite sufficient. If I can I go as close to the subject as possible to measure a smaller area more accurately.
     
  3. arigram

    arigram Member

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  4. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    Didn't AA use an old Weston Master something with the zones on the dial? Seems that I vaguely remember being able to get stickers that affixed to the Master's dial.

    That's about as far from a spot meter as you can get.
     
  5. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    Yes, get the spot attachment - is better than none. Yes, get 2 more backs at least, esp. if you shoot a lot under different lighting situatuion. If it's all studio work, forget the spot and extra backs. With an incident meter or a non-spot reclective meter, you'll need to get close in to the subject to meter the range of luminances.

    It all works so long as you can meter the different areas of the scene. An overall average reading won't work with the ZS. Of course, if the 'dark' are of the scene is on the other side of a valley with no bridge, just meter something on your side of the valley that is approximately the same reflectance - or jump.

    The Luna-Six with teh variable spot attachment is ok. I have one and have used it but went with the Pentax 1Deg. Digital when I could. Your 5Deg attachment should serve you well for a while, I'd think.

    Don't forget to calibrate it with the ZS tests.

    Good luck!

    -Mike
     
  6. esearing

    esearing Subscriber

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    Could you not meter off a black white or greycard using a reflected value? Remember all Meters only give values for medium gray.

    You would visually have to asses the light and highlights to determine if the highlights would blow out. Shadows will fall in place. I know this is opposite standard zone practice but not using a spot meter here so the inverse is required.

    Another thought. If you use an ev mode you would be measuring average light reflected or incident. Therefore you would know how far to deviate from a standard such as "sunny 16". Again with practice one should be able to see the range of light within the scene.

    When in doubt, use Polaroid. But it may not have same lattitude as your film.
     
  7. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    If your Sekonic can measure incident lighting then you can probably get by without buying the spot metering attachment. I recommend reading the BTZS by Phil Davis.

    You can get by with only one back as well. The way to do this is to target your normal development for a grade three contrast. Use paper grade four and occasional selenium intensification of the negative for N plus (low inherent contrast) subjects. This method will give you up to an N plus one and one half density range increase without the typical increase in grain. You can then use proportional exposure for your N minus (high inherent contrast) subjects. This will give you a N minus two to three contraction of density range while maintaining good print high value separation.

    All of the above amount to adjustments in exposure and maintaining a definite and consistant development procedure. The Zone system as proposed by AA and others requires altering development times. It is possible to accomplish the same or better results without going down that road.

    Aren't you happy that you now have to spend no additional money to produce prints of incredible luminoscity and brilliance.
     
  8. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    What Don said. I did quite well for many years with only an incident meter. It's only within the last 3 years that I have been playing with a spot meter and I must say for 85% of what I do I don't need a spot meter.
     
  9. Louis Nargi

    Louis Nargi Member

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    There is a lot of ways to handle the zone systum. that 5 degree spot you spoke about will work fine. I think Baunbaum uses a 7degree for his work. I guess you could get other backs for your hassablad but you could still use the zone systum without them, by shooting similar lighting conditions on the same roll or you can cut the roll in half and develop six frames at a time.
     
  10. ThomHarrop

    ThomHarrop Member

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    The Zone System is based on using relected light readings to adjust exposure and development to the actual scene brightness range of your subject. If you don't use a spot meter you have to be close to everything you photograph because otherwise your will get bias in your readings. The short answer for me is, 'no.' If you can't get accurate readings, you can't get good Zone values and the whole system is no more precise than just using an incident meter and trying to guess what the Zones are.
     
  11. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    "Old age smartass attitude on."

    I used the Zone system as proposed by AA for over twenty years. I have to admit that I got some pretty decent prints using it. However, I have found that my exposures and the resulting prints are much better since I have gotten away from all of the spot metering, previsualization and accompanying mental gyrations, and gone to incident metering. Do I previsualize the zones any longer? Nope. Do I worry about whether I will have a perfect Zone II, III or IV for shadows? Nope. Do I have the tonal values that I want on my prints without all of the thinking? Yes, I sure do. Of course at my age, please understand, that I have a somewhat smaller supply of brain cells left then originally supplied and I damned sure don't want to wear them out by using them unduly.

    Incident metering (using BTZS principles) does in fact work better in my experience then the Zone System. While the Zone System, as promulgated, is based on reflective light readings, there are other ways to get better results then the Zone System (again in my experience).

    Now back to the original question that the originator posed...is it possible to practice the Zone System without a spot meter and additional backs? The Zone System as it is written?...NO (This will change my original response)

    Can equal or better results be obtained without the spot metering, additional backs, and mental gyrations? Yes

    "Old age smartass attitude off."
     
  12. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    As you've already figured out, Ara, trying to do full-blown Zone System work with roll film is tough. With the Hassy, you either need to spread your exposures between (appropriately-marked) magazines, or opt for an alternative approach that isn't quite the Zone System (but might be just as effective in producing good images). I would also point out that a total of 3 magazines only covers N, N-1 and N+1. If you encounter an N-2 situation, you're stuck. :wink:

    I would agree with the observations of others - if you're going to meter small areas of a scene, a spot meter is convenient, if not essential. At a distance, even a 1° spot can be wider than needed to isolate individual tonal areas.

    Personally, I use a combination of incident readings and spot readings with a Sekonic L-508. The incident reading tells me what the exposure would be to render everything at its "true tonality", and the spot readings tell me where individual areas would fall in relation to the film's ability to capture the luminence range of the scene. Once armed with that information, I can decide how I want to approach the exposure, and whether I want to try to compensate with a variation in the development. That decision is much easier with sheet film, of course.

    If faced with your situation, I'm not sure that trying to implement the Zone System is really practical. I think I'd suggest just continuing to use incident readings, and taking more pictures - perhaps bracketing a bit (+1 stop, -1 stop for B&W film) for important shots, but staying with "normal" development.
     
  13. Craig

    Craig Subscriber

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    And just to set the cat among the pigons, I've found the most times after going through the spot metering, previsualizion, and placing zones exercise, I end up with exactly (well +/- 1/2 stop)the same light reading when I use my nikon on matrix metering.

    Now I generally just use the Nikons reading, and only play around with the spot metering if I have more time.

    Craig
     
  14. Ara Ghajanian

    Ara Ghajanian Member

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    Ralph,
    I think I'll take your advice. I've been noticing that my exposures have been kinda off since I've been using my camera's metering the last few years. Before that I used to use an incident meter and my exposures were usually right on, plus I'd bracket +/-1 stop. I think the Zone system isn't for my style of shooting, but reading the AA books has helped me previsualize more before shooting. Thanks to everyone for their answers.
    Ara