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  1. #1
    DrPhil's Avatar
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    Zone vs. BTZS(SBR) Why?

    Since I am switching fro a Jobo to BTZS tubes I sat down and decided to reread my copy of Beyond The Zone System (BTZS) by Phil Davis. In the past, when I have read his book I have dismissed parts of it as overcomplicating the zone system. However, my primary dislike was Davis' preference for incident metering.

    First, I am a big fan of my Pentax digital spotmeter. I just can't seem to understand how an incident meter could work for every situation. For example, lets say that I was taking a picture at Yellostone's famous Artist Point overlook. Now the overlook is heavily shaded by trees. However, the waterfall in the distance is illuminated by the morning sun. Not being able to move from the overlook towards the point, how could you meter with the incident system to determine the contrast (SBR) of your scene?

    Second, one thing I do like about Davis' BTZS method is that he includes the printing paper's testing into the system. THis is not to say that Ansel didn't, as his book The Print includes a section on testing paper. However, Davis argues that one should start with testing the paper and work backwards to produce a negative to fit. Ansel seems a bit more general in producing a negative that targets grade 2 and is adaptable to a variety of papers. Thus, perhaps the question is how specific do we need to be for variable contrast papers? I can see that one might argue for tighter controls with AZO or alt processes; however, do we need to be this tight with variable contrast silver paper?

    The zone system is so elegant and simple. Why would I want to complicate it by carrying a PDA with exposure software? With the zone system I can meter the shadows and the highlights, calculate the exposure and development, adjust for filters and/or bellows, and take the picture. I can do all this in my head, what could be simpler?

    So, how many people here actually use Davis' system exactly as he designed it?

  2. #2

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    I started out with a BTZS pocket computer in the field but eventually got rid of it as I find myself not needing it anymore. I keep a notebook with all possible combinations of SBRs, f stop and speed. In addition, through trial and error, I have modified my exposure measurements to take into account my use of a spotmeter. The BTZS system is a great system and one should adhere to it when trying it out for the first time. Use if for a while and make adjustments accordingly. Keep notes, especially as you are going to use a spotmeter. The best thing about it: you really will focus on achieving the correct negative for the paper you will (most often) use.
    Francesco

  3. #3
    Jim Moore's Avatar
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    I have been thinking along these same lines lately.

    I have used the "Zone System" up to this point with good results. But now that I am wanting to do some landscape photography I find that my exposures are off (probably because I'm not metering the scene correctly).

    I'm sure that with some adjustments I could get them zeroed in, but I decided to order Davis' book and the ExpoDev software for the Palm.

    It looks like a good system and I'm going to give it a try.

    Jim

  4. #4
    Jim Moore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Francesco
    Keep notes, especially as you are going to use a spotmeter.
    I have to admit that I am NOT good at keeping notes. (Bad..Bad.. Jim )

    That is one of the features that I'm looking forward to in the ExpoDev software.

    Jim

  5. #5
    DrPhil's Avatar
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    I'm not so sure about BTZS yet. It seems like so much trouble for so few (any?) gains.

    Part of BTZS is not much different from the zone system in that we need to know two important pieces of information. First, how much exposure is necessary? Second, how much development?

    With the zone system this is quite simple. Meter the shadows and determine the proper zone. This will give you an exposure. Then, meter the highlights and determine the proper development. This is based on the range of luminosity in the scene. Furthermore, selecting proper development is based on prior testing of your darkroom materials. That is, we select a develoment (N, N-1, N+1) based on our previos testing of our oft used printing papers. With VC paper we can aim in the area of our most oft used papers and be able to print without any problems.

    With the BTZS system we again need the shadow and highlight meter readings. These are used to determine the proper contrast range (SBR). This is all done for us with the handy computer when we plug in the two meter readings. Then, the computer also helps us compensate for bellows and filters. Of course we need to do this with the zone system too. Finally, the computer suggests an exposure. Of course, everything that the computer does is based on our prior darkroom tests.

    I still don't understand the benifits of using the BTZS system over the zone system. Both will give me properly exposed negatives. THe zone system just lets me do it in my head vs. BTZS requiring formulae and computers.

  6. #6
    Jim Moore's Avatar
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    Both will give me properly exposed negatives. THe zone system just lets me do it in my head vs. BTZS requiring formulae and computers.
    I completely agree. But since I am going to start shooting 8x10 for contact printing on AZO and need to test all over again I decided to give it a try

    Jim

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrPhil
    I still don't understand the benifits of using the BTZS system over the zone system. Both will give me properly exposed negatives. THe zone system just lets me do it in my head vs. BTZS requiring formulae and computers.
    The BTZS is a closed loop system, you first test the paper to see the range of "tones" it can accommodate and then tailor the negative to that specific range. While the zone system is an useful tool and as you say it is very simple, it has the flaw of not taking into account the paper, so the target densities for a negative are those set by others, many a times the DR recommended by zone system users is too high and results in negatives less than optimum for printing.

    I know, I used the ZS for many years, while the BTZS book sat on my shelve.
    I can kick my self in the butt for not giving the BTZS a chance before, since I started using it my percentage of keepers has increased tremendously.

    A reformed ZS user....

  8. #8
    DrPhil's Avatar
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    I have always determined the density range of my paper (for each grade) by exposing a stouffer step wedge in my enlarger. Some papers, such as MGIV, have a much broader range than others, i.e. ilford MG warm tone. I used the MGIV at grade 2 to determine my optimum developing time. That is, I tested my paper first. Then, using the results from grade 2, I can determine the exposure range for that paper. Thus, I know what it will take to produce full white and full black. This exposure range is then determined by the density range of the negative. Thus, I aim to develop my negatives to produce this density range in my nagatives. This is described by Ansel on page 143 in The Print.

    Ignoring for the moment creative modifications, done by changing to a different grade, I would want to create a negative with a density range that will match my paper. Thus, I test my developing times to determine the necessary times to generate this density range.

    These times are then used when I determine the proper exposure and development for my negative.

    As far as I can tell both systems are closed loops. That is, both use the results from a previous final product (testing of papers) to determine exposure and development in the field. Thus, both will yield a negative that is matched for a particular paper.

    However, I will point out that Ansel does not seem to emphasize this in his writing. Instead, Ansel seems to emphasize that an artist can use the information from these test to adjust the exposure, development and/or printing to fit their vision. Davis seems to emphasize control throughout the process.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrPhil
    I have always determined the density range of my paper (for each grade) by exposing a stouffer step wedge in my enlarger. Some papers, such as MGIV, have a much broader range than others, i.e. ilford MG warm tone. I used the MGIV at grade 2 to determine my optimum developing time. That is, I tested my paper first. Then, using the results from grade 2, I can determine the exposure range for that paper. Thus, I know what it will take to produce full white and full black. This exposure range is then determined by the density range of the negative. Thus, I aim to develop my negatives to produce this density range in my nagatives. This is described by Ansel on page 143 in The Print.

    Ignoring for the moment creative modifications, done by changing to a different grade, I would want to create a negative with a density range that will match my paper. Thus, I test my developing times to determine the necessary times to generate this density range.

    These times are then used when I determine the proper exposure and development for my negative.

    As far as I can tell both systems are closed loops. That is, both use the results from a previous final product (testing of papers) to determine exposure and development in the field. Thus, both will yield a negative that is matched for a particular paper.

    However, I will point out that Ansel does not seem to emphasize this in his writing. Instead, Ansel seems to emphasize that an artist can use the information from these test to adjust the exposure, development and/or printing to fit their vision. Davis seems to emphasize control throughout the process.
    You made an intituitive leap in the ZS and recognized the need to adjust neg range to paper. Most books in the ZS, if not all, give you a set range for which to develop your zones and leave it at that. Then of course comes the "the print" book where they have to teach you all kinds of darkroom tricks, I have them all....

    Seems you have a system that works for you, why worry what system is best? Having used the ZS for many years, I find the BTZS gives me far better results, but then in pt/pd it is hard to burn/dodge and use all the tricks one normally uses in the darkroom. IMO for pt/pd all of the work is done in the negative at the time you take the picture, of you mess that up, printing controls are very limited, so I want the most precise method of producing a negative.

    If you are satisfied with your negatives and prints, who cares what you use?

  10. #10
    DrPhil's Avatar
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    Jorge,

    I can understand the rationale behind using the BTZS system for platinum. I agree that it gives you the control that you would want for alt. processes. Well, untill someone comes up wih VC platinum :-) Anyways, I think JDEF best stated what I was trying to say. I am quite happy with my method of working. Honestly, I was just trying to figure out everyone's excitement lately with BTZS. In my mind it is more than is needed with vc papers.

    Thanks for putting up with me!

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