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  1. #1

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    Just to get things rolling! I read in a UK camera magazine that a well known photographer/writer dismissed those who still use the Zone System as a means of producing work. I wondered how many of us still use the Zone system (or variants thereof) and especially how valid is the testing procedures employed by Adams? Regards Paul

  2. #2

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    For me, the Zone System was a valuable tool to learn. But like most things, I learned it, then after time, I've forgotten it.

    The Zone System allowed me to establish certain perameters in my own way of working, from visualization to print. Now that I have my own technique, I probably break more ZS rules than I adhere to. But again, it gave me a basis from which to work and enabled my to create and refine my own way of working.

    After all, we all are different and have our own way of working.
    - William Levitt

  3. #3

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    William, I think that's probably true of most! I learned the system but have "adapted" it to suit me. But there are probably some who still stick by the methods laid down by St Ansel.

  4. #4

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    Same here. I don't follow and use it completely, but I take parts that are the most useful to my photography and use them on a constant basis.

  5. #5

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    I have to agree. ZS is great theory. For me it is just a good way to learn about how to take a correct exposure. I don't do my own printing (no darkroom and no possibility of a darkroom in the near future), so the zone system is a moot point in practice for me.

    Oddly enough though I always seem to hear people talking about it at my local lab. These guys come in, blab about the zone system, and then simply turn over the film for standard processing.



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  6. #6

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    Paul, the Zone system method helped me to realize what my exposure meter was telling me. I used to do a lot of exposure and development testing. But now, I merely read the darkest shadow area where I want some detail (using a spot meter), and stop down two stops from that reading. That's my base exposure. I then read the highlight areas, and calculate the number of stops between the brightest and darkest areas in the scene. Five stop spread - normal development. Under five stop spread- increase development. Over five stop spread-decrease development. I suppose that I am using a form of Zone system reasoning. When thin- grained conventional and tabular grain films, along with improved fiber based VC papers, were introduced, the need for exact zone system testing seemed to become less important to me. These newer materials appeared after Ansel's demise. He didn't approve of the VC papers that were available in his day. I wonder if he would approve of today's materials? They sure make it easier to expose and print for me.

  7. #7

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    Eugene - you've just described the methods I use! I always felt slightly heretical in not following the system as per Adams! But I agree that with modern films/papers/chemistry I let the scientists at (say) Ilford do all the testing for me and simply tweak these values/ratings! But I do feel that any "pro" black and white photographer/writer to simply dismiss the Zone System is missing something - almost trying to "shock" readers or worse - imagining that he is a better photographer/artist than the likes of Adams. FWIW, IMHO he (not Adams) is fairly mediocre!

  8. #8

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    I do even less than already mentioned (I don't change development unless the subject really warranted it and I used a whole roll of film in those lighting circumstances , I do tend to meter a shadow with detail and stop down 2 stops also) but I think anyone would benefit from getting their basic exposure and film development right.

  9. #9
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    Modern materials have a lot of latitude, but one can still benefit from knowing how to read a characteristic curve, to understand the importance of density range, to find a personal film speed, and to match contrast through development to the scene and to the paper. Studying and attempting to apply the Zone system is a great way to do this, and with a densitometer and a few recommendations, you can learn a lot from a book.

    There are other ways to produce good negatives, like development by inspection, but to apply those methods, you need to know what a good negative looks like. I like VC papers for some negatives, but I also like the option of using graded papers when I can, just because I like the way that some of them look. If you want to use classic materials like Azo, which is only available now in grades 2 and 3, you need the full range of tools for controlling contrast, and the Zone system is a good start (though Weston used D.B.I. with negs for chloride papers, as does Azo afficionado, Michael A. Smith--they learned by experience how to recognize a good negative).

    Even Ansel Adams used techniques like selenium intensification and local bleaching to produce expressive prints when Zone system calculations weren't enough or weren't possible (as famously was the case in "Moonrise, Hernandez, N.M.&quot. The Zone system is just another tool in the bag.
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  10. #10

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    First off, let me state that I use parts of the classic Zone System as appropriate.

    The person who dismisses usage of the Zone System is perhaps simply rejecting it for himself; this is obviously a valid choice since innumerable photographers have managed quite well without it or without consciously using much of it. If the writer dismisses everyone's use of the Zone System as a means of productivity I'm not sure what to make of it other than the pejorative (is that right?) terms that come to mind.

    I've forgotten what St. Ansel's testing procedures were. I test for EI at .10 DU above fb&f and a DR of 1.25 (more or less) for N. N- and N+ development times are determined similarly. I tend to place important shadow areas on Zone IV rather than Zone III because to me that's usually where they are visually even if by the meter they should be reproduced darker.

    These days I take advantage of the flexibility of VC paper and don't do a whole lot of non-N development or, for example, if N-2 is called for I'll just develop for N-1 and print with lower-contrast filtration. That compromise seems to get a lot more work done than back in the old days of graded paper and trying to shoehorn a neg into one grade or another.

    I've digressed a bit. In any event, I think it's far better to learn _how things work_ and make a conscious decision whether or not to use a certain method or system than to make a conscious decision to not learn based on a magazine writer's opinion.

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