Originally Posted by Stephen Benskin
Great discussion all; this is really making me re-evaluate and solidify my (often somewhat dusty) concepts.
I agree wholeheartedly that there is a false sense of precision among Zone System users. This was part of the point of my previous post. I think the amount of precision necessary to get the job done (that of making expressive prints), however, is much less than most practitioners of the ZS (not to mention the BTZS devotees...) believe is necessary.
I think you allude to this throughout all your posts, using terms such as "vague," "no meaningful connection with the print," "no specific density for Zone III" and so on. I agree with you on this point as well. I think that having a specific negative density that relates to a particular print Zone is unnecessary and, often, undesirable. (and is, likely, ephemeral). An example: I shoot Kodak 320 Tri-X quite a bit. I often rate the Tri-X differently depending on the amount of shadow separation I'm after. This is because the film has a very long, sloping toe, which tends to compress shadow values and when exposing at "maximum" speed (by which I mean the minimum exposure to reach a Zone I density that is a barely discernible step above FB+Fog when proper proofed). However, Tri-X will hold detail well into Zone X and above. So, if I want maximum separation in the mid-tones and highlights, I'll expose at that "maximum" E.I. However, if I want a lot of separation in the shadows, and feel that some highlight compression is a fair price to pay for that, I'll "overexpose" by up two two stops. This gets "Zone III" up into the straight line portion of the film and gives me a lot more "room" between my shadow values. My "Zone III density," therefore, can fall anywhere in a two-stop exposure range. One could say that I'm placing important shadows in Zone V and then printing down... which is, in essence exactly the same thing except that my visualization is based on a print value that corresponds to my "imagination" or "feeling" of what a Zone III print density is: a dark but detailed shadow value. The description is admittedly vague, but the vision in my mind's eye is much less so.
Moving the exposure around on the film curve for expressive purposes is just one reason why there is no "specific density" for a given Zone. Others include variations in paper curves; there is no "standard" grade 2 paper curve, and the tendency of some of us to tailor negatives for paper grades other than grade 2. E.g., I like to print some subjects on grade 3 (or higher) paper, and indicate N-1 (or N-1/2) development for negatives of such subjects. I'm thinking all the time of print densities and local contrast, but, again, there is no specific density in the negative that corresponds to, say, Zone VIII. They are obviously different in a negative intended to be printed on grade 2 paper in one tailored for grade 3. My point is simply that having the flexibility to use different densities to achieve a desired print density is an advantage if one knows their materials and has a clear idea of the desired results. Other considerations such as shadow separation and local contrast (among others) are determining factors in the choice.
The fact that I can print any negative density to a Zone III print value (or whatever value) is, for me, liberating. I don't have to "expose by the book."
Originally Posted by CPorter
We are saying much the same thing here, just using different reference points. One important concern of crafting a good negative is adequate exposure. I, therefore, make sure I have a Zone I density (which I use as a starting E.I.) that gives me a "hint" of separation between the Film Base + Fog density when proper-proofed, i.e., printing an unexposed area of the negative at "maximum black" (actually, maximum black is also a rather flexible concept... I "choose" a black value for FB+F that is "black enough" for me. I will also adjust E.I. to give me a useable Zone III, even if it moves Zone I a little bit from my original placement). The "proper-proof" exposure and my chosen E.I. for a given development are my reference points for making Zone Rulers, or grey scales in your terminology. For "Normal" development, I target Zone VIII to give me some highlight detail and Zone IX as close to paper base white as I can get while not losing detail in Zone VIII. Again, all this is unquantified, subjective and personal, but not imprecise.
With this method, Zone V most often falls somewhat else than 18% grey; and it can be lower for N and higher for N+1... Furthermore, the difference in perceived density change in the lower zones, say between Zones II and III, is much less than the perceived difference in density between, say Zones VI and VII. This is what I mean by the scale being uneven.
The only problem I see with matching a Zone V film exposure to an 18% grey print value is the possible loss of shadow detail, i.e., effective film speed. If printing the Zone V density to 18% grey dumps Zone III to a place that has little or no detail, then it can no longer be used as a reference point for exposure. If you are exposing to Zone V (incident or averaging metering) and you know what you will get in the shadows, then fine, but the Zone System was really designed to ensure adequate shadow exposure and detail; this, I believe, should be the exposure reference point we use most, not Zone V.
Last edited by Doremus Scudder; 04-28-2013 at 06:31 AM. Click to view previous post history.