Anyone Here Seriously Use the Zone System?

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by danac, Dec 31, 2020.

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  1. Oh sure. All of his most famous landscapes were shot on a Leica.

    There are pictures that stir the emotions despite, or because of, their technical imperfections, and those whose impact depends on their technical and tonal superiority.

    Most Zone system followers choose to chase the latter. But chasing it with a 35mm camera seems just a bit pointless.
  2. Typical Rodeo deflection. Straw Man. Mr. DeB didn’t claim this. What he said, which is correct, is that Adams did use a 35mm camera, proving your incorrect statement about Adams and 35mm wrong. Instead of simply admitting you made a mistake, this is what you do, because you can’t do otherwise.
    denny_rane likes this.
  3. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    Moderator note: Let us be careful of any personal attacks.
  4. I’m always careful w my personal attacks. :)

    Seriously, though, got it!
    Vincent Peri likes this.
  5. There's one step missing from that "the negative is the score, the print the performance" analogy: the punch line of the old joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
  6. I think the system is quite useful to have the highest control specially while shooting LF film, but quite uncomfortable if you don't shoot a lot or if you just want to have some control and fun when shooting different formats and materials. The process of testing is quite long and boring and very likely with operator mistakes. You need a lot of materials and a densitometer. So I never advice to follow this method at first.
    Just learn how exposure works, and how development affect the density of exposed areas. Start using standard ISO and developing times, and adjust them to your needs on the run. Adams books help a lot to understand this topics. You don't need to go to the extreme. Just build your own procedures for some basic scenarios as you may need it, e.g. like shooting high contrast under direct sunlit scenes (overexpose and underdevelop), for indoor portraiture in a given studio (depending on the light you use). You'll notice if you need more or less contrast, or if the film is under or over exposed. Important to take notes of everything...
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2021
    robert_bowring likes this.
  7. I had the zone system dial for my old Weston Ranger 9 meter, with ten grey patches on the dial. I notice that my Gossen has ten Roman numerals. It's certainly not a complete zone system, but can be a handy reference to connect brain with numbers.
    robert_bowring likes this.
  8. After much intense study and all of your help - I get it. But there is no 4x5 view camera, sheet film, hand-held meter or bigger enlarger in my future so I'll just carry on as before and hope for the best.
    jose_angel likes this.
  9. Yes he did! One of his famous photograph of Georgia O'keefe and Orville Cox was taken with a 35mm Contax.
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  10. I am not sure but I don't think he ever used a Leica.
  11. In actual fact, the camera Ansel Adams used was a Contax, which he liked very much, particularly for portraits (as anyone would whose images were often done on huge glass plates).

    In his "examples" he has small format images

    Ansel Adams
    1984 Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs.
    ISBN 0-8212-1551-5
  12. In fact, the very second image in the book, Examples, is taken with a Contax:

    Examples p7
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  13. For me the value of the Zone System is not in using it as wrote/ unless doing large format film, but that it gave me a deeper understanding of exposure, exposure constraints, and exposure manipulation.

    Even shooting digital or roll film where per shot development is not possible, knowing the Zone System helped understand when and where a particular exposure may require adjustment to yield the intended result.

    In short, if you think about an image in zones, you can more easily the dynamic range of the subject against the constraints of the camera and/or media.

    Just my 2 cents. I could be wrong.
    robert_bowring likes this.
  14. Common Joe ! Be kind to the ZS Master ! Like you and I, in his mid 60's he recognized the weight of the 8x10's on his (our ?) body.. I see tons of his MF work and a classic picture (by Weston ?) is of him with a "new" Contax camera. . .somewhere in the mid 1930's. I use a "modified" ZS with all my cameras. For some people it works. . . others scream. Aloha, Bill
  15. The Zone System really isn't difficult to understand and is entirely applicable to roll films and 35mm. Although those films don't allow variable development for individual frames, the exposure principles are exactly the same. Variable development isn't central to the concept.

    I agree with an earlier comment that Fred Picker's out-of-print "Zone VI Workshop" book is the best primer. It was a required textbook in a college photography course I took many years ago.

    Before I took that course and learned the Zone System, my winter snow pictures were always underexposed and hard to print. I didn't understand that my light meter was reading the white snow as middle gray. When I read Fred Picker's examples and placed the snow on Zone VII or Zone VIII (two or three stops more than the meter reading), my pictures were properly exposed and easy to print.

    Also, his book explained how to calibrate my film exposure and developing to my camera and meter. Most b&w films processed in most developers can't be properly exposed at box speed. Much later I wrote a series of articles in Shutterbug magazine about this:

    Personalizing Your Film Speed, Part 1
    Personalizing Your Film Speed, Part 2
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  16. Tom, I don't have a dark room and develop at an outside lab. I shoot 4x5 and MF in both BW (Tmax 100 and 400) and chromes (Velvia 50 and Provia 100). I don't use the zone system. I use either a 10 degree reflective, incident meter or lately, I've been trying to adapt my digital camera using its histogram and meter readings.

    I looked at your articles. They're very educational but don't; seem to really apply to my methods Any recommendations about setting film speeds or other recommendations you can make the way I check exposures?
  17. If you don't develop your own film, you can't fully calibrate the film speed to your camera and meter, unless your lab does custom development. But maybe it doesn't matter if you're not making darkroom prints. My experience is that negatives intended for scanning and computer printing should be a little thinner than negatives intended for darkroom printing.

    Also, I'd rely more on the incident meter than the reflective meter, assuming it's accurate. A 10-degree spot meter will give very different readings depending on what it's pointed at. Incident meters don't care what the subject looks like because they measure the light falling on the subject, not the light reflected from the subject. If you're shooting 4x5, it's a slow process anyway.
  18. Tom!
    You 2 posts seem to contradict each other. The earlier post you talked about the Zone system and your last post talking about incident meter. How do you use the Zone system with the incident meter?
  19. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I found this online:

    "Incident meters measure the light falling onto a subject. They are the meters with the white globe that portrait photographers shove under a subject’s chin. They are incredibly useful and accurate meters when your subject is in close proximity to you and in the same light. Because they measure the light falling onto a subject instead of light reflected off of it, the different tones or light values of the subject will register on their proper zone automatically. There are certain methods that are variations of the Zone System that use incident meters, but for the most part the Zone System relies on reflective metering."

    from this article:

    Mastering the Zone System - Part 1: Zone System Metering
  20. Vincent has it right. An incident meter doesn't care about the subject's tonality, so it should always indicate the correct exposure, whether the subject is light, dark, or in between. Of course, this assumes your film speed and development are calibrated to your camera and meter, which is a prerequisite of the Zone System. Years ago, when I was using Kodak Microdol-X fine-grain developer (no longer available), I learned by experimentation that Tri-X should be exposed at ISO 125 or 160 in my camera instead of box-speed ISO 400. Without that calibration, all my photos would have been 1.5 stops underexposed, no matter how I metered.

    That said, the Zone System does indeed emphasize reflective meter readings of specific subject tones so you can place them on your Zone of choice. For example, when taking a spot reading of sunlit snow, maybe you'll want to place it on Zone VII instead of Zone VIII to record more detail if you care less about losing some detail to underexposure in the lower Zones. A popular misconception of the Zone System is that it's a rigid method of exposure and development. It's actually a flexible method. You can place any subject tone on any Zone for creative reasons.
    AJG likes this.
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