The Zone System is Dead

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by ypkennedy, Feb 28, 2018.

  1. ypkennedy

    ypkennedy Member

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    Hi, I have posted a YouTube video brazenly entitled "The Zone System is Dead." It shows a method I have worked out for controlling contrast in the development of black and white film. The video is intended for photographers who process their own films. I submit that the method described is simpler and more straightforward than the Zone System. The method does require darkroom testing. I use my enlarger and a Stouffer step wedge. The method tells you how to produce (for your film and developer) your lowest and highest contrast levels, and then how to produce equally spaced contrast levels in between. Finally, it shows how to assign ASA numbers to the contrast levels identified.
     
  2. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    It's not dead as long as there are practioners. And there are plenty of them.
     
  3. Fritzthecat

    Fritzthecat Member

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    Sounds vaguely like testing to establish personal ISO for......the zone system.
     
  4. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Ansel Adams' Zone System was only one example of applied sensitometery. There are unlimited variations. In fact it is impossible to expose film without obeying the rules of sensitometery, just like it is impossible to obey the rules of gravity on earth.
     
  5. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    A bit like re inventing the wheel.
     
  6. Nihil Abstat

    Nihil Abstat Inactive

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    Well it may not be quite dead yet, but it was coughing up blood last night....
     
  7. Andrew O'Neill

    Andrew O'Neill Subscriber

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    I'm looking for a link...where did you post it??
     
  8. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I like the Zone System as a common denominator jargon between large format photographers. But I'm hardly married to it. It's a useful teaching tool.
     
  9. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi anderw
    i went to youtube and seached "zone system is dead" and found this

    hope it is the video or the OP stole someone elses' wind :smile:
    ==
    RE the zone system
    not sure if it is alive or dead but it can be useful
    with or without film tests ...
    typically film tests say 1/2 box speed is the iso ... and tne rest is playing the slide flute ...
    i tried to watch the vieo but after 3 seconds it stopped and wouldn't let me watch anymore :sad:
    good luck with your video !
     
  10. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Your system is quite clever and workable. Using a step wedge is a strength. Marking off stops of contrast with N+ and N- nomenclature is clever and direct.

    All the best luck gaining followers
     
  11. RattyMouse

    RattyMouse Member

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    It's just pining for the fjords.
     
  12. David Allen

    David Allen Member

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    If your system works for you then great. However, the system that you outlined seems to me very complicated and far more work than the standard Zone System methodologies with quite a lot of 'guestimates' and no explanation of how you use your system out in the field. I personally prefer a system of testing that relies on 'real world' tests using actual subject matter rather than step wedges.

    Bests,

    David.
    www.dsallen.de
     
  13. Doremus Scudder

    Doremus Scudder Member

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    Since I watched the whole video, I guess I should comment...

    I find basic testing like this to be a good thing, but not at all a replacement of the Zone System. Furthermore, there are some basic problems in the testing that make it not directly applicable to exposing and developing film and making enlargements. I'll start with this latter.

    The problem with contact printing step wedges is that it completely ignores the flare that is always present in-camera and when enlarging. In-camera flare affects the shadow detail and effective film speed and changes the distribution curve around in the low-density values (shadows here). Flare during enlarging does the same for the print, except that the low-density values are the highlights. Just about everyone knows that a contact print and an enlargement of the same negative will exhibit different contrast. A better way of representing this would be to enlarge the step wedge; that would at least take flare at the enlargement stage into account (although still ignoring camera flare). Certainly, this method will get you a nice starting point for getting into the field, exactly the same as basic film speed and development testing for the Zone System does. Still, I, like David, prefer real-world tests and refinements.

    Now to why this isn't a replacement for the Zone System. The Zone System presupposes all of what is contained in the video: i.e., establishing film speed and development schemes. If one somehow takes into account the flare problems, the method in the video is likely as good as any other for doing this. The Zone System, however, is not really an exposure-and-development system, it is a visualization system. Coupled with spot metering and careful evaluation of the luminances in a scene, a Zone System practitioner can visualize the various possibilities the scene presents for rendering in a print and choose the one that represents his/her desired portrayal and artistic vision. This can be a significant departure from reality and what is commonly accepted to be "normal" rendering of a scene. Or, one can decide that no viable rendering is possible and decide not to make an exposure. The problem with simple exposure/development systems, including this one, is that this aspect of the Zone System, its "heart," if you will, is simply ignored.

    I used to make and carry around Zone Rulers for each film and development scheme I commonly used. Now they are in my head. I know when I meter (to a pretty great extent) what a "normal" print will look like and what the prints will look like with different development schemes so I can choose one that suits me. I can also use that knowledge to add filtration, plan dodging, burning and bleaching, intentionally underdevelop so I can print on a higher paper grade, decide if I want to use SLIMT techniques on the negative or pre-flashing when printing, etc., etc., which will also determine development scheme. All this before I release the shutter.

    Sure, there are times when I just meter high and low, indicate a development that will retain all that and say, "all the information will be on the negative; I'll deal with it in the darkroom." However, this isn't visualizing, or really using the Zone System's main advantage. It's the times when I say, "I'm giving N+2 even though that'll blow out the sky and I'll have to flash the paper and burn with a low-contrast setting to get any detail there, but I really want separation in the mid-tones, so I'll deal with it when enlarging" or, "I'm giving this low-contrast scene more exposure and developing N-1 so I can print it at grade 4 and really separate those shadows (which are now up on the straight-line portion of the film's curve)," etc., when I'm really using the Zone System. In other words, it's when I'm using the information that I got from metering the scene, coupled with my knowledge of possibilities, to make a negative that many would not consider "correctly" exposed in order to better realize a visualized rendering, that I'm really visualizing and using the Zone System fully.

    The Zone System is alive and well for me!

    Best,

    Doremus
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2018
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  15. David Allen

    David Allen Member

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    Very well expressed Doremus.

    I think you have really hit the nail on the head and that is the fact that the Zone System is a method for developing a personal visualisation of how you want the final print to look like. I feel that many make the mistake of interpreting the Zone System (and all the associated tests, note making, graphs, etc) as a way of capturing all of the tones in a particular scene (either by expanding development for a low contrast scene or contracting development for a high contrast scene) to deliver a set tonal range that one can print on a fixed grade of paper.

    Of all of Ansel Adams' writing (both technically accurate or not!), it is this concept of visualising the scene so that you can render it to appear how you wish in the final print that I find his most powerful contribution to how one should think about the photographic process.

    Bests,

    David.
    www.dsallen.de
     
  16. faberryman

    faberryman Subscriber

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    Rumors of the Zone System's death have been greatly exaggerated.
     
  17. mard0

    mard0 Member

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    The zone system is dead, long live the zone system
     
  18. zanxion72

    zanxion72 Member

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    Interesting, but I cannot understand how this makes the zone system obsolete. I use it to define how and how much of it I would like to be recorded on film and it goes along with the film and paper developers and the development times I will use later in the darkroom. I think that the zone system has been misunderstood by many (or, it is just me not fully understanding this).
     
  19. RattyMouse

    RattyMouse Member

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    Keep calm and continue using the Zone System.
     
  20. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Saw nothing in the Hatch, Match, and Dispatch page of the paper.
     
  21. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Subscriber

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    I agree with the others that what made the zone systme most useful was connecting the photographers vision of what he/she wants when the negative is printed. In terms of how to determine personal EI or ISO for any given film and developer combo that goes beyond AA system, John Schaefer's The Ansel Adams Guide Book 2 has a chapter on testing film with step wedges using a view camera, not just sheet film, roll film as well. Then there is always Phil Davis's Beyond the Zone System. For a very easy method Kodak printed a method for a ring around test, found most later editions of the later editions of the Kodak Processional Black and White Films, no need for step wedge or densitometry.
     
  22. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I had an epiphany when I first learned and use the Zone System. Our eyes have a greater dynamic range than our eyes. Know where to place the shadows and where to aim for your highlights when you develop makes us more aware of the limitations of our film. As most artists know, limitations are the catalyst for creativity. I see Zone System and testing as learning to play scales on a piano before playing music. I use the Zone System, but I'm not a slave to it.
     
  23. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    The Zone System is far easier, doesn't need a step wedge or densitometer (unless you want to), and the idea of using developer dilution to change contrast is nothing new taht's how I did my M-2/N+2 processing with Rodinal for close to 20 years 1 to 25 to boost contrast, 1 to 50 to reduce contrast and 3 to 100 for Normal and N-1 or N+1.

    Ian
     
  24. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Back in the days of graded paper, the Zone System made a lot of sense. How do you feel about adjusting the contrast on the negative through film development in an age of MG paper?
     
  25. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Back in the 1970's the engineers where I was working set up a week that they were going to Yosemite to work with Ansel Adams to learn the Zone System and how to make prints. I had just bought a new 35mm camera and several lenses and I was shooting slides. I said that the Zone System was useless because one could not use it for roll film and that it was only good for sheet film, which allowed each sheet to be developed separately. Besides only sane people shoot slides and nobody makes print. Heck the photo labs can make all the prints you want from slides.

    So even though I was invited, I was smart enough not to go. As a result, I did not get to meet or work with Ansel Adams and the Zone System was declared dead. So there! I showed them that I knew better! I was so damned smart back then.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2018
  26. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Subscriber

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    While in college in the 60s I was accepted into one of Minor White summer workshops, I did learn a lot, but as I minoring in PJ and my only 4X5 was a Speed G, was a fish out of water. Still the foundations proved useful and even today when I'm in Zonal frame of mind will pull out my spot meter and head to hills with a view camera.
     
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