Zone System Question

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by WGibsonPhotography, Mar 10, 2009.

  1. WGibsonPhotography

    WGibsonPhotography Member

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    I've been reading up on the zone system a bit for the last few weeks, and I believe I know enough about it to go out and put it in to use. I just have one question, though, and it's probably a dumb one (not that y'all expect anything different from me :smile: )

    The book I've been reading is The Practical Zone System by Chris Johnson. According to him (and I'm assuming he knows from experience), after you've found your EI and normal development time, you multiply the development time by 0.7 for N-1 and multiply the development time by 1.4 for N+1. I'm going to be looking for a scene of 'normal' contrast, but my luck probably wont be so good. If I end up with a scene requiring N-1 development, can I find the proper development for that scene and calculate the development for a scene of 'normal' contrast, or would I be better off waiting until I did find a scene of normal contrast?


    Chris Johnson goes in to detail about shooting four rolls of film (and four sets of sheet film) and braketing your exposure and what you want to be zone III and VII. Then he says develop one roll at the recomended time and agitation. Print the braketed exposures and pick the one with the best shadow detail. After finding the roll with the shadow detail, determine if your zone VII is properly developed. If not, figure out the new development time and develop the second roll and print the negative with the same frame number as the forst roll. If that doesnt work, readjust your time and develop the third roll. Hopefully by the time you get to the fourth roll, you'll have your normal development time.

    It's kinda time consuming, but seems like it works :smile:
     
  2. david b

    david b Member

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    Did you look in the back of the book? Did they list your film and developer?

    If not, what are you using
     
  3. OP
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    WGibsonPhotography

    WGibsonPhotography Member

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    The book does show a few films and developers, but my combination isnt in there. I'm using Delta 100 and Rodinal 1+50
     
  4. david b

    david b Member

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    When using Rodinal, I typically overexpose the film by 1/3 of a stop and then develop normally.
    Keep in mind that Delta films are very finicky when it comes to exposure and development and aren't very forgiving.

    Have a look at this
     
  5. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    I haven't seen much data on Delta 100, but most Delta and T-Grain films change contrast much more rapidly than traditional films. Where Johnson recommends 30-40% changes in development times, I'd suggest going with something on the order of 15-20% development time changes for a +/- one Zone adjustment using Delta or T-grain films. You're likely to significantly overshoot the mark with 30-40% changes.

    Lee
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 10, 2009
  6. OP
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    WGibsonPhotography

    WGibsonPhotography Member

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    First off, I want to thank those who responded :smile:

    Second, I'm a dummy. I was using my Soligor spot meter to get my readings. I found my Zone III reading and dialed it in on the dials. Then I was supposed to underexpose by two stops. By this time in my workflow, a person stopped to talk to me, asking about my camera and what i'm taking pictures of. During the conversation, I turned the dial the wrong way and overexposed two stops, placing my shadows in zone VII :/

    I considered getting more delta 100, but i figured since I had some HP5+, I'd go ahead and try that. I've seen some prints of 35mm HP5+ and liked them, so I figured i'd give it a shot. I just got finished developing a roll, and I'll print it Tuesday :smile:

    Just from looking at the negatives, I think my EI is going to be about 200 or 300. I might be able to post some scans of prints Tueday or Wednesday :D
     
  7. Doremus Scudder

    Doremus Scudder Member

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    I shoot sheet film, and use (my version of) the Zone System. I spot meter to determine subject brightness range and place values creatively. Each sheet gets one of eight different developments depending on subject contrast and micro-contrast. I constantly refine the process and strive to get each negative to the perfect place so it prints easily on the desired paper grade.

    That said, if I were shooting roll film, especially 35mm and/or handheld and spontaneous styles, I would ditch all the development variations and just choose one, standard, time for almost all my negs. I would also probably use my in-camera meter and base exposures on an E.I. determined by testing with that meter. Sure, you can put your small camera on a tripod and carry around a spot meter and place all your values, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having a small, portable camera in the first place. If you are going to spend all that time, you might as well shoot larger film to start with. Plus, unless you have film backs or camera bodies dedicated to different developments, you usually have scenes of various different contrasts on one roll of film, and you need to pick one, best developing time.

    I've been giving this subject a lot of reconsideration lately and have arrived at the following method for metering and developing roll film in a modified exposure/development system that retains the heart of the Zone System but allows much more rapid shooting. In this system there is only one "Normal" development time; different contrast negatives are dealt with by changing paper grades.

    First, with small film, you should standardize your negative contrast to print well on a slightly higher contrast grade paper, say 2 1/2 or 3 (I'd use grade 3 as a standard for 35mm film, 2 1/2 for MF roll film). This allows the negatives to be developed to a smaller density range and decreases grain.

    Next, decide how you want to meter, either "placing the shadows" or using the "averaging method" along with an in-camera meter (center-weighted meters are remakably good for most subjects).

    If you choose to "place the shadows," then meter an important shadow and place it on the appropriate Zone, e.g., Zone III for blacks with detail or Zone IV for "luminous" fully detailed shadows. Do your E.I. and development tests to arrive at "Normal" development and then use that development time for everything. With this metering technique, you should overexpose scenes with low contrast, i.e., place the shadows higher by a Zone, making sure that the high values do not go past Zone VIII. You can meter the highlights to be sure, but with experience you can accurately identify a low-contrast situation and know when to overexpose without taking the time to meter the highlights to see where they fall. This overexposure gets the shadow values up higher on the film's characteristic curve and gives more separation than less exposure. For very contrasty scenes, just place the shadows as normal and shoot away. The negs will be contrasty, but most films retain adequate separation up to Zone XII and beyond. Just print with a lower contrast grade paper. (This may influence you film choice, since some "retro" or "traditional" films don't hold values in the densest areas as well, but 90% of them do.)

    If you decide to use the "averaging" metering method using an in-camera meter (my choice for working quickly, even leaving the camera on "auto" in some situations), you should determine E.I. and "Normal" development time with that method. With this metering technique, you need to recognize contrasty situations (as opposed to recognizing the low-contrast situations using the "place the shadows method") and then overexpose one stop for high-contrast situations and two stops for extremely high contrast situations (this seems counter-intuitive at first, but is quite logical and correct in this system). You overexpose high-contrast scenes because your meter will tend to expose for a middle value that results in dropping the shadow values. Overexposing compensates for this. You end up with the same contrasty negative that you would get "placing the shadows" and print it on low-contrast paper. Note that the averaging meter will automatically place shadows higher than normal in a low-contrast situation. This is exactly what you want to get the most separation in the low values (and why you overexpose low-contrast scenes with the "place the shadows" method). Of course, you need to intelligently use your averaging meter and apply appropriate compensation for high-key or low-key subjects (this in addition to the overexposure you will give for contrasty scenes).

    You can use both methods alternately if you test them both and note the difference in effective E.I. (there may be none, but usually there is a little difference). Just set your E.I. for the method you decide to use at the time: "place the shadows" when you have time and are working carefully, "averaging" when you need speed, or need to rely on the camera's auto-exposure features.

    You can even determine N+ and N- development times for those (rather rare) instances when the entire roll is exposed with scenes of the same contrast. These times would be determined with classic Zone System tests, but I would tend to rely on paper grade for expansions as much as possible with small film unless I really liked grain (which I don't). For really contrasty situations, compensating developing techniques (such as compensating or highly-dilute developer and/or stand or semi-stand techniques) would be my choice for small film.

    Of course, you may also want to shoot entire rolls in low light and use classic "push-processing" (which is simply underexposing and overdeveloping with the expected loss of shadow detail and increase in contrast) for that "look" as well. In this case, you would rate your film higher and increase development. This would have to be tested as well. However, for the occasional low-light shot mixed in with other exposures on one roll, just use the averaging technique above and print on higher-contrast paper.

    This might seem long, but once you have all the above tested and in-hand, so to speak, you have just about all the tools you need to expose and develop printable negatives and still be able to take advantage of the features of smaller cameras and roll film. And, you can shoot just about any contrast situation on the same roll and, in all but the most extreme situations, be assured of negatives that will print.

    The heart of this method (as with the Zone System) is determining your E.I. and developing time. I recommend using a "proper proof" in which blank, developed film is contact printed so that it is a shade of black almost as black as the maximum paper black. You can do a test strip to determine the "proper-proofing time" and then note it, enlarger head height, lens aperture, etc. for future proofing. Then, using the "proprer-proofing time to evaluate your test negatives, adjust exposure so your shadows look as you wish them to and adjust your developing time so that the highlights in a "Normal" scene have the detail you want. It boils down to knowing what to expect.

    Once you have your standards set, you can use the "proper proof" as atool to help you know what grade paper to use. Contrasty scenes will have adequate shadow detail, but the highlights will be overexposed. This means print on a lower-contrast grade paper. Low contrast scenes should have lighter shadows than "normal" and possibly muddy highlights as well. This means print on a higher-contrast grade paper.

    Best,

    Doremus Scudder
    www.DoremusScudder.com
     
  8. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member
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    I can't say it to often, that the most important thing is to use the right EI value!
    A shadow put at < III will not show up in your print. Not even when you overdevelop by doubling the time!

    Be aware that initially your pics will become worse and after strugling for the holy grale you eventually will get better pics than before if you continue the search....

    Willie Jan
    www.foto-art.nl
     
  9. OP
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    WGibsonPhotography

    WGibsonPhotography Member

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    Thanks for the responses :smile: I finally developed my first test roll, and I believe I've narrowed my EI down to 200. Of course, my developing is off. I used the recomended time of 11 minutes as stated by the Massive Development Chart at DigitalTruth as my starting point. 11 Minutes is a bit too long. The highlights are way overdeveloped.

    I'm thinking I should bump development time down by about 20 percent, which would be 8.8 minutes if my math is correct (which it probably isnt. someone else should check that for me). I guess I could just round that off to 9 minutes. I know that Chris Johnson said in the book I read to reduce developing time by like 30%, but that seems to be quite a difference, and I think I agree with the above poster that said that's probably a bit too extreme. I'm thinking bumping it down to 8:30 or 9:00 might be adequate.

    I wish I could post scans of the prints, but my flatbed scanner is crap, and it's hard to really determine anything useful from it other than it's overdeveloped. While I'm on the subject of paper, I'm loving this Slavich paper. I'm really liking the look and feel of fiber-based paper (Not that how it "feels" in my hands should be a determining factor in picking a paper).
     
  10. Brandon D.

    Brandon D. Member

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    I skimmed through The Practical Zone System at the book store, and I really enjoyed the bits and pieces I read. But I have a different question than the original poster's question. Most of the literature I read about the Zone System seems to be about finding a single, personal E.I. and its corresponding personal development times.

    Has anyone here spent much time using Zone System techniques (or similar techniques) to find personal development times for shooting film at ISO ratings above and below your personal E.I.? You know, personal development times for pushing and pulling film away from your personal E.I. I hope that made sense.

    Thanks!
     
  11. Marc Leest

    Marc Leest Member

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    Actually I think you are missing something. The basic idea of the zone system is storing as much as information as possible in the negative, under a given lighting situation.
    Pulling and pushing may be of interest of artistic (or salvation) considerations, but that is not what the ZS is meant to be - since pushing / pulling will not yield in a negative containing maximum information. .
     
  12. Tony Egan

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    I think the phrases "personal development time" or "personal EI" are potentially dangerous and misleading. It's nothing to do with the person but rather the purpose. It seems to be part of the voodoo that surrounds the zone system... I went to the top of the mountain and the great mystic revealed to me my personal EI!
    Thinking about the "purpose EI" or "purpose development time" I think is more helpful. It's about what you want to produce from a particular subject via a film and developer combination.
    I was feeling a bit depressed today so I lowered my personal EI to get extra dark shadows :smile:
     
  13. RalphLambrecht

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    WGibson

    The only advise I can give you: Don't try to short-cut the Zone System! All these percentages up and down get you closer, but never close enough. They do ensure trial and error for ever though. You are much better off, and a lot quicker, by exposing and developing 5 rolls of film ala Phil Davis' book 'Beyond the Zone System'. It will save you a lot of work and gets you right to the point.

    Forget 'massive' developing charts and fudge factors. Buy the book, do the five tests and get it over with. Its simple enough and you can concentrate on making pictures again. If you can't do the test yourself, you can even send them in to Dead Link Removed they'll do it for you.
     
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  15. Brandon D.

    Brandon D. Member

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    Don't get me wrong, I understand why the Zone System was created. But it's obviously unrealistic to think that we can always shoot for only one E.I. And I wanted to know if anyone does tests (any kind of tests) to determine developing times for pushing or pulling. Really, my question is: are there any type of specific tests that people use to determine pushing and pulling times?
     
  16. Brandon D.

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    Those phrases are not dangerous, misleading, or confusing to me. I understand those concepts.

    The word "personal" is used to distinguish the difference between "standard development times & EI," "objective development times & EI," "universal development times & EI," and etc. Obviously, anyone can use which ever terminology they like, but "personal" is used to denote that it's not "standard." The main reason why I asked on this thread was because it seemed more likely that someone who has done Zone System tests would be more familiar with push/pull testing than anyone else AFAIK.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 24, 2009
  17. Peter Black

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    Hopefully expanding the debate (rather than going off-topic), while the Zone System is generally said to be good for that camera/film/meter/dev combination, does that really only apply for an in-camera shutter? In other words, if each lens has its own shutter are we supposed to test for each lens individually? :confused: (I've a horrible feeling the answer may be "yes")
     
  18. Tony Egan

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    I'm with you Peter. Multiple split personalities for every shutter, film, developer (not to mention thermometers)!
    My intention was not to offend anyone and I understand and use the zone system but no end of books and tables to the nearest decimal point really makes that much difference. In my view "personal development time" or "personal EI" only makes sense for the one you picked for that negative and understanding the zone system is certainly worthwhile. I don't think those terms can be generalised beyond that one individual decision. Sorry, I can't add to the literature of push/pull tables. I don't have enough time to take photos as it is!
     
  19. Marc Leest

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    Strictly speaking yes. But we are not debating rocket science: you must do tests to have better pictures, not for the sake of testing. And it comes even worse, since there IS a parameter that changes the E.I. and that is: color temperature/type of light.
    So will give sunlight tungsten light, TL, etc. give different E.I. due to spectral differencies, with the same film/developer combo (and same lens :D )
     
  20. bill spears

    bill spears Member
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    I once followed Barry Thorntons method of zone system testing as he described in his 'Elements book'. While I'm in no way an expert in all this, it did come across as a very thorough method ?? He also talked of the fractional differences in thermometers, shutters, meters etc.
    Anyway - after spending way too much time photographing a grey card in north facing light, bracketing, pushing, pulling, swearing and cursing etc etc - I have to admit I pretty much gave up on the whole thing !!
    I also found that alot (but not all) of the work I looked at where the photographer had promoted zone system methods was technically excellent but not necessarily interesting. Also, bearing in mind the system was developed at a time when film and papers were not as flexible as they are now, I decided I would compensate for any slight errors in exposure/ development at the printing stage.
    I don't in anyway mean to 'poo poo' the system or to upset the purists as I really do admire anyone who understands and practices it and I'm still tempted to try and learn it again sometime.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 25, 2009
  21. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    The WHY The Zone System

    Perhaps this matter has been covered. Just in case
    it has not been I'll offer my understanding of the
    Zone System's reason for being.

    In times gone by there were only Graded Papers.
    The Zone system and it's methods of execution were
    devised so that a negative would print as well as it
    might ever print and do it on Grade 2 paper.

    So don't forget the paper. It may say Grade 2 on
    the box but same Grade papers, depending on
    source, can and do vary. Dan
     
  22. Tony Egan

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    OK, putting aside my distaste for the "personal..." expression, I should say that anything that encourages you to understand more about your art and craft is a good thing. In that sense, the Zone system is a good thing. To the OP, you are lucky to have youth on your side and hopefully many decades of great photography ahead of you. Don't assume if you never quite "get" the zone system in all it's various complexities you are somehow second rate. Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa for example were not responsible for the development and printing of their most famous work. Anseal Adams did, but the subjects he loved and photographed should not be dismissed as some inferior by-product of the zone system.

    If you find achieving technical excellence is something very important then Ralph's advice is right - no half measures. But you have to DO, not just read the latest incarnation of ZS theory. It seems to me you understand the basics. Just go and shoot a lot and print a lot. Most of my favourite photos have an element of luck or chance about them. Fortune; being in the right place at the right time etc. One of Ansel's most famous photos "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" was not a painstaking zone system photo. Certainly instructed by a deep knowledge of light and negatives when the shutter was pressed in a hurry, but also a lot of work in the printing.
    http://www.anseladams.com/content/ansel_info/ansel_ancedotes.html

    Good luck. If you get right into it I look forward to seeing your personal version of the zone system in future! But be careful, I have a densistometer and I know how to use it. :wink:
     
  23. eddym

    eddym Member

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    Yes. I have used Fred Picker's techniques to find development times for TriX and HP5+ films for EI 1600, with which I have shot dance and theater for 25 years.
     
  24. RalphLambrecht

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    Brandon

    Zone System folks don't push film. They are too concerned to lose shadow detail. In order to answer your question, how much shadow loss are you willing to except? The answer will define your EI for pushing film.
     
  25. mikebarger

    mikebarger Member

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    Brandon

    What are the obvious times you would chance your EI? I do change development time based on the range of zones; do I want to expand or contract the range.

    But, I guess I've never encountered a time when I thought I should change the EI based on the scene.

    Can you provide some detail on this?

    Thanks

    Mike
     
  26. RalphLambrecht

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    Just two comments Bill

    1. You can't compensate for film underexposure with printing.
    2. You can compensate for under- or overdevelopment but at the expense of having less contrast to play for print optimizations.
    3. There are good darkroom technicians who understand little about photography, and there are good photographers who understand little about the darkroom work. But be assured, the latter would make even better photographs if they'd let the former do their printing, or at least, spend the time to learn it themselves.

    Giving up, never is the answer.
     
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