zone system any other options??? : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread

I started photography as a hobby about a year ago, and read everything i can get my hands on. In many publications I see referance to the zone system, and i'm just curious ( I know i'll get stomped for this ha ha) is there any other system for selecting proper exposure?? Just trying to cover all the bases.

Thanks Jason

-- Jason Smith (, October 20, 1997


Options to Zone System

The Zone System is most useful fot sheet film because each negative can be developed to the brightness range desired. For 35mm, you must develop the entire roll. It is a bit of a hassle. Some roll film camers (ie Hasselblad) have interchangeable backs and you can have a back for Normal, +1, -1, etc. A pain. Generally for 35mm don't bother with Zone System. Manufacturers are optimisitc in their EI ratings, so a general rule is to divide the speed by 2. This ensures your shadow detail. Develop 35mm to a minus one; normal negs for a grade 3 paper. If you use VC paper, you'll get 75% of the benefits of actual Zone System use, but without having to change development times for different rolls. If you use PMK (pyro) developer, the negatives will be much easier to print because the highlights will not be blocked and even overexposed bright areas can be "printed through." See the posting on PMK in this forum. It's an amazingly good developer!

-- Michael D Fraser (, October 20, 1997.

zone system

The zone system still remains the most complete way of understanding how light, equipment,film and chemistry work together. Although the tests necessary to gain a knowledge of the system can be tedious and boring, it is time well spent. This can be very true if you are just starting and wish to increase you level of technical appreciation. I also should say that the tired method of rating 400ISO film at 200ISO in reality usually produces negatives that are flat in the shadow area (a result of excssive detail) and, at best, a flatten mid-range. This type of negative "has to" be printed on a paper of higher than normal contrast to produce a decent black in the shadow area. What happens is that the raise in contrast is necessary to subtract the additional information that was placed in the shadows by overexposing. Modern films latitude rarely require the over expose/underdevelop as common practice.

-- jim megargee (, October 21, 1997.

Take a look at "Beyond the Zone System" by Phil Davis. He uses an incident light meter to measure the amount of light falling on various parts of the subject. This really helps when you are having trouble deciding what tonal value an object should be.

-- Garry Teeple (, October 23, 1997.

The Zone system is "merely" a way of describing the inter-relationships between film speed, subject contrast, exposure, development, film contrast, and onwards to the print.

There is, IMHO, nothing magical about this system, nor is it the only way to describe what is going on. However, it is reasonably complete. Certainly there are many other methods for "selecting the proper exposure". Cameras with built-in meters use other methods, which can be thought of as cut-down versions of the Zone system.

What the Zone system can give you, even if you use 35mm, is (a) a rigorous way of establishing film speed and development, and (b) a way of thinking about subject luminances, negative density and print density. Armed with this, your pictures will be better, even if you do not laboriously measure shadows and highlights with a spotmeter.

-- Alan Gibson (, October 24, 1997.

I would suggest reading "the Art of Black and White Photograpy" by David Vestal. He has an excellent system for establishing a "norm" for b&w roolfilm. Alsoi his book the ART of black and white enlarging has an even better and simpler system that will enable you to get great results without becoming a sensitometrist> Good Lcuk And Happy Shooting.

-- Ron LaMarsh (, January 25, 1998.

I've just staretd using a spot meter for MF shooting. It is the best way to go once you understand that you have to get any area of your print you want to hold detail within plus or minus 2 stops of 18 % grey. The rest of the zone system is interesting, but in my experience, the manufacturers recommendations are good starting points. Again the key is to get everything that you want detail in to be plus or minus 2 stops or EV values arround 18% grey which is what all handheld meters are calibrated for. Buy some grey cards and get started.

I have a camera club buddy who was using an incident meter, but his negatives were inconsistent. We convinced him to get a spot meter to use with his old Rollieflex.

-- Gene Crumpler (, May 06, 1998.

I fully agree that using a spotmeter is the best way to go, but be aware that even these will "average out" the area seen by the meter. If this area contains texture, and you want details in the shadow of the texture, you have to make allowances.

With B&W, if you do your own processing, you should be able to get detail in far more than plus or minus 2 stops. The minus is about right, but you should be able to get detail in plus 4 stops or more. In the Zone system, this means you should get decent detail in zones III to IX or X.

-- Alan Gibson (, May 07, 1998.

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