ZONE SYSTEM : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hi EB,

Do I really need an spotmeter for zone system? What to do if i dont own one? Buy one? For 100 bucks. Are you kidding? I hope there is another way to get good result without spotmeter. Dont you think? Thanks for help.


-- Martin Kapostas (, January 15, 2001


Martin: Where did you find a spot meter for only $100? That aside, the spot meter is most helpful with the Zone System in that it lets you read the highlights and shadows and make the necessary corrections to get the kind of negative you want. A spot meter and the Zone System is not a magic formula for good negatives. The Zone System was developed as a teaching tool as a faster way to teach to control the negative. It can be helpful until you become familiar with judging a scene for light and shadow. I have one and seldom use it. I much prefer to use the incident type meter for normal work, adjusting the exposure in my mind for deeper shadow situations. There are some instances where the spot meter excels, but either type takes a little brain work on the part of the photographer. The spot meter and Zone System takes a lot of testing to be able to shoot with confidence. If all you are after is good negs either meter type will work.


-- Doug Paramore (, January 15, 2001.

AA in one of his early books or articles described a method of using a cardboard tube on a conventional meter (a Weston, I think) to narrow is angle of view.

But if you think $100 is too much, I am not sure what you'll find to put the home made tube on.

Good luck.

-- John Hennessy (, January 15, 2001.

When I was in college, I used a tube with a weston meter. I also taped a simple DCX lens on one end & sized the tube length to the simple lens focal length. I got a very narrow field of view. The two problems I had to overcome were to verify what I was aiming at and what the exposure compensation factor was. The tube was not permanently attached to the meter. I wound up taping it to the side of the camera. That way I could look through the tube (no meter) and aim it by moving the camera on the tripod (somewhat clumsy). Once I had my target, I stuck the meter in place of my eye & took the reading. Once you do this a number of times, you will be surprised at how quickly you can accurately judge a tonal value.

Several years later, I scored a used Gossen Luna-pro with the spot meter attachment for about 50 buck. That meter worked for 20 years. The spot angle is 7.5 degrees. That and the "judgement" I had developed got me through ok.

-- Ted Brownlee (OMFBH@AOL.COM), January 15, 2001.

You can do without a spot meter but one of the advantages of using LF equipment is knowing the contrast range of the scene and processing each sheet of film accordingly. Tayloring development for each sheet of film to bring the contrast range within the range of the paper you are going to use. How will you tell if the contrast range of the scene is 4 stops apart or 7? How will you be able to place the 4 stops you've got on a specific part of the curve to achieve the look you want on the print? You can shoot all over the place just like with 35mm but you've lost the crucial advantage that LF offers. $100 for a new soligor spot meter isn't that much. If it is then you may want to go back to shooting 35mm because much of LF is costly compared to 35mm. You can get acceptable prints from your negs without a spot meter but your success rate will be small compared to the rate with a spot meter. I've used a 35mm camera with a long lens as a spot meter in a pinch so it can be done, but my success rate was small. An incident meter isn't the answer either. You might as well use the sunny f16 rule. But then again it all depends on how good you are and how good you want yuour prints to be. James

-- lumberjack (, January 15, 2001.

The next best thing to a spot meter for zone system work is a long lens. That will allow you to narrow the angle of view. Then get up close to the subject, take a meter reading of the darkest area in which you want detail, take another of the brightest area in which you want detail, etc. Of course this will work only if you can get sufficiently close to the area you're metering that only that area is included in the metered area of the frame. This is by no means a substitute for a spot meter but it's the next best thing and will work in many situations. When you refer to $100 I'm unclear whether you're saying you can't afford $100 for a spot meter or indicating that you can afford that but you can't find a spot meter for $100. If you can't afford $100 then you'll most likely have to forget about using the zone system because other equipment costs at least that much (e.g. the long lens in my suggestion). That's o.k., the zone system isn't the only route to good negatives. If you're suggesting that you can afford $100 but that spot meters cost a lot more, you often can find used off brand spot meters for not too much more than that. Also, I think Adorama markets a spot meter under its own name for something like $150 (could be wrong on that, I haven't looked in a while).

-- Brian Ellis (, January 16, 2001.

Simply put, no.

Get Fred Picker's Zone VI Workshop book instead.

-- Charlie Strack (, January 23, 2001.

There is in fact a system for metering that was either developed or perfected by Minor White and outlined in his Zone System handbook. It describes a way of taking two meter readings to determine the contrast range of light striking the scene. By knowing this, one can then decide whether N, N+ or N- development is indicated. I used the system before I purchased a spot meter and achieved satisfactory results. One question I have is whether you'll be able to get a decent incident/ reflective meter for $100, let alone a spotmeter. I suppose you could pick up a used Gossen LunaPro for around $60 at a Photo flea market, but you'll need to be careful about what batteries you use in this model, as the original mercury batteries are banned in this country. Wien makes some replacements that do seem to work. Good luck finding the Minor White book.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, January 24, 2001.

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