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Thread: Zone System

  1. #1

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    Zone System

    I've been working with this digital version for the last few dyas, and for the most part am satisfied with the results I'm getting. I am hoping that someone on this forum uses the same system and can help me get my head around some if this a little better and to answer an all-important question for me.

    I use a Pentax Spotmeter for doing zone work with film cameras. Can I use this meter as well for digital, and do I keep the zones marked in the same place as I mark with film?

    Next question concerns the bright spot. Do I always meter to that brightest spot, or can I adjust the scale so as to move a bright spot either up or down a zone, depending on what mood I wish to set?

    And thirdly, how does the color shift of a one or two stop increase remain natural?

  2. #2

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    Re: Zone System

    Hi Chris,

    I'm not 100% sure that I fully understand the question, but what I can say is film has more highlight lattitude, whilst Digital has more shadow lattitude, hence the term "with Film you expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights, whereas with Digital, you expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows".

    With regards to metering - if you want to maximise your dynamic range (which is sometimes a good thing, but at other times it can bite you in the bum) then spot-meter the brightest portion of the scene and experiment with how far you have to up-shiftt the exposure before you get clipping (or into the sensor's non-linear region) (typically around 3 stops) (up to 4 with highlight tone priority turned on). Hope this is what you're meaning.

    Hope this helps!

  3. #3

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    Re: Zone System

    You've partially answered my question as where to meter and at waht latitiude. I think what I was trying to ask is are the zones for film and digital the same as per the meter? In other words (to be far more wordy than is probably necessary), is a zone IV in film at the same location on the meter as a zone IV would be digitally?

  4. #4
    Steaphany's Avatar
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    Re: Zone System

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisC View Post
    Can I use this meter as well for digital, and do I keep the zones marked in the same place as I mark with film?
    Simple answer, you sure can, but the big difference comes in where you measure and how you select the exposure.

    The negative film zone exposure practice is to meter and select the darkest region where you want to preserve detail and then set the camera several EV above to render the area sufficiently dark on the processed film negative.

    When shooting with digital, just follow the procedures for zone exposures done with transparency, reversal, films. Meter off the brightest area where you want to preserve detail and set the camera to make this area sufficiently bright.

    Note that I'm not saying to meter off the absolute darkest or brightest area of the scene, but to meter off the extreme where you want to preserve detail, it's a subtle yet significant difference.

    Later in post processing, manipulate the latitude, dynamic range, for the darks and contrast to be rendered as you desire.

    As far as how many EV you'll need to bias your meter readings, try the standard film 3EV and once you see how your camera performs, adjust from there. Despite the digital photographers and digital camera manufacturers claims for silicon imagers having a huge dynamic range, i.e. equivalent to film latitude, I'm finding an ever increasing mountain of evidence indicating that film is still king in this area, which would correspond to less than 3EV bias in a digital system due to the narrower latitude.
    Last edited by Steaphany; 29th December 2010 at 02:05 PM. Reason: typo

  5. #5
    Hansm's Avatar
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    Re: Zone System

    Chris,
    If you like to work in Zone System style then maybe a good RAW software is Lightzone.
    It's build around the idea of the Zone system in where you can define quit precisely what area should match what zone.
    But of course first is to measure correctly the exposure and I think that Colin explained it very well.
    B.t.w. does your camera not have the option for spotmeasuring so you can keep your spotmeter at home?

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