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The Zone System and Digital
Old 10-14-2004, 12:21 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Since arithmetic ain't by best subject, I have a lot of problems grasping the Zone System. But I've read that--in a nutshell--the Zone System is about (in simplest terms) exposing for the shadows and processing for the highlights.

the problem in digital is this: digital doesn't do a very good job with the highlights. if the highlights are too hot, there's no detail--they're simply blown out. In the shadow areas digital does a better job capturing detail and that detail can be enhanced with (software) processing, although noise and lousy contrast is sometimes the result. but not so for the highlights,: they're easily blown and once blown there's no detail in them to process.

so, does this mean the Zone System cannot be applied when shooting digital?
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Re: The Zone System and Digital
Old 10-14-2004, 05:16 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I am sure it has it's applications but like most comparisions between digital and film photography, digital still comes up a little short. AA always taught, expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. One of the biggest problems with digicams is their "filmspeeds" are only an approximation of real film. You really can't experiment with a digicam like you can with film.

I have been using his system for going on 20 years now but the only place where it is truly applicable is in B&W film. It can be used with color only to the extent of exposure in the camera since your development times are fixed (with narrow time limits) with color. B&W films can usually record detail well from Zone III to Zone VIII, about 5 stops. I have yet to see a digicam that can handle that much latitude well.

It is still possible to use AA's Zone system and a 1º spot meter to get the best exposure (best for backlit subjects or ones with a wide range of Zones. I agree that digicams don't do as well with the highlights as conventional film.

Though you can do some highlight and shadow manipulations in PhotoShop though.
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Re: The Zone System and Digital
Old 10-14-2004, 10:20 AM   #3 (permalink)
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there are several ways to use the zone system -- it's not just for exposing for shadow areas. you could also use it to expose for your highlights.

the zone system is really just a way to identify all the tonal areas of a scene, and to visualize adjustments made when shifting to either sides of the spectrum.

in addition, you can apply the zone system in photoshop when doing curve adjustments. if you alt-click anywhere inside the curves grid, it will become a 10x10 grid instead of the default 4x4 grid.


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