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Thread: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

  1. #1
    Senior Member UncleFai's Avatar
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    Default Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    I borrowed this book from Toa Payoh Library:

    http://www.amazon.com/Confused-Photo.../dp/0966081714

    But I am not very smart in figuring out the full detail. Here is what I tried:

    1. Picture a scene in greyscale and try to look for the mid-grey (18% pointed out by the book - which is suppose to be what all digital cameras meter for).

    2. Point my camera to that area, using spot metering get a reading. Then AE-lock it and recompose the picture and focus. Then snap.

    Also, tried:

    1. Point camera to a bright area (corresponding to the white in the book's 5 tone scale).

    2. Spot meter it, then AE-lock.

    3. Bump exposure compensation up by +2. Recompose, focus and snap.

    All the above done in "P" mode using ISO 200.

    But I don't see any diff in using area metering and just compose and shot leh.

    What did I do wrong?

    If all the above steps are wrong, then kindly explain what should be done.

    Thank you.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    good lor, means your camera metering very good.

  3. #3
    Moderator Octarine's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by UncleFai View Post
    But I don't see any diff in using area metering and just compose and shot leh.
    What did I do wrong?
    Nothing. You achieve the same results with your manual approach. Congrats Which also means: you are able to read a scene and you can also 'see' when camera metering might go wrong.
    EOS

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    Moderator catchlights's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    since you shoot in P mode, why bother reading about Zone system?
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    Senior Member UncleFai's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by catchlights View Post
    since you shoot in P mode, why bother reading about Zone system?
    I use aperture priority a lot of the time. It is just that for the experiments, I used "P" mode coz I find that the AE-lock don't seem to work in the other settings on my D90 (I could be wrong. I will go try it again tonight.)

  6. #6

    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by catchlights View Post
    since you shoot in P mode, why bother reading about Zone system?
    Why not? He's spot metering off specific zones and compensating accordingly. Same as you would do in Aperture- or Shutter-priority modes, and a simpler take on doing in in Manual.
    Now if he were shooting with matrix metering, that would be strange

    UncleFai, not sure what's covered in that book (Zone System for digital cameras), but in the film age, the Zone system was for much more than getting the base exposure right. Understanding which parts of the scene would be washed out or go totally black let photographers compensate for the dynamic range limitations of film, paper and developer combinations. It gave greater control of the tonal palette, so end results are closer to what the photographer envisioned.

    Many people also found it to be a great pain in the neck! (Yeah, I was never good at it)

  7. #7
    Moderator catchlights's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by Edwin Francis View Post
    Why not? He's spot metering off specific zones and compensating accordingly. Same as you would do in Aperture- or Shutter-priority modes, and a simpler take on doing in in Manual.
    Now if he were shooting with matrix metering, that would be strange

    UncleFai, not sure what's covered in that book (Zone System for digital cameras), but in the film age, the Zone system was for much more than getting the base exposure right. Understanding which parts of the scene would be washed out or go totally black let photographers compensate for the dynamic range limitations of film, paper and developer combinations. It gave greater control of the tonal palette, so end results are closer to what the photographer envisioned.

    Many people also found it to be a great pain in the neck! (Yeah, I was never good at it)
    so you have not read this book, why don't you ask UncleFai what is written in the book, particularly page 22.
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by catchlights View Post
    so you have not read this book, why don't you ask UncleFai what is written in the book, particularly page 22.
    Hmm.. perhaps I'm reading you wrong, but it appears you took offense at my question. I asked you because it was a statement you made, and I believe you know the subject better than the TS or me. Allow me to rephrase.

    Yes, I would agree that P is not the ideal mode to learn to apply the zone system. But for the purposes of what the TS was doing -- gauging base exposure, which is admittedly a very basic use of the system, P + exp comp was enough. Or did I miss something?

  9. #9

    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by UncleFai View Post
    I borrowed this book from Toa Payoh Library:

    http://www.amazon.com/Confused-Photo.../dp/0966081714

    But I am not very smart in figuring out the full detail. Here is what I tried:

    1. Picture a scene in greyscale and try to look for the mid-grey (18% pointed out by the book - which is suppose to be what all digital cameras meter for).

    2. Point my camera to that area, using spot metering get a reading. Then AE-lock it and recompose the picture and focus. Then snap.

    Also, tried:

    1. Point camera to a bright area (corresponding to the white in the book's 5 tone scale).

    2. Spot meter it, then AE-lock.

    3. Bump exposure compensation up by +2. Recompose, focus and snap.

    All the above done in "P" mode using ISO 200. Possibly bad choice

    But I don't see any diff in using area metering and just compose and shot leh.

    What did I do wrong?

    If all the above steps are wrong, then kindly explain what should be done.

    Thank you.

    Before getting into the Zone System, some of the above premises may be wrong.

    Camera meters VARY, and so do handheld meters, BOTH digital and analog. You have to look up technical specs and/or do tests. Usually, true spot meters are specifically calibrated for the Zone System, or similarly, you could do a whole battery of tests.

    Also, within the SAME brand, some margin of variation is usually allowed, but that's usually small.

    Secondly, a true spot reading has a VERY NARROW area of metering, usually 1 degree. Most moden DSLRs have too wide an area for accurate readings - it's much more like a 'selective area' metering.

    Thirdly, the main problem, besides different camera meters being calibrated differently, is that you might not know how exactly the algorithms work in a camera model's 'P' mode, and what, if any, 'automatic' shifts are involved, unless you know it intimately and have full control over any the 'shifts' ... which is a lot more mah fan than doing everything in Manual.

  10. #10
    Moderator catchlights's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by Edwin Francis View Post
    Hmm.. perhaps I'm reading you wrong, but it appears you took offense at my question. I asked you because it was a statement you made, and I believe you know the subject better than the TS or me. Allow me to rephrase.

    Yes, I would agree that P is not the ideal mode to learn to apply the zone system. But for the purposes of what the TS was doing -- gauging base exposure, which is admittedly a very basic use of the system, P + exp comp was enough. Or did I miss something?
    the basic principle of zone system is photographer need to evaluate the scene, decide where is brightest area which he want to preserve important highlight details, and where is darkest areas which he want to preserve important shadow details, where he want to place the mid tone, how wide or how narrow is the tonal range of the scene, how to contract or expend it to fit into the dynamic range of the recording medium.
    before he can do all the metering, making exposures, he also need to do a series of test to establish the standard of exposure metering device, the recording medium, and also the output device, in order to meter, record, and reproduce with consistent results.

    what TS suggest here is like taking a examining paper, he is answering the multiple choice questions by tossing coin.
    If he passed, can you say he did study and understand the questions in the examining paper?
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    Senior Member Leong23's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by catchlights View Post
    since you shoot in P mode, why bother reading about Zone system?


    By understanding the correlation of zone system and histogram. I just need to do a test shot to the scene, then just balance the whole scene using EV or filter.
    Last edited by Leong23; 16th December 2010 at 10:19 AM.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by catchlights View Post
    what TS suggest here is like taking a examining paper, he is answering the multiple choice questions by tossing coin.
    If he passed, can you say he did study and understand the questions in the examining paper?
    I didn't know there was going to be an exam!

    Thanks for the more detailed explanation. Yes, I concede that P mode, while fine for what TS was doing, is unsuitable for learning to use the zone system. Other than that, I think we're in agreement.

    So Uncle Fai, in answer to your question (What did I do wrong?), you didn't do anything wrong as far as determining the correct exposure was concerned. But, as catchlights explained, the Zone System isn't about just determining correct exposure. Perhaps you just at the first part of the book? There should be a lot more .... have fun working it all out!

  13. #13
    Senior Member UncleFai's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    Quote Originally Posted by Edwin Francis View Post

    So Uncle Fai, in answer to your question (What did I do wrong?), you didn't do anything wrong as far as determining the correct exposure was concerned. But, as catchlights explained, the Zone System isn't about just determining correct exposure. Perhaps you just at the first part of the book? There should be a lot more .... have fun working it all out!
    Thanks for the explanation guys... actually I found this particular book pretty BADLY written. I think it caused more confusion than clarified anything for me which was why I returned it and so can't tell you what's on page 22.

  14. #14
    Moderator catchlights's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can someone enlighten me please on the zone system

    for more details about the Zone system, you can read these three books by Ansel Adam.







    Our National Library used to have these three books for loan, but I believe now is in the reference section.

    the book you mention, The Confused Photographer's Guide to Photographic Exposure and the Simplified Zone System
    which is a like "Zone System for Dummies" series of book, is already very simplified.

    hope this help.
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