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Author Topic: Book Review - Digital Zone System  (Read 5469 times)
keith_cooper
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« on: February 25, 2013, 10:37:08 AM »
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I've just written up a short review of Robert Fisher's new book: The Digital Zone System: Taking Control from Capture to Print

http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/article_pages/books/dzs-fisher.html

Lots of interesting and useful info, even if the DZS editing technique is perhaps a bit complex for my usual tastes.

I'm curious as to people's views as to how useful such an approach is?  Has anyone tried the DZS photoshop actions in earnest?

I've long used the more general ETTR (overexpose, but don't blow important highlights) way of judging RAW exposures.  BTW I recently wrote up a more general overview of my own process 'from idea to print'
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2013, 11:02:12 AM »
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Hi Keith, thanks for providing this information and the link to your book review. It's probably totally unfair and inappropriate to comment on it without buying and reading the book - which I may well do when time permits. That said, one really wonders. ETTR without clipping of useful highlights makes good technical sense for the reasons Bruce Fraser, Jeff Schewe and others have explained on numerous occasions and in different publications. The second thing is to get to know your camera - in terms of interpreting the validity of the histogram information - does the highlight clipping point of a raw file more or less correspond with what the histogram shows, and if it doesn't, how much compensation is safe to deploy as a "default". Beyond that, all the remaining tonal control can be so well controlled in Lightroom, and if needed thereafter in Photoshop, that the role of a digital zone system really needs to be reassessed, I think. Unlike in the film days, we get instant feedback on every tonal adjustment we make. In the film era the zone system served the very important role of previsualizing the tonal distribution of the eventual photograph. This seems no longer necessary apart from understanding the relationship between the camera histogram and the highlight clipping point.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
Author: "Scanning Workflows with SilverFast 8....." http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/film/scanning_workflows_with_silverfast_8.shtml
Peter McLennan
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« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2013, 11:45:39 AM »
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... tonal control can be so well controlled in Lightroom, and if needed thereafter in Photoshop, that the role of a digital zone system really needs to be reassessed, I think. ...This seems no longer necessary apart from understanding the relationship between the camera histogram and the highlight clipping point.

I agree, Mark.  It might be useful for new photographers to understand what the zone system means, but as a way of predicting exposure and output, it's an unnecessary and out-dated paradigm.

I can't believe I said "paradigm"  : )

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bill t.
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« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2013, 12:30:35 PM »
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I think Ansel would have really liked histograms.  I believe the Zone System came from fitful, prescient dreams of the six sliders in the "Tone" panel of LR4, at a time when only "Exposure", "Highlights" and "Whites" were actually accessible.  But I blaspheme!

« Last Edit: February 25, 2013, 12:39:47 PM by bill t. » Logged
Jack Hogan
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« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2013, 03:56:01 PM »
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The second thing is to get to know your camera - in terms of interpreting the validity of the histogram information - does the highlight clipping point of a raw file more or less correspond with what the histogram shows...

It truly boggles the mind that no self-respecting DSLR manufacturer has deigned itself to do this for us in this day and age even after DR's have reached into the teens: where are the freakin' RAW HISTOGRAMS, people!  Switchable live heads-up display and blinkies, please.  I can't believe the D600, 6D or D7100 don't have one.  How disconnected from your base can you be?
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2013, 04:05:08 PM »
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I think Ansel would have really liked histograms.

And the clarity slider.
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bill t.
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« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2013, 04:48:49 PM »
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Keith, sorry we have dodged the actual topic!  I have ordered the book via clicking your link, very anxious to see what's there.  The Amazon "Look Inside" feature wetted my appetite.  

FWIW, the original film Zone System could be summed up as: "Expose To The Left, Develop To The Right". Or "ETTL/DTTR" as we never used to say.

And that Clarity slider came in the guise of an 8x10 camera stopped down to f64.  Would be a good name for a group.
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digitaldog
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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2013, 05:04:11 PM »
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I think Ansel would have really liked histograms.

I think he'd love a raw Histogram and would get a good laugh out of the JPEG Histogram (on the camera).

Why would we need the zone system and previsulize when the JPEG preview is right there to see?
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Andrew Rodney
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« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2013, 05:12:45 PM »
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FWIW, the original film Zone System could be summed up as: "Expose To The Left, Develop To The Right". Or "ETTL/DTTR" as we never used to say.


Or ETTR/DTTL, depending on which way you're going.   Grin
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bill t.
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« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2013, 06:02:06 PM »
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Ya got me, Bob, I forgot about contractions!  Sometimes it was DTTL, but in general always ETTL, rigorously placing Zone Zero where not more than 2 photons/m^2 could ever hope to reach it.  Except of course for low contrast fog scenes, which Ansel grudgingly admitted required a well exposed, dense negative, and enough said about that.

Of course, we tried to avoid contractions because it pretty much gummed up the lovely microcontrast and glowering shadow detail that came along for the ride with DTTR expansions.  The Zone System had a strong preference for low contrast lighting.  Brovia #4, cold light head, a jar full of dodging tools, and a drawer full of cut up paper boxes with holes...it was a thing of beauty!  But it's all so much simpler in LR4.
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RFPhotography
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« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2013, 09:16:26 PM »
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Increased contrast but increased grain as well.  Always tradeoffs.
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bill t.
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« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2013, 10:29:18 PM »
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Increased contrast but increased grain as well.  Always tradeoffs.

Grain carried different connotations then.  Some subtle grain texture was pretty much always there even on the big format stuff.  You didn't usually see it in reproductions, but a well focused print above 11x14 was bound to show some grain, regardless of film or format.  And with 35mm you didn't have to go much past wallet sized.  It was not a defect, but rather a sort of artful patina.  Photographs without it tended to look rather surreal through the eyes of the time.  And in the 60's we positively groveled in grain, on purpose.  Just ask Ralph Gibson.  Maybe someday digital noise will be cool, and my old D70 will be worth a fortune.

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stamper
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« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2013, 03:27:41 AM »
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Thanks Keith. That is another £20 Amazon has got out of my bank balance. Sad
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RFPhotography
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« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2013, 06:01:40 AM »
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I'm not suggesting grain is universally bad, Bill.  In certain instances, you're right it does enhance the 'feel' of the picture.  In others, not so much.  All I was saying was that increased grain is the trade off for reduced exposure and increased development.  Whether that trade off is a plus or minus depends.
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snoleoprd
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« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2013, 01:42:45 PM »
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If you go to the O'Reilly website you can get it as an ebook for a much reduced price.
http://shop.oreilly.com/category/ebooks/digital-photography.do

I have been looking at the book but some of the other reviews I have read did not sound all that great.

Alan
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Alan Smallbone
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bill t.
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« Reply #15 on: February 26, 2013, 07:56:25 PM »
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Narrowly focused, very specialized books tend to not please a lot of people, and for that reason they often pick up poor revues.  But if I can get 1 or 2 useful ideas, then it's money well spent, and I feel grateful the author simply made an attempt to communicate the information, however stumbling the attempt may have been.  Of course, I have seen a few really useless books, too.   Smiley  But we're talkin' about the Zone System here, so it's got to be OK.  Right?
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Alan Goldhammer
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« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2013, 07:27:42 AM »
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But we're talkin' about the Zone System here, so it's got to be OK.  Right?
I'm not so sure as the Zone System as originally put forth by Ansel Adams had to do with chemistry-based photography.  If one goes back and looks at how the chemistry progressed both with respect to developers and fixing agents, there was a lot of research going on both in the US and Germany.  What Adams did was to bring a little more science to the game by breaking down the B/W response curves into zones and then figuring out who he could manipulate the zones through exposure and/or development depending on which zone he was most interested in.  He didn't have the instant feedback that we have with digital cameras and had to be quite careful in the field to get the correct exposure.  Think about how easy it is for us to a series of bracketed exposures in a short period of time versus handling a film-based view camera in the field.  It would be far easier for us to get a decent exposure of the 'Hernandez Moonrise' should we be so lucky to come upon it.

I think that ETTR is a solid technique to maximize data capture.  We don't need to make things difficult.
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bill t.
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« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2013, 09:07:56 PM »
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Digital Simulation of the Analog Zone System.

Find a raw file where the middle and darker tones look OK with all the controls reset in Lightroom.  Don't worry about what's happening over on the right side of the histogram.  This initial condition simulates the kind of precisely exposed image where Ansel would have used his SEI spot meter to assign (usually) certain middle gray and darker-than-middle-grey brightnesses in the scene to specific densities in the negative.

Now use only the Whites slider to drag the histogram left or right so the brightest areas of the scene are just barely starting to clip.  If you moved the slider to the right, you just did a Zone System Expansion.  If you moved it to the left, you got a Zone System Contraction.

Notice how the Whites slider stretches and contracts the brighter parts of the image proportionately much more than the middle and darker areas.  That is exactly how chemical development time works on film.  The thinner areas of the negative (the dark areas in the print) develop almost completely early in the development cycle.  But the more heavily exposed areas (the whites in the print) need more time to completely develop.  When you increase development time, those bright areas spread out a lot, while the darker (in the positive) areas are not much influenced.  So in at the greatest level of simplification, the film zone system gave you control over the parts of the image from the middle tones on up to the brighter ones, while affecting the darker tones very little.  The only direct control of the darker tones is during the original exposure, and to some extent by faking it a bit during printing.

I'm sure this has been helpful to all you D800e owners.

Signing off now.  Please indulge me, I am a still-recovering victim of ZS Syndrome and I'm doing this so the nightmares will stop.

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stamper
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« Reply #18 on: February 28, 2013, 07:42:17 AM »
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I got delivery of this book this morning. So far read about 1/2 of it. The first part mostly covers digital photography in general with descriptions of how aperture/shutter/iso works. It is well written but not sure if it is needed except to add as a filler. I have got to the nub of the book, the zone system. I was expecting to see the usual advice about visualising the scene, dividing the scene into zones adding/subtracting EV before pressing the shutter and exposing accordingly. That is not what the book is about at least what I have read so far. It is about applying the zone system to a captured image and using LR/ACR sliders in conjunction with the zone system. An interesting idea and the rest of the book will be an eye opener as to how it applies. The author isn't a fan of ETTR so fans so should be aware of that.
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stamper
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« Reply #19 on: February 28, 2013, 08:06:12 AM »
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Since writing the above and reading the book more it seems that the use of sliders in LR/ACR aren't pertinent and the use of luminous masks in PS is the pertinent methodology. Hmmm ..... a laborious method compared with using LR. I will wait till I have finished reading to comment further but it looks like a small number of photographers will find this useful?
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