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03-28-2015, 08:01 PM   #1
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Do you use the zone system with digital? External spot meter?

Hi folks, two-part question:

1. Do you personally use the Zone System for determining exposure in your digital photography? Do you believe it still has use outside of film?

2. Do you use a handheld spot meter, or do you prefer the one built into your camera? Assuming TTL corrects for lens deficiencies and internal light falloff, do you think that one type of meter is better or more accurate?

03-28-2015, 08:16 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by lightbox Quote
Do you use a handheld spot meter, or do you prefer the one built into your camera?
Other than, perhaps, some kind of specialized studio work I can't imagine where TTL metering would not be preferred.

So far as I'm concerned this is pretty much the final word on the subject:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Film-Based Exposure Metering

It is remarkable, but all digital cameras of which I am aware expose digital sensors as if they were film. In other words, the metering aim point is 18% grey.

While this was sensible for film, it makes no sense for digital. The cleanest stops are the ones in the highlight area, and these are where the most data is located. The noisiest stops are in the shadow areas and this is where each stop contains less and less data.

Putting the exposure so that it lies in the middle makes no sense. Imagine that you’re photographing a black cat sitting on a pile of coal. The camera will make it look like a grey cat sitting on a pile of grey coal. Now imagine that you’re photographing a white cat sitting in the snow. The camera will also expose this as a grey cat sitting on grey snow. Both of these are wrong. Indeed all photographs should be exposed so that the image is recorded as light as possible.

In other words, so that the exposure is as far to the right of the histogram as possible, without blowing the highlights. This will maximize the amount of light being captured and thus create a lower noise image. But that’s not what cameras do. Why not?

The answer that some camera makers have given me is that over-exposed looking images would not be what raw shooters want to see on their rear LCD. Also, camera generated JPGs need to look like fully baked images.

In my opinion these are bogus arguments. The cameras knows exactly what is happening to each pixel in an image in terms of exposure. This is how live highlight warnings are generated. There is therefore no reason why the camera can not adjust the actual exposure that is recorded so as to “expose to the right“, while still showing a normalized rear LCD image.

Also, in anticipation of this, the very smart folks at Adobe have had a data field in the DNG format for years that is available to indicate an exposure normalization value. This means that raw files could be shot that are properly exposed for digital, that appear normalized on the rear LCD, and also (optionally) in a raw processing program.

Now the challenge is out there. Who will be the first camera maker to create a camera that does proper digital exposure and gains between a one and three stop noise advantage in the process?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Link to the above:
https://luminous-landscape.com/rantatorial/they-just-dont-get-it/

Last edited by wildman; 03-28-2015 at 08:44 PM.
03-28-2015, 08:22 PM   #3
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If by the zone system--do you mean adjusting/biasing the exposure based on what area one is metering (e.g., placing the lightest areas on about +3.5 e.v.)--then yes.

Outdoors I am tempted to carry an incident meter, but since one can check the histogram so quickly, it hardly pays. If I was on an extended backpacking/canoe trip and needed to conserve battery life I would.

Specifically about carrying a spot meter--I never did preferring my eye/judgement and the incident meter. Now I think the camera spot meter w/ a telephoto lens is a better spot meter anyway.
03-28-2015, 09:31 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by wildman Quote
Indeed all photographs should be exposed so that the image is recorded as light as possible.

In other words, so that the exposure is as far to the right of the histogram as possible, without blowing the highlights. This will maximize the amount of light being captured and thus create a lower noise image.
Great article (I just read it). It sounds like this approach makes best use of the digital sensor and the wider dynamic range of modern cameras to preserve more detail, but it also sounds like it requires post-processing (and shooting RAW) to get the final shot looking correct. One can argue that p.p. should be part of a digital workflow anyway, but I'm not totally convinced it's necessary. Let's say I want to shoot JPG or I want to avoid having to mess with tones and exposure in post. In such a case, I could rely on film metering methods (such as the Zone System) or even the camera's scene metering with exposure compensation.

Learning to shoot at the extreme right edge of the histogram sounds interesting and I will definitely explore it! I will say though that it's not as intuitive to me. In my humble opinion, p.p. is *not* fun and makes photography feel like work.

03-28-2015, 09:51 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by dms Quote
If by the zone system--do you mean adjusting/biasing the exposure based on what area one is metering (e.g., placing the lightest areas on about +3.5 e.v.)--then yes.
Indeed. Here's an article that talks about the Zones specifically, not in terms of E.V., but in relative stops, +/-, from the middle zone (Zone V).
Understanding & Using Ansel Adam's Zone System - Tuts+ Photo & Video Tutorial

QuoteQuote:
Specifically about carrying a spot meter--I never did preferring my eye/judgement and the incident meter.
I understand incident meters in principle but haven't learned to use them in practice, so please excuse the ignorance. How would you use one in the wild, without being up close to the subject you want to photograph?
03-28-2015, 10:15 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by lightbox Quote
It sounds like this approach makes best use of the digital sensor and the wider dynamic range of modern cameras to preserve more detail,
Yes

QuoteOriginally posted by lightbox Quote
it also sounds like it requires post-processing (and shooting RAW) to get the final shot looking correct.
Yes

QuoteOriginally posted by lightbox Quote
I'm not totally convinced it's necessary.
It's not. Neither is using an advanced DSLR rather than a 50 buck point and shot if all you want is a rough capture of an image.
It's not necessary it's a choice.

QuoteOriginally posted by lightbox Quote
Let's say I want to shoot JPG or I want to avoid having to mess with tones and exposure in post. I
Then that's what you should do - shot jpg.

For me both the easiest and the best way is to shot raw and normalize in PP.
The last thing I want to worry about at the time I'm actually taking the picture is trying to get the rather primitive, crude and clumsy control the camera gives me to try and get precise control of tonal range, exposure, WB etc. Leave all that for later in the far more powerful RAW processing that Photoshop allows and let the photographer be free to concentrate on the creative part of photography.

It's your choice.

Last edited by wildman; 03-28-2015 at 10:40 PM.
03-28-2015, 10:28 PM   #7
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Very cool, wildman. Thanks for that perspective.

03-28-2015, 11:37 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by lightbox Quote
Hi folks, two-part question:

1. Do you personally use the Zone System for determining exposure in your digital photography? Do you believe it still has use outside of film?

2. Do you use a handheld spot meter, or do you prefer the one built into your camera? Assuming TTL corrects for lens deficiencies and internal light falloff, do you think that one type of meter is better or more accurate?
1. Yes, and Yes

2. Neither and no. Absolute Accuracy is irrelevant and highly overrated. Meter linearity and consistency are more important.


Steve

Last edited by stevebrot; 03-28-2015 at 11:51 PM.
03-28-2015, 11:46 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by wildman Quote
It is remarkable, but all digital cameras of which I am aware expose digital sensors as if they were film. In other words, the metering aim point is 18% grey.

While this was sensible for film, it makes no sense for digital.
The 18% has nothing to do with film, but everything to do with perception in the realm of reflectance.

Even so, it is still rather arbitrary since you can map any value of the sensor's dynamic range to the center of the perceptual range. As such, it is still useful and convenient*. The same is true for film. Depending on the desired dynamic range, in that world you modify the development and adjust the Exposure Index (EI) to the development. The intent is to provide adequate density in the negative to represent detail at the extremes of both light and dark...or not.

That is how the Zone System works. You place exposure to match what you want in the results. Know your sensor...know your film...know your meter.


Steve

* You can meter against a white card, but it is not as useful.

Last edited by stevebrot; 03-28-2015 at 11:55 PM.
03-29-2015, 12:02 AM   #10
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Hi Steve,

QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
2. Neither and no.
Should I take that to mean that you use a different meter altogether, or none at all?

I've heard of people using just the histogram or even "winging it" so to speak (eyeballing it).
03-29-2015, 01:05 AM   #11
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Under straightforward lighting conditions I don't meter at all and just use Sunny 16 (which is Sunny 11 at my latitude).

If in doubt, I double check with my incident meter.

If all else fails, I spot meter and apply a simplified form of the zone system. On my ancient DSLR that usually just means spot metering the brightest area where I want detail and putting it in Zone VII.

I've tried the expose to the right method, but for me personally it seems like too much hassle for no visible improvement in the end result.
03-29-2015, 07:02 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by lightbox Quote
1. Do you personally use the Zone System for determining exposure in your digital photography? Do you believe it still has use outside of film?
Its a good idea to know the theory behind it so you know the rules (and when the break them). But I usually just use the camera meter and ETTR, shooting raw and post processing out any kinks. Modern digital sensors record so much data, and modern software is so good at reducing noise, that you can shoot ISO 1600 and still get away with quite a bit of corrections in post. So critical precision with exposure is not really needed. Of course, some people do take the time and extra steps. And maybe their photos get a different look.
03-29-2015, 07:07 AM   #13
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I use the histogram on a test shot.... it tells me all I need to know.
03-29-2015, 07:39 AM   #14
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chimp shot+adjust Ev+fire

Extreme DR shot. Taken under a minute. Handheld.
I like this method. intuitive, simple and you know exactly what needs to be done on the spot.
Before and after PP.

Last edited by wildman; 04-10-2015 at 06:42 AM.
03-29-2015, 07:43 AM   #15
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That looks awesome. I can never get my DR images to look like that unless I do them i photoshop with masks.
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