I am an amatuer photographer who knows deep down inside that I will never own a darkroom and likely will never learn how to do my own processing at all. However, I've gotten serious enough about this hobby to 1) buy an N80 with a 28-105 AF Nikkor ( a big step for me) and 2) start learning and using the Zone System. The Zone System makes perfect sense to me (on a practical level) and I've made a few photos I'm proud of. Yet, using roll film and lab processing limits the total utility of the Zone System. For those unwilling to go the route of self processing Photoshop seems to be a very real possibility coupled with a high quality slide scanner and printer (or a printing service like Ofoto). I would love to see a discussion about applying the Zone System to the digital set-up I've described above. How can one use the scanner settings or Photoshop filters to achieve N-1, N+2, etc., processing? Does anyone have experience in this? Are there special plug-ins? Is there specific "how-to" literature on this topic? Are there recommendations for the best slide scanners and printers for black and white processing?
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#1. "RE: Photoshop and the Zone System" | In response to Reply # 0BJNicholls Charter MemberMon 16-Oct-00 04:18 PM
I haven't run across info on using Photoshop to simulate zone processing. I'm sure it can be done, but any adjustment profiles will need to be calibrated for your printer. Since the zone system was designed as a process to optimize the dynamic range of prints done with chemical processing methods, I'm not sure if zone principles translate well to data manipulation in Photoshop. It would be interesting to see what's out there...I did discover an article by Richard Chang called "The Digital Zone System":
What's your budget for a scanner? The dynamic range of a scanner will dictate how much shadow and highlight detail you can hold in a given scan. Of course, the more you can spend, the better the dynamic range you can usually expect. Ed Hamrick's site has some good information on his pick of consumer grade scanners:
Another key element of your digital darkroom is the printer. If you are printing black and white images, you should investigate special ink sets that are made specifically for that purpose. Monochrome ink sets can be found that provide archival image life, something a standard inkjet won't deliver without special ink. The greatest selection of archival ink are marketed for Epson printers. Here are some sites that may be informative:
#2. "RE: Photoshop and the Zone System" | In response to Reply # 1N80 Charter MemberWed 18-Oct-00 01:42 PM
Thanks for the reply.
Shutterbug recently reviewed the new Epson 2000P printer and seemed amazed at the results. They even warned in an editor's note that they had never seen results this good from any printer and that the pictures represented in the magazine couldn't come close to doing the actual results justice. Epson has archival inks and papers for this printer and claim 200+ year life span; independant studies are pending. The printer sells for around $900 US.
As far as calibration goes, this is not a big hurdle, at least on the Mac. The monitor image will never be exactly the same as the printed but I am sure reproducable and predictable results can be attained using ColorSync profiles. This should limit reprinting to achieve desired results to a minimum. Not unlike darkroom efforts I'm sure.
If I take the plunge I feel like I could spend the money for this new Espon printer and $1500 US for the slide/film scanner. I am considering the Nikon Super Coolscan 2000 with a dynamic range of 3.6. It will be a while before I feel educated enough to do this. Still struggling with dynamic range/ resolution issues.
I read the article by Richard Chang and it was a bit technical but still helpful, particularly his conversion of the per cent grayscale into the Zone System. However, his article was mostly applicable to digitally captured images with no development process at all. I think he was getting close though with his discussion of the use of Curves in Photoshop.
The heart of what I want to understand is how to take a B&W negative exposed using the Zone System, have it developed commercially (presumably at "N"), scan it into Photoshop and then use Photoshop to effect N- or N+ development. I use Photoshop LE but on a low level so I don't know if the adjustments I want to make are accomplished with Curves, Levels or simply Contrast controls or all of the above. I also don't know if I should work with a B&W image as greyscale or RGB. Probably RGB. Do you then print in RGB, or CMYK or greyscale?
My Nikonians Gallery is here:
#3. "RE: Photoshop and the Zone System" | In response to Reply # 2BJNicholls Charter MemberThu 19-Oct-00 01:32 AM
LAST EDITED ON Oct-19-00 AT 05:35 AM (GMT)
Regarding the 2000P, I'm wary of the new printer considering how Epson failed me so badly with the 1270 I own. The 1270's cyan inks are subject to rapid cyan fading, leaving their marketing claims of 20 year print life in the dustbin. The prints I've seen from the 2000P are slightly less impressive than the 1270 prints, but they also have a characteristic that is a problem for some owners. The 2000P inkset shows metamerism - a color shift that's dependent on the light you view the image by - and the prints show a greenish cast under daylight viewing. One thing to note: both the 1270 and 2000P have Epson's proprietary IC-equipped cartridges. This scheme has kept aftermarket ink makers from offering an alternative to the Epson inks. It also means you can't take advantage of the extended monochrome cartridges that offer the best monochrome printing performance. Black and white images printed on the 2000P are supposed to have an objectionabl color cast.
Since the Mac relies on ICC profiles for color matching, you will still need accurate profiles for any printer/ink/print media combination you choose. This gets a lot more involved if you're printing on acid-free aftermarket papers and is even more involved if you go with aftermarket inks for your inkjet printer. With the 2000P, Epson's profiles seem to be optimized for creating prints that are displayed under tungsten light. As long as you stay under Epson's proprietary umbrella, you'll get consistent, if perhaps not ideal, color results. There are some products in development that work around Epson's chipped cartridge scheme. I suspect that as you try more advanced printing and tonal control, you'll want to look at products from Lysonic and others.
Since I never got into zone processing and only have a familiarity with the theory, I think you should be able to reasonably simulate N plus or minus processing using Photoshop. The big variable for you to control is the scanning. If your negs have a full tonal range, the dyamic range of your scans will be critical to keeping shadow detail or not blowing out highlights. Choosing a colorspace for your images opens up complexity that you'll need to learn. Photoshop color management can be a difficult system to grasp (it was for me), but I recommend that you study it closely. There are aftermarket Photoshop books that are easier to follow and absorb. RGB will likely be the easiest to work with, and your printer will end up processing the data as RGB anyway. Since you're interested in optimizing your system for grey level images and printing, you'll need to choose an RGB space for Photoshop that has a gamut that's a good match for your objectives. Since I do design work for offset printing, I primarily use the PhotoshopRGB colorspace. I'm not sure what would be best for you, but the more common sRGB has too wide a gamut for this kind of work.
I'm not familiar with the subset of features that Photoshop LE offers, but I suspect you'll be better off with the full version. The levels controls will be the easiest to learn and use. Curves give you the most control, but they're much more difficult to learn. Brightness/contrast controls can be convenient, but they're not the kind of control you'll typically want. You may be able to find some ICC profiles in cyberspace that someone has built to simulate zone processing. You could then do a profile-to-profile (in Photoshop shorthand "P2P") conversion of your scan file. If such curves don't exist, you might find yourself pioneering at bit down the road...
I've been working with images for graphic design work for years, but I'm only starting out in digital darkroom work. My experience with the 1270 has put damper on my work and I'm still sizing up the options for getting a true archival print capability. I'm leaning on buying a 1200, which doesn't have the chipped cartridges and exploring Lysonic inks. The 2000P is expensive and it's Epson's first printer offering dye based inks. I'm inclined to wait and see if Epson missed anything... they certainly did on the 870/1270 printers.
#4. "RE: Photoshop and the Zone System" | In response to Reply # 0
I'm going through a similar process myself with a F80 and 28-105 lens and a copy of Ansel Adams 'The Negative'.
I bought a used Canon 2710 film scanner which offered the best 'value' IMHO (the rate at which digital technology changes makes it impractical to buy the 'best' at any time - I'm pretty sure LS2000 results or better will be available for <$500 in the next few years - so I would rather buy a bit more downmarket and keep upgrading).
The thing with the Canon is that it allows you to control the 'exposure' DURING the scanning process. You can either slow down the scanning speed to read more detail into the shadows, or speed it up and pick up details in the highlights. This offers a similar benefit (in my uneducated eyes) of N-1 or N+1 processing.
Once the image is scanned it is analogous to the negative - you can still control during printing but what's in the computer is what you've got.
Playing with curves, levels, etc - is like using different contrast papers, etc (book 3 - 'The Print').
I want to now 'calibrate' my system so I can make the types of judgements suggested by the 'zone system'. I don't think you can beat doing your own development, but this to me is the next best thing.
So, when buying a scanner, look for adjustments that can be made IN THE SCANNING PROCESS (and check if you need an upgrade from 4LE - you can download an eval. version of 5.5 from Adobe's website)