Zone System Testing Method

The ever-increasing dominance of digital photography isn't the only unsettling development that photographers have had to cope with in recent years. Until not very long ago film photographers could count on the stability and consistent quality of products from three of the West's most venerable names: Kodak, Ilford, and Agfa.

As of this writing, all three of these companies have undergone major reorganizations and have either discontinued or modified many of the products that were once the foundations of traditional photographic processes. The most important of these changes will be summarized in the technical information offered in this chapter. For example, Kodak has changed the way they manufacture their films so we have retested and have new development times for all of their most popular films.

Note: There has been a lot of confusion about the extent to which Kodak's films are different from their predecessors. They of course have new names but Kodak's official word is that all they have done is relocate their manufacturing facilities and changed the way their emulsions are applied to the film bases. Also, there are web sites that claim to demonstrate that the classic standards of quality for films like Tri-X and Plus-X have not changed in meaningful ways. On th other hand, many photographers have reported that Kodak's films are simply not the way they used to be. My film-testing collaborator Iris Davis (owner of Davis Black and White, a high-quality custom photo lab in Oakland) and I have conducted extremely careful empirical tests of Kodak's new films and our results have shown that the grain structures and tonal gradations of Kodak's films are noticeably different from what they were before. The new development data are included below and, unfortunately, we no longer recommend 400TX (Tri-X) or 125PX (Plus-X) as we once did. Kodak's 100Tmax (T-Max 100) and 400Tmax (T-Max 400) films, on the other hand, still give excellent results. See Appendix F for a description of our testing method and Appendix G for Iris' comments on the new films and developers based upon her professional experiences.

Another major change is that Agfa-Gevaert no longer produces Rodinal that was once the developer of choice for photographers looking for the sharpest possible grain.

The good news is that, despite all of these changes, there are still excellent choices available to photographers devoted to film. The problem is that, in order to get the most from what you have learned about the Zone System, you have to understand in detail how it's concepts and principles apply to the range of films and developers that are still available.

One approach would be to work through the Zone System testing Method 1, described in the previous chapter. The experience and information that you can gain from completing such a test

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