Friday, November 17, 2006

Lightzone 2.0 (The Zone System for Digital Processing)

Light Crafts has just released version 2.0 of Lightzone, their photo darkroom software that tries to make it more intuitive than Photoshop to adjust exposure, detail, and color in various parts of a picture without painting alpha layer masks. It supports Pentax .PEF RAW files, as well as TIFF and JPG. The Online Photographer has Light Craft as one of their major site sponsors, so if you click through to T.O.P.'s article on LightZone 2.0 and then to Light Craft's ad, you'll get a 20% discount off the "Workflow" retail price of $249.95, and it applies to the budget "Retouch" version for $149.95, too. It's also available as a free 30-day demo. Good for Mac or Windows.

Above: The Pentax Spotmeter, one of Ansel Adams' favorites.

The unique premise behind Lightzone is the Zone System pioneered by Ansel Adams. In a nutshell, Adams advocated exposing your negative so that you can pick up at least a hint of texture detail in the shadows that need it (which is zone 3), and then you develop and print to paper using techniques so that your highlights don't appear burnt out. It doesn't really apply to slide film or digital because if you overexpose it's very likely all the highlight detail is lost, and paper contrast is now a non-issue, so Lightzone tries to make the digital darkroom process a bit more relative to the original philosophy of bringing out the best detail and contrasts in your picture by portioning various parts of your image into the zone system's 9 exposure values - even after you've exposed for highlights.

In the Zone System, zone 1 (ev. -4) would be pitch black and 9 (ev. +4) would be pure white, and zone 5 is 18% middle gray (ev. 0). Lightzone lets you redistribute the scale around the elements of your image without having to tediously adjust curves or levels, or work with difficult masking techniques, burning, or dodging by hand. It works best with RAW files or scans, and is good for assisting in the noise associated with increasing exposure on darker ares in digital files. But Lightzone is also good at overall color management right through to printing for 16-bit color files as well, and it includes the ability to use templates and scripted routines for batches.

And yes, Ansel Adams used Pentax Spotmeters an awful lot for his Zone System work. In fact, even though they're getting harder and harder to come by, they are still the most reputable handheld spotmeter that professionals recognize. Although it's not as precise, the spot metering function in Pentax SLRs and DSLRs measures a small portion of the screen, which can also be useful in evaluating relative bright and dark portions of your scene, and if you use it in manual mode or using AE Lock, you can easily try Zone System photography with your camera and Lightzone.

A good place to start learning more about the Zone system is Ansel Adam's book The Negative, but you can also read about it rather quickly in this tutorial article at Luminous-Landscapes. I've also included some other good links down below for more information about the Zone System as photographers have interpreted it after Adams.

Links: Lightzone 2.0, Pentax Spotmeters, Lightzone 2.0 Discount at T.O.P., Luminous-Landscapes Zone System Tutorial, A Zone System recap by Ken Rockwell,A simplified color Zone System and more links

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