The Zone System was originally used with B&W film photography. With colour digital photography, though, couldn't you get much the same results by keeping an eye on the histogram? I think I might have missed the point, so let's ask: would I gain anything by learning to use the Zone System with my DSLR?


4 Answers 4


I'd say it's worth it. My friend Nick has written a fairly decent overview of the zone system which uses an example that was taken in colour on his digital SLR.

  • 2
    Nick does write some very good articles, although obviously he doesn't have the publicity that a lot of more major sites do, but I've included his in this thread: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/384/…
    – Edd
    Jul 20, 2010 at 14:59
  • Ooh look I can now post comments! Thanks to Edd for linking to my site, and to Matt and Hamish for your comments. I'm open to suggestions for other articles to write, if you have any.
    – user456
    Jul 26, 2010 at 15:18
  • Nick, I read your article and it seems to me that it's just bracketing. What am I missing? Feb 18, 2011 at 12:20
  • Hi anthony - no, it's not bracketing. Bracketing is taking a sequence of shots with different exposures when conditions are tricky to see what the best exposure is.The Zone System is identifying a key component of the picture, working out how bright it needs to be, and exposing accordingly. Can usually be done in a single shot.
    – user456
    Feb 18, 2011 at 14:09

The wikipedia article on this has some good information. Basically, yes, it is probably still worth the time to learn the system, but you probably won't use it in it's original form. The Zone system will tell you what the exposure and dynamic range should be, and the histogram will tell you what the exposure and dynamic range is. The benefit is in knowing the difference between the expected and actual results, which allows you to adjust to get what you want.


Learn the system, it's a way of seeing. It'll make you a better photographer overall, even if you never shoot black and white.

Search Amazon, there are books about using the zone system with digital cameras and colour photography.


The complete zone system is a method for controlling the contrast in photography by adjusting development of film versus final print contrast using an enlarger and paper printing. Aside from it's historical significance in the history of photography, it has no bearing in digital photography. Contrast and tone value, to some extent, is independant of camera exposure values. All one really needs to do today is keep the highlights from blowing out, beyond that all the variables ansel had to control so tightly, are simple sliders in post processing.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.