The Creator’s Top 3 features of the Zone System Express

I know, I know, I am a little biased to the Zone System Express because I created it.  It feels kind of silly, like a grade school teachers whose favorite kid in the class is their own, but hey, at least they have a favorite right?

All jokes aside, I wanted to put together a video for you that outlines my favorite features of the new Zone System Express 5.0. While I do have many favorites, I had to narrow this down to three or I would have made a 4-hour video and no one has time for that 🙂

The last Zone System Express release was version 4.0 in September of last year.  I thought that release was pretty darn good at the time.  I thought, heck, what can I do to top this one? Well, here are my three favorites.  You can read about them here, or scroll down to the bottom of the post to watch the video tutorial to get a better understanding of them.

Learn More about the Zone System Express 5.0

 1.  The User Interface

If you know me well enough, you know my mantra that there is always something better, always room for improvement, and nothing is truly perfect.  So I hit the drawing board, and I started learning a LOT more about javascript, HTML, and CSS coding.  Through my research, I found that I could do quite a bit to this panel to improve the functionality on the backend.  Some things you won’t even notice because they are all hidden behind ones and zeros, while others are obvious.  Either way, the new User Interface is fancier, faster, and just a darn pretty site to look at 🙂

 2.  The 5 and 7 Tone Heat Maps

I did a tutorial on the Heat Maps a few months back.  The sneaky thing is, I had already had it coded into the new panel even back then.  However, I wasn’t quite ready for a ZSE5 release.  I had a few things to figure out, like where am I going to put a whole new folder to house this thing?   I,  in turn, took out the Export tab and made a whole new panel for proofing and exporting to make room for the heat maps.

I think they are critical in image processing as they allow you to see tones in a way I have never experienced.  With a simple gradient map, it shows you where your tones are in the image, but the kicker is the curve that is under it.  For once, it is so much easier for me to show you how to SEE tones.  That is because the heat maps make those tonal values appear as colors.  This, I thought was going to be my favorite new feature… until #3.


 3.  The Enhanced Contrast II

Enhanced COntrast II has been a button that has taken on many forms.  Some may have seen that it has changed over time, others may not have noticed.  Now, however, you will notice!  I can guarantee you will never find detail optimizers anywhere on the planet like that of the Enhanced Contrast II button.  It uses a combination of many things I have taught over the years, but in a very comprehensive way to give you a quick, lightweight approach to detail optimization like you have never seen.  I was floored by the results the first time I used it.  It can start out pretty heavy-handed, and it may appear to be a High Pass sharpening, but there are things going on before the High Pass that set you up for success.  Try it; you will love it!

Learn More about the Zone System Express 5.0


Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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