Last month I was fortunate enough to get out of the snow and head to Death Valley for a well enjoyed photography trip.
For the past couple of years I have really been enjoying working with zone plates and decided to try my luck in the desert landscape.
Zone plates are very similar to pinhole photography in there is no lens and the resulting photo is from light diffraction rather than refraction through a glass element.
Zone plates however use a pattern of opaque and solid concentric circles resulting in a softer (less sharp) image caused by a larger amount of undiffracted light to reach the image plane. They are often reduced in contrast and produce a distinct glow or halo in the highlights.
Another benefit of zone plates over pinholes is a smaller effective f-stop number.
Zone plates are often 3 – 4 stops higher than an equivalent pinhole.
While it is almost mandatory to use a tripod while shooting pinholes, I often am able to shoot zone plates hand held.
I find I often need to adjust the highlights and blacks to achieve some contrast in the final image, however with the sharpness achieved in newer cameras and lenses I find I really enjoy the softness and older style images zone plates create.
Each zone plates set of circles is designed for a specific focal length and wave length (color).
Here is a great link by G. Adam Stanislav explaining the science of zone plates and steps to make your own.