How Do Zones Work in Resolve 17’s New HDR Palette?

December 3, 2020

The HDR Palette represents a major advance in Resolve 17's color grading toolset. Learn about it's core concept, Zones, and how they work.


HDR Palette 101, Part 1: How, precisely, do ‘Zones’ work and how are they different?

Resolve 17 is proving to be the most consequential release, for colorists, in a very long time. Personally, I’d argue this is the most important release since Resolve 8, which ported DaVinci Resolve to the Mac. At the heart of this release is Resolve Color Management 2.0 (RCM2).

To fully teach RCM2, and its impact on Resolve’s toolsets requires a rather out-sized discussion. Luckily, you don’t need to know *anything* about RCM2 to see its impact and benefit from its ‘new math’ day-to-day. In my mind, the purest expression of RCM2 on the color grading tools is the brand new High Dynamic Range Palette and its Zone controls.

Understand Zones, understand the High Dynamic Range Palette

The HDR Palette is quite intimidating at first, because by default it ships with 6 color wheels – each representing a ‘Zone’. If you sit down and just start playing with it you may struggle to understand what the tool is actually doing. The key to understanding is breaking down the busy default zone settings into a single zone control – and then experimenting.

In this Insight, I sit down with a grayscale gradient and start pushing/pulling to answer some key questions:

  • How is the Light Zone different from the Dark Zone (other than its name)?
  • What’s up with the new controls surrounding each of the color wheels?
  • Is the HDR Palette’s Global control the same as the Offset control? (hint: Definitely NOT)
  • How is this new HDR Palette different from the Primaries Palette and why might you use it?

By the end of this Insight you should have a good idea of what a ‘Zone’ is, the basic controls for manipulating Zones, and how (using the default settings) you can use the HDR Palette for standard dynamic range projects.

In Part 2, we will get our first taste of how RCM2 lets you change the behavior of the HDR Palette and prepare your projects for the hybrid SDR/HDR world we’ll be living in for the foreseeable future.

Viewing Tip: If you want to jump directly into my experimentation with Zones, that discussion starts at 5:00. I begin by first pushing-pulling the grayscale in the 3-Way and Log Primary controls, setting us up to understanding how Zones work differently.

Comments and Questions, Please!

Please do leave any questions or comments you have, in the discussion below. If you found something confusing (or enlightening) – let me know! Comments help me shape my future Insights and its how our members communicate with us – and each other.



Member Content

Sorry... the rest of this content is for members only. You'll need to login or Join Now to continue (we hope you do!).

Need more information about our memberships? Click to learn more.

Membership options
Member Login

Are you using our app? For the best experience, please login using the app's launch screen


Homepage Forums How Do Zones Work in Resolve 17’s New HDR Palette?

  • Jakob P

    Excellent demonstration. Can’t wait to see how everyone puts these to use in their projects.

  • Neill J

    How much control over this new tool can you get through the mini panel?

  • Pat Inhofer

    Neil – Part 3 of this series will show specifically how the Mini panel works with Zones. Everything you can do in the UI you can do with the Mini panel (except adding/naming a Zone). But it takes some getting used to. I’ve been using it pretty extensively on a film I’m grading and have some tips for adjusting to the Zone controls, since you’ve got 3 trackballs but many more Zones.

    At first, it’s a bit confusing – and then you can settle down and get fast on it. But there are a few gotcha’s.

  • Jamie Dickinson

    Nicely explained Insight, thank you!
    I now see why they’ve called these controls Exposure controls because your demonstration shows that the gradient of the curve (after the fall off) remains unaffected, in just the same way that an Offset adjustment would work for that region. I know the terms Offset, printer lights and Exposure are often used for this kind of adjustment. It’s quite different to a gain adjustment where the gradient would be increased. Thank you for showing this so clearly!

  • Pat Inhofer

    Jamie – thanks for letting me know you found this explanation useful! It was a bit of mind-bender to figure out how to talk about it.

  • Remco Hekker

    Interesting insight Patrick!
    I love how the “zones” in this tool are really easy to relate to the Ansel Adams’s Zone-system. I haven’t worked with this tool at all but it seems to give you the control to pick any exposure range in the image and place it into the zone you want it to go.
    As you can read, I’ve been focusing on my black and whites recently ;-).

    Looking forward to the next one.

  • Jason Jones

    This may or may not be interesting, or funny, but … Ansel helped me as a primary source for my MFA dissertation on the history of colour photography, but years before working together I attended a talk he gave (in Orlando, btw Pat!) at a museum. I waited in line to get his autograph, and of course, everybody in line had some $125 coffee table book for him to sign. I had this real old, worn copy of The Print. When I finally got to Ansel, I asked if he would mind signing his name to such a modest book. He said, “For twenty-five bucks I’ll sign Alfred Steiglitz!”

Log in to reply.

1,000+ Tutorials to Explore

Get full access to our entire library of over 1,100+ color tutorials for an entire week!

Start Your Test Drive!