Spring 2012

Spring 2012
by ani

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I want to learn more about light and I think finally getting a light meter will help do the trick. I'd like to see the amount of light coming from different light bulbs and the differences in the sun as it sets/rises. I don't feel like my camera's light meter is that helpful with this, I can figure a different in stops but I don't have a clear amount of actual light and how it falls off a subject. I'm using a panasonic Gh1 and a canon 600d as my cameras, and I'd like to use the meter for stills and video. A few years ago when I first looked into light meters it seemed like for all the features (such as 1 degree spot) you needed a $600 + meter, but I recently read this thread where a much cheaper $230 Sekonic version was mentioned and the person who answered the question actually used the cheap meter.

So I'm wondering what you guys think, and would if a $600+ meter would be future proof? Because that could possibly effect my decision if I'm going be looking to upgrade in a year. Thanks guys!

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for ambient light IMO you only need an inexpensive meter. The more expensive meters integrate with wireless transmitters and have more options with studio flash (calculating lighting ratios and so forth). For things like sunrise/sunset you can use the spot meter in your camera, it should be accurate enough for that. – MikeW Jan 22 '12 at 3:06
up vote 1 down vote accepted

The 308 is a good incident light/flash meter, and it's about all you need for that (unless you need a built-in PocketWizard transmitter and/or need the meter to do simple lighting ratio calculations for you). It's only a slight pain to exchange the Lumidisc (flat for measuring individual lights) and Lumisphere (a hemisphere for the overall exposure reading). There are parts you can lose -- the 358 and 758 both use a retractable sphere instead of changing parts.

The reflected light reading is about the same as you'd get from your camera set to center-weighted with a normal lens, so its utility as a reflected light meter really depends on whether your camera has a meter at all. With a DSLR, you'd be better off going TTL, but if you ever decide to use a medium format film camera or a press/view camera, it may come in handy.

The only real shortcoming is spot metering. If you can find the spot metering attachment (I don't know if it's currently offered, but the one for the discontinued 328 should fit since they use the same sphere/disc), it's a five degree spot (not one) and there is viewfinder parallax to deal with -- I found it was very difficult to get a reading off of a specific part of a scene with the 328 and wound up using a Pentax Spotmeter 5 instead.

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I have three of the best light meters ever made, and none of them are $600. Of course, my opinion entirely, but they are solid, dependable meters, and are not expensive, like the new fancy sekonic meters that cost more than a very decent lens.

The three meters I use are the Gossen Luna Pro-F (standard 9v battery), a Sekonic L-398A, and a Pentax Digital Spotmeter (currently, the most expensive of the three, but for my slow, close up cactus work, the most accurate).

The Gossen will do reflective, incident, and flash. It's rather large for walking around with, so, the Sekonic L398A is a great smaller meter that doesn't need a battery. Its design hasn't really changed much in several decades. It is only incident (well, it will do reflective with a different disc, but I think it is far better as a simple incident meter).

The Pentax Digital Spotmeter (which isn't digital at all, but shows digits instead of an analog meter, hence the name) is very accurate; I simply sweep it across the scene for the brightest non-specular region, and open up one or two stops of exposure. It is useful for a modified zone-system approach: for film, the idea was the meter the shadows, stop down a few stops, and let the highlights go where they wanted. That's because on film, you had a hard time blowing the highlights, but it was fairly easy to lose all detail in the shadows. For digital, it is exactly the opposite. So, you meter the highlights, open up a few stops, and let the shadows fall where they may. It is amazing how much detail you can pull out of the shadows in a digital image.

None of these are $600; most are perhaps $100 each, except for the Pentax, which is unfortunately commanding ~$300 these days, although you may be able to find it less expensive. They are all excellent meters.

The bottom line is, in my opinion, you do not have to spend $600 for an excellent light meter.

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