I'm considering getting a Sekonic LX 308 light meter without a spot meter. That is to use it with my Nikon FM2.

I'm wondering if I will miss something important without having a spot meter.

Is it worth it to get a light meter with a spot meter on it? E.g. the Sekonic L858.

  • 1
    Not a full answer but one of the common uses for spot measuring is to accurately expose the faces of people in a picture, especially if they are relatively small (but still important). Caucasian faces are often brighter than the picture average if directly illuminated. Silhouetted faces against the light are obviously darker. Modern cameras have face recognition and, if thus set, properly expose faces with priority. Absent that you can of course just make an educated guess for a manual correction, but for best results you'd want to know. Aug 7, 2019 at 8:42

7 Answers 7


A spot meter is handy to be able to read the reflectivity of an object in the scene precisely from a distance.

It is like putting a telephoto lens on a meter to isolate one part of the subject.

An alternate method is to walk over to the subject and read the reflectivity close-up.

Without a spot meter, you would take a reading of the average light reflectivity of the whole scene. This would give you an average exposure which may or may not render an object in the scene to your desired liking.

You could take a reflection reading of a grey card which represents the mid-grey of an average scene. This too would give you an average exposure which may or may not render an object in the scene to your desired liking.

The spot meter allows you to more accurately measure an object in the scene easier than moving the meter to each object.

There are two kinds of light meters that read luminance either falling on the scene (incident) or being reflected from the scene (reflection). After that, there is the acceptance angle which determines their accuracy. How you use it is more important than its type.

Any meter will be a disappointment if used incorrectly.

  • 2
    Briefly, references to Zones refers to the reflectivity of areas within the scene such as max.black (0) shadow detail (III), highlight detail (VIII) and peak white of the paper base (IX). Development variation will put (translate) precise reflective readings (exposure zones) into different print densities. If this interests you, you will ultimately want the increased ability of a spot meter. Very few get to this level of tone reproduction (the generic term.)
    – Stan
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:25

"Is it worth it" greatly depends on what you are doing, how you approach your photography, and what other gear you are planning to use.

If you have a modern digital camera, then their value is greatly diminished. If you're working with a large format film camera, then they're invaluable if you like to carefully inspect the light of the scene before deciding on how to take your photo.

Boiled down, a spot meter is just another method to measure light and help you decide what the exposure is. In many ways isn't much more valuable than the "Sunny 16 Rule" is, while in others it completely blows such a primitive 'tool' out of the water.

The key impact of a spot meter is being able to accurately and precisely take a reading of a very specific part of the image to judge how bright or dim it really is, and then being able to compare that to other parts of the image.

However, the same effect can be achieved with careful use of a cellphone camera, especially one that gives you control over exposure.

Spot meters are highly useful, but they are not magical devices that will instantly improve your photography. Like other metering options, their value comes from careful understanding of their function and how to use them.

If you don't see yourself being able to debate about the merits of where the highlights, midtones, shadows, and blacks should be even before taking a photo, then you are unlikely to find a great deal of value out of most spot meters. However, if reading about subjects like The Zone Metering System [based on Ansel Adams and Fred Archer's work, not the modern digital meter modes found on some cameras] really clicks with you, then a spot meter may easily become your best friend.

Lastly, consider your options when it comes to what meter you buy.

Ideally you will want a 1 degree meter. Wider meters can be useful, but they can be harder to use well for accurate clean work, and are at risk of giving 'muddy' results.

You may also find that an 'all in one' solution may not be the most effective for you. Personally I use a tiny gossen thing that fits in my hand for incident and flash metering, and have an old Capital Digital SP II spot meter that I picked up for cheap from an online used camera dealer. [I find they have less 'fiddling points' to faff about with, especially the Capital Digital, which has two buttons: One to meter the light, and one to lock down the readout if it is fluttering...]

Possibly a personal bias, but if a light meter doesn't contain a dial scale that lets you look at all your options for f/stops and shutter speeds for a given exposure, then it isn't a 'real' meter...


This depends on what you want to do.

I use pretty much entirely film cameras, so each frame I take costs me real money.

For 35mm I don't think I have ever used a spotmeter: if I care enough and I'm uncertain about where I want exposure to sit, I might bracket, but 35mm film isn't expensive enough to worry enough about that, and the sorts of things I do with 35mm generally aren't going to wait for me to muck around with a meter other than the one that's in most of the cameras I have, let alone a spotmeter.

For 5x4 I always use a spotmeter (it's why I bought a spotmeter): it's in the bag with the darkslides and the darkcloth that I carry with the camera and I use it for every exposure. And that's not because 5x4 is more fussy than 35mm, which it isn't; it's because:

  • making 5x4 exposures is much slower, so the overhead of actually metering the details of the scene is very much smaller in comparison;
  • it's also much more expensive per frame, so the cost of wasting a sheet of film is much higher;
  • you can only make a tiny number of frames in any one session because you can't carry very many darkslides, so you want not to waste this scarce resource;
  • and, finally I'm also trying to do something different when I'm using the 5x4 camera than when I'm using the 35mm camera, and I care a lot more that the 5x4 negs are as good as I can make them.

So this is a question that only you can answer.

  • 1
    Darkslides - Don't you mean film holders? The dark slides are the covers for each side of a film holder.
    – Stan
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:28
  • You forgot to mention that sheet film can be processed one shot at a time where rolls cannot be so easily managed.
    – Stan
    Aug 6, 2019 at 17:30
  • @Stan: 'Dark slide' (specifically 'double dark slide' is a common term for film holder in the UK). About processing individual sheets: you are right of course but I don't in fact process it one sheet at a time. I was just trying to express why I'd personally use a spotmeter then and why it depends hugely on circumstance & preferences.
    – user82065
    Aug 6, 2019 at 18:44

Just like a there are different types of hammers, and a ball-peen hammer isn't always the type you want to use...there are different ways to meter a scene and a spot isn't always the type you want to use. But, it does come in handy to nail down the correct exposure in tough lighting conditions.

What you need to look at is the different tools available and what they do well and not so well. An incident meter is a great tool but it requires you to be right up on your subject in order to take a reading from that subject's location. This is not always possible. The next best things are your reflected metering methods (usually some sort of evaluative, center-weighted, and spot) of which spot metering is the most pin-point accurate (but does require multiple readings to get a feel for the scene).

So, what if you don't have the spot meter in the hand-held meter? No worries, your camera probably has one.

But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that your camera doesn't have one. In this case, if shooting a subject you can't get to, you'll be forced to take an incident reading at your location and then guess as to the subject's proper exposure. If, say, you are shooting a wide angle portrait of someone sitting under the shade of a tree during a sunny midday, well, your meter at your location will read an exposure for midday sun. This will underexpose your shaded subject. It's up to you to recognize this fact and make any adjustments necessary.

Is it the end of the world not having a spot meter? No, not at all. Do, however, recognize what data your tools are giving you and make any adjustments necessary for the image you want to make.

  • I'm using Nikon FM2.
    – neversaint
    Aug 7, 2019 at 4:54

This is probably opinion-based.

The truth is that I only use a light meter for incident light on a studio.

If that is why you are using it, you do not need a spotmeter.

If you are taking photos of landscape or architecture for example, and you also want to do a zone metering, you probably need it.

This will also depend if you are using digital or not. If it is digital you can use the histogram to know about your exposures on the different zones. That is if your camera does have one.

In the end, you need a tool on a device if you actually need it, or if another device does not have it.

The question is, have you ever encountered a situation where you actually did, and you did not have it?


If you want to use Ansel Adam's and Fred Archer's Zone System, you must use a spot-meter.

The Zone System is a photographic technique for determining optimal film exposure and development, formulated by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer.1 Adams described the Zone System as "[...] not an invention of mine; it is a codification of the principles of sensitometry, worked out by Fred Archer and myself at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, around 1939–40."[2]

The technique is based on the late 19th century sensitometry studies of Hurter and Driffield. The Zone System provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results. Although it originated with black-and-white sheet film, the Zone System is also applicable to roll film, both black-and-white and color, negative and reversal, and to digital photography.

Here's a tutorial on how to do it "in the field": http://www.alanbrockimages.com/blog/2015/5/30/how-to-meter-using-the-zone-system


As Peter mentioned in comments, spot meters DO NOT and CANNOT correctly expose the spot. They only try make the spot come out middle gray level (because subject colors just confuse them). That may be good if your spot is middle gray, but you'll have to know to compensate about +1EV for a Caucasian face (this can vary).

Cameras today have the best reflective light meters, ideally metering only the specific view that the lens sees instead of a wide 40 degree field, so handheld reflective can be less good. But camera meters are still reflective meters.

What the handheld meter (including L308) actually offers is incident metering, which meters the scene's light directly, and is specifically independent of the scene colors that confuse a reflective meter. The incident meter cab also meter flash.

I have a L308, and it's a fine meter (used for flash), and I would suggest seeing my sites page at https://www.scantips.com/lights/handheld_lightmeter.html

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