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03-29-2011, 11:33 AM   #1
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Metering confusion

For some reason I am still somewhat confused regarding metering. I understand the concept, just not how to properly or effectively use the settings.

After buying my K-x late last year I took a beginner's digital photography class. The instructor, a well-published professional photographer, mentioned that the easiest way to meter if time is of the essence (and all other things being equal) is to set the camera to spot metering, aim the camera at the whitest area of the scene, partially depress the shutter button to capture that spot, then re-frame and shoot (my camera is set to the default exposure metering of 10 sec., which allows me plenty of time to do this).

This is probably good advice in some instances, but now I find myself mentally locked into performing this routine every time I take a picture under any condition. I don't want to pick up a bad habits if I can avoid them. The more I research metering, however, the more I find users recommending multi-segment metering as the default for most shots, and adjusting to spot or center weighted in extreme or problematic lighting situations.

Question 1: All things being equal and I am shooting outdoor scenes in daytime with good lighting, what is the preferred metering method?

Question 2: If I am shooting indoors in less well lighted environments, how should I meter this?

The more I think I've learned, the more it is that I seem confused about...

03-29-2011, 11:44 AM   #2
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Your instructor gave you bad advice, or at the very least he doesn't know how a spot meter works.
Your spot meter is going to try to bring whatever it is pointed at down to middle gray, so if you meter the brightest part of the scene and use that as your exposure setting without modification, you will be underexposing your images.
Generally, I'm using center weighted averaging. I've always found it to be the most predictable. I've been playing with matrix metering since I got the K7 (and now K5) and Pentax has made some real gains with this type of metering (it's actually pretty accurate).
03-29-2011, 12:04 PM   #3
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I think spot metering is for experienced photogs who should be able to estimate exposure compensation, anyway :-)

I test-shot for a week in center-weighted and a week in matrix - not a whole lot of difference, but I prefer matrix.

I was accidentally stuck on spot-meter for three days while on vacation in the desert. Surprisingly, and luckily, most tones in the desert are in the middle and all was fine.
03-29-2011, 12:08 PM   #4
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agreed with Wheatfield, especially if you shoot indoor.

Moreover, don't forget that with digital you can try to change setting to see how they change your picture.

03-29-2011, 12:17 PM   #5
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I always use matrix metering as it seems to generally be accurate (however, I generally keep AF on "spot"). With 77 active segments, the system rarely screws up bigtime, unless your composition is somehow way off. If during instant review anything is overexposed, I generally just decrease the EV by 1 and assume the result will be fine that time around. Usually it is! If it isn't at that point, I usually switch over to manual rather than trying to get a new reading from the spot meter.
03-29-2011, 12:17 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Stardog Quote
For some reason I am still somewhat confused regarding metering. I understand the concept, just not how to properly or effectively use the settings.

After buying my K-x late last year I took a beginner's digital photography class.
this can be a good thing, and aside from anything else exposes you to one professional's view point, however he may not explain fully the theory behind the approach he uses
QuoteQuote:
The instructor, a well-published professional photographer, mentioned that the easiest way to meter if time is of the essence (and all other things being equal) is to set the camera to spot metering, aim the camera at the whitest area of the scene, partially depress the shutter button to capture that spot, then re-frame and shoot (my camera is set to the default exposure metering of 10 sec., which allows me plenty of time to do this).
here is where the theory breaks down, this approach will result in you under exposing by several stops all the time because white is supposed to be bright, but the camera's metering will try to interpret this as mid grey
QuoteQuote:
This is probably good advice in some instances,
just I can't figure out any instance where I would do this
QuoteQuote:
but now I find myself mentally locked into performing this routine every time I take a picture under any condition. I don't want to pick up a bad habits if I can avoid them. The more I research metering, however, the more I find users recommending multi-segment metering as the default for most shots, and adjusting to spot or center weighted in extreme or problematic lighting situations.
multi segment can be pretty good, especially on the K7 and K5 which have evolved away from the 11 segment pattern pentax had used, to a 77 segment pattern
QuoteQuote:

Question 1: All things being equal and I am shooting outdoor scenes in daytime with good lighting, what is the preferred metering method?
there is no preferred, multi segment will work well if you are not overly concerned about possible loss of some highlight or shadow detail, especially in high contrast scenes. If you are concerned about one specific point being perfect, then set the meter to spot, and meter on that point (kind of like the pro told you) but also consider, the appearance of that point, relitive to a mid grey surface, add or subtract a stop or so, depending if you think it should be lighter or darker than mid grey
QuoteQuote:

Question 2: If I am shooting indoors in less well lighted environments, how should I meter this?
no differently than in 1 above
QuoteQuote:

The more I think I've learned, the more it is that I seem confused about...
The way I meter, especially in outdoor situations is to often find a mid grey surface (i.e. a substuitute for a 18% grey card) and meter off that. Roads, or tree trunks work very well for this. Then I use that setting as long as the lighting does not change.

I hope this helps.
03-29-2011, 12:28 PM   #7
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Hi Stardog,

I usually shoot Center Weighted. This mode meters the entire meter coverage area, but biases towards the central area of the frame. I shoot birds, and in most cases, I'm focusing and metering off the center of the frame, then I'll either recompose or later crop the shot for composition. If a bird has either white or yellow feathers and is in direct sunllight, I may switch to spot, meter off the lightest area, lock the exposure, then recompose, focus and shoot. With birds, the subject that I'm trying to expose correctly rarely dominates the total area of the frame, and the background is usually either really dark or really bright, so this works for me.

You might try mapping the different metering modes in your camera. A relatively dim light source in a dark room (bare low wattage bulb or a candle will serve). In Av priority mode, set your aperture to the smallest f-stop. Use a high enough ISO speed so the light will actually register with the meter (400 should be fine) With the light source at one edge of your viewfinder, actuate your meter with a half press and hold it as you slowly pan so the light source moves towards the center of the viewfinder, then past to the other edge. Watch your shutter speed for change during the pan.

Change the metering mode and repeat.

With matrix metering, you should see little change as you pan. With Center Weighted, you'll see the shutter speed decrease as you approach the central portion of the VF (it's a pretty large area), then it will decrease again as the center of the frame moves away from the light. In Spot mode, you'll see the same behavior, but the area where the shutter speed increases will be considerably smaller and abrupt.

Take 3 shots with the light source at either edge of the frame, towards the center and at the center in each mode. Take a look at your shots, and you'll see that in matrix mode, the exposure is about the same for all three shots -- the room will be reasonalby exposed and the source blown out. In CW, the shots with the light source towards the center and at the center will have the light less blown out, and with spot, the light source will be closer to properly exposed, but only with the source at the center and the other two shots will be lighter overall and the source will be completely blown out. Disregard any motion blur in these shots -- you're looking at the exposure. . .

Each metering mode has its advantages in certain situations. I find CW fits the majority of my shooting, but consider that I shoot long teles (300-500mm) handheld a lot, so with normal camera motion, I usually can't keep the usually small brightest area steady in the very center of the frame, so spot metering usually just isn't practical, so I use the best compromise for me -- Center Weighted. If I'm shooting from a tripod, I can hold steady on a small area, so spot metering is considerably more practical.

Everyone shoots different subjects and in different ways. I find it's usually best to learn how the camera functions, then make decisions based on your own choice of subjects and shooting style.

Scott
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