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07-31-2012, 12:37 PM   #1
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Light meters?

Another noob here with a lovely K-r which I've just started to learn to use. In order to learn a bit more about photography in general I thought it might be a good idea to buy a cheap light meter off Ebay and have a fiddle about with it. What do the experts think?

07-31-2012, 12:42 PM   #2
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Perfect adjunct to a dslr (that has a sort of spot meter) is an incident meter IMO. I prefer the selenium cell (no batteries) sekonic meter L-398. You likely can find a used one from KEH B&H, etc for around $30. as a guess.
07-31-2012, 12:47 PM   #3
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I'm afraid we don't have B&H where I live. I'll have a look on Ebay for a Sekonic.

Just had a look. The cheapest is 100- $150! Anything cheaper do the job?
07-31-2012, 01:19 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by endure Quote
The cheapest is 100- $150! Anything cheaper do the job?
Any of the ebay meters will let you have a fiddle but may not have as many options or the accuracy. The Sekonic range has a very good reputation.

But what exactly do you want to do with it? If just learning and fiddling go with cheap, if you want something you will actually use for years then it will get spendy. I'm not sure there is any real need for a light meter today for the average photographer. For studio work, setting light ratios and so on, OK but just taking pictures? Use the meter in the camera in spot mode if you want to fiddle. Just my opinion.

07-31-2012, 01:34 PM   #5
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What are your current interests in photography? What do you hope to learn by using a light meter? Unfortunately, they are expensive, so have a concrete idea of what you want to learn is helpful. If you are interested in making movies, for example, you would want something a little different. If you want to do fashion, or anything using a flash, you will want a flash meter. If you are primarily interested in outdoors photography, you can certainly get by using an incident meter. Generally, I would expect to have to spend around $100 for digital meter.

QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
I'm not sure there is any real need for a light meter today for the average photographer.
Need, of course, is an extreme word. It is possible to shoot digital images for years without ever using a light meter. If you want to learn to have greater control over your images, a light meter is a good idea.

If your first concern is getting accurate exposures, one method is to set your exposure mode to spot, fill the frame with a grey card, and set the exposure. It's the method I used on film for years before I got a light meter, and it is very accurate. It is limited, though, as you are only setting your exposure in the light in which you are standing.
07-31-2012, 01:39 PM   #6
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I just like to know how things work and I thought a light meter might teach me a bit about the relationship between light and camera settings. I don't necessarily want to use it to take pictures.
07-31-2012, 01:55 PM   #7
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Sometimes local camera shops have "yard sales" with a variety of vendors. Here in Atlanta Wings Camera does, and I picked up a Norwood Director for $15.00 in good condition although its leather case is pretty ratty! Since it is a selenium cell meter no batteries are needed, and I could tell before buying that it worked. This is an incident light meter, and it agrees very well with my Minolta Autometer.

If you go the used meter route be certain that a meter using a cell doesn't require a mercury cell! These are off the market; while there are perhaps some workarounds why make life difficult? The suggestion for using a gray card is excellent, this was standard operating procedure before TTL metering, and it works very well.

Although shipping might be excessive KEH here in the states speciallizes in used gear had has an excellent reputation. Adorama and B&H in New York are also reliable sources of used stuff.
07-31-2012, 01:55 PM   #8
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1+ on the value of a hand-held meter for difficult lighting situations. Support for incident measurements is highly desirable as is the ability to use modern batteries. (Many used meters require unavailable mercury batteries.) Things to consider for a general purpose meter:
  • Sensor type. SPD (Silicon) is sensitive and quick responding. CdS is less sensitive and slower responding. Selenium is least sensitive (depending on size of cell) and can be downright sluggish in low light.
  • Battery. Older meters use unavailable mecury cells, though adapters can be purchased. Selenium meters do not need batteries.
  • Support for incident readings. Incident meters usually have a white dome as a light diffuser. Reflected light meters can be used to measure incident light by metering off an 18% gray card rather than the subject itself.
  • Sensitivity. The better meters are many times more sensitive to light than your camera, though that is not always the case.
  • Size. Some are tiny, others not so tiny.
In regards to that last item...I love my Gossen Luna Lux, but it is hardly compact...




Steve

07-31-2012, 03:19 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
1+ on the value of a hand-held meter for difficult lighting situations. Support for incident measurements is highly desirable as is the ability to use modern batteries. (Many used meters require unavailable mercury batteries.) Things to consider for a general purpose meter:
  • Sensor type. SPD (Silicon) is sensitive and quick responding. CdS is less sensitive and slower responding. Selenium is least sensitive (depending on size of cell) and can be downright sluggish in low light.
  • Battery. Older meters use unavailable mecury cells, though adapters can be purchased. Selenium meters do not need batteries.
  • Support for incident readings. Incident meters usually have a white dome as a light diffuser. Reflected light meters can be used to measure incident light by metering off an 18% gray card rather than the subject itself.
  • Sensitivity. The better meters are many times more sensitive to light than your camera, though that is not always the case.
  • Size. Some are tiny, others not so tiny.
In regards to that last item...I love my Gossen Luna Lux, but it is hardly compact...




Steve
+1 on the Gossen. I just picked up a Luna-Pro myself, uses a 9 volt battery so no issues there.

Phil.
08-01-2012, 09:23 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by endure Quote
I just like to know how things work and I thought a light meter might teach me a bit about the relationship between light and camera settings. I don't necessarily want to use it to take pictures.
I did this and it was useful. I recommend taking note of the meters most people use. Then buy one of those used, in excellent condition. That way you can always sell it for about the same amount. Light meter technology won't move as fast as camera tech so your meter won't go out of date if you choose the right one. Reselling a good brand should be easy.

Theoretically the camera's meter can teach you the same relationships, but I learned more from a dedicated spotmeter.
08-01-2012, 10:21 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Just1MoreDave Quote
but I learned more from a dedicated spotmeter.
This interesting. How did you account for the reflective properties of any given subject? I would think a dedicated incident meter would be a more straightforward tool to begin with, as it measures only the actual amount of light falling on a subject. Unless, of course, you are pointing the spot meter at a grey card.
08-01-2012, 11:47 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by fuent104 Quote
This interesting. How did you account for the reflective properties of any given subject? I would think a dedicated incident meter would be a more straightforward tool to begin with, as it measures only the actual amount of light falling on a subject. Unless, of course, you are pointing the spot meter at a grey card.
One thing you learn from the spot meter is what it doesn't do. I actually don't have any experience with a reflective meter, so I'm not going to be very good at discussing which one is better. I think you can learn something from spot, reflective, flash or even the camera's.

Another lesson from my spotmeter: the Pentax Spotmeter V is perfectly funtional but hard to carry around. It's built well enough to work as a light hammer, but it's heavy and a cumbersome shape.
08-01-2012, 12:28 PM - 1 Like   #13
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I started out with reflective meters, which operate much like a "full screen" TTL meter, except even more inclusive! This was long before TTL metering. We would aim the meter down somewhat to exclude the sky, or shade the cell with a hand, or move in as close as possible to take a reading off a face or another important subject area. Even still judgement was involved; dark skin required compensation as would a snow scene. And with film you wouldn't know the results until later, so keeping a notebook was a good idea. Sitll is, although I rarely do.

It is my understanding that a spot meter, either in the camera or hand held, involves considerable judgement in deciding which area or areas to meter, and in the case of several readings, how to arrive at the necessary compromise camera setting. While my Minolta Autometer has a spot reading attachment it takes in a 10 degree area, much broader than the Pentax Spotmeter, so I've rarely used it.

All meters rely on the assumption that a "typical" subject has an over all reflectance of 13 to 18 percent, depending on who's talking! See Gray card - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia I've always heard 18 per cent, but have encountered the 13 per cent figure recently. YMMV, as always. Note the "typical" caveat. Taking a reflective reading of a polar bear on an ice floe will "push" the image to gray unless you compensate, likewise a reading of a black cat on a dark carpet will result in a gray image.

(A gray card would be a good thing to carry, along with the 90% white card mentioned in the article. With a DSLR you could set your white balance exactly from the white card and not have to wonder where to find a "white" area in post processing.)

These extremes are where the incident meter is said to shine, by considering only the light falling on the subject - the dome collector is pointed toward the dominant light source at the camera or at the subject position, thus differences in subject reflectivity should be of no consequence. I use an incident meter when shooting film with my Vitessa L, the camera's built in uncoupled meter works but is very inconvenient. Using the Autometer I've had very consistent exposures in BW and color.

According to the Norwood Director's instruction manual the Director was the instrument of choice on movie sets, for better or ill!

If you want really thorough info on exposure, check into Ansel Adams' The Negative. While he deals primarily with sheet film and its ability to have customized development, he also discusses roll fim. There are other discussions of the Zone System which Adams developed, a prominent one was by Fred Picker, I believe.
08-01-2012, 12:59 PM   #14
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Adams is great but prejudiced to his ways--which are superb--but w/o his eye the incident meter does very well. You can start with the incident reading and then identify how you want to bias to cover extreme light or dark. (But you should read at least his first (in the series) book "camera and lens" and the zone system.

After 20 years moving to the incident meter was amazing: and exposures are an area I know well-indeed I usually do quite well w/o any meter.

The benefit of using a meter is likely less about the actual picture you are currently taking (w/digital and LED post exposure) than it is about really learning about exposure and thus intuitively recognizing how (in the future) a shot will turn out.
08-01-2012, 04:02 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Just1MoreDave Quote
One thing you learn from the spot meter is what it doesn't do. I actually don't have any experience with a reflective meter, so I'm not going to be very good at discussing which one is better.
I was actually using the term "spot meter" to refer to all reflective meters.

Basically, to simplify this discussion, I'll bring up something cinematography teacher taught us. The reflected (spot) meter is determines contrast, and the incident meter can be used to determine exposure. Using that very, very simplified statement, I was able to light this project on 35mm film with no color video playback. I have posted it in another thread or two.

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