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12-04-2012, 06:23 AM   #1
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Light Meter?

Im just wondering if, as a novice, it's worth getting a light meter to use instead of the built in light meter most cameras have?
Looking forward to your input!

12-04-2012, 08:02 AM   #2
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In my opinion incident metering is more accurate than reflective metering, and a flash meter is extremely useful if you use off camera flash. For use in ambient metering, an incident meter would probably be better than the camera's reflective metering, but you have to consider the additional cash outlay to acquire one, plus it is one more piece of gear to carry around. Under most ambient lighting conditions, the camera's meter will suffice, and when it isn't you can learn to read the light yourself and make the necessary exposure adjustments.

So, if you're doing off camera flash work, I say get a light meter (make sure it meters flash, not just ambient) but if not then it's your call as to whether the benefits are worth the costs.
12-04-2012, 08:48 AM   #3
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As long as you learn how to use specific meter in various lighting conditions, you can get good results with any meter. My favorite has been a TTL "spot" meter in cameras like the Leica M5 and Leicaflex models. Regrettably, although the first Pentax Spot-matic prototype used a TTL spot meter, they never made one in production.
But again, as you learn how your meter responds under different conditions you learn how to adjust exposure to compensate.
12-04-2012, 10:41 AM   #4
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I'd second the incident light meter suggestion. BTW, don't forget the used market. I picked up a Minolta Autometer for about $80. used, and a Norwood Director selenium meter fully operational for $15.00 at a local camera store's "yard sale." The Norwood agrees perfectly with the Minolta. Neither will handle flash, but at $15 for the Norwood, with case (pretty ratty!) and slides, who's worrying?

12-04-2012, 10:55 AM   #5
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The thing to understand about your camera's meter is it is a reflective meter. It measure the light reflecting off of your subject. So if you were to take shot of a flat black subject, it's not going to reflect much light, and the camera will try to over compensate and make your black subject gray. The opposite is true of a white, or shiny subject, it's going to under expose because your subject is very efficient at reflecting light.

So how do you get especially light or dark subjects to turn out properly in your exposures? Well there are two very effective methods, one is to shoot in manual and take a reflective reading - i.e. a test shot - of something that actually is the exact color that the camera expects to see, like an 18% gray card, then use that same setting to photograph your subject. The other was use to use an incident light meter which tells you exactly how much light is falling on your subject, rather than how much is being reflected. The two methods, properly executed, should yield the exact same results. And a 5 dollar gray card is a lot cheaper than a light meter, you can also use it as a white balance target, or a lens shade

What a light meter is good for is setting up lighting ratios, or mixing flash with ambient light (which is also a ratio when you think about it). It provides speed, accuracy, reproducibility, and reduced post production time. I rely on my light meter at every shoot and I am never disappointed. Of greater importance than a light meter I would put a good lens, a tripod, and maybe a flash, (obviously you have a camera or you wouldn't be asking), but once you have all of those things, I would seriously consider a light meter as my next purchase. In the mean time though a gray card is a very good substitute.
12-04-2012, 11:43 AM   #6
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I think you'd be better off learning how to get good exposures with the light meter in your camera.
12-04-2012, 12:53 PM   #7
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If you look at this thread, you will see the advantage of having an incident light meter. All that dark clothing shows a huge spike on the left side of a histogram, but faces are nicely exposed. Meters built into cameras are by nature, all reflective meters and in all likelihood would have overexposed the image if shot to what they saw in the scene.

My meter is a relatively inexpensive model purchased around 30 years ago from my nearby Sears store. It does both reflective and incident metering. The difference is simply a small white dome that slides over the sensor for incident metering.

To be honest, if I am going to do reflective metering, I find using the spot meter or center weighted method in my K-r is often just as convenient as pulling my light meter out of the bag. If the lighting is constant (versus flash), nothing beats the exposure accuracy of using an incident light meter. You stand at the subject's position and aim the meter at the camera's position. It now doesn't matter what color the subject might be, or the light absorption of the background. You are measuring the amount of light falling on your subject from the camera's point of view.

The downsides of course are that it isn't always possible to take an incident light measurement at your subject. And incident meters typically are not fast enough to measure flash exposures.

So my advice is if you shoot mostly landscapes, skip the light meter purchase. But if you shoot a lot of portraits, by all means, get an incident light meter.
12-04-2012, 01:09 PM   #8
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A light meter, especially one that can measure flash, incident, and reflective light, ever better if it can do spot metering, is essential if you want to LEARN lighting in photography.

I have a Minolta Autometer 4F with a 5-degree attachment that can do all of the above.

In practice, however, with the instance feedback from the camera (take a photo, exam the histogram), a light meter is not as helpful. After a while, you learn how to adjust your equipment to compensate for "tricky" lighting situations.

12-04-2012, 04:14 PM   #9
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QuoteQuote:
Well there are two very effective methods.
The third one is exposure compensation. This takes a little knowledge of the "zone system" - essentially how much to guestimate the underexposure or overexposure for dark or light subjects. This works in the semi-auto modes such as Av, Tv, P, etc. You just dial the exposure up or down based on your test shot.

If you use studio flash, a flash light meter is handy. Otherwise, maybe not so much.
12-04-2012, 06:58 PM   #10
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Another option that is extremely inexpensive (ie: free) is to download one of the light meter applications for a smartphone.


I've found the one on my phone to be pretty accurate (it's reading matches the reading of my ME and my *ist)

BUT the difference is that they are limited by the phone's meter, which has a limited range compared to a proper light meter.

For example, while my phone will meter correctly indoors, and on an overcast day, if it's sunny it simply reads the same as a clouded day (too much light, the meter simply can't read anything more than a cloudy day)
The same happens in darker areas too.


It's not great, but it does the job well enough for it's price.
12-04-2012, 08:13 PM   #11
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I do primarily studio shooting lately, so a flash meter greatly simplifies setting up the lights. The incident meter is also very helpful on location for balancing flash with ambient light.

Since I generally use Pocket Wizard radio remotes, the optional PW compatible trigger module made the Sekonic L358 the best choice for me.
12-05-2012, 06:06 AM   #12
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You have provided me with quite an education. Thank you very much. I'll spend some quality time digesting your wisdom. The tip about a light meter phone app was something I would not have thought of!
Thanks to all.
12-05-2012, 10:15 AM   #13
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A lightmeter is a must for studio photography, otherwise for everything else, it is optional.

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-flashes-lighting-technique/198655-...day-class.html

In fact I am looking forward to buying a L478DR in the near future.
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