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11-27-2018, 06:51 AM   #1
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Meter reads underexposed in decent light

This may be a very elementary film shooter question but I recently started shooting with a Pentax 645N and am working off the internal light meter which seems to be working very well. I'm shooting with Kodak Portra 400 film rated at 200 and my results have been good when shooting in sunny beautiful weather. However, when I'm shooting indoors in a very well-lit room or outdoors on a moderately cloudy day, my meter always reads significantly underexposed. How do I compensate for this? It's as if it has to be a perfectly sunny day for my images to be properly exposed and this doesn't seem correct.

Should I be setting my camera to +1 or +2 to push the film a stop or two? It still reads underexposed on the meter but does that help?

Would love any pointers! Thank you in advance

11-27-2018, 09:00 AM   #2
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What criteria are you using when you say "my meter always reads significantly underexposed"? That is, are you checking the camera meter against another meter of known accuracy? Or do you mean your negatives are consistently underexposed under low light conditions?
11-27-2018, 09:52 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by runswithsizzers Quote
What criteria are you using when you say "my meter always reads significantly underexposed"?
My question as well ^ ^ ^

To evaluate from a technical perspective:
  • Are the negatives for indoor shots significantly less dense when compared to "properly" exposed outdoor frames on the same roll?
  • Are gray card readings* similar to another camera or hand-held meter of known accuracy in the same light?
  • Camera repair shops will often check meter calibration and response against a calibrated light source free of charge. It may be worth an inquiry.

From the perspective of user practice:
  • Are you using spot metering? If so, you might want to consider why and whether that might be the source of the problem.**
  • Full sun, overcast sky, shade, and indoor spaces have significant differences in spectral composition resulting in color shifts with daylight-balanced films. Color shifts to the blue are often misinterpreted as underexposure.
  • Do the underexposed lower-light shots include large amounts of sky, back-lit subject, or a light source in the frame? Any of the above may "fool" the meter even in dim light.
Edit: I forgot to mention meter linearity. The 645N meter is linear from 2 - 21 EV100. While probably not applicable for this case, at light levels lower than 2 EV100 (dim candlelight), the meter will indicate less exposure than what would really be needed resulting in underexposure.

I know the above points are pretty fundamental, but doing troubleshooting from a distance requires such.

QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
Should I be setting my camera to +1 or +2 to push the film a stop or two? It still reads underexposed on the meter but does that help?
I can't see why unless there is definite proof your metering system is inaccurate. You have already assigned an EI of 200, pulling the film one stop as it is. Additional exposure without a change in development will result in blocked highlights.


Steve

* Using a gray card for this purpose removes scene-related variables by measuring the incident light alone.

** Spot metering is a specialized tool and a common cause of exposure-related problems reported on this site. Where the spot lands is evaluated to middle gray. When used with other than metered manual mode, improper exposure is a common result.

Last edited by stevebrot; 11-27-2018 at 12:39 PM.
11-27-2018, 10:05 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
Should I be setting my camera to +1 or +2 to push the film a stop or two?
If you set your ISO to 200 there is no need to use compensation. You will simply adjust the development times to account for the overexposure.

11-27-2018, 02:01 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
This may be a very elementary film shooter question but I recently started shooting with a Pentax 645N and am working off the internal light meter which seems to be working very well. I'm shooting with Kodak Portra 400 film rated at 200 and my results have been good when shooting in sunny beautiful weather. However, when I'm shooting indoors in a very well-lit room or outdoors on a moderately cloudy day, my meter always reads significantly underexposed. How do I compensate for this? It's as if it has to be a perfectly sunny day for my images to be properly exposed and this doesn't seem correct.

Should I be setting my camera to +1 or +2 to push the film a stop or two? It still reads underexposed on the meter but does that help?

Would love any pointers! Thank you in advance
Since you've set your ASA sensitivity to 200, the meter of course will read the scene accordingly, not to the fact the actual film used is ASA 400. So I would think the result would tend towards overexposure, though the exposure latitude of film should negate that. I would think ASA 200 should be adequate for a moderately cloudy day, but just so. I am taking for granted that you are shooting in the manual mode. Your meter should be indicating a different result depending on where in your scene you are training the camera, even if using matrix metering. Darker areas will show under, while lighter areas will show over. If you get no over readings, or at least centered, even if aiming to the sky, something is wrong with the meter. Try spot metering and see what range you get when aiming around your scene. Why not rate for the film's actual 400 ASA? What you are doing is the reverse of pushing. If you want to push with this film, why not push it a stop to ASA 800?

Last edited by mikesbike; 11-27-2018 at 02:06 PM.
11-27-2018, 02:55 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
Meter reads underexposed in decent light
BTW...Welcome to the Pentax Forums!


Steve
11-27-2018, 07:42 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by runswithsizzers Quote
What criteria are you using when you say "my meter always reads significantly underexposed"? That is, are you checking the camera meter against another meter of known accuracy? Or do you mean your negatives are consistently underexposed under low light conditions?
Thanks Steve! I am SO glad I found this Forum, such a big help

Regarding my question... sorry, I should have been more specific. I hope I'm explaining properly. This is more of a user error/question than a camera issue I think. My meter definitely adjusts depending on where it is aimed and seems to be in great working condition being that I've gotten some gorgeous images on very bright days. I am trying to get a centered exposure reading on my meter as often as possible but I can only seem to do this in absolutely perfect lighting situations. If I'm shooting on a cloudy day and the meter is reading a few stops below the center how would I shoot that and ensure that the images are properly exposed?

Regarding rating my film at 200... after reading numerous wedding photographers' blogs regarding shooting with Portra 400, the sweet spot is said to be around 200 ASA or 320 ASA to achieve the bright and airy look and the few rolls I've shot rated at 200 in beautiful light look significantly brighter than when rated at 400 (this confused me).

This is the look I am going for (these are not my images).... Central Park Fall Engagement Session | Megan & Drew ? Stephanie Sunderland


Thank you for your help everyone! Pentax newbie trying to get a hold on this

Stephanie
11-27-2018, 08:05 PM   #8
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Usually, when the meter indicates not enough light, you would select a slower shutter speed and/or wider aperture - is that not working for you?

11-27-2018, 10:30 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
Thanks Steve! I am SO glad I found this Forum, such a big help

Regarding my question... sorry, I should have been more specific. I hope I'm explaining properly. This is more of a user error/question than a camera issue I think. My meter definitely adjusts depending on where it is aimed and seems to be in great working condition being that I've gotten some gorgeous images on very bright days. I am trying to get a centered exposure reading on my meter as often as possible but I can only seem to do this in absolutely perfect lighting situations. If I'm shooting on a cloudy day and the meter is reading a few stops below the center how would I shoot that and ensure that the images are properly exposed?

Regarding rating my film at 200... after reading numerous wedding photographers' blogs regarding shooting with Portra 400, the sweet spot is said to be around 200 ASA or 320 ASA to achieve the bright and airy look and the few rolls I've shot rated at 200 in beautiful light look significantly brighter than when rated at 400 (this confused me).

This is the look I am going for (these are not my images).... Central Park Fall Engagement Session | Megan & Drew ? Stephanie Sunderland


Thank you for your help everyone! Pentax newbie trying to get a hold on this

Stephanie
Hopefully, this will help to dissolve your confusion- I'll give a simple explanation. Using ASA 400 will for example provide a higher shutter speed, everything else being equal, than would ASA 200 using the same exposure settings of the same scene. That is because ASA 400 is more sensitive to light, so a higher shutter speed, letting in less light, is more appropriate. So this of course means that suddenly reducing from ASA 400 to ASA 200 will result in a slower shutter speed, which lets in more light, which means more exposure on this sensitive film than would be the case if shooting with the normal ASA 400 setting of the camera. More exposure means brighter photo. Since the camera's exposure comp control is not usually in effect when shooting in Manual mode, this is an alternate method of implementing exposure comp.

You are on your way to understanding how to interpret what your meter is telling you regarding lighting in a scene. From your descriptions, I think what is happening is this- On days with good lighting, in the way you are positioning your camera at the time, and you are using normal matrix metering, there is pretty much an equation between the brighter and the darker areas within your frame. So the meter does its job quite easily, and the results turn out brightly, a bit more brightly because you are shooting with the ASA 200 setting instead of the normal ASA 400. On a gray day, there will basically be a mixture of semi-bright (sky), dim, dimmer, and quite dark areas in your scene, so you get a lot of meter readings on the low side, meaning underexposure.

For one thing, when shooting in Manual mode, and understanding how the meter sees things, you must learn when to ignore what it is telling you, which is often. The best way to operate in Manual mode, especially in less than balanced lighting conditions, is use the spot meter. Find a mid-tone area in the scene to train your camera on and meter from. A richer green, deeper blue, or deeper gray area that is more well-lit. Adjust to center the meter in such an area. Then re-position your camera to frame your shot, ignoring any further indications from the meter. Give that a try, and you might even be able to get fine results when using the standard ASA 400 with that film with some practice. Mark your settings of each shot on a piece of paper so you can see the results later. It boils down to understanding lighting and when and how meters can be fooled by certain circumstances. Then you will anticipate what steps need to be taken. There will be better communication between you and the meter. When you get to be pretty good with this technique, you will be able to set your exposure in manual mode as above, and as long as the lighting does not change at all, you can point your camera virtually anywhere in the scene, ignoring the warnings from the meter, and your exposure will be excellent.

BTW I just looked at your examples. I find them to be definitely overexposed. For one thing I'm sure it is from using ASA 200. The other is to not neglect using fill flash outdoors after exposing properly for the background. It can compensate for backlighting, which is the case in some of your shots, and preserve the beauty of the background. Fill flash outdoors can also enhance people shots in general, unless you are going for some special shadowing. it also can put catchlight in the eyes, as well as reduce any harsh shadows. Getting the right amount with the equipment you have is also a learning experience. The shot sitting on, and including the stairs, is your best-exposed example. This is because your meter had a lot of better-lit mid-tone gray to read from and indicate a good exposure for you.

Last edited by mikesbike; 11-27-2018 at 10:58 PM.
11-28-2018, 02:07 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
My meter definitely adjusts depending on where it is aimed and seems to be in great working condition being that I've gotten some gorgeous images on very bright days. I am trying to get a centered exposure reading on my meter as often as possible but I can only seem to do this in absolutely perfect lighting situations. If I'm shooting on a cloudy day and the meter is reading a few stops below the center how would I shoot that and ensure that the images are properly exposed?
Please forgive me if I get this wrong, but it sounds like you are not familiar with adjusting shutter speed or aperture for proper exposure. Is this your first not fully automatic camera?
11-28-2018, 09:50 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by rogerstg Quote
Please forgive me if I get this wrong, but it sounds like you are not familiar with adjusting shutter speed or aperture for proper exposure. Is this your first not fully automatic camera?
I am very familiar with both. I shoot in full manual mode with my digital cameras virtually daily. My issue was that I can't have my settings set to 1/25 shutter speed when shooting a wedding to get a properly exposed shot. Im used to being able to adjust my ISO to compensate and I cant do this with an analog camera.

---------- Post added 11-28-18 at 09:53 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by mikesbike Quote
Hopefully, this will help to dissolve your confusion- I'll give a simple explanation. Using ASA 400 will for example provide a higher shutter speed, everything else being equal, than would ASA 200 using the same exposure settings of the same scene. That is because ASA 400 is more sensitive to light, so a higher shutter speed, letting in less light, is more appropriate. So this of course means that suddenly reducing from ASA 400 to ASA 200 will result in a slower shutter speed, which lets in more light, which means more exposure on this sensitive film than would be the case if shooting with the normal ASA 400 setting of the camera. More exposure means brighter photo. Since the camera's exposure comp control is not usually in effect when shooting in Manual mode, this is an alternate method of implementing exposure comp.

You are on your way to understanding how to interpret what your meter is telling you regarding lighting in a scene. From your descriptions, I think what is happening is this- On days with good lighting, in the way you are positioning your camera at the time, and you are using normal matrix metering, there is pretty much an equation between the brighter and the darker areas within your frame. So the meter does its job quite easily, and the results turn out brightly, a bit more brightly because you are shooting with the ASA 200 setting instead of the normal ASA 400. On a gray day, there will basically be a mixture of semi-bright (sky), dim, dimmer, and quite dark areas in your scene, so you get a lot of meter readings on the low side, meaning underexposure.

For one thing, when shooting in Manual mode, and understanding how the meter sees things, you must learn when to ignore what it is telling you, which is often. The best way to operate in Manual mode, especially in less than balanced lighting conditions, is use the spot meter. Find a mid-tone area in the scene to train your camera on and meter from. A richer green, deeper blue, or deeper gray area that is more well-lit. Adjust to center the meter in such an area. Then re-position your camera to frame your shot, ignoring any further indications from the meter. Give that a try, and you might even be able to get fine results when using the standard ASA 400 with that film with some practice. Mark your settings of each shot on a piece of paper so you can see the results later. It boils down to understanding lighting and when and how meters can be fooled by certain circumstances. Then you will anticipate what steps need to be taken. There will be better communication between you and the meter. When you get to be pretty good with this technique, you will be able to set your exposure in manual mode as above, and as long as the lighting does not change at all, you can point your camera virtually anywhere in the scene, ignoring the warnings from the meter, and your exposure will be excellent.

BTW I just looked at your examples. I find them to be definitely overexposed. For one thing I'm sure it is from using ASA 200. The other is to not neglect using fill flash outdoors after exposing properly for the background. It can compensate for backlighting, which is the case in some of your shots, and preserve the beauty of the background. Fill flash outdoors can also enhance people shots in general, unless you are going for some special shadowing. it also can put catchlight in the eyes, as well as reduce any harsh shadows. Getting the right amount with the equipment you have is also a learning experience. The shot sitting on, and including the stairs, is your best-exposed example. This is because your meter had a lot of better-lit mid-tone gray to read from and indicate a good exposure for you.
Mikesbike- YES! Clearly I need to use the spot metering and work with that for awhile. That makes sense and I definitely think will solve my issue. I appreciate the help!
11-29-2018, 03:18 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
I am very familiar with both. I shoot in full manual mode with my digital cameras virtually daily. My issue was that I can't have my settings set to 1/25 shutter speed when shooting a wedding to get a properly exposed shot. Im used to being able to adjust my ISO to compensate and I cant do this with an analog camera.[...]
Actually, you can 'adjust your ISO' on the analog camera - buy faster film and/or push process the Portra. Obviously, you will need to research and test the results before shooting a wedding.

Have you tested your Portra at it's rated speed of 400? When you set your camera ISO to 200, you lost a stop right there. Your 1/25th second at ISO 200 becomes 1/50th at 400. Some guy suggests ISO 200 in a blog, Kodak says 400 - but only your own testing will show who is right. You may need to work with your processing lab to help decide which ISO gives the best exposure.


The way your original post was worded made it sound like you were concerned about a meter accuracy problem, but actually, you have a lighting problem. Either get higher speed film which is better matched to your available light, or suppliment the available light with more light (flash or whatever).

====

Are you going to print directly from the negatives, or will you scan the negatives first, post process the digital file, and then print?

Last edited by runswithsizzers; 11-29-2018 at 03:25 PM.
11-29-2018, 03:39 PM   #13
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I remember the first time I came across the idea of rating a film below its ASA standard. It was in an article in Popular Photography under its old staff, sometime during the 1990's. I found that notion novel, and read the article with interest. It seems many pro photographers who were shooting with a particular pro model camera by Canon, had discovered that the camera habitually underexposed by a certain degree. Their solution was to set the ASA below the film's standard rating by an exact amount to compensate. That way they could meter normally and get well-exposed results.

Back then, Pop Photo used to include exposure accuracy in their camera test reviews. When that Canon model came up, sure enough, the pro photographers were proved right, the camera did indeed underexpose to the degree they were compensating for. The standard ratings of certain films can be off, but when it does occur, it is not by much. Interestingly, in Pop Photo's camera reviews, one of the few cameras having virtually perfect exposure accuracy was the then flagship 35mm model by Pentax, the PZ-!p. I still have my copy of that camera, one of my all-time favorites! The subsequent MZ-S came out well also, nearly as accurate as the PZ-1p. I have and like that one too.

As it has turned out, not only film cameras exhibit exposure inaccuracy. I know the Pentax K-20D will habitually underexpose by around 2/3 stop. The K200D by at least 1/2 stop. Quite possibly, a slightly mis-rated ISO in the camera design is responsible. I am not a design engineer or technician so I am just guessing. The K-5 series does likewise, but not by much- only about 1/3 stop. The K-r, the KS2, and now also my KP are virtually right on. All results given are impressions from my own experience with these cameras. The KP is very accurate. Only on occasion, its matrix metering can overcompensate for backlit situations, resulting in very open shadows for the backlit subjects with overexposed surroundings by quite a bit. But that doesn't happen often. It is a wonderful little camera.

When it comes to pushing film, I sometimes had the occasion to do this. The first time, during the 1980's I was shooting a stage event and wanted to use slide film so I could do slide shows. But the most sensitive slide film available locally for tungsten lighting was ASA 160, as I recall. So I pushed it a stop to ASA 320 to get enough shutter speed range for my project. Of course, I had to inform the processing lab that I had done this so they would compensate, otherwise I would have gotten underexposed results.

Last edited by mikesbike; 11-29-2018 at 03:59 PM.
11-29-2018, 06:57 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by runswithsizzers Quote
Actually, you can 'adjust your ISO' on the analog camera - buy faster film and/or push process the Portra. Obviously, you will need to research and test the results before shooting a wedding.

Have you tested your Portra at it's rated speed of 400? When you set your camera ISO to 200, you lost a stop right there. Your 1/25th second at ISO 200 becomes 1/50th at 400. Some guy suggests ISO 200 in a blog, Kodak says 400 - but only your own testing will show who is right. You may need to work with your processing lab to help decide which ISO gives the best exposure.


The way your original post was worded made it sound like you were concerned about a meter accuracy problem, but actually, you have a lighting problem. Either get higher speed film which is better matched to your available light, or suppliment the available light with more light (flash or whatever).

====

Are you going to print directly from the negatives, or will you scan the negatives first, post process the digital file, and then print?



Yes, I've tested it with ASA 400 and it's too dark for what I'm looking for. Across the board world renowned wedding photographers are shooting this film at 200 ASA to get that brighter look which they've taught in their online courses. I was struggling with how to consistently get that look. Regarding developing I'm using pro film labs to develop for digital scans (Richard Photo Lab, The Find Lab) but playing with spot metering seems like it should help the cause.

Thanks for the help.
11-29-2018, 11:25 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sveg15 Quote
Yes, I've tested it with ASA 400 and it's too dark for what I'm looking for. Across the board world renowned wedding photographers are shooting this film at 200 ASA to get that brighter look which they've taught in their online courses. I was struggling with how to consistently get that look. Regarding developing I'm using pro film labs to develop for digital scans (Richard Photo Lab, The Find Lab) but playing with spot metering seems like it should help the cause.

Thanks for the help.
So, you are metering at ISO 200 get the high exposure look you want - but at ISO 200 you can't get a decent shutter speed in low light, right?

If the camera meter says you need a shutter speed of 1/25th second, and you take a shot at 1/25th - is the negative properly exposed? And does metering the same scene with another light meter also indicate 1/25th? If so, then the problem is not enough light, and I don't see how playing with a spot meter is going to help.

I have to wonder what are the world renowned wedding photographers doing differently that enables them to shoot their indoor weddings at ISO 200 without using unacceptably slow shutter speeds? Are they using wider apertures than you are? Are they choosing venues with more light than yours has, or possibly they are adding more light to the venue (with flash or...) ?
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