10.08.2012

Obscure and marvelous objects of keen desire. Meter me. Please.







While the photo world pants at the rumor of more and more very similar cameras being readied for the market a lot of really cool stuff is languishing because it's not bling enough for prime time. The Sekonic Pro L-478D light meter is one of these cool stuff devices.  

While light meters seem to have fallen out of favor with most grab and shoot photographers I still carry around two different ones and use them on every shoot that requires me to use lighting.  I wouldn't want to do lighting set ups without one. The one that travels with me everywhere is the tough and hardy Minolta autometer V f.  Like most good meters from last century it reads both flash and ambient light. It's never broken and it takes a double a battery, which makes me happy.

In the studio I depend on my Sekonic L-508 zoom meter. It's a great incident light meter and it also has a built-in in spot meter function that I use, infrequently.  I use both the Minolta and Sekonic meters to measure mostly flash output on white backgrounds but after a bad experience with the rendering of test portraits on the rear LCD of a Nikon D700 I've gone back to making incident readings for every portrait session I do. I've found LCDs on most camera give varying results in varying ambient light environments and it's easy to under expose portraits since the live view or review screens always seem too hot to me.

With two meters in residence at VSL why in the world would I want the L- 478D? Well, mostly because it's so cool. It has features that I think are fun and useful.  I love the big screen and the fact that it's a touch screen. I like the front and center cinematography features and while I probably won't have a use for shutter angle settings as the world of film movie cameras darkens I find being able to set frames per second on the meter a big help when I'm trying to noodle in a good exposure that still hews to proper video technique.

The meter builds on the camera calibration we first say in the L-758 meter and the compulsively detail oriented photographer will have the option of fine tuning the meter and its read out based on actual camera performance.

But why use a separate meter at all? Precisely because we are so subjective when it comes to visual analysis. Most camera LCDs and EVFs show a preview or a review based on the jpeg converted file generated by our cameras, even when we are shooting raw. The exposure latitude of jpegs is much narrower and I've found that camera makers consistently engineer their cameras to err on the side of underexposure in nearly all situations. Even when the image on the screen is big and bright. You can see it plainly if you examine your camera's histogram and compare it with what you are seeing when you look at the same image on the camera's screen. The screen shot looks bold and bright while the (too tiny) histograms almost always have a notch-lette of flat line over to the right hand side.

When I use an incident flash meter, at the subject location, aiming directly back to the camera I generally get readings that are one half to one full stop more aggressive than what my cameras suggest. When I trust the meter I generally get perfectly exposed skin tones and detain in all highlights but I don't get crunched shadows and ruddy transitions from mid tone to dark in portraits.  That alone is enough to keep me using meters for a long time to come.

Where incident light meters really come into their own is aiding in the quick and precise set up of white background studio shots. I meter the background to make sure it's even and I take the incident reading (plus 1/3 stop) as my base for the set up. Then I use the incident light meter with the subject and raise or lower the illumination on the subject until it reads what the background does (before adding the 1/3 stop correction for detail-less white...) and I know I'm where I need to be to have the cleanest, noise free files with the right tonal ranges. Magic.

You're probably able to do much the same process with the reflected light meter in the camera but there's more math involved and the reflectivity of the background materials makes a difference in the accuracy of the metering. 

The reason I want the new is mostly that the new display is much more readable for me than the older, lower contrast, monochrome displays of the older meters. I also like that I can make changes to frequently used parameters on the touch screen rather than having to find the right button and scroll.

The meter uses two triple "A" batteries, which is better than some obscure older camera type battery (I'd prefer one double "A"....).   With included accessories you can use the meter as a reflected one instead of an incident light meter, and, by adding an accessory you can convert the meter into a five degree reflected spot meter.  The meter is highly configurable and offers thirteen different custom settings. It is firmware upgradeable via an USB socket.

Both of my current meters are over ten years old. Buying a new meter happens rarely but they are pieces of gear that I use nearly every day. When I'm shooting with a non-metered Hasselblad they are a constant companion. Now, if I can just get approval from the CFO.....












21 comments:

Craig said...

Interesting. Yes, I've also noticed that digital cameras, including those with EVFs, tend toward underexposure. It's quite annoying. I've generally done well when using hand-held reflective meters, but you can't beat an incident meter in a controlled lighting situation.

cidereye said...

Not just me who has been lusting after one of these then, just wish it was a bit cheaper.

Steve said...

Still use my old Minolta IV meter, though not sure how accurate it is now. I also have a Minolta spotmeter, which I haven't used for a long time (when I was shooting MF film on a Bronica ETRSi), and I have some old Weston meters too (essential or at least useful all the time when they were originally bought back in the 1960's). Apart from my concerns about accuracy of the old Minolta meter, I will continue to use it sometimes.

Michael Matthews said...

Speaking of using the right tools for the job at hand, any further thoughts on the Sony VG900?

Kirk Tuck said...

Waiting patiently for its introduction in November when I'll have a chance to try one "hands on."

AdamR said...

I've got an old Gossen Luna Pro F that I use with my Rolleiflex and Nikons. I think this meter might look a little out of place next them :D.

Adam

Frank Grygier said...

I want this. The touch screen will probably raise some ire regarding things of old should remain that way. Someday you will be able to download the Sekonic meter app for your Android camera. The camera and the meter will work seamlessly ensuring that exposure is perfect based on your sensor profile while controlling the flash in real time.

Paul Glover said...

One more vote of appreciation here for the Luna Pro F. Picked mine up as an "ugly" condition item. It looks thoroughly beat to crap but works perfectly. Added the 7/15 degree vari-angle attachment as well, so the one meter gives me a lot of options for exposure setting with consistent results whatever camera I might be using.

Gregg Mack said...

It certainly looks very modern and cool. There's nothing wrong with my Sekonic L-358 light meter, though! I use it quite often, and always like the results I get when I use it. I wouldn't use my studio strobes without it, and I often use it with ambient light, indoors and outside.

Andy MacBrien said...

I just got a 478-DR last week. Just spent the evening making some custom profiles for several lenses. Finally getting spot on exposures with different lenses on my D7000. Even with my 85mm 1.4 which has always given me trouble. Best of all you can store up to 10 custom profiles on the meter at any one time. I don't think there's any limit to the number you can create and store on your computer.

There are a couple of gotcha's that aren't glaringly obvious from either the Sekonic documentation, nor the website. Reading through my steps below probably won't make sense until you actually get the beastie and load the software, but I'm offering it here so that when you do...

First, you need to shoot in jpeg mode. This takes any automagic conversions in your RAW processor out of the picture. The software only reads jpegs and TIFFS.

Second, do a custom white balance for every body lens combination before you take your base exposure.

Set the the time and aperture on the meter to full step increments, but set the display to show 1/10 step increments. This is will allow you to use the meter setting software the way it was designed. Apparently to accommodate the L-738 flagship.

I used an X-Rite (spelled Gretagmacbeth) ColorChecker as a target, illuminated by 2 Fotodiox 312AS LED panels that someone recommended. I got the illumination even to +/- 1 stop across the target.

Take a measurement with the meter in aperture priority (F) mode. Now here's where it seems just a bit non-intuitive (the full stop, 1/10th thing notwithstanding). Once you've got your reading, switch the meter into shutter priority mode, this will now give you an aperture reading in 10ths of a stop. Like, say 5.6 1. Record the aperture and shutter speed, grab your memory card and head over to the computer.

When you bring up the profile software, you set the ISO, the shutter speed, which you'll see listed only in full stop increments, and your aperture, including the 10th stop. Enter the same information for both incident and reflected readings. This software was originally developed for the L-758 that has both modes. I just figured that entering the same info in both was the safest way to go.

I won't got through the blow-by-blow for the rest of the process as it tracks the information provided by their website video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdyosItw3Mk&feature=player_embedded#t=0s) fairly well.

Sorry for the long-winded post. Just wanted to provide something (hopefully) useful to the site.

Oh, yeah, being able to control the PW flex controllers with the meter is, as we are wont to say in New England, wicked pissah!

kthxbye

Andy MacBrien said...

Oh, yeah, forgot to add that you make 3 exposures. The base one at the recommended meter reading, one 3 stops over the base and one 3 stops under the base. THEN you take your card and head for the computer.

This is me shutting up...

Craig Yuill said...

I have the same meter, albeit it is called the Lunasix F. It has been a reliable and accurate meter. I also have the 7.5/15-degree reflective meter attachment that I've used only a couple of times. (I never found it to be all that useful.) I have mostly used it as an incident light meter. But I often find it difficult to hold and aim. I think I prefer the swivel heads on dedicated incident light meters.

I see the Sekonic costs $389. My Lunasix F cost me $250 in 1986. Factoring in inflation the cost of the Sekonic seems to me to be very very reasonable. I cannot see how the CFO could refuse the purchase of such a necessary piece of equipment.

said...

I have recently started looking for a good used meter for my old OM-1 with a deceased meter. The ancient Sekonic I have has gone nuts, so I have been hoping to find a really nice used meter for next to nothing. The nice part is easy, but the next-to-nothing part has been more evasive, at least in Tokyo.

If I find one good enough, I may even use it in tough lighting with more modern cameras.

Soeren Engelbrecht said...

I have a light meter App on my iPhone. Close enough for ISO 400 B/W film :-)

Dave Jenkins said...

I bought my Minolta Flashmeter III in 1982. It still works fine, but I mostly use an Autometer IVF bought in the mid-90s. When I was shooting transparency film regularly, these instruments gave me such exposure accuracy that I often could tell if the lab I used was running a little over or under on any given day.

The Seconic sounds nice, but I don't think I will be buying another meter unless I drop or lose one. I would probably get another Minolta. I really dislike touch screens.

Kirk Tuck said...

Sadly, Minolta is no longer in business. Does anyone know if someone bought and now sells their family of meters under a new brand name?

I like touch screens. And I like big numbers.

Kirk Tuck said...

I struggled to like Luna-Pros back in the 1980's and 1990's. We were like oil and water. I never could stand to use them and I never got them to work well. For pure nostalgia I love the Spectra meters.

Dave Jenkins said...

There was an Autometer IV-F listed on the local Craigslist just today for $175. I think I paid $125 for mine (second-hand)back when.

ginsbu said...

Kenko took them over. Here's their current model:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/514614-REG/Kenko_KFM_1100_KFM_1100_Auto_Digi_Meter.html
I don't know how much development their meters have seen since the takeover.

ginsbu said...

I completely agree re digital camera LCDs misrepresenting exposure, especially when using off-camera flash. I just don't trust them anymore and now make a point of using a meter.

Cameramakers should really allow you to take a localized numerical reading off a selected area during image review. Implement it well and I'd be able to do without a meter for most digital shooting.

John F. Opie said...

My Sekonic LC-28C2, bought in 1969 and used until 1995 (!), was replaced with a Sekonic L308DC, which is always packed. I modified the LC-28C2 for the zone system with a hand-made scale with grey patches, covered in tape. Sadly, it disappeared during a move and has never surfaced since...it was broken, though, as it took one fall too many and something broke inside. Low light was a struggle (selenium cell!), but then again, no battery needed. Great tool...the L308DC stays around my neck for any serious work, especially panoramas...