Help using Minolta Spotmeter F : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I recently purchased a Minolta Spotmeter F, and am a little confused about how to use it properly. I don't know whether the manual is poorly written or whether I'm reading it poorly. I would appreciate any assistance any other Spotmeter F users can provide. Specifically, I don't understand how the Highlight and Shadow buttons function. Do you use them to measure highlights and shadows, respectively, to determine the exposure for the highlights and shadows, or to determine the exposure for the overall scene based on those readings?

Second, is there any way to set the f-stop first to then determine the proper shutter speed? This is no big deal; the flexibility would be convenient, however.

Finally, might there be a web site that reads easier than the meter's instruction manual?

Thanks for any contributions. Sorry to be so wordy.

-- dan blair (, May 08, 1998


take it outside and use it, you will quickly figure it out. my preference is to read the darkest area i want tonality in, enter that into memory, read the brightest area, enter that into memory and hit the average button.

-- Ellis Vener (, May 09, 1998.

The problem with the shadow and highlight buttons is that they make assumptions about how many stops below or above 18% gray the shadows/highlights are placed. The manual is ambiguous on what these distances are: my meter places shadows 2.7 stops below, and highlights 2.3 stops above. This may be reasonable for trannies, but not for my B&W.

I used to use it as follows: Press M-CLR to clear the memory. Pick what seems to be an "average" gray. Click on it, press "A" (Average). Point at other parts of the scene, pressing the trigger. The readout is the number of stops above or below the average. If either was out of a reasonable" range, I would choose a different average.

My method seems to have changed. I now take the readings in EV, rather than F/stops, and make a mental note of the range, important areas, etc. Then I choose the EV I will use, and use the meter to give me the speed/aperture for that EV.

No, I'm afraid the meter gives you the aperture for the selected speed.

No, I don't of a helpful web site.

-- Alan Gibson (, May 11, 1998.

This is probably not what you want to hear but I used the Spotmeter F for about a year and finally broke down and replaced it with the Pentax Digital Spotmeter. The Minolta didn't seem to me to be very amendable to use with the zone system and I found that I didn't use most of its features so they just tended to create complexity. The Pentax meter is a model of simplicity - point it at something, click, read the EV, point it at something else, click, read the second EV. Look at the zone system scale you can buy for about $5 and find your exposure. Of course if you like the features of the Minolta, or don't use the zone sytem, it probably will work great once you figure it out.

-- Brian Ellis (, July 10, 1998.

I've used a Spotmeter F for a few years, after using the Pentax Spotmeter (non-digital). First, I'll digress from your questions a little.

The qualities of the F which I like are: it's small and light; it will retain readings in memory after it's shut off; you can memorize a reading and then quickly compare other areas to the memorized reading without taking your eye from the viewfinder.

What I don't like is that there are no shutter speed readouts between the 2s, 4s, 8s, 15s, 30s, 1m, etc., standard speeds. The Pentax meter has a rotary dial from which you can quickly interpolate between the standard speeds. However, this dial can be easily disturbed by accident, whereas if I shut the Minolta off, the reading is retained. After taking a little time to get used to the lack of non-standard shutter speeds (I do a lot of long exposures), I found that the features I liked outweighed the drawbacks.

On to your questions.

I shoot mostly color transparency film (chromes) and critical exposure is a must. For this type of film, conventional wisdom says that highlights lose their detail at 2.3 stops above normal (normal: I'll call 0), shadows at 2.7 below 0. The Minolta F has built that 5 stop range into the shadow and highlight buttons.

To use the shadow button, read a subject, then press S. This memorizes an exposure in the meter; the exposure shown will render the subject you've just metered as shadow with detail. With this same reading in memory, if you now read that same subject, the meter will indicate that it is -2.7, or 2.7 below 0. It has 'placed' that metered area in the shadows. With this reading still in memory, you can test other subjects to see where they fall. For instance, if there is a bright area that you want to retain as a highlight with detail, and your reading of that area says more than 2.3, then you have to decide whether to adjust your exposure to retain the highlight at the expense of the shadow (the original subject area metered in this example). I hope this is clear; it's probably easier to do than to explain.

The highlight button works exactly the same way, except that you start with a bright area of your subject.

If you're confident that you can find middle gray, read it and then press A. This memorizes that exposure as the correct average reading, and then you can proceed to read the shadows and highlights to see if they still fall within the 5 stop range.

When you go on to your next shot, don't forget to push M-CLR, to clear the memory.

Even after using spotmeters for years, I still have trouble picking out middle gray, or 0, in a scene. Often, I'll have to start with the highlights and shadows and work my way in towards the center. That's why the shadow and highlight buttons are so useful to me. It's probably easier to pick the highlights and shadows, the boundaries of your image, than to accurately pick the middle gray, which is actually at 18%, and is in color in real life.

Spotmetering is more of an art than a science, and lots of experience is necessary. You'll find that you may have to start by reading an area that you think is 0, and then recheck that exposure by starting with the shadows, and then recheck it again by starting with the highlights.

I've calibrated my meters to fit my film and lenses and my work habits. I typically use the Minolta F for ambient light indoors, and my Minolta IV for incident light readings of flash indoors. For exterior work, I use both meters, but find that the F consistently overexposes and the IV consistently underexposes. The incident reading on the IV is faster, but if I've got time, I'll always check it with the F, which rarely lets me down. I'll even depend on the F when shooting other formats, unless I'm shooting quickly with my 35mm with its program meter functions, which seems to be able to handle most situations well.

After shooting many jobs, I've arrived at some shortcuts that work for me, and you'll undoubted develop your own. Some shortcuts I use are: I'll place bright yellows at about 1.7; I'll place white paper at no higher than 2.0; grass in sunlight is about a -.3, or 0; grass under overcast skies should be higher, about .3; skies at dusk with the sunset behind you should read about -2.0; of course, these are just rules of thumb that must be checked against the most important parts of your subject.

The ultimate test of whether your metering system works is in the chromes. I shoot 2 chromes at the 'normal' exposure, and bracket one at 2/3 stop over, and one at 2/3 stop under. I test process one normal chrome, and if necessary, adjust processing on the rest. Rarely do I have to adjust processing, because of my time consuming metering process. The client gets all three brackets; the 2/3 stop spread is usually enough to account for any subjective preferences on their part.

The foregoing is specifically in regards to chrome film. Negative film has wider latitude, and b/w wider still. I believe that if you can consistently expose chrome film accurately, you'll be able to handle all the others with ease, and can give a good start into Zone System b/w.

I hope this has helped.


-- Don Wong (, November 26, 1998.

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