Spot Meter on a Budget : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am fairly new to LF and have been gathering the components on a somewhat restictive budget. So far I have been using negative film and the reflective light meter I have has been adequiet. Is seems likely from my exposures that as I start using more transparencies, a spot meter will reduce errors considerably.

Most of the meters in the archives refer to meters most likely above my spending limit. The Adorama spot is getting closer. A quick check of ebay shows a few 1 degree meters in the $100 range. I'm wondering if these less expensive meters have functionality, but lack bells and whistles. Or if there are certain features that would make them inadequiet. I would doubt having use for a flash meter.

Any advise on useful or necessary features to look for or any older models that are recommended? The help I've gotten on this forum has been especially useful, and I am grateful.

-- Roger Rouch (, October 13, 1999


Spot meters will not necessarily make your transparency exposures more accurate. Your reflected light meter can do a perfectly acceptable job, especially if you're able to get close enough to individual subject areas. Eerrors are generally due to metering technique and not type of meter used. That said, particular types of meters may suit particular styles of working. Spot meters are a/ more convenient, especially if your subject is far away and not accessible b/ very good if you want to get into zone system type of controls. In other words, you measure brightness levels of different parts of the scene and make notes to develop each individual sheet of film differently. This applies to B&W as well as colour, neg and transparency 3/ an easy transition from general wide field reflected light meters. I would try to articulate the reasons to move to a spotmeter first. A couple of books you might find useful are 'Exposure' by Hicks and Schultz and the exposure meters chapter in 'Photographic Materials' by Stroebel et al.

The Pentax spotmeter V is a venerable old standby and can be had used for reasonable amounts. The Soligors (Adoramas, I hear, are basically Soligors) are perhaps just as good but lack snob appeal. Some of the things I would look at in purchasing a good spotmeter are -

1/ What meter cell does it use? Rest assured that the spectral sensitivity of any meter cell is unlikely to match that of film. Some of the cells are way off - silicon cells are overly sensitive to red and not sensitive enough to blue, the exact reverse of film. Most manufacturers attempt to correct for this through filtration. The meter cell will determine how sensitive it is, which may be an important factor if you do low light work. In general, you should be OK with any of the newer cells.

2/ Digital vs analog: Digital is probably a little more rugged - no delicate needle movement. Its also more expensive. Also, many people prefer the way information is presented in the analog versions. Its a good idea to think about this before your purchase since it affects how well you and the spot will work together.

3/ Non available batteries: Some old spot meters use mercury batteries which are no longer available. Worth keeping in mind since I see them hawked here and there.

4/ Ergonomics: How does it sit in your hand? How is the information presented?

5/ I would stick to the better known brands - Pentax, Soligor, Sekonic etc and try to get a good deal on a used piece or wait till I had the cash. If and when things go wrong, you can send the piece in to get it fixed. I've seen some off brand ones which are attractive because of their sticker. However, the dependability of things like meters is only evident in use and if something does go wrong (which it eventually will), you probably can't locate the manufacturer to try and get it fixed.

Eventually, how you use your meter will determine the pictures you get. No meter, spot or otherwise, is going to magically give you 'perfect' exposure. Most of the better designed meters are reeasonably accurate and easy to use in the field and well designed. It really comes down to personal idiosyncracies. Good luck. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, October 13, 1999.

DJ, Well put. I can think of nothing to add except that I have found it better to buy a good used meter rather than a cheap new one. Ebay is a good place to start.

-- Stephen Willard (, October 13, 1999.

I have this attitude about meters, that unless you're practicing the Zone System, something not possible with color film, all meters need to have little white domes on them. In other words, incident metering will, in most cases, give you a better reading then reflected metering. If you are indeed "fairly new to LF", then fooling around with a spot meter is likely to bring you more confusion than clarity.

-- Peter Hughes (, October 13, 1999.

I would like to add that, unless you're practicing the Zone System, a meter reading should take you no longer than 5 seconds. That's about how long it takes me with my idiot-proof Minolta Autometer IV in incident mode. (Though, if you're like me, it make take much longer than that to evaluate it, depending on how much caffiene I have in my system. :))

Some people on these forums have a tendency to overly complicate simple procedures, thus mystifying them and, as a result, indimidating the relative beginner. A used Gossen Pilot 2 ($40), an old Weston Master II ($20), or even the "Sunny 16" rule, will give you better exposures, properly used, than an $800 spot meter that you don't know how to use.

The more you can simplify your approach, the better off you will be. One camera, one lens, one film, one paper, one developer, etc. Stick with these until you are familiar with them inside and out. Then, if you feel the need to do so, add other elements to your system one at a time.

If you think about it, how many different lighting situations do you really photograph in outdoors? I count four: Sunny, bright shade, light overcast, heavy overcast/deep shade. You should know your exposure for these situations like you know your own name. A meter, then, will basically (1) validate the judgement you have already made and (2) check you should you make an error. (Sometimes, for example, bright overcast can be very bright--only one stop less than bright sun. And deep shade can be as much as three stops lower than bright shade. Etcetera.)

-- Peter Hughes (, October 13, 1999.

"It seems likely from my exposures that as I start using more transparencies, a spot meter will reduce errors considerably."

You may or may not get more accurate measurments with a spot meter vs an incident meter. That choice tends to be up to the individual. But I get the sense reading your message that you are not happy with the exposure information you current meter is giving you.

Before you chuck that meter or spend a fair bit on a new one, have your shutterspeeds checked. Once a year I take in all of my LF lenses to a camera repair facility and the tech inspects them all ($5/lens). He has his machine print out the actual/indicated shutterspeeds, and with older shutters the speeds can be signifcantly off.

But I don't get them fixed when he tell me that my 1/8 sec on my 90 is really 1/15. Getting these lenses adjusted is only temporary fix anyway. With his printout of actual/indicated shutterspeeds I put it all into my computer, print it out (nice colours!) and laminate the "cheat sheet" to keep it weather resistant. I then can refer to this information in the field and make sure that when my meter calls for 1/15 I use 1/15 even if on that lens it happens to be marked 1/30. So I don't care if the shutterspeeds are off as long as they are consistantly off, and I know what they really are.

So there's a good chance your meter has been telling you that 1/15 of a second is the correct shutterspeed. You then select 1/15, which in fact is 1/30, and you underexpose by a stop. The natural reaction is to then blame the meter. When I see how far off some of the shutterspeeds are it is a wonder to me that I EVER made a good transparency.

-- David Grandy (, October 13, 1999.

These are all very good things to consider. I am much further down the road with this issue. In arriving at some of the conclusions of the spot meter "need" for transparencies I have used my experience with my Nikon F3. With the 20 degree weighted metering feature (I think I have this correct) and slide film it seems that this system has provided excellent metering for good exposure. My LF exposure has been less reliable.

Most recently I happened to have both - not a habit my back appreciates. In a particular instance, my reflective meter said to shoot at 100, and then focusing on the distant rocks that were the object of the photo with the F3 I was told to shoot 250 with the same f stop. I went with the hand meter (a Sekonic L-188) and had a photo that was overexposed by a stop or so. This seemed to elimate shutter speed problems (though I'm sure this is this case sometimes). It also indicated the potential for the spot to provide more accurate results.

This is admittedly a small sample size, but encouraged me to pursure the issue further. Generally when I am able to get close to the subject for a hand held meter reading, my exposure is pretty close. I would suspect the improvement with spot metering would indeed be in cases where the subject is more distant or when there are a variety of lighting situations.

-- Roger Rouch (, October 13, 1999.

The wonderful thing about photography is there are not one, but many equipment options and techniques to choose from. As you can see from the numerous responses, different people use a varity of equipment and technique to arrive at what is considered as proper exposure to their eye. Like one of the other responses, my approach is to keep it simple and use equipment that has a proven track record. I use a 15 year old Gossen Luna Pro. 90% of my exposures for color transparency and color negative film are made using the incident dome. The other 10% are made using the Gossen 15 degree/25 degree varible angle attachment. Desired results do not come the first time you use a piece of equipment. Desired results come from making photographic images, adjusting you technique and learning from each image you make. Best of luck!

-- Ron Lawrence (, October 13, 1999.


My life got a whole lot easier when I lost my spot meter and started using an ancient incident meter similar to the Luna Pro. I take a reading with it and eyeball the details. You don't need a spot meter to tell you the contrast range of a scene - you only need your eyeballs for that. The incident meter is like the guy who stands up at the front of the choir and blows a C. You take your reading and from there your skill and creativity do the rest. Before I lost my spotmeter I had exposures all over the place.

-- Erik Ryberg (, October 13, 1999.

No.1- Sounds like some people haven't found the proper speed at which to use their film of choice, for their particular equipment and, No.2- Some people don't know how to use a spot meter correctly. A spot meter is always more accurate than an ambient light meter in correctly finding the tonal range of a scene. An ambient light meter does nothing more than give you the light intensity that is falling on "all" subjects in that particular lighting. If you can walk up to the shadow areas it will give you a light reading of that area. Same in full lighted areas. But it will be hard to find what the tonal range of the scene will be without a lot of gymnastics. If you don't care what the tonal range is and are happy with the results then there is no need for a spot meter. Use the sunny 16 rule and bracket. 35mm film is cheap enough. But if you want well exposed materials then get a good meter. Preferrably a spot meter. That's why camera manufacturers put spot metering into the systems. Matrix is fine but it is just an averageing method. And average exposures and images are what you'll get with them. James

-- james (, October 14, 1999.

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