Choice of meter/metering method for landscape/scenic work : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

First off, thanks again for everyone's help on my previous questions.

I'm trying to round out the necessary equipment for my large format entry and am down to a decision on a light meter. I'm trying to limit the cash outlay, but want to make a purchase I'll be happy with for the medium to long term. Also, I don't really care about having a lot of bells and whistles - I just want a good basic meter. For example, I don't ever see myself needing flash metering capability - I would probably just use my F100 any for flash photography I would do. FYI, I am limited in my searching ability by the lack of well-stocked stores in my area - I have no real opportunity to go handle the choices.

If I were less concerned about the $, I think I would go for the Pentax Digital Spotmeter, based on my reading in threads and books. But, if I can figure a way to do the right thing but spend less, I want to. I've looked at eBay and other used equipment places and am not seeing a large enough difference in prices to make me eager go that route (i.e., the $ difference is small enough that I probably would just default to the new Pentax). So here are the questions I have.

1. From my reading, it looks like I could effectively use an incident meter, but with more difficulty or less effectiveness for my purpose. Is this an accurate opinion? What are the challenges of incident metering for my purposes?

2. I could use my Nikon F100, but I think this would be limiting given my longest lens there is a 50mm (e.g., I think trying to use it as a spot meter wouldn't work well because of too large an angle of coverage). Plus there is the weight consideration. Plus it's not a long term fix (at least I don't think it is). Thoughts?

3. I also think a meter without a viewfinder display (e.g. the Sekonic?) would annoy me, but this proceeds from a question - if you aim it and then have to pull your face away to read it, how do you know you haven't changed the aiming in the process?

4. I've looked at the Adorama web site at their private label spotmeters. Do you think the ~$150 savings (versus the Pentax meters) is worth it?

5. Is digital meaningfully more durable than analog?

As always, comments on things I haven't thought of are welcome as well. Thanks in advance.


-- Chris Werner (, June 30, 2000


The Adorama meter is a Soligor meter. These work, but they have a cheap plastic feel and flare can lead to inaccurate readings, as the lens is uncoated.

I have a Sekonic L-508. Not having a viewfinder display is a bit annoying, but not much. This meter also remembers readings and displays them on a scale. I meter the shadows and save the reading. Then, I meter a highlight and save the reading. Then, I look at the display to decide on exposure. The Sekonic, of course, is not a cheap option.

My suggestions:

1) Don't buy an Adorama/Soligor spotmeter because of the flare problem.

2) Find a high-quality used (maybe well-used but working) spotmeter at a good price, one made by Pentax, Minolta, Gossen, or Sekonic.

3) Use your Nikon until you can afford a quality meter.

-- William Marderness (, June 30, 2000.

Chris, You can use your Nikon for metering for awhile and it will be fine but there are alot of fine meters out there for what may seem to be a small amout of money (relatively). Gossen, Minolta and Sekonic make some nice lowend meters that are pretty good as far as usefullness. Polaris is also fairly decent but I would stay with the main manufacturers.

-- Scott Walton (, June 30, 2000.

Chris, If I were you I would hang on for the Pentax digital spotmeter its the one I'm waiting to purchase to replace my ageing Pentax Spotmeter V. Which is itself a very capable piece of equipment but rather bulky and not as robust as their digital meter. Robert White ( currently list the digital meter at about $363 (#245) plus shipping. This is the cheapist source I've seen here in the UK. Hope this is of some help, regards, Trevor.

-- Trevor Crone (, June 30, 2000.

Chris, I have been using the SEkonic L 508 for a while now and I am very pleased with it!! I don't use flash but the facility is there should I need to, also the meter is very robust and weatherproof and although a "whistles and bells" bit of kit, IMHO it is very easy to use and very accurate. Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, June 30, 2000.

On the Soligor/Adorama meters: I've used one for several years, and think that it's just fine. It may be marginally more flare-prone than a coated Pentax, but the lens has few air/glass surfaces, so any differences are probably minimal. I tend to get the same readings as photographers standing next to me with Pentax meters. In practice, using a little bit of common-sense (e.g., shield it from direct sunlight when possible), I have had consistent and good results. The Pentax is more compact and elegant, and when my Soligor gives out I might get one. But if price is an issue, I wouldn't spurn the Soligor because it's not coated.

-- Chris Patti (, June 30, 2000.


I agree with Trevor. I've been using a Pentax V spotmeter for nearly 15 years. I had it modified by Zone VI a few years after I got it.

It's a great, basic spot meter, very accurate and easy to use, and it's still going strong after all these years. I've never had a problem with it, and I've used it in extreme conditions. It is big and bulky, though.

When it finally passes on to meter heaven, I'll likely replace it with the digital version, which is smaller, and probably more robust and durable due to fewer moving parts.

Good luck, Sergio.

-- Sergio Ortega (, June 30, 2000.

Hi Chris,

I used a Sekonic-L508 for a year. I shoot the zone system and it was always a struggle for me with this meter. You have to continually take the meter away for your eye to see what it reads and it is hard to visualize the various zones on the LCD. I recently switched to a digital Pentax and it now takes me half the time to get my exposure and I make less mistakes with placement of zones. The main reason I went digital was weight. Mine is Zone VI modified and cost me $360 on Ebay. I wasn't stuck on getting the modified version, but it was in my price range so I got it. Have fun.

-- Paul Mongillo (, June 30, 2000.

1.) Yes, absolutley. It requires you to think/interpret more. I would recommend getting an incident meter that allows reflected readings as well. I would recommend something like the Skeonic L398M or the Weston Master series as they require no batteries and are small and relatively inexpensive. If you need more precise reflected readings, walk closer to the subject or find a nearby substitute. With incident readings you can get in the ball park fast and then with the reflected readings you can establish the extremes of your range more precisely for development purposes.

Then again, the Pentax digital costs more new than I have paid for any of my 8 X 10 lenses.

2.) You certainly could use the Nikon, but if you're committed, you'll want a hand held meter that is lighter, smaller, etc.

3). It depends on the meter design. The majority have an activation switch that holds the reading made when you release it. In other words, hold it to your eye, press the button, release the button - the reading is maintained/saved. Take it from your eye, transfer the reading from the indicator to the calculator dial. The original Pentax and the non-digital Soligor as well as the Gossen Luna Pro have this arrangement.

The Gossen also allows you to see the E.V. range graphically represented. It has a 1/5/15 degree spot attachment available that allows you to use the meter as a incident or spot reflected. The down side to it is that it is bulky, awkward and ludicrously expensive new - more than the cost of the digital Soligor - and damnably hard to find used.

4.) Hell Yes! If the flare is a problem, use a lens shade or a toilet paper tube painted black.

5>) I can't speak to this from experience, all my meters have been analog. My car still has points, too. However, it depends on how well made the unit is to begin with, how much you use it, and the conditions you use it under. I will say you should invest in a good lanyard and a padded belt pouch regardless.

-- Sean yates (, June 30, 2000.

I've had good luck with the Minolta Spot Meter F, but this meter seems to be absent from any of the above recommendations. You might consider it as an option.

-- Robert Pellegrino (, June 30, 2000.

For what it's worth:

I've got a Pentax Digital, and like it. It was modified by Zone VI. I bought it quite a while ago at $160 new. That tells you how old it is (at least 15 years) but it keeps working.

I bought a Sekonic selenium cell incident meter a couple of years ago because 1) I wanted to try incident reading exposure and 2) I wanted something that doesn't use batteries for a backup.

Then ago I bought a Polaris flash meter for about $150. It works amazingly well.

-- Charlie Strack (, June 30, 2000.

I would not limit myself to just a spot meter, although I have an old pentax spot which could be found used for $150 or so. I would search for a dual meter--incident & reflective w/spot such as the Sekonic--their 5 is their most expensive--the model below which I can not recall is the one I recently purchased, it has all three types of metering. I have been very pleased with the Minolta 4 which does not have spot, however, the model above does--Gossen makes quality meters as I have an old luna pro which does all three types of metering. go with a meter which has all three !

-- Raymond a. Bleesz (, June 30, 2000.

I must qualify myself as an advanced beginner, but I have a Gossen Luna Pro with a variable spot attachment (I think it's 7.5 amd 15 degrees). Easy to find for around $100 or so. Does reflective and incident light. I've had no compaints. I only do color, so may a spot meter would be more suitable for B+W.

-- roger rouch (, June 30, 2000.

I dont know much/anything about the specs of your F100, but if it has a usable spot meter capability, I'd be tempted to purchase a 135mm lens or so and simply use that. It means your 'meter' can do something none of the other options can do - take photos! It all comes down to how much you want to carry/spend, your need for the latest/greatest, and whether you shoot solely LF, or use it to supplement 35mm etc.

-- Carey Bird (, June 30, 2000.

To add a question to a question . . .

For those who have the Zone VI modified spot meter, do you use it for color? If so, how well does it work?

I use my Pentax V for color, and I've had good luck. I correct my readings for different colors based on some tests I did one time. But, is there a way that I could use the modified meter for color?

-- neil poulsen (, June 30, 2000.

My Zone VI modified digital Pentax has always worked just fine with color. The meter has corrected spectral response for panchromatic black and white, so color film should match up quite well. In my experience, it does.

-- Sal Santamaura (, June 30, 2000.

I use both the Pentax spot (analog) and the Sekonic incident meters. I grab the Sekonic 95% of the time. It is quick, easy and accurate. The main problem for scenics is if you are forced to stand under a shaded area while shooting a sunlit area. Otherwise, it is great. A bit of experience observing the overall scene will let you know if you need to adjust exposures. The Pentax is accurate, fast, reliable and a pain in the ass to use.

-- Doug Paramore (, July 01, 2000.

I own both the Sekonic L508 and the Zone VI (Pentax). My recommendation, buy the Pentax Zone VI from Calumet. You will be happy with it for the rest of your shooting days. I use and love the Sekonic for flash work, but absolutely hate it for outdoor and scenic/landscape work.

But the Zone VI and you will not regret your decision, even if it takes you a few months to save up.

-- Bill Smithe (, July 01, 2000.

I bought a Soligor spot meter a long time ago and have been happy with it. I would like a digital spot but can't afford it right now. I think an incident meter with large format is a stupid idea when a spot meter is available. One of the main benefits of LF is individual film development and a good idea of what the brightness range of the scene is makes use of a spot meter more critical than an incident meter. You don't need to know the average of the scene but the range of brightness. My Soligor has many, many miles on it and it is working great. It has been dropped, gotten wet, baked in the sun and frozen and still works superbly. And I don't know why taking the eyepiece from your face to look at the meter is so difficult. I don't even think you need the fancy zone system decal on the meter to know what zone you're in. I look at the low reading and the high reading and subtract. What I have is the brightness range. That's all I need. Whether I use 1/4 @f22 or 2 secs @f64 isn't part of the zone system. Then I know if I am at 5 zaones I will need less developing time and a tad more exposure and If I'm at 3 zones I'll need a tad less exposure. Simple. You don't "need" all of those digital extras. But a Pentax Spot would be nice due to it's small size and lighted display for working in really low light situations. James

-- james (, July 01, 2000.

I bought a Soligor (Capital) spot meter in England which is the same as the Adorama one and I find it very adequate. I bought the analogue version where you read a needle reading in the viewfinder. The only drawback is low light where it might be difficult to read the meter. In which case, go for the digital which I think has an illuminated display. Otherwise it's a very workmanlike piece of gear without frills. It'll do the job.

-- Yaakov Asher Sinclair (, July 01, 2000.

Not to pour oil on troubled waters but....

All types of meters (incident, reflected) are perfectly capable of giving decent results when used with some thought. The incident meter can be used for zone system work, though most zone system folks seem to prefer a dedicated spot meter (see Phil Davies BTZS for details on how to use the incident meter for zone work). At the end of the day, metering is fraught with fudge factors. Not the least of which is the arbitrary way we previsualize to place some area on a particular zone, very much a function of our visualization. Other fudges include what the meter is calibrated to (could be anywhere from 9 to 12% grey), the spectral sensitivites of the meter and film may not match (though the Zone VI is supposed to tackle this to some extent). At the end of the day, the most important thing is ergonomics i.e., how intuitive and quickly does the meter let you work. In other words, a good meter should fade into the background and not interfere with your visualization process. Only you can determine which meter does this best for you.

Specifics: I would second the suggestion of a combined incident/reflected meter becuase there will be times you will want the reflected capability to meter a source of light (which can be done with an incident meter but is a bit of a kludge). Anyway, most decent incident meters should be capable of being used as a wide field reflected meter (most incident meters basicaly entail replacing the lens of a wide field meter with a grey plastic dome that lets in 18% of the light). The better ones will provide accessories to simulate some degree of spot metering or come with a fibre optic probe you can use to take readings off the ground glass (which can be nice because it again simulates a spot reading and takes bellows extension into account - you have to calibrate and block the back of the ground glass to prevent light entering from behind and inflating the readings). A dedicated spot meter can be a nice instrument to have as well. If you need an incident reading, take a reading off a grey card. The point is that either meter will give you the information you need. I would try to get my hands on both to see which one seems to fade into the background. Don't downplay this aspect. In my opinion, the Sekonic suffers from an almost fatal flaw since you can't see the reading in the viewfinder - this is mitigated by the memory functions. In my opinion, the Adorama's or Soligors are eminently worth considering. Flare may be a bit worse but you can try to minimize it with appropriate technique. As for the analog versus digital, I'm inclined to lean towards digital for spotmeters. The balance wheel in the analogs is a little delicate in my opinion but then I'm a bit of an oaf..... Good luck. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, July 01, 2000.

So many helpful people! Thanks for all the comments.

While this was going on I managed to successfully bid on a used Pentax Spotmeter (analog, not digital) that has supposedly never been used. I got it for a little over half of what it costs new, so I'm going to start there for now. Thanks again for all the advice.

-- Chris Werner (, July 02, 2000.

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