35mm SLR as an exposure meter

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Hi Everyone,

As a newcomer to Large Format, I was wondering if there's anything fundamentally 'wrong' in using my trusty Canon T90 in 'spot' meter mode to determine the exposure for a LF camera.

-- David Szwec (ds@2pi.co.uk), May 27, 2002


No, there is nothing at all wrong with this practice. Many people use this method, although I assume that most eventually buy a "real" spotmeter or use a different (i.e. incident) method.

-- Dave Brown (wolfgang@peakpeak.com), May 27, 2002.

I carry my old OM-1 which I use as my LF meter. I've never felt real comfortable using a spotmeter although the added weight and bulk using a 35mm camera strictly as a meter makes me wish I did.

-- Mark Windom (mwphoto@nwlink.com), May 27, 2002.

I used my Nikon FA as a meter untill i bought a dedicated spot meter. I also used the 50mm lens as a focusing loupe for awhile.

-- James Chinn (JChinn2@dellepro.com), May 27, 2002.

I would think that it would be okay as long as you knew the area that the meter was measuring, and as long as you calibrated the meter to your working methods.


-- Kevin Kolosky (Kjkolosky@kjkolosky.com), May 27, 2002.


There is information in the archives regarding this. My suggestion would be to use a lens in the 135mm to 200mm range so as to meter only a small spot (I read that somewhere, and it helps).

Another option, and this is subject to personal taste, is to use the palm of your hand instead of a gray card. Place a gray card out of direct sunlight, take a meter reading from the card, then place the palm of your hand in the same light and take a reading from it. Compare the two, and you'll know how much to compensate if you use your hand instead of the card. In effect, this creates an incident meter (and it's cheap!!!).

I did this before I got an incident meter, and found it to be a fairly accurate technique. The main problem, and the reason I bought the separate meter, was that the natural oil in my skin created a bright reflection in direct sunlight and led to underexposed images. This technique was pretty accurate in the shade, though, even with E6 film.

Good luck!

-- Matthew Runde (actorm@hotmail.com), May 27, 2002.

David... here is a well written article concerning your post.

"The Pentax digital spot meter seems to be popular with large format photographers. It is relatively small and light, reliable, and has easy controls and viewfinder readings. Recently the multi-purpose Sekonic Zoom-master has been succesfull, because it combines incident and flash with spot. However it is more complex and does not have viewfinder displays.

Personnally I use my 35mm camera. I like to have the small camera to be able to shoot quickly should something change suddently and produce many images for stock. I also use it as a viewfinder so I don't have to move the tripod around. When I am in a hurry, I use the matrix metering, otherwise I use the a built-in spot meter with the 1/3 stop analog scale in the viewfinder. I just set the same shutter speed and f-stop I intend to use on the LF camera, and then see where different part of the scene fall. Cameras with such a scale include the Nikon N8008s, F4, F5, F100 (N90 has only a f1 stop scale), and most canons, including the Rebel 2000 and the EOS 3. If I use the polarizer on the LF camera, I just put a polariser on my 35mm lens. The 24-120 or 24-85 lenses matches all the 4 focals that I commonly use on the LF camera.

It's from.. Q.Tuan Luong...http://www.ai.sri.com/~luong/photography/lf/ matos-begin.html

-- dan n. (dan@egmail.com), May 27, 2002.


I'm planning a backpacking trip next week and have just done an experiment using a Canon G2 digital camera as an exposure meter for my Super Speed Graphic for shooting Velvia transparency film.

I'll be taking the G2 anyway and am trying to minimize weight, so I'm planning only to take the camera with its 135 Rodenstock, lightweight tripod and some old Mido film holders (like readyloads but you load the film).

The big advantage of using a digital camera, as I see it, is that you can also have an "instant polaroid" to determine where highlights and shadows block up and go black. Also, with the G2's histogram feature, you have a graphic indication of the exposure for a given setting.

This weekend I shot several sheets of Velvia (G2 has a low ISO setting of 50) using the G2 and the setup described above. I'll post some images if you like, along with the digital equivalents when I develop the E6 tomorrow.

-- David Haynes (studioblsp@mindspring.com), May 27, 2002.

Until I acquired my Spotmeter V I used an old Nikkormat FTN with a 135mm lens, angle of view (from memory)about 18 degrees. Heavy, cumbersome to use (with all the mechanical settings), and a long way from the 1 degree precision of the Pentax, but it got the job done.

-- Nicholas F. Jones (nfjones@stargate.net), May 27, 2002.

I also have used a 35 mm SLR as a meter for my LF camera now for some years. I prefer it to my hand held meter as I frequently use both formats together. I use a Nikon FE2 which has the basic centre weighted meter. With a medium telephoto to select a 'spot' and with match needle metering it is easy to see the range of light values. Main problem is remembering to convert if you have different film speeds in 35mm and 4x5!

-- Colin (cicarron@aol.com), May 28, 2002.


Thanks to everyone for your very helpful (not mention quick) replies :-)

Two good things about the T90: 1) I've used it for years; 2) The spot metering is 2.8 degrees - which if used with a 135mm lens should cover most of my initial LF requirements.

No doubt I'll be back for more sound advice in the future!

Many thanks,


-- David Szwec (ds@2pi.co.uk), May 28, 2002.

for the past year I've used my Nikon FM2 to meter my exposures for my 4x5 camera. i never had a problem with it, although i'd often have to do a bit of math to match my settings on my 4x5. recently i purchased a sekonic l-408. to my surprise, my nikon had a few advantages over the sekonic. my nikon works much better in low light situations - my sekonic simply gives up. i'm still going to move over to using light meters (after I get a gossen luna pro) but a 35 mm camera is a perfectly good meter.

-- matt kime (mwk206@nyu.edu), May 30, 2002.

I often use my Nikon F5 as a meter, especially if I'm shooting velvia. The matrix metering system is quick and accurate if you want to meter the whole scene quickly, or there is the choice of spot or centre weighted average. Usually the algorithm that drives the matrix metering is very good. If you're happy with the exposures you get by using the Canon's meter in 'average' mode, you may want to follow the guidance that it offers, rather than in 'spot' mode.

One drawback that no one has mentioned is the limited apperture range on a 35mm slr, usually no more than f22. I have confused myself in the past with the (very simple) calculation required in the heat of the moment - doh!

-- Graeme Hird (goldeneyephoto@hotmail.com), May 30, 2002.

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