light meters!

mikepmikep Posts: 280Member
edited April 2014 in Nikon DSLR cameras
i dont get why people are using these ... ?

the way i see it is, light meters are measuring the light falling on the subject, which is great, but all that really matters is not how much light is falling on the subject, but how much light is reflecting off the subject and then falling on the cameras sensor, which is measured very accurately by the cameras built-in meter. do we really need to know how much light is hitting the subject?

i see them being touted as a tool to "get perfect exposure every time", or whatever slogan they use, but getting perfect exposure is surely not possible, as the desired exposure varies dependent on the desired outcome of the shot? doesnt it? what if i want a high key picture?

so the camera has a built in meter, spot metering & exposure lock, it also has a histogram, and most importantly it has an lcd screen that allows you to view the picture and see instantly if the desired exposure has been achieved or not, and has that thing that flashes to tell you where highlights have been lost also ....

so one can just take a shot, if its too dark or too light, use exposure comp in A or adjust the shutter speed in M .... and you can get to the desired exposure within 2 or 3 shutter releases, in perhaps 10 seconds .....

can anyone defend these light meters? what are they good for?
Post edited by mikep on
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Comments

  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    @mikep

    My suspicions are that most of us who use light meters are from the days prior to the in camera systems which actually worked. I currently have a Gossen Luna Pro from the 1960's, converted to use modern day batteries. I use it only in rare occasions as I tend to agree with you in terms of the camera and its large number of potential scenes, the correct exposure is quite often done fully by the camera. Or, at least, the data plus histogram allows adjustment for any special effect/exposure one desires.

    For electronic flash, especially in a studio setting, I like to use a Sekonic flash meter and then adjust the camera accordingly.

    There are some situations in which use of either an incident or reflected off camera meter is helpful. If one measures the light in shadows and highlight areas one can adjust lighting so as to produce a specific dynamic range. In the old days this is what we did to end up with a final product which we called "camera ready" meaning it was ready for the separation camera used to produce the necessary plates for printing. If you look at most of my photos you will see they tend to be somewhat "flat" compared with many folks work. This comes from the idea of "camera ready" art which is just what I have done most of my life and kinda like it.

    In any case, I doubt if one really needs a light meter today as almost everything I have described above could be done with a modern body.
    Msmoto, mod
  • AdeAde Posts: 1,071Member
    1. Generally the LCD is a poor way to assess exposure, especially outdoors.

    2. An RGB histogram is probably the most reliable way to assess exposure for most people today.

    3. The in-camera light meter is a reflective meter which does not measure "very accurately". In fact the in-camera meter can easily fooled because it has to assume that all objects have an average reflectance ("18% gray"). So if you take a picture of a black cat or a snowy field, the meter reading will be wrong, 100% of the time. With things like matrix metering, scene databases, face detection, etc., the camera will try to automatically compensate for this error, but it will make mistakes.

    4. An external light meter can directly measure ambient (non-reflected) light, so it doesn't have to assume that all objects are 18% gray. This is actually a much more accurate way to measure exposure. An ambient light meter won't get fooled by the black cat or by the snowy field. It doesn't care. It just measures light, and the black cat will automatically reflect less light than the white snow. But ambient measurement has some problems of its own, e.g., since the measurement isn't "through-the-lens" it can't take account of the light loss from different kinds of lenses. But in general if you calibrate an ambient light meter to your camera, you can get much more accurate / consistent results than the in-camera meter.

    5. The in-camera meter is also useless when using a flash. Most external meters can measure flash output, compute the lighting ratios between flashes or between ambient vs. flash, etc. This is probably the largest value of using an external meter. (But nowadays, you can use the histogram for most -- but not all -- cases requiring a flash meter).

    6. An external flash meter is also useful if you need to exactly reproduce different lighting setups for consistency between multiple shooting days / locations, etc.

    7. You can use an external meter away from the camera position. This is very useful when you have multiple camera setup, etc. (On movie sets you might see the cinematographer using a handheld meter.)

    8. An external meter often has convenience functions such as the ability to trigger remote flashes (e.g., a built-in PocketWizard module), easy measurement of a scene's dynamic range, easy compensation for any aperture/ISO/shutter speed or shutter angle, etc.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    This must be what is called simultaneous posting…LOL
    Msmoto, mod
  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member
    Well, because I don't use a light meter I won't try to defend its use. I do often question whether I should get one or not...will it become just a gadget in my camera bag...and the really good ones aren't cheap. From what I constantly see on Creative Live are pro photographers tauting them to achieve "consistant" photos from session to session. It seems to be aimed at photographers who'r shooting occasions that truly need to have similar looks such as senior portrait sessions or studio glamour sessions for publications. The thing that stops me from pulling the trigger on one is that the more I shoot with off camera lighting the more I grow accustumed to what settings I set my lights to and the distance to place them from the subject. With experience over time I'm likely to not need an external light meter - which is what most of those pros on Creative Live tend to say.

    Personally, I'm more in the same boat as you are ... test shot, adjust, repeat... The only problem there is sometimes that can be interpreted by the client as "do you know what you're doing?" Personally, I always let them know I'm making lighting adjustments and try to make positive comments about the capture even though the exposure just sucked and then I make adjustments. I guess they're good for making you look more professional which is a benefit in building confidence in your client.

    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • MikeGunterMikeGunter Posts: 543Member
    Hi all,

    @Ade - 100% right...

    @mikep - Your logic is the reason to learn to use a light meter to get good shots all the time, like photographers who were film shooters that didn't have LCDs. ;-)

    Then, I'd rather use an incident meter, even if certain kinds of guesses for shadows at distances, to get the right exposures and bracket.

    It works. And it works in digital, too. Right now I have a Gossen Luna Pro 9 inches from me now. I measure most of my multiple flash shots and stage shots before shooting with actors. It pays off.

    The stage lighting starts off as tungsten instruments gelled by the lighting designer, with multi-color scrims in the back, and often there are back drops of pure black.

    It's a reflective meter's psychedelic nightmare. An incident meter reads the amount of light and a white balance for the original source, tungsten bulbs, shows the stage as the designer meant it to be.

    Trial and error would be just that, but really, mostly error. With a meter - they are all keepers.

    My best,

    Mike
  • sevencrossingsevencrossing Posts: 2,800Member
    edited April 2014
    I grew up using a Weston exposure meter and I also used a Gossen Luna Pro
    both were far more accurate than My Nikon photomic F
    Today I use a D800 set to Matrix Metering, No; not all my images are keepers but none are lost because the exposure meter on D800, got it wrong
    I sometimes look at the RGB histogram but ignore the LCD unless its obviously incorrectly exposed ( e.g. I have left the camera on M)
    I would not dream of going back to a separate meter
    I don't use studio flash but if I did, I can see the point of a separate flash meter
    How does one define 100% correct exposure ?
    Post edited by sevencrossing on
  • Rx4PhotoRx4Photo Posts: 1,200Member


    Trial and error would be just that, but really, mostly error. With a meter - they are all keepers.

    Mike
    ... and this is the part of the argument that makes me want to click "buy". Thank you, and you as well Ade!
    D800 | D7000 | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 35mm f/1.8G | 85mm f/1.4G | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art | Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM | Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar ZF.2 | Flash controllers: Phottix Odin TTL

  • paulrpaulr Posts: 1,176Member
    I must confess I do use a light meter the Sekonic 758DR, mainly in a studio environment but also when I use lenses that cannot be metered Schneider 90 PC. It is calibrated to the camera and even with normal Nikon lenses the reading are sometimes quite different to the camera readings. i believe that anything that helps you produce better exposed images, and less time in PP can't be a bad thing.
    Camera, Lens and Tripod and a few other Bits
  • ThomasHortonThomasHorton Posts: 323Member
    I still occasionally use my 20+ year old light meter to double check tricky exposures. Outside of metering flash, if I were to consider buying another light meter, it would be a spot meter.

    One of the many advantages of the modern day light meter is the ability to do the calculations from multiple meterings. I wish that Canikon would give us some of that functionability on the cameras using the built in meter. I am sure the camera CPUs have the capability.

    But using an external light meter is a personal choice.

    Using one does not make you a better photographer.
    Not using one does not make you a better photographer.

    Gear: Camera obscura with an optical device which transmits and refracts light.
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    @Abe. Well said.
    @paulr: I have been looking at that exact light meter for some time (over a year). Just been holding off hoping to find a good price on one.
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • michael66michael66 Posts: 231Member
    I grew up using a Weston exposure meter and I also used a Gossen Luna Pro
    both were far more accurate than My Nikon photomic F
    Oh, man! The Weston was a tank. It was heavily used before I got to it some thirty years ago. I suspect, that the grandchildren of my grandchildren will still be able to use.

    It's kinda fun to see the expression on the old-timers' faces when I've had it out.

    Wait. Cr*p. I'm an old-timer.

    When I was a kid, we didn't have these fancy digital doowhats. We had to load a roll of film every 12 ( or 24 or 36 ) shots. And then we left them off at the druggist.

    Sorry, I seem to have wandered off-topic. I seem to do that a lot these days.
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,387Member
    I use a light meter to determine a starting point for exposure when using monolights and shooting in manual. I will determine what f-stop I wish to use and then adjust the power of the monolights until I reach that f-stop and lighting ratio. Once I have a basic starting point I use the LCD histogram to fine tune the exposure I want.
  • sevencrossingsevencrossing Posts: 2,800Member
    edited April 2014
    Any one used one of these ?

    http://www.presscameras.org/watkins/watkins_bee.html

    Brilliant for church interiors with slow B/W film, when a typical exposure could be several hours at f 64

    I still have mine
    Post edited by sevencrossing on
  • paulrpaulr Posts: 1,176Member
    Like cameras Light meters have moved on, and the new digital meters are extremely accurate, I have used colour meters,Sekonic C-500R ProDigi Color, but cannot justify the extra cost, plus you need a camera that as the ability to make kelvin temperature adjustments. Been able to use a flash meter with strobes makes life a lot easier to get multi light readings,.thanks to Pocket Wizard sensors.
    Camera, Lens and Tripod and a few other Bits
  • HipShotHipShot Posts: 518Member
    FWIW, here's a free light meter app for iPhones: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/luxi/id670342309?mt=8

    I have it on my phone, but haven't used it yet.
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 4,369Member
    edited April 2014
    It's free, but you do have to buy the the attachment (just so people know). Without the attachment that app just provides a reflective light meter, like the one in your camera.
    Post edited by PB_PM on
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • HipShotHipShot Posts: 518Member
  • MikeGunterMikeGunter Posts: 543Member
    Hi all,

    @ThomasHorton - Most of the Nikon digital cameras have spot meters built in and they work as well as any of the reflective light meters as I've used.

    You can use a digital camera's meter as a reflective meter, and you can reflect off a known surface and get the exposure with the camera's meter. You simply point to that known source (perhaps an 18% gray card - I seem to recall that is what they are for), read it, and dial in the exposure.

    Incident meters are better for falling light on the surface of the subject, and the spot meter in the camera is as good that is probably going to get.

    The specific, very specific example I mentioned was theatrical shooting. Hundreds (actually thousands) of shoots in a night of dress rehearsals during performance lighting. While few would ever be tasked to shoot that - it's a very good use of metered lighting - and an excellent example of where a few minutes of metering and noodling makes the evening's shooting perfect.

    Shooting with TTL wouldn't work. Hot subjects, multiple colored gels, colored backgrounds (deep blacks, reds, and on it goes) would simply be nightmarish for the camera's meter.

    I could call the results 'arty', but that would really be letting everyone in the company down.

    Especially me.

    My best,

    Mike
  • mikepmikep Posts: 280Member
    hi mike,

    do you mean that you measure the lighting before the performance, and record the values, then adjust your shutter speed accordingly during the show?
  • safyresafyre Posts: 113Member
    2 Very Practical Reasons to use a light meter.

    1. You shoot film and don't have an LCD/histogram to verify if your settings are good.
    2. You shoot studio and don't want to look like a fool while you're fiddling with camera settings in front of your client.
  • mikepmikep Posts: 280Member
    why would making adjustments to a camera be considered foolish, while making adjustments whilst using a light meter be considered unfoolish?

  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    Love this thread…. and may start using my Gossen Luna Pro more often. My experience has been to measure incident light, run the scene through my immense computer in between my ears looking at lights, darks, how the overall looks related to an 18% gray card (of which I have several brand new ones!) and then deciding on an initial exposure. Often I will take direct reflected readings from areas so as to understand better how these relate to the overall dynamic range.

    What this all does is to teach me what it is I am photographing, how all this comes into a camera and is compressed to a finite dynamic range, and what I will have to work with in the final post processing.

    The operative word is "teach". I have learned an immense amount while participating on NRF. But, we can only can "book knowledge" on a forum. We must go out and fail, succeed, discard and keep, edit, all of the stuff we do to end up with a final image and the ability to reproduce this.

    A light meter allows us to better understand what all the camera software is doing, and, at that point be able to work with the camera decisions to obtain a better end product. Without the knowledge obtained by using a light meter separately, both incident and reflective modes, we can not have all the exposure information in our head to assess our subject and produce our image at the highest level of quality.
    Msmoto, mod
  • sevencrossingsevencrossing Posts: 2,800Member
    edited April 2014
    I imagine those of you how like separate meters, work in more stable conditions then we get in the UK; were all four seasons can be experienced in less than an hour
    Post edited by sevencrossing on
  • paulrpaulr Posts: 1,176Member
    Sevencrossing, I think you are advocating the need for an external Light Meter if conditions change that fast in half an hour.LOL In Live in Yorkshire.
    Camera, Lens and Tripod and a few other Bits
  • DJBee49DJBee49 Posts: 133Member
    Ade and MikeGunter have said it all really.

    In-camera meters are of very little use in studio and very tricky in theatre work. I have used in-camera meters for theatre work but only when I could not get on stage to measure with an ambient hand meter.

    The only addition I would make to the debate is that a hand meter is essential for lighting ratio measurement. This applies both to ambient light situations, mixed ambient and flash on location and of course, a flash meter when using studio flash units in studio. For instance, pre-determining the balance between lights/reflectors when setting up a portrait session or for an interior shot, balancing ambient light through windows with flash lit interiors and balancing all the exposure areas within the interior itself.

    I have a fairly ancient Minolta meter that I use all the time. It measures flash (cord linked and non-cord linked) and ambient. I love it, it is blisteringly accurate, easy to use and does everything I need. There are of course plenty of times when I don't use it and just use the excellent in-camera meter on my D800. Horses for courses..... as they say!
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