View Full Version : Which meter for available darkness
Happy to take redirection to another forum, but this one seemed to have the greatest incidence of meter related postings. Seems like this would have been discussed before, but I didn't find it in searching several forums.
Recently came into possession of a Canon 50 1.4, a CV 40 1.4, and a Canon 35 1.8, to be used on a Leica M2/3. Planning to use them, no flash, in available light situations and darker. That means high contrast lighting, and possibly no light at the meter by which to read the meter -- as I found out by trying. My current meters are great, small, light, suited to higher light levels.
Feeding on current batteries, compactness, one-hand operation, high sensitivity, illuminated dials all plusses! Do they coexist in one meter? Any suggestions or favorites?
The Calcu-Light XP. Reads down to -7EV at 100ASA. Do a search here for it.
I remember trying the Calcu-Light XP "back in the day." The specs seemed great, but I thought the calculator dial was too thin and hard to turn. Also, while the numeric readout is an LED and is visible in darkness, you still have to set that reading and read out your exposure values on a circular, non-illuminated calculator dial, similar to the ones found on meters such as the Gossen Luna-Pro and Weston Ranger 9 (which are also good low-light meters if you can hack the battery issues.)
If you want a meter you can buy new and that uses current batteries, and you don't mind spending darn near $400 for one that doesn't measure anything except plain ol' ambient light, you might look at the Spectra IVA (http://www.spectracine.com/product_2.html). No, I haven't used one, but I'd love to hear from somebody who has.
This thing reads down to 0.1 footcandle (equivalent of roughly EV -5 or -6 depending on how you calculate) and accepts an extensive (and expensive) system of accessories. It's designed primarily for cinematographers, but has still-photo readouts as well. The entire display is illuminated, so you can read out actual settings in the dark.
I should point out, though, that when you're photographing in really, really dark conditions, getting a usable meter reading isn't straightforward no matter how sensitive your meter is. "Correct" exposure in ultra-low light is somewhat subjective: typically your scene will include some areas that have just about no light at all, others that are less dimly lit, and some areas right around light sources that are fairly bright. Deciding how these areas should be rendered in your picture isn't something that you can leave to a meter; it depends on your intentions.
Besides, often a "normal" exposure isn't what you want anyway -- it would make the scene appear to have normal brightness, where what you probably want to capture is the impression of a dark environment!
Thanks Peter and JLW,
Hadn't known about the Quantum and would much prefer not to spend $400 on just a meter. Completely agree that "normal" exposure is not what I want under those circumstances. Wondering if I need a spotmeter so I can get a reading (the uneven illumination you mention is exactly what I meant by high contrast) I envision subjects coming into pools pf light from the "outside" dark, small portions of the frame illuminated and the rest dark.
Do people guess? come n close to take a reading and retreat to their taking position? Use the equivalent of the Black Cat guide?
The rare occasions when I have tried to make a photo in dark conditions I have used a Gossen Lunasix 3 meter (largely because it's the only one I have of course) in incident mode under the same light as the shadowy bit of the pic. It does heavily depend on what the lighting is actually like of course.
The Gossen will read effectively to EV -2 with 400asa film (30 secs @ f2.8) but the last scene I had was three stops brighter. The attached pic was with Tri-X, in a FED3 with I.61 and was resized, levelled and converted for display. The darkest bit where I wanted details was measured, then I added three stops and hoped for the best with the highlights. The picture looks a bit brighter than the actual scene, as it was made around midnight - a torch was used to read the meter.
Gossen have a standard battery-adapter that can be ordered from any stockist, so the mercury-cell problem is not actually a problem for their older meters.
Gossen Lunapro/Six gets my vote.
Rated to 8 hours exposure time - well it IS!
They are available used at good prices all over. If you can find a Lunapro SBC (Silicon Blue Cell) it has better low-light performance and doesn't suffer from the problem in the CDS cells of taking time to settle down if going from high light ot low light situations quickly.
Unless you can actually walk to the subject an back, incident meters are lousy for high contrast situations, like a street lit by lamps. A spot meter is ideal and I use one with large format. But with 35mm, I meter by eye - It's not difficult to do.
An incident meter wouldn't work for this shot - Bessa T - metered by eye:
This one was with a ShenHao 4x5 and spot metered with the Pentax digital spot meter:
I recently started using a big, digital Sekonic flash meter, and it does seem to work pretty well in the darkness with that big incident lumisphere thing.
But the darker it gets, the less I have a use for the meter.
With the last couple rolls I shot at night I just set the shutter speed as slow as I can reliably hand-hold (about 1/30 when it's COLD and windy outside) and shot wide open at f1.4 or f2 depending on how dim things really were. Developed in Acufine and it seemed to work pretty well.
LunaSix/Pro -- and in REALLY poor light, point the bare meter cell as the light source, as for an incident light meter, and give 5x the exposure.
To jlw's wise observations I'd add that often, in 'available darkness', the range of acceptable exposures can be surorisingly high. Even with transparency, you can often get pics that are usable, with different moods, at your best guess, +1 stop and -1 stop.
Err always on the side of over-exposure: blown highlights are far less likely than many people say.
Finally, I mostly just guess. By the time you're shooting 1/30 and 1/15 at f/1.4 in the street, the determining dactors are (1) full aperture and (2) the longest time you can hold the camera steady.
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