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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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The Great Light Meter Debate
Old 09-01-2009   #1
Roger Hicks
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The Great Light Meter Debate

This is a perennial debate. Does anyone want to argue with the following?

Anyone who does not use a light meter when necessary is a fool.

Anyone who does not accept that using a light meter may not always be necessary is an even bigger fool.

Anyone who cannot understand that different people have different definitions of 'necessary' is the biggest fool of all.

(Idle thought as a break from reorganizing my study. All displacement activities gratefully welcomed!)

Cheers,

R,

Last edited by Roger Hicks : 09-01-2009 at 07:01.
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Old 09-01-2009   #2
david.elliott
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To each their own.

Best of luck with reorganizing your study Roger!
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Old 09-01-2009   #3
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well said ha ha
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Old 09-01-2009   #4
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With color slide film, I'm a bit more careful and generally meter nearly every shot.

With b/w, I'll sometimes take an initial reading to give me a base. And then I'll make small adjustments as I move from light to shade -- and usually checking readings here and there along the way.
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Old 09-01-2009   #5
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Light meter? What's THAT? *o)
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Old 09-01-2009   #6
Ronald M
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Sunlight Studio lights you don`t move. Multiple shots in the same location.

None require a meter.

Use one when you must, but don`t become a slave to it.
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Old 09-01-2009   #7
condon
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A lightmeter is a tool and very easy to understand.
Light is a different matter and sometimes hard to understand.
A lightmeter may be helpful - sometimes.
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Old 09-01-2009   #8
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At 81 tomorrow, I fear my guessokmeter needs batteries.
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Old 09-01-2009   #9
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A light meter makes a suggestion, not a mandate.
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Old 09-01-2009   #10
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no argument here, roger
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Old 09-01-2009   #11
bean_counter
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my father shot Kodachrome exclusively for decades on his IIIf w/o a meter, and he nailed most of his exposures

alas, I am a slave to my hand-held meter, but I dislike in-camera meters

to each his own

now, enough goofing off, back to work on your study
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Old 09-01-2009   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bean_counter View Post
now, enough goofing off, back to work on your study
I'm just putting it back together. Several dozen cables and wires. What sort of idiot designs a 'universal' fitting (USB) and then makes it in three sizes, the most common of which is nearly square so you need to look carefully before you try to push it in?

(Oh, dear, unintentional double entendre but it would be a shame to delete it.)

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-01-2009   #13
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(Oh, dear, unintentional double entendre but it would be a shame to delete it.)

Cheers,

R.[/quote]

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Old 09-01-2009   #14
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So, what about the person who defines "fool" via photographic terms and behavior?

A fool or a sage? Obnoxious or sane?

Get out and look for/see pictures worth taking!
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Old 09-01-2009   #15
micromontenegro
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I love to have a lightmeter, so I can check if it agrees with my guesstimates. But I recently it does seem to agree very seldom, so I tend to leave it at home ;-)
Nonetheless, I do have one onboard one (selenium) that I trust blindly. I have been known to go fetch that camera when unsure. Go figure.

Last edited by micromontenegro : 09-01-2009 at 07:10. Reason: Too many "buts"
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Old 09-01-2009   #16
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Roger, I agree, although I would suggest replacing the term "fool" with "unenlightened"...

Perhaps it would be advantageous to consider why people use/rely upon meters - I suspect the logic expressed may be interesting in and of itself.

Off the top of my head I can think of the following reasons:

1. The need for accuracy
2. The perceived need for accuracy
3. Lack of experience
4. Lack of confidence
5. Habit
6. Laziness

Ultimately, whether someone uses a meter or not matters as much to me as whether or not they believe in a deity - as long as they keep their belief to themselves and try not to convert me. I am confident and happy in what I do - sometimes I meter, sometimes I don't - and no amount of browbeating otherwise will influence my choice one jot or iota.

Regards,

Bill
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Old 09-01-2009   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BillP View Post
Roger, I agree, although I would suggest replacing the term "fool" with "unenlightened"...

Perhaps it would be advantageous to consider why people use/rely upon meters - I suspect the logic expressed may be interesting in and of itself.

Off the top of my head I can think of the following reasons:

1. The need for accuracy
2. The perceived need for accuracy
3. Lack of experience
4. Lack of confidence
5. Habit
6. Laziness

Ultimately, whether someone uses a meter or not matters as much to me as whether or not they believe in a deity - as long as they keep their belief to themselves and try not to convert me. I am confident and happy in what I do - sometimes I meter, sometimes I don't - and no amount of browbeating otherwise will influence my choice one jot or iota.

Regards,

Bill
Dear Bill,

Couldn't agree more, especially the last paragraph.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-01-2009   #18
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Ha! Actually, I have a nice Sekonic 558 unit and use it occasionally, especially when shooting either way early or way late in the day when the light gets quite tricky to gauge. I don't use it like I should, but the results please me and those foolish enough to actually WANT to see my photos. YMMV! (Obviously, SOME folks took me literally! The joys of the internet!)
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Old 09-01-2009   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
This is a perennial debate. Does anyone want to argue with the following?
Not really.

Quote:
Anyone who does not use a light meter when necessary is a fool.

Anyone who does not accept that using a light meter may not always be necessary is an even bigger fool.
True.

Quote:
Anyone who cannot understand that different people have different definitions of 'necessary' is the biggest fool of all.
Works for me.

My dispute has never been over the use of non-use of light meters. It gets right up my sleeve when someone states that they can, with experience, evaluate light conditions well enough by eye to dispense with the need for a light meter (the 'Sunny Sixteen Softwits'), because it is not true.

I also find it ironic and amusing that people spend fortunes on the sharpest lenses, the highest-quality cameras, and the finest film stock obtainable. They agonize over dust specks in lenses, they debate the degrading quality of skylight filters, they debate the finer points of lens hoods and RAW versus JPEG digital storage. Then, these self-same purity addicts throw metering to the winds and just roll the dice instead of taking a mere moment to take a meter reading.

"Metering? Eh, whatever. Sunny-16 and call it good."

It is my contention that exposure is a creative tool, just like focus, shutter speed, focal length, filtration, f-stop, composition, and so on. One can use exposure creatively if one chooses to do so. I do not think every shot must be metered to within a gnat's eyelash, but I think ignoring proper metering in favor of some imagined purity of guessing exposure is imbecilic in the extreme.

In the last go-around thread about metering, one thing that finally became clear to me at the end was that for some of the 'I refuse to meter' fatheads, they were actually talking about the joy they experience when taking photographs sans metering, not the resulting images. Well, if that's the case, fine and dandy. However, I wonder at the need for a camera at all if one is merely after the joie de vivre of gallivanting around in public. I advocate the proper use of a meter for those who care what their photographs look like.

If one is simply wandering around pretending to be HCB and smoking Gauloises under their very black berets with a battered M2 and a wide lens, then by all means, have at it. I would not even bother with the film in that case, since it's the experience one is after, not the finished product. Umm, it's not actually 'photography', but if if makes one feel good, then go for it.
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Old 09-01-2009   #20
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I don't really care one way or the other. People use what they feel works for them and are happy with.

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Old 09-01-2009   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bmattock View Post
Not really.



True.



Works for me.

My dispute has never been over the use of non-use of light meters. It gets right up my sleeve when someone states that they can, with experience, evaluate light conditions well enough by eye to dispense with the need for a light meter (the 'Sunny Sixteen Softwits'), because it is not true.

I also find it ironic and amusing that people spend fortunes on the sharpest lenses, the highest-quality cameras, and the finest film stock obtainable. They agonize over dust specks in lenses, they debate the degrading quality of skylight filters, they debate the finer points of lens hoods and RAW versus JPEG digital storage. Then, these self-same purity addicts throw metering to the winds and just roll the dice instead of taking a mere moment to take a meter reading.

"Metering? Eh, whatever. Sunny-16 and call it good."

It is my contention that exposure is a creative tool, just like focus, shutter speed, focal length, filtration, f-stop, composition, and so on. One can use exposure creatively if one chooses to do so. I do not think every shot must be metered to within a gnat's eyelash, but I think ignoring proper metering in favor of some imagined purity of guessing exposure is imbecilic in the extreme.

In the last go-around thread about metering, one thing that finally became clear to me at the end was that for some of the 'I refuse to meter' fatheads, they were actually talking about the joy they experience when taking photographs sans metering, not the resulting images. Well, if that's the case, fine and dandy. However, I wonder at the need for a camera at all if one is merely after the joie de vivre of gallivanting around in public. I advocate the proper use of a meter for those who care what their photographs look like.

If one is simply wandering around pretending to be HCB and smoking Gauloises under their very black berets with a battered M2 and a wide lens, then by all means, have at it. I would not even bother with the film in that case, since it's the experience one is after, not the finished product. Umm, it's not actually 'photography', but if if makes one feel good, then go for it.
Dear Bill,

As so often, we are in absolute agreement on this.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-01-2009   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikon Bob View Post
I don't really care one way or the other. People use what they feel works for them and are happy with.
This pretty much sums up my attitude. I get more good images faster and with less "post-processing" with a meter than without.
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Old 09-01-2009   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Dear Bill,

As so often, we are in absolute agreement on this.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-01-2009   #24
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Any photographer who doesn't own a light meter is a fool. Whether he/she uses it makes no difference at all.
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Old 09-07-2009   #25
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The picture is the boss. If I dont have time to meter then I shall use my experience. I am not going to loose a picture.
Either way.

Bmattock, you seem to be under the illusion that people who dont use a meter for periods of a shoot, don't know what the exposure should be. Hence your scathing contempt for them. This would be indeed foolish behaviour. But they can't all be fools, so maybe they know...
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Old 09-07-2009   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carlsen Highway View Post
If I dont have time to meter then I shall use my experience. I am not going to lose a picture.
That is indeed one reason not to meter, though I suppose one could argue that this is what exposure automation is for. Another is that you are shooting ISO 100 slide film in the open in sunny weather; have already checked that the exposure is 1/250 at f/8 to f/8-1/2 (f/9.5), as you knew it would be; and see no reason to check again. Another is that you are shooting with a lighting set-up you have used a dozen times before. Yet another is that you know that a wide range of exposures is likely to work well, for example when shooting at night.

Sure, metering whenever necessary and possible is a good idea, but it's not always necessary, and as you say, it's not always possible, so it's better to guess the exposure and shoot fast rather than lose the picture by hauling out your meter and taking a reading.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-07-2009   #27
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I learned about exposure from cinema photographers (working mostly in TV), who by-in-large frowned on meters, although they occasionally took readings with Spectra's (a pro-grade incident meter). I feel pretty much the same way - they are a tool for verification or suggestion.

I'd never let a meter control my camera, although I confess to recently playing with some Auto Reflex T's in auto mode just for fun, but they are a strange hybrid SLR beast that permits full manual control without batteries if desired. I never fire the shutter release without approving the displayed aperture setting (it's all shutter priority).
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Old 09-07-2009   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carlsen Highway View Post
Bmattock, you seem to be under the illusion that people who dont use a meter for periods of a shoot, don't know what the exposure should be. Hence your scathing contempt for them. This would be indeed foolish behaviour. But they can't all be fools, so maybe they know...
A) No, that is not what I believe, hence it is not an illusion.
B) No, you do not know what the exposure would be.
C) Yes, I have scathing contempt for people who are intentionally moronic.
D) Yes, they can all be fools.

First, there is no such thing as 'what the exposure should be'. There is only the exposure that you want - if you are choosing to take control of your exposure. Let me explain, since this seems such a difficult concept for many.

Let us say that you are using an auto-focus camera, and the camera locks on to a part of the frame which is NOT what you wished to be in focus. So you attempt to finagle and fiddle with it until it locks onto that which you did wish to be in focus. And then you note that despite its insistence, you disagree that focus has actually been achieved. So you disengage AF and you take control of focus, and you focus as you feel correct. You have the reliance of your eyes, and if eyes are not very good light meters, they are very good judges of what is in focus and what is not (if your eyes work correctly, anyway).

Now, which focus was 'correct'? The answer is that there is no 'correct' focus. There is only the focus you want. That is 'correct' in the sense that you want it. But there certainly is no objective standard for correct focus in a scene where multiple objects might be selected as the focus point.

In a similar situation, you apply creative control to your aperture and shutter speed selection. As an experienced photographer, you know that when you take a photo of a moving object, you may want to speed up the shutter and hence open the aperture to freeze the motion. Or, you may wish to do the opposite to enhance the motion blur for your creative purposes. The camera, though many are quite clever these days with pre-programmed settings, does not know what it is you want. So you take manual control and you set the shutter speed and aperture you wish (these days you may also manipulate the ISO if your digital camera permits that).

Now, which aperture was 'correct'? The answer again is that there is no 'correct' aperture, there is only the aperture that you wanted for the effect you desired.

Exposure is different in only one way. Both focus and creatively manipulating shutter speed / aperture are quite easily done by the human eye and mind. We do in fact have eyes adapted to detecting sharp focus, and we do indeed have minds capable of remembering details of, for example, shutter speed to show motion blur on an airplane propeller to a degree we find pleasing. But exposure is outside the competency of the human eye / brain combination.

I am not referring to common tables of exposure, collectively known as 'Sunny 16', which people can carry with them or memorize if they wish. Those will do for some situations, and will produce results that probably won't be too horrible some of the time. And if that is all the creative control one wishes to exercise over one's photos, then that's fine, and I have no argument with it.

I continue to exhibit surprise that so many people are so interested in the OTHER aspects of creative control and completely abandon the art of exposure, however.

Given an example situation as before, where the camera selects an exposure setting we disagree with (and how many people have agreed with me by stating exactly this) or an incident meter reading which people override because they feel the 'meter lies' or the 'meter is less accurate' than their own eyes, I have to wonder how it is that people who clearly agree with me - don't agree with me. It is not the meter that is inaccurate. It is giving a reading based upon its limitations and the fact that it cannot read one's mind and know what one intends the exposure to be. Given that our minds can conceive of what the resulting print should look like, we need a tool that tells from where we are starting.

The clearest example I can give is to ask someone to tell me prevailing EV is as if they were an incident light meter. Then have them go into a movie theater for several hours and re-emerge and tell me again. No one can do that, and no chart will help you. Your eyes are not light meters, they were not built to do that and they do not do it.

If I wish to take creative control of my exposure, I must meter. There is no other alternative. And further, I must use a spot-meter, as an incident or reflective meter cannot give me the degree of accuracy I need. I rely upon a spot-meter because my eyes are not one.

I need to know several things. The first is what the EV of the darkest part of the scene is. The second is what the EV of the brightest part of the scene is. Having obtained that information with the spot-meter, I then need to determine what the latitude of my recording media is, and what the darkest area of the scene in which I wish to hold detail is, as well as the brightest. It may be a case of intentionally losing detail in one end or the other, or some in both ends, if the dynamic range of the scene surpasses the latitude of my recording media. But it is under my complete control.

I can say at that point that yes, I know the exposure. I won't say I know the correct exposure, because there is no such thing, no objective standard by which to judge.

Now, I realize full well that most people can't be arsed to take this level of manual control over each and every one of their photographs. I don't do it myself. But I also often rely upon auto-focus, or aperture-priority AE, or the exposure that the camera has chosen (the histogram is very nice for this). All of these things will generally work to a degree I find acceptable in many cases. I give up creative control of these features in exchange for convenience, or expediency, and I'm happy with it. If others are too, then yay for them.

However, as we discuss the relative sharpness and definition of the latest uber-sharp lens, or the dynamic range of the latest digital sensor, or the graininess of some B&W film, or the merits of this developer's accutance over that one's, the art and science of using a meter correctly to obtain proper exposure (which is not 'correct' exposure, it is the exposure one intends) ought properly to be in the mix.

The part that amuses me no end is the sneering dismissal of a meter and its use by people who obsess over every other aspect of their photography. They claim to want manual and full control over everything, and then utterly disregard proper metering in favor of ... guessing.

Yes, sir, those people are idiots. Because they are smart enough to understand my little treatise, but they choose to ignore it, and remain ignorant intentionally. Do I sneer at them? You bet I do. What a pack of morons.

And yes, sir, they can ALL be wrong. There is no reason on earth that if everyone believes something, it must therefore be true. They are all wrong.

I've said all this before. It's as clear as I can make it. If anyone bothers to respond to it, it will be a series of accusations that I have said something which I did not, or exaggerations of what I have said to make it appear I'm wrong, or flat-out statements that they indeed CAN meter accurately with their eyeballs (which is not correct). So we go nowhere. It's the simplest thing in the world. You use tools which measure to measure things that you wish to have control over. A ruler is needed to cut boards to length because we cannot judge distance well by eye, and a light-meter is needed because we are not good judges of relative brightness.
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Old 09-07-2009   #29
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I have 3 camera's of 5 that don't have meters. And I move the Voigtlander VC Meter II from camera to camera - it sit's in the hotshoe. I highly recommend, it is very small, unobtrusive, intuitive, and that it

I use it on my Mamiya C220, my Polaroid 600SE and my M4-P, makes it the only meter I need. I sold my sekonic 508, and my minolta spot meter. I have been in gear reduction mode for the last year, and down to just 5 cameras and this one meter.



It is very handy, and I need it, as I don't have the ability to estimate correct exposures without it. funny thing, is the built in meter on the Mamiya 6 - is not very accurate for some reason, and I have to bracket more than the rest of my camera's. I don't have any SLR's or DSLR's. I have a Lumix G1, and that meters fairly accurately.
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Old 09-07-2009   #30
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I have a handful of meters - the one that gets the most use is a small Gossen (cant remember the model - uses a flat battery) - it is cute, tells me the temperature in the breast pocket of my vest and time somewhere. Cant remember how to reset the clock anyway. It is handy for non-400 asa films as it removes some heavy math from my brain when I try to convert 400 asa values to 64 or 125 asa.
Shooting strictly black/white it is less of a problem, more latitude, more control over processing (add/subtract times depending on light situation). I have shot enough 250/320/400 asa films to guess pretty close to what I need. This said, shooting with films like Tech Pan and Minicopy II - a meter is essential as 1/2 stop will blow it.
If I had to shoot color (chromes) - again a meter is essential, either in camera or hand-held as you are dealing with narrow exposure latitudes
If the camera has a built in meter - I usually rely on it - occasionally argue with its reading - and sometimes I am right too.
For the last three weeks I have been using the Bessa III folder in 120 format. It has a very good meter and AE exposure. I have to admit that the few times I tried to outsmart it - it did a better job than I did. This is only based on 30-35 rolls of film though - sooner or later I will catch it in a position were it needs my "experience" - could be when I start shooting the last 12 rolls of Tech Pan 120 from my freezer. Now, 6x7 negs from Tech Pan is something else too - almost worth contact printing on 5x7" paper just for the hell of it. But you better have that exposure right - so I will check the AE reading AND double check with my spot meter (a Sekonic something with a 5 degree spot on it ).
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Old 09-07-2009   #31
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Dear Roger,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
This is a perennial debate. Does anyone want to argue with the following?

Anyone who does not use a light meter when necessary is a fool.

Anyone who does not accept that using a light meter may not always be necessary is an even bigger fool.

Anyone who cannot understand that different people have different definitions of 'necessary' is the biggest fool of all.
Karl Valentin once said that "everything has already been said, just not yet by everyone." The man was right, it seems.

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Old 09-07-2009   #32
Brian Sweeney
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Meters are useful items. They do not always meter the portion of the image that you want.

I have never felt comfortable with Matrix Metering. I do not like the meter coming up with some exposure based on what it thinks the image should look like. With Average, center-weighted, and spot meters at least I can see what it is basing the measurement on.
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The Great Light Meter Debate
Old 09-08-2009   #33
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The Great Light Meter Debate

A comment to the never ending debate.
Study the nature of light, and use whatever metering device you have skilfully.
One early lesson in commercial B&W photography was to determine which
part of the subject matter should render a chosen density in the negative.
Or starta campaing for putting Verichrome Pan back in the market.
Henry (One of the few survivors of the sheet film days)
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Old 09-08-2009   #34
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>>Then, these self-same purity addicts throw metering to the winds and just roll the dice instead of taking a mere moment to take a meter reading.

The mere moment only gets you a starting point, a starting point which is often worse than sunny-16... then you guess how to correct the meter's suggestion or guess how far off the scene is from sunny-16... whatever gets you there...

I shoot a lot of old cameras using sunny-16, I own handheld meters and use them occasionally, I have cameras with TTL metering and use them as intended... I get good results with all. Outdoors I tend to get best results using sunny-16.
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Old 09-08-2009   #35
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>>Yes, sir, those people are idiots. Because they are smart enough to understand my little treatise, but they choose to ignore it, and remain ignorant intentionally. Do I sneer at them? You bet I do. What a pack of morons.

you say that even you (expsoure god?) can't spotmeter every shot and use in camera metering; in camera metering is often way worse than an educated guess... experience is not ignorance. Aperture-priority AE is pure ignorance... but when you are lucky, it will be close enough to sunny-16 guidelines to produce a decent photo. Yes, I shoot aperture-priority when I lazy or don't have enough time to carefully meter, but I don't ever think I'm being more precise when I use it, in fact that I know for a fact that the worse uncorrected AE shots are way way worse than sunny-16 exposures... shoot a neutral gray wall and the AE *may* be slightly more precise.
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Old 09-08-2009   #36
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I use a meter when I feel its necessary ,getting by on my ancient GE selenium cell meter. That thing cost me $1.00 and seems pretty accurate as far as i can tell , I may be overexposing sometimes but this is no fault of the meter. I intend to upgrade to something a bit better , but its paid for itself a few times over now. Sunny 16 isa decent guide for guessing, but if one needs to nail that exposure reach for the meter.
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The Great Light Meter Challenge
Old 09-08-2009   #37
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The Great Light Meter Challenge

the rules:

1. you cannot use a light meter for 1 month.
2. you cannot bracket.
3. you must record your settings for every frame.

at the end of the month, let us know how it went!
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Old 09-08-2009   #38
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Wow - I've always considered myself to be all free, and easy. "No meter for me!" I'd say as I shot blindly into the sun or shade, carefully calculating steps of shade from bright (sunny-16) to dark (indoor-30). My shots usually come out - I mean, they need an extra minute or so of printing exposure along with 2 or 3 grades, but they "come out" ok?!

But I just checked - I have 10 light meters in the house! One of my cameras (with an interchangeable finder) even has two! ... Ten meters! I'm a meter freak, and I never even knew it!

I should just join the mattock-dogmatics.



ps, Bill, this is not a personal slam or anything. In fact I admire your determination toward sensible education. But your drive to educate is so strong - plus, it rhymes! How could I not, once I thought it?
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Old 09-08-2009   #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mh2000 View Post
Aperture-priority AE is pure ignorance...
That is a really strange claim. Can you explain? I really don't understand.
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Old 09-08-2009   #40
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But those new digital light meters are not as good as the old analog Pentax Spot meters, if you are using film, you should use the analog. ;-) There did not seem to be enough of a fuss over that one.

Unintentional double entendre? How very anti Freudian. ;-)

When I use a meter, I try to know when it is out of the niche of its design purpose and I need to use common sense.

I am pretty sure photography pre-dated light meters, I once heard something about movie film being used in still cameras to shoot tests, making cameras de facto trial and error light meters?

My first decent meter came about several years in to the hobby, it was a Gossen Pilot, still a good meter.

I do not find them really useful for the moon, or fireworks.

Finally, I really would like camera bags to be made in some standard reflectance, perhaps the percentage to which many meters are set?



Regards, John
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Last edited by JohnTF : 09-08-2009 at 23:03.
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