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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Best Flash Meter Ever

I haven't seen a whole lot written about this topic, so I thought I'd mention that, among their many other technical accomplishments, DSLRs are also the best flash meters I've ever used.

Working with off-camera flash used to be a matter of setting ratios by meter and then checking the lighting levels and visual effects with a Polaroid. The former was made easier by formidable —and expensive—light meters such as the Minolta Flashmeter IV.


...But not that much easier, and I'll tell you a story that illustrates why! Long ago, I was speaking one Friday evening to a rep from a professional equipment supply company in Washington, D.C., and she excused herself. She said she had to give a lecture about the proper usage of the Flashmeter IV the next morning, so she had to go review its features.

"Aren't you supposed to know that stuff by heart?" I teased.

"You'd think," she answered. "I lecture about all the features of this meter about once every three weeks, but I can never remember everything from one time to the next."

Wow. When something is complicated enough that even the professional rep for the product can't remember how to use it, what chance has the poor Mom-and-Pop-Shop pro got? Sure enough, I never met anyone who had mastered quite all the features of the big-dog flash meters of the '80s and '90s.

Anyway, DSLRs are sophisticated flash meters and Polaroid backs all in one—at no extra cost, which is also nice. I have mine set up so that after every exposure it has a 5-second review that shows a histogram plus a thumbnail of the image with both the overexposed and underexposed areas flashing. So even multi-head setups with strobes have become dead trivial to meter—just plug in the sync, set the output level to more or less where it ought to be, and dial in the exposure to perfection. In a matter of seconds.

Makes me want to head down to Helix and splurge on Speedotron packs! Well, not really.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

10 Comments:

Blogger Albano Garcia said...

Oh, now I understand why I've been trying to sell my Gossen Lunapro F for months without success. It's thanks to articles like this one!!! Grrrrrr!!!! (g)

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Josh Wand said...

speedotron? ugh. I have not-so-fond memories of colorbalancing lots of speedo heads with 1/8" strips of CTB and CTO...

But yeah, my flash meter is the color picker and hilight warning in LeafCapture or ACR..

11:32 PM  
Anonymous 01af said...

When I saw the headline I immediately thought, why the heck is he now contemplating flash meters? The best flash meter ever is just a digital camera ... then after having started reading I couldn't agree more.

Back in the days of film, I was using a big Metz Mecablitz 45 CT-4, had to buy another SCA adaptor for every new camera generation, and could hardly afford a second unit. Results were mostly good but not always. I even bought a used Minolta Flash Meter III but that turned out only mildly helpful (not blaming the meter; it's working flawlessly).

Today, with my D-SLR, I am back to a fully manual Novoflex macro flash set---two small flashes, no meter, no light sensor, no TTL control, with built-in slave triggers, useful not only for macro set-ups, off eBay for a song---and it's easier to use than a TTL-controlled monster, and the results are better than ever (and way more reliably so) due to the immediate feedback.

-- Olaf

5:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is the first time I've read anything by you on the subject of studio lighting. I thought you were a natural light kinda guy.

7:00 AM  
Blogger buckstop67 said...

Hi Mike...Thanks for the tip. I have thought about using a LCD small TV monitor rig to display studio shots. I have difficulty getting lighting the way I want on some things and the Camera LCDs are not good enough for me to use for critical type work. Shooting and removing cards is a pain too...Wonder if that would work..Hmmm Need to try that on the big TV First to see... Mike T.

9:11 AM  
Blogger 3yellowdogs said...

"...the Camera LCDs are not good enough for me to use for critical type work. Need to try that on the big TV First to see...."

Unless you're checking focus accuracy, a big TV isn't going to be much better than the 2" LCD on your camera.

Your LCD will tell you if light balance and placement is what you need it to be. Most better DSLRs give you the ability to zoom in on the image on your LCD as well.

The only issue then is color. The cool thing about ACR and similar utilities is that you can adjust that in post-processing.

10:25 AM  
Blogger buckstop67 said...

Thanks 2yellowdogs. I did try the Video out jack to a 32inch Sony TV. Not HDTV. It works and the lighting concepitualization works OK. I think the resolution it uses for the Camera LCD is not good good. I saw a device on a close out shelf today at WM and it uses USB and some software to allow copy of video to the computer...Tha way, I could use the Computer LCD. Again, the useful info from the camera video out port is the limitation I suppose. I have the Oly E-300 and thought it would be worth a try..Oh well, tethering to allow transfer through Firewire or USB 2 and displaying the full raw data on the Computer LCD would work best....The Flash meter thread by Mike just got me to thinking...Thanks...
Mike T.

10:45 PM  
Blogger obakesan said...

and of course they make dandy light meters too. I don't think I've had a desire to pull out my Pentax spot meter since I started seeing the relationship between histogram on digital and histogram on scans of films.

I truly hope we can 'demystify' the entire photographic metering process and making it all much more visual and intuitive.

well ... I don't think well in numbers.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Brannon said...

I'm a wannabe photographer (read it "hack") and decided to buy a studio flash kit from ebay on a whim. Hmmmm. Now what? I ran down to the bookstore to figure out how to use all this mystical stuff. After reading 12 books telling me I have to have a light meter, losing my lunch over the prices of the pesky little critters, and breaking my brain over which one to buy and how I was gonna get it here before the flashes so I could actually use them because to have them and NOT use them would be torture...you just saved me about a $200. Thanks man. That's exactly how I set my camera up anyway!

5:45 PM  

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