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Old May 5th, 2010, 07:40 AM   #1
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Inexpensive light meter

I'm in the market for a light meter and have found several options. On ebay they have the older style light meters for as low as $20:

Jessop Light Meter Model D3 Series Silver Oxide Battery - eBay (item 200466228062 end time May-05-10 06:32:54 PDT).

Will one of these work or do I need to get the Minolta or Sekonic 758DR for modern day digital film making. Is there a benefit with one or the other?
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Old May 5th, 2010, 08:54 AM   #2
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Light meters are still great for establishing ratios and base stops but the response curve of HD is different than film (for which they are designed) and they become somewhat useless in low light. I only bring mine out for pre-lights now (although I did shoot a job on the film the other day, first one in two years--fun to get back into that mode)!

Manual meters like the one you listed will generally work pretty well as long as they have been calibrated (and they are often more prone to losing calibration than the digital ones). You have to do more math in your head than digital meters which may have settings for shutter speed, frame rate, even filter factors etc.
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Old May 5th, 2010, 10:33 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
Light meters are still great for establishing ratios and base stops but the response curve of HD is different than film (for which they are designed) and they become somewhat useless in low light. I only bring mine out for pre-lights now (although I did shoot a job on the film the other day, first one in two years--fun to get back into that mode)!
Charles,

I've found that some basic tests like putting your camera into the mode you wish to shoot it (1080/24p, 720/60p) and with the profiles you normally shoot, then lighting to find the max FC and min FC that you are comfortable with, generally works well.

So I set my meter and use it like I would for film, but them meter in raw FC or lux for the brightest and dimmest areas to see if that meets muster against where I've tested my camera limits. I find that this works incredibly well for me, and I can generally nail my exposures within 2 ire on the top and bottom. I suspect for most, this is more than adequate.
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Old May 6th, 2010, 02:21 PM   #4
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Watch your model numbers. The Sekonic 758DR doesn't measure ambient light, you need to add a "C" to the model number to make it usefull for film and video. Just made this mistake myself but the dealer was great and exchanged it instantly with no hassle.
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Old May 6th, 2010, 03:35 PM   #5
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With the advent of digital video, it used to be that the only thing I used my light meter for was to check the evenness of exposure on green screens. I also totally agree with Charles, the exposure response of HD is different than film or digital still cameras so I find checking exposure with the camera itself to be more accurate. I shoot largely with the AG-HPX170 though, which has totally negated the need for a light meter. I just flip on the built-in waveform and check levels, then set exposure with zebras. Between the waveform, vectorscope and two stage zebras, just don't need a light meter anymore, unless you can't bring the camera to set.

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Old May 6th, 2010, 03:47 PM   #6
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I shoot largely with the AG-HPX170 though, which has totally negated the need for a light meter. I just flip on the built-in waveform and check levels, then set exposure with zebras. Between the waveform, vectorscope and two stage zebras, just don't need a light meter anymore, unless you can't bring the camera to set.

Dan
How do you set lighting ratios doing this? How do you check your shadows? How do you communicate to the lighting dept where the lights will go and to what strength?

I still find my light meter invaluable for having my lighting person move lights until I get just the ratios I want. Darn hard to do that with a waveform.
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Old May 7th, 2010, 12:47 PM   #7
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I use my Sekonic for pretty much only 3 point interview lighting setups these days to check key-fill-back/hair (not back hair!) ratios as well as to check greenscreen lighting evenness, as mentioned earlier. A great tool to have, just don't expect to use it everyday...
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Old May 7th, 2010, 01:10 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Perrone Ford View Post
How do you set lighting ratios doing this? How do you check your shadows? How do you communicate to the lighting dept where the lights will go and to what strength?

I still find my light meter invaluable for having my lighting person move lights until I get just the ratios I want. Darn hard to do that with a waveform.
But actually very easy to do with a monitor...! Ratios are always dependent on the reflectance of the subject--you have to tailor them every time. A 2:1 key to fill ratio will look completely different dependent on skin tone...a specific ratio for a back light is hugely dependent on not only the color of a person's hair but the way they wear it (curly vs straight, slicked down with product etc). When shooting film I primarily meter the key and sometimes fill to determine my exposure, then light the rest to my eye (exceptions being hot spots, so I can determine how much they will hold or blow out). With video, the most I will meter is a quick stab at the key to ensure that I am in the desired exposure range, although if it's a camera I'm familiar with, probably not even that. I always use a good, calibrated monitor and trust what I see.

As far as communicating to my gaffer, knowing what kind of levels I need to achieve dictates what size instruments to use and we take it from there. I'll generally go for one size larger than we need so there is room to knock it down or diffuse without scraping for level. As far as placement--that has nothing to do with a light meter, does it??!

Perrone, I'm trying to understand your method of knowing what the limits of your camera are--everything depends on the aperture, unless you are always shooting at the same one and ND'ing the lens to match. For me, HD has more going on in the toe than meets the eye (or film) and it is at these low light levels that I find meters useless. With the 1DMKIV, I exposed an interview at 2.8 but the meter was saying less than 1...!

Shaun does remind me of a good point, which is that a spot meter is still a great way to check the evenness of a green screen, although even that could be replicated with a waveform monitor, although not as efficiently.

For what it's worth, guys, meters are so rarely in use now on the big sets that are shoot digital that we joke about it.
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Old May 7th, 2010, 01:24 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Perrone Ford View Post
How do you set lighting ratios doing this? How do you check your shadows? How do you communicate to the lighting dept where the lights will go and to what strength?

I still find my light meter invaluable for having my lighting person move lights until I get just the ratios I want. Darn hard to do that with a waveform.
Hi Perrone:

I pretty much light by eye as far as ratios, I have been doing this for 25 years, I definitely have my own "look" or variations of it, it's not rocket science to know which instruments I will use to provide adequate levels. For the times when I do have a lighting crew, usually my key/best will have his own light meter anyway.

I use the waveform mainly for checking the evenness of the the lighting on green screens, aim the camera at the green screen and pan and tilt across the entire screen, much handier than waving your light meter all over the screen. I use the zebras for checking levels on faces and wardrobe. That is the point that has been mentioned on these board many times, the response of digital HD cameras often varies per frame rate and resolution, interlaced vs. progressive and does not match the response of a light meter. As you know, you set an arbitrary speed ISO in a light meter and on your digital camera, that ISO varies with several variables. It is usually more accurate to check these levels through the camera because what the camera sees is what you are recording.

Dan
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Old May 7th, 2010, 01:44 PM   #10
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This discussion is incredibly valuable, not just for me, but for those at various levels of the game.

I am not sure about Dan, but at Charles' level of the game there is an EXPECTATION that you'll have a calibrated monitor on set. There is an EXPECTATION that you'll have accurate scopes, and an EXPECTATION that you'll have accurate diffusion, and ND to sort out problems and even things out.

Down at my level, I've *NEVER* had the luxury of scopes or a calibrated monitor to view. I have taken my broadcast monitor along and used that as a reference tool. But there were no scopes available. And unless I've brought my own lights, I've only once had adequate ND to keep from moving lights further back to get the exposure where I wanted it. I've been shooting a short since the first weekend of April, and there hasn't been a c-stand or flag available on set. Nor has there been any kind of monitor. My camera LCD is the playback screen.

Given these conditions, my light meter is the most valuable tool I have as DP. It's the ONLY consistent means I have to get anywhere close to the shots I want. It's not perfect, and if I had other methods such as those described here, I'd certainly be using them. But it's important I think, for beginners to realize that even though the light meter is not a perfect tool, it's certainly of value and can save your butt on shoots where you are trying to get something specific, and more modern, and dare I say, accurate, tools are not at your disposal.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts guys.

-P
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Old May 7th, 2010, 01:50 PM   #11
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Perrone

Thank you. I found your post very enlightening. I have just basic video gear and usually have to rely on my LCD screen and built-in light meter and am usually not satisfied. I agree that a light meter would, at least, aid in improving the production level of a budget shooter like me.

Could you recommend some under $200 light meters or do they even exist?
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Old May 7th, 2010, 02:05 PM   #12
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Under $200 is gonna be tough man. Maybe something like this:
Sekonic | L-398A Studio Deluxe III Meter | 401-399 | B&H Photo


I have a Spectra-Cine IV and it works very well for my needs. But it's nearly double your price. Maybe Ebay?
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Old May 7th, 2010, 06:49 PM   #13
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Perrone:

While I have spent much of my recent career on big sets, I find myself more often than not on much smaller ones these days as I am focusing on DP jobs over operating jobs. The economy and the industry being what it is, I'm probably working at a level much closer to what you are talking about than a "real" set. I haven't had a waveform on any of my jobs this year, and after suffering with non-broadcast LCD's for monitoring across a series of jobs I bought an HP Dreamcolor (refurbished from HP for $1400) to cover myself. Prior to that I trotted out my old 8" Sony PVM broadcast monitor to a job as it was the onIy thing I could trust. I don't "get" to order the gear I need on these jobs due to budget so I'm having to supply it myself.

As far as "ND" for lights--if they are tungsten, they "should" have scrims, and if not having a set of dimmers (the Harbor Freight cheapies are affordable for all!) will save your bacon for quick knocking down of sources. Fluorescents require a different approach. Again, the way to deal with this sort of thing these days is to bring your own, and I more often than not have to break out my tube of assorted diffusion and colors.

About the only place I'd trust a light meter with a digital camera these days is on exteriors (where monitoring can be more of a pickle anyway), but I've learned how to interpret the onboard meter on my 1DMKIV so I'm comfortable with that. I can imagine that if you always shoot with the same camera and picture profile you can extract much of the information you need from a light meter, but I wouldn't trust the gain patterns of many cameras, especially the DSLR's, to align themselves with a light meter...and as soon as you move to a different camera or picture profile, things will change on you.

I'm going to remain dubious on this one. But in the meantime--I've got an old classic Spectra analog with drop-in slides, anyone want it??!!
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Old May 7th, 2010, 07:48 PM   #14
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I think Charles has worked on much larger and higher budget projects than I have but it is nice that we share the recent experience of doing a lot by yourself and for yourself. If I am lucky, I do perhaps half a dozen shoots per year on a real stage, with a real crew, space lights and a lot of grip. The rest of the time is me with perhaps a second camera guy, once in a while a PA/Grip and once in a while, a sound mixer. And I do a lot of shoots with just a producer and myself.

Perrone, that is the luxury of having an AG-HPX170, the built-in waveform and vectorscope is really handy. Before that, I owned a lousy waveform monitor in my edit bay but I never used to haul it to set because it was too big and heavy and pain to bring.

I own a three ton grip package and twenty six lights. I never suffer from lack of grip gear available, but as I have learned, when you are lugging a Rock and Roller cart up to the 19th floor of a high rise, (by yourself) you can only bring so much of that great grip gear. And I don't have a grip truck, just a Chevy 2500 Silverado short bed so I can only put about half of my gear at a time into the truck. In the past few years, I have been constantly downsizing and reducing the amount of gear that I bring. The past few shoots I have done, I have not even brought a cucloris, I just punch holes in some Cinefoil and make it work. So I can totally relate to doing the one man band thing and not always having what you need.

Dan
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Old May 7th, 2010, 09:04 PM   #15
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The past few shoots I have done, I have not even brought a cucloris, I just punch holes in some Cinefoil and make it work.
Sure! I had to do something along those lines on recent shoot:

VSA29.jpg | Vincent Laforet

Note gobo on either side, 2x3 open frames with judiciously placed 2" paper tape...why not.

That setup was diabolical; high-end corporate with three cameras in a space that was just barely wide enough to get the over-the-shoulder shots, but because the center camera was drifting right and left, and I didn't have means to hang anything off the ceiling, all lighting had to live within a narrow corridor on either side. The order that stands went in was exact and moving anything became a house of cards.
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