Say good bye to shutter speed and f/stop guess work with the help of one of the finest light meters available, the Sekonic L508. When you have a fully manual camera without a meter and you want absolutely predictable exposures, you need to go with a light meter that nails it every time.
You may be wondering, why would I need a light meter?
The answer to this question is maybe you don’t.
Some cameras have decent light meters built in (like the LC-A) and others don’t give you the opportunity to set both the shutter speed and the aperture. If you only have these cameras, or you are contented using the “Sunny 16 rule” then stop reading here.
If, like me, you have a few old cameras that you really love that don’t have light meters, and you are a control freak that wants perfectly predictable exposure, let me introduce you to a real game-changer— the Sekonic L508.
The L508 is three meters in one. It is a spot meter, an incident meter and a flash meter. Let’s go over what exactly these are and what they do.
First of all, it is a light meter. This means that you have to set the ISO and either the aperture or the shutter speed and it gives you the other setting based on the light it is reading.
When you look at it, the Sekonic L508 has a large LCD display. It lights up when it becomes too dark for you to read it effectively. The display features a digital F/stop and shutter speeds as well as analog f/stop scale reading from f/1 to f/28. Shutter speeds are displayed digitally from 30 minutes to 1/8000 second.
When you peek through the viewfinder you can see a little circle. This is a one degree reflective spot meter. You can also zoom it out to 4 degrees. This is handy for pointing at people’s faces or on what you consider the middle value of a scene.
The beauty of the spot meter is that is also has an averaging function. This means you aim it towards the darkest thing in a landscape that you want to still see detail in, meter it, press the memory button and then aim it at the brightest part, meter it and press the memory button. Finally hitting the Average button it gives you the correct aperture and shutter speed.
Turning around the little dial turns the L508 into an incident meter. The incident meter is great for when you are near the subject that you want to photograph. There is a white hemisphere that rotates out from its protective little cave. When it is inside the cave it is a flat incident diffuser. The incident meter is particularly useful with portraits. Place the hemisphere under the chin of the subject, pointing back at the camera and meter it. Perfectly predictable.
I particularly like it for taking pictures of flowers.
With the hemisphere up and it set to flash mode this meter will let you know what speed or aperture is appropriate for the flash you are using.
I have found the beauty of this is in using some old flashes that are not adjustable and you have no idea what to set your aperture or speed at when using it. Easier done than said.
Another interesting feature is the ISO 2 setting, it allows you to switch from one preset ISO to another.
Once you have taken a reading moving the job wheel allows you to cycle through different f/stops and shutter speeds to see the different combinations that will yield the same results.
The battery it takes is a run-of-the-mill AA battery. Pretty easy to find almost anywhere.
The L508 is a weather-proof, rugged beast, not some fancy studio piece of equipment. It also has a low-light sensitivity of EV-2 (which is better than any camera I own).
If you have ever been in a situation where you have hiked an awful distance to get to a certain lookout by sunrise and have some slide film in a particularly old, meter-free camera and you only have a minute or two to capture a fleeting and breathtaking shot with little room for error, then you will fall helplessly in love with this light meter.
Sure it takes a bit of getting used to, but the more you use it the better you will be able to call the exposures on your own without it (if you so choose). Another thing you may have to get used to is having complete control over the exposure of every single frame.
Getting back rolls of slide film is no longer as much of a gamble, as I know exactly what the exposures will look like when getting them. Of course I can still experiment and get unexpected results when I want, but I can also satisfy the inner control freak in me and get exactly what I want by using this one amazing tool.