Meter Reading – Incident vs Reflected – Light Meters and Thoughts

Overexposure – the more advanced one gets, I think, is that exposure in general tends to become more and more important.  I know that in many instances, I know to knock down EV’s a bit to increase saturation, bring out blues, whatever, but sometimes those built in meters simply don’t quite catch it right 🙂

Sure you can have multi-point in your camera, but depending on the “what” you are taking a photo of, the meter sometimes gets fooled.  For me, it doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens enough :-)  Snow is one place, and we got a lot of it this year where I am, Calgary.  Today with with the wind chill factor – I think it’s –30 deg C or something like that.  Definitely not warm :-(  Anyway, over the last couple of days, I was taking a photo of an XMAS cactus that re-bloomed for some reason, and with the bright sunlight hitting it early in the morning, I was finding that the meters on most of my cameras were over exposing like crazy.  I was knocking my meters down close to –2.0 EV to get something I was happy with. 

Now, in reality,this entry is actually kind of  late based on circumstance as I did look into this a few months ago where I had the same issue in the summer time with brightly lit scenics.  It was back then, that, despite the fact that I was hoping not to have to do this, I would need an incident light meter.  When I took a quick look on Amazon, I was shocked at what a meter was worth!!!  Use vs cost?  Not a hope for me, I wasn’t going to drop that kind of money until I really really really really did this type of stuff in a more serious manner.

Before I continue on here – reflected vs incident.  Pretty simple theory, really.  As the name implies, reflected light is exactly that.  The light that reflects off an object or your subject matter.  In most cases, unless you adjust settings, etc.  Most cameras will take an average reading across several points in your viewing area, average it out before it captures the exposure.  In other words, deliver an “average” shot.  Usually pleasing to the eye, and for all intents and purposes, good enough.  Incident light is sort of the reverse of that – the light that is falling on a subject.

Depending on where you are in the photo space, there are times when incident light has a huge advantage over reflected light readings.  The disadvantage?  Well, for starters, you’ll need a camera that has manual capability.  You’ll be setting shutter speed and aperture on your own, folks.  Back in my 35mm days, my equipment didn’t have auto exposure, but some auto metering, so a light meter back then was literally an essential.  BUT back then, you could get a fairly nice meter for $20 or so, and a great one for about $50.  What I did find, was a lot of meters that measure light in lux, which is fine, but not a lot that would converted to shutter speed/f stops.  Then it “clicked”.

I got thinking about whether or not I could use something like my Nexus 7.  Were there applications out there that could use the camera lens as an incident light meter.  I mean, in reality, I already had the Nexus 7, and light meter being available, I would get a double whammy out of it :-)  So…. I went hunting.  To my surprise, there were several.  I took a look and decided to try 4 of them.  BeeCam Lightmeter, LightMeter Pro (free one), Rex Light Meter and SmartLight Meter.  My initial thought was to use my iPad, but it was too big.  Then, of course, there was no such app :-)  I found this a little odd, but anyway….  One would think that with the iPad Mini…..

So – 3 of the applications BeeCam Light Meter, LightMeter Pro and SmartLightMeter require you to use the tablet in portrait mode.  Rex Lightmeter is used in landscape.  The SmartLightMeter and Rex Light Meter have the slickest interface.  Light Meter Pro has a very simple interface and BeeCam is sort of in the middle.  Soo… when I looked at these, what was I after?  Mostly, I wanted to see ISO, shutter speed and f stop.  There should be an easy way to change all of these and at the same time, get an equivalent  setting.  Don’t really need EV or LUX for what I do – maybe handy in the future like studio work, but for now – no.  1/2 stops would be nice, but not essential for most of my stuff.  When I look at these, to me, it’s personal preference more than anything.  I ran a quick test against my XMAS cactus shots and all of them read the same.  Here are some quick shots of the screens.

beeCam Meter LIghtmeter Pro Rex Light Meter SmartLightMeter

Personal preference initially was to use something in portrait mode – it just seemed handier was all.  So.. using the meter read from my Nexus 7 and then using those settings, I got this 125th at f2.8:

Nexus 7_2.8_cropped  I set the XF1 to spot metering and got this – meter read 1/15th at f1.8:

Spot Meter_XF1To me, this suddenly turned into a “depends” type photo.  Both were just cropped with no adjustments, but the Nexus 7 meter looked a little underexposed, but was still pretty good – closer to a “mood” type shot.  The spot meter shot was probably closer to the real thing, but I had to fiddle between Multi, spot, and average and the spot won for best shot.  I opted to use the XF1 as it had the most control.

I grabbed my Panasonic ZS25 and took a couple of shots.  Now this is one of my travel cams with a 20x zoom but the lens is quite a bit slower – f4.3, so I had to bump up the ISO to 400 to get a reasonable hand held shot.

ZS25_ISO400Notice there is increased depth of field and some of the red blew out.  Might be OK for the quickie shot, but not really good by comparison.  I the EV on this a bit to get a better shot.     Here is one that I took at –2.0 EV:

ZS25-2EVSo… this brings up a rather interesting point when it comes to taking shots like this.  In the world of 35mm, this would have been a tough shot, to say the least.  One that would need to do some bracketing to obtain the best shot for one’s purpose.   Thankfully, the world of digital allows for bracketing with the advantage of being able to view the shot instantly.  And then there’s post processing if one really needed to do that.

This is just one example of how I used incident light readings.  I normally wouldn’t do this per se.  I would bracket though if the shot was one that I planned to view often after the fact. 

From a holiday perspective – you know, after my experiences with all my cameras over the last 6 months or so, I think I would definitely take a couple of cameras with me.  I want to have a more advanced camera like the Fuji X10, Panasonic LX7 or the Fuji XF1 and a travel camera.  I feel this gives me the best compromise between size and quality.  It might be different if I was heading to a vacation spot that involved a social event like a wedding.  At that point, it would be the “big guns” that would also be included.  My experience with holidays – so far, I’ve gotten some pretty nice photos, but I want more :-)  I still would like to stay light and portable, so the Fuji X10, Panasonic LX7 or Fuji XF1 will be my goto cameras.  I would also probably take something like the Panasonic ZS25 or my Nikon S9400 travel cams with me as well.  Then I would have my bases covered.  Bigger cameras – well…. as far as I can figure out so far, I personally don’t feel that I need those.   Sure I could, but for what I do on holidays, not really.


About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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