light meter recommendations.

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Brad Ballew

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light meter recommendations.

PostFri Mar 29, 2013 5:35 pm

I have never used a light meter for video, but I would like to start. Any tips or recommendations for finding a good reasonably priced meter for my BMCC?
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostFri Mar 29, 2013 6:33 pm

brad12d3 wrote:I have never used a light meter for video, but I would like to start. Any tips or recommendations for finding a good reasonably priced meter for my BMCC?

if you've never used a light meter for video before, you certainly don't need to start now that you have a BMCC.
But I hear Sekonic makes some really good light meters.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostFri Mar 29, 2013 7:40 pm

I've been very pleased with my 13-year-old Sekonic light meter. It's obviously durable, it's been all over the place with me including out in the Serengeti and up Kilimanjaro, and on hundreds of miles of hiking trips in that time. It's also weather proof, and the battery lasts quite a while, as in years. The 1-degree spot meter is also very useful, which I prefer over the 5-degree spot that the newer cinema meters have, at least as far as I know.

Honestly the only down side to the Sekonic meters is that they're expensive, but it's like buying a Sound Devices preamp or a professional cine lens.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostFri Mar 29, 2013 10:19 pm

TZuck wrote:if you've never used a light meter for video before, you certainly don't need to start now that you have a BMCC.


Roger Deakins convinced me, and he gives really good advice. :)

Plus I feel like it will help me understand how light falls and reflects in different locations better. It is something I understand from reading but not so much from real world experience. I have always exposed to the right which works for my ENG work but I am planning on shooting a couple of shorts this year and I feel like it's something that I could benefit from having and knowing how to use.

I will look into Sekonic meters,... thanks for the tips! ;)
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostFri Mar 29, 2013 10:35 pm

I keep 2 meters with me at all times, a Sekonic 758 Cine, which has a nice built in spot meter. This is my main meter, and it goes everywhere. It's fantastic for scouting; and for knowing whether or not I'm lit the way I want to be lit.
For backup, I have a totally analog Studio Deluxe II from Sekonic. I recommend this as a first meter. It's pretty affordable, new, and as it doesn't need batteries, you'll always find that moment when your main meter takes a crap. It's incident only, but in truth, I am mainly using incident-- I only spot for certain moments.

it's very nice to be able to say to a gaffer, for example, knock down that lamp shade 2 stops, or to a 1AC Grab me an NDIR 1.2 without having to dick around with the camera like a fool.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostFri Mar 29, 2013 11:03 pm

I have a spectra IV-A.

A lot of meters try to be photo / cine. The spectra is just a cine meter.

I also have the Sekonic 788 Spot meter ( no longer made but awesome )

JB.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 3:40 am

Ordered the Sekonic L-398A Studio Deluxe III.

http://www.sekonic.com/Products/L-398A/Overview.aspx
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 3:43 am

Yep, that's essentially the same one I have.
It'll take a minute or two to figure out the abacus type dials on the bottom; but you'll be fine and probably have that meter for a good long many years.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 4:18 am

AdrianSierkowski wrote:Yep, that's essentially the same one I have.
It'll take a minute or two to figure out the abacus type dials on the bottom; but you'll be fine and probably have that meter for a good long many years.


Been reading up on it and I think it will be a good fit for me. So my understanding is that when I take a reading from the position of my subject pointing the meter towards the camera the settings it gives me would give me an accurate mid exposure. If I shot a grey card it would come out 18% grey? So on the BMCC how many stops from this point to pure black and white? At what point do I lose information going either direction?
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 4:27 am

Pick up a copy of Bruce Barnbaum's "The Art of Photography" and read it. Bruce Barnbaum knows the Zone system and he explains it well.

That said, 18% grey would equate to the middle of the camera's exposure range, and we know it has a range of 13 stops. That means six zones brighter than 18% grey, and six zones darker.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 4:49 am

Tamerlin wrote:Pick up a copy of Bruce Barnbaum's "The Art of Photography" and read it. Bruce Barnbaum knows the Zone system and he explains it well.

That said, 18% grey would equate to the middle of the camera's exposure range, and we know it has a range of 13 stops. That means six zones brighter than 18% grey, and six zones darker.



Will do. Thanks for the info. I have only briefly read about the zone system and was interested in learning more. I will check out the book.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 4:56 am

brad12d3 wrote:Will do. Thanks for the info. I have only briefly read about the zone system and was interested in learning more. I will check out the book.


I hope you find it as helpful as I did. Of course, I'm coming into cinematography as a fine art landscape photographer using large format cameras, so I'm a bit biased when it comes to books from excellent fine art landscape photographers who use large format cameras. ;)
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 5:32 am

It does not mean 6+ and 6- necessarily. You'll want to do a camera test, it's simple.
Using your meter and camera set up a grey card and light it to say and F5.6 with a macbeth chart and I like to have a person. Expose for middle grey.
From there, open up 1 stop on the lens and record, open another ect.. This will tell you how far from middle grey before the image starts to fall apart. Then you do the same thing in the opposite direction, closing down a stop until it's all just a much of crap and unusable.

That's what I do for each new camera system and in truth I've never found one which is exactly even on both sides. Most digital cameras (REC) have more room in the shadow (toe) whereas neg film is more generous in the highlights (shoulder).
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 6:03 am

With film stocks, my approach has always been to get to know the film stock, and then just worry about the range required to capture the scene. :)
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 10:10 am

I shot B&W film (still) for years, and loved the zone system.
But I don't think the zone system works very well for digital, and I don't think it works for raw at all.
Same goes for lightmeters and exposure.

Both are initially made for film and "getting it right in camera".

Now with the BMC it's: Saturating the sensor as much as possible without clipping, is the new rule in the game.
What you used to do in camera, by dialing it in with a light meter, is now "externalized" to the post.

I use a lightmeter (or false color) for my ratios, and that's where it shines and is still more than useful with the BMC.
http://frankglencairn.wordpress.com/

Set your zebras to 100%, ETTR and you're golden - and NO, you can't use TB as output for an external monitor, and you can't download the footy via TB ether.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 10:14 am

I use a light meter for measuring absolute light levels (in Fc) like frank is suggesting.

I don't use it to *tell* me the average exposure. Mostly you don't want an 18% grey card to be grey. You want it darker or lighter depending on what you're trying to do photographically.

I'm "walking the set" and seeing what the exposure RANGE is in the set. This is two stops hotter than that, which is three stops hotter than that over there. Ratios.

Then I decide an exposure based on what I want to see and not see, determined by what I've lit and not lit for, flagged and not flagged for.

Add into that the localised knowledge of the camera. In the case the BMCC wants you to ETTR. A lot of other cameras respond better when you protect the highlights more.

See the steps there ? It's not just punch the ISO and hold up the meter then set the aperture. Theres so much more to it.

I'm not so sure the much deified zone system is that useful for drama. Zone is great when you want every bit of detail from highlights and shadows. But we don't always want all that.

jb
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 10:19 am

AdrianSierkowski wrote:
That's what I do for each new camera system and in truth I've never found one which is exactly even on both sides. Most digital cameras (REC) have more room in the shadow (toe) whereas neg film is more generous in the highlights (shoulder).



Exactly.

RED to me has about 1.5-2 stops above *middle* exposure and about 7 below that which is useable.

That means the exposure has more depth in the shadows than in the highlights. So a lot of people DELIBERATELY underexpose the camera to trade some of those shadow stops for highlights. That commits you to a correction in post, but if you meter carefully, via FC or a light meter you can do it reliably.

Now the BMCC is different. Firstly, like negative, to me anyway, it has a lot more stops of headroom from *middle* exposure than in the shadows. This is the first digital camera I've come across that actually emulates the way neg stocks map exposure. (more to highlights less to shadows)

Add to that the uncompressed RAW workflow and 16 bit lin (12 bit log) bit depth and you end up with more useable gradable information the very top and bottom of the range.

jb
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 2:29 pm

John Brawley wrote:I use a light meter for measuring absolute light levels (in Fc) like frank is suggesting.

I don't use it to *tell* me the average exposure. Mostly you don't want an 18% grey card to be grey. You want it darker or lighter depending on what you're trying to do photographically.

I'm "walking the set" and seeing what the exposure RANGE is in the set. This is two stops hotter than that, which is three stops hotter than that over there. Ratios.

Then I decide an exposure based on what I want to see and not see, determined by what I've lit and not lit for, flagged and not flagged for.

Add into that the localised knowledge of the camera. In the case the BMCC wants you to ETTR. A lot of other cameras respond better when you protect the highlights more.

See the steps there ? It's not just punch the ISO and hold up the meter then set the aperture. Theres so much more to it.

I'm not so sure the much deified zone system is that useful for drama. Zone is great when you want every bit of detail from highlights and shadows. But we don't always want all that.

jb


My question about 18% grey was just covering the basics of exposure 101. Just clarifying that perfect middle exposure would make a grey card come out 18% grey. What you describe is what I want to start learning to do. Using my meter to understand specifically how light is falling on different parts of my scene. I want to know how darker or bright an area is over another. Like AdrianSierkowski said

it's very nice to be able to say to a gaffer, for example, knock down that lamp shade 2 stops, or to a 1AC Grab me an NDIR 1.2 without having to dick around with the camera like a fool.


So is your recommendation to overexpose the image a bit more than you would normally to push more of the image to the top of the curve and out of the shadows rather than keeping it in the middle like you traditionally would? If I am not planning a lot of DI work and keeping my image intact except for maybe adding a LUT would this even matter?
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 9:29 pm

John Brawley wrote:I'm not so sure the much deified zone system is that useful for drama. Zone is great when you want every bit of detail from highlights and shadows. But we don't always want all that.


That's bogus. The zone system is about getting what you want, not getting what Ansel Adams did. The point is that the zone system allows you a simple and systematic way of learning to place for lack of a better term the highlights and shadows and mids where you want them so that when you post-process them, you will get what you want from the image.
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 11:02 pm

Tamerlin wrote:
John Brawley wrote:I'm not so sure the much deified zone system is that useful for drama. Zone is great when you want every bit of detail from highlights and shadows. But we don't always want all that.


That's bogus. The zone system is about getting what you want, not getting what Ansel Adams did. The point is that the zone system allows you a simple and systematic way of learning to place for lack of a better term the highlights and shadows and mids where you want them so that when you post-process them, you will get what you want from the image.


The zone system is great for maximising the detail and *visualising* your exposure. it's a tool, not a gospel. It allows the photographer to visualise exposure.

Most people I've seen using the zone system, fail to use the *visualising* part and just use it the way we were discussing earlier. Put a grey card into the scene (zone V) and meter that presto, there's your exposure. Extrapolate from there for highlights and mids etc.

Whilst technically correct, I don't think it's the best way to shoot and choose exposure for drama. The very idea that you capture *everything* at the point of exposure and then decide later in post is also something that doesn't always sit comfortably with me. They never think about *re-mapping* those values. That's what your reference to the zone system implies. The idea with the zone system is to provide a way of interpreting and visualising the exposure. False Colour now does the same job with digital cameras, and also provides you with the visualisation.

It also wouldn't allow an ETTR approach, which most everybody seems to think is the right way to expose the BMCC.

It's interesting that you invoke Adams with regard to the zone system. Adams himself says he didn't invent the zone system, he only popularised it. He was also primarily a landscape photographer. An amazing landscape photographer. With an astounding and deep understanding of the underlying technology.

But like many things tech and geek, everyone assumes it's because of the ZONE system. Ansel Adams = mastery of the zone system = Take photos like Ansel Adams.

But it's only partly this deep knowledge of *craft* that enable him to create the stunning images he created. Mostly though it was because they were being taken by Ansel Adams. As Adams himself reputedly said,

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

As I've said many times, there's no correct exposure. It's a choice you make.

jb
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Re: light meter recommendations.

PostSat Mar 30, 2013 11:38 pm

John Brawley wrote:The zone system is great for maximising the detail and *visualising* your exposure. it's a tool, not a gospel. It allows the photographer to visualise exposure.


That's what I said.

Most people I've seen using the zone system, fail to use the *visualising* part and just use it the way we were discussing earlier. Put a grey card into the scene (zone V) and meter that presto, there's your exposure. Extrapolate from there for highlights and mids etc.


That's where you start. Most people just don't progress beyond that.

It also wouldn't allow an ETTR approach, which most everybody seems to think is the right way to expose the BMCC.


Actually, it DOES allow the ETTR approach.

It's interesting that you invoke Adams with regard to the zone system. Adams himself says he didn't invent the zone system, he only popularised it. He was also primarily a landscape photographer. An amazing landscape photographer. With an astounding and deep understanding of the underlying technology.


And as I mentioned, it's not about shooting LIKE Ansel Adams or anyone else, it's about getting what YOU want.

But like many things tech and geek, everyone assumes it's because of the ZONE system. Ansel Adams = mastery of the zone system = Take photos like Ansel Adams.


Yes, that's because most people don't want to put effort into anything. That can't be helped. If they aren't interested in putting in the effort to learn, they probably won't.

As I've said many times, there's no correct exposure. It's a choice you make.


I'd agree with that. And having read quite a bit about the zone system, I can say with certainty that it is precisely what I said it was: a way to learn how to get the exposure you want.

For a total beginner however, 18% gray +/- your latitude is a good place to start. Learn how the exposure system works, learn how the film emulsion which in this case is the BMCC's sensor works, and then learn to exploit it to serve your artistic needs.
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