The quest for a reliable spotmeter

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I'm shopping for a spotmeter (a real 1 degree meter, useable down to EV1 - so please, no suggestions for Sekonics [345]* or Gossen Starlite).

So far, I have tested the Gossen Ultraspot 2 and the Minolta Spotmeter F, but am not satisfied: Both are rather sensitive for infrared light (hot stove element +3EV, IR diodes like in TV remote controls or IRDA computer interfaces +5-6EV!); the Ultraspot is non-linear below EV 2.5 (checked with ND filters), while the Minolta (though being linear within 0.3EV over the complete sensivity range down to EV1) has internal flare problems (i.e. is sensitive to light sources quite a bit outside the marked 1 degree circle in the viewfinder).

Now it's clear to me that it's probably not a beginners exercise in opto-electronics to construct and produce a precise spotmeter for photographic purposes, but given the amount of money these devices cost and the experience that the manufacturers have, I had expected them to perform far better!

Is it really necessary to buy a Zone IV modified meter in order to get something that delivers reproducible measurements instead of approximations and reason for guesswork (what amount of IR radiation might this subject contain, am I measuring far enough from distinct bright spots, can I rely on the meters results if the light level is this low)?

What are the downsides of the Zone IV modified meters? I suppose you have to pay for better filtering and baffling by decreased sensivity... down to which EV value are they working reliably, and are they useable for slide film? Or is the spectral sensivity matched to BW film in a way that makes them less useful than an unmodified Pentax meter for shooting slides?

Has anybody checked the Seconics 778 regarding IR sensivity, baffling, linearity and spectral sensivity?


-- Stefan Dalibor (dalibor@cs.fau.de), April 17, 2002

Answers

I'm curious--how are you testing to show that the reading of the stove element is too high? What is the basis for saying it is +3 EV?

On a second note, I've found that while the Minolta Spotmeter F is a useful tool (it's my primary meter) it is distinctly non-linear in the top end of its range, overestimating the brightness of, say, a white object in full sunlight.

-- Carl Weese (cweese@earthlink.net), April 17, 2002.


Stefan,

I am surprised at your report of the Minolta Spotmeter F. I had one until recently (for the odd flash assignment) and checked it for linearity, flare, etc. against my Zone VI modeified Pentax Digital and it kept pace really well.

I use the Zone VI Pentax for both colour (reversal & negative) and Black & White. Its only foible - determined by testing and checking density with a MacBeth Densitometer - is that when reading through a 25a (Red) filter I have to give 1 more stop exposure.

I periodically shoot in very dim areas (black-painted rear projection booths for home theatres is an example) and I find that the low light accuracy is totally trustable.

My linearity test uses NDs to 3.0 (10 stops in a given light level) and the error is one LED blob ( - 1/3 stop )

Walter Glover

-- Walter Glover (walterg@netaus.net.au), April 17, 2002.


Stefan, quite impressed by your thorough research. I am curious also about how you are checking these meters for IR sensitivity? Please explain how you are doing this. Also, where do you see this being an issue in outdoor shooting using color film?

As for spot meters... I have tested several Sekonic spot meters and I have read the test results a few years back on the test results of other makers...and unfortuantely I do not have better news for you... the meters are never linear througout their entire working range. This can easily be tested by putting the the spot meter in the back of a view camera and stopping down one f stop at a time, then re check redings. Your ND test is also useful.

The compromise I have made is to use spot meters in the mid range of their working range where they are reasonably accurate and linear. However, when very low light levels are encountered, I rely on an ambient meter well suited up to -8 EV. It is made by Quantum. The good news is, once you are confident in your testing methods, you can record how far the meter is "off" at different EV levels and tape a cheat sheet to the meter! Just adjust in the field.

The other thing you need to be aware of.... not all spot meters are calibrated to the same reflectivity value. Some are set at 13% such as Sekonics while other are at 18%. So don't expect apples to apples readings between different makers of spot meters. Its not always easy tracking down this information. Also, not all grey cards are 18%. Hard to beleive there is so many issues with light meters, huh.... I agree...

-- bglick (bglick@cascadeaccess.com), April 18, 2002.


Interesting... I'm sitting here with a Sekonic 778, always assumed that it was both accurate and linear.

Stefan, do you think that you could write a step-by-step testing instruction? I'd be happy to go through the steps and post the results.

-- Ake Vinberg (ake@vinberg.nu), April 18, 2002.


Stefan,

I both have a regular Pentax V and a Zone VI modified Pentax digital. The latter is my regular meter. Years ago I had the chance to try out a new Gossen Ultraspot/Spotmaster for a day and make comparison tests with the Zone VI. Both meters agreed quite well with each other (within 1/3rd EV), except when measuring through a dark red filter (29) where the Gossen was 1-2EV too high. I also made an IR diode test with a TV remote control in a dark room (pointing the remote control directly into the meter). _Both_ meters showed a response, but the Gossen was several EV higher, i.e. more IR sensitive. That could be cured by using an IR filter (actually it was a combined UV/IR filter), the type that is sold for digital video cameras. With that filter on the meters they agreed quite well over the whole range - the filter took out 1/3rd EV over the range but that was the only side effect. As for flare, the modified Zone VI meter is better than the unmodified Pentax V (comparing apples and oranges here, but I never had an unmodified Pentax digital). However, it can still be improved by using a lens hood (Heliopan makes a cylindrical metal hood that fits the Pentax digital perfectly). So using a UV/IR filter and a lens hood on an umodified meter might get you close.

-- Arne Croell (arne.croell@inemet.tu-freiberg.de), April 18, 2002.



IR sensitivity is a BIG problem with most modern meters that use a Silicon cell, not just spotmeters. The manufacturers don't pay nearly enough attention to it.
I bought an Elicar spotmeter that had exactly the same problem of excess IR sensitivity. Despite having a cell with a supposed IR filter over it, I could still get an appreciable reading off an IR LED, and could see a very noticeable (>2EV) difference in readings from various black coated surfaces that looked visually almost identical. (Epson inkjet ink appears to have a huge reflectivity in the near-infrared, by the way.)

In the end, I replaced the sensor cell with one that looked physically identical, but that showed 1/5th of the response to an IR LED than the one originally fitted to the meter. The response to visible light was practically the same for both cells.
Whether this is a typical spread of IR response, or whether more recent manufacturing techniques or a different make of sensor was the reason for the difference, I don't know.
Anyway, it was a worthwhile mod, IMHO, although recalibrating the meter afterwards wasn't easy.
The sensor I used was an EG&G Vactec type VTB8440B, which only cost 2 UK, about the equivalent of $5 US.

If money is less of an object; I notice that Edmund Optics Ltd have a number of filters available for cutting IR. They sell B+W IR-cutoff filters in standard threaded mounts, in sizes from 46 to 58mm diameter, but the cost is upwards of $150 US.
They also sell 1" and 2" square visible bandpass filters, as well as IR cutoff filters, hot mirrors, and 'tech spec' heat absorbing glass. These are all much cheaper, in the range of $30 to $60, and any of them would be effective at reducing the IR sensitivity of a spotmeter. They could be fitted either internally, or in front of the lens. However, they'd all require some compensation or recalibration of the meter, but only by about 10 to 20%.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), April 18, 2002.


"What are the downsides of the Zone IV modified meters?"

-- the only downside I can tell is that if the brightness is below EV 2, the circle in the viewfinder is almost invisible.

"I suppose you have to pay for better filtering and baffling by decreased sensivity... "

-- No. I had to pay only in terms of money.

"down to which EV value are they working reliably, and are they useable for slide film?"

-- Down to 0 EV. In the letter supplied with the spotmeter (letter by person who makes the modification) there is a statement that the meter has been tested for linearity in the range 4-19 EV. I don't know what tolerances he used in the testing, but the meter seems linear even below 4 EV. (If you will test it with a film, dont forget about Schwarzshield effect)

"Or is the spectral sensivity matched to BW film in a way that makes them less useful than an unmodified Pentax meter for shooting slides?"

-- I heard the spectral sensitivity of the meter is made close to s.sensitivity of Tri-X. Since different films (even B/W films) have different spectral sensitivity, an orientation to a specific emulsion can make the work with other emulsion less preise, it is obvious. But I think it is still more precise than using the meter that is too sensitive to IR, UV light or just to saturated colors, in spite of that strange virtue that the latter meters are not claimed to be oriented to a particular emulsion...

Ok, it is a dream to have a meter with a customizable spectral sensitivity, but I'm sure the cost will be prohibitive.

Like other posters I hope you will share your methids of testing for linearity and IR-sensitivity ;)

Cheers Andrey

-- Andrey Vorobyov (AndreyVorobyov@yahoo.com), April 18, 2002.


O.K., here are my »spotmeter tests« - I don't claim them to be of scientific quality, but think they do have real-world relevance... after ruining 8 Velvia Quickloads (hopelessly under-exposed) and a probably unique opportunity because I trusted the Ultraspot's results in a brickworks (with a rather high level of IR radiation due to large heaps of red-glowing bricks), I repeated Walter's tests (see ) with the Ultraspot, and switched it for a Minolta Spotmeter F after recalibration by Gossen didn't improve the meter's deficiencies.
For all experiments, I put the meter on a tripod and repeated them in in daylight and artificial light.

-- Stefan.Dalibor (dalibor@cs.fau.de), April 18, 2002.

Oops, forgot to insert URL to Walter's original tests (sorry, Walter :) in the lenghty treatise above here it is.

Stefan

-- Stefan Dalibor (dalibor@cs.fau.de), April 18, 2002.


I've used the Pentax Digital/Zone VI spotmeter for ten years now. It's quite accurate enough for any work I've ever done. Experience shows that it's the meter to believe, if there's a question. Someone mentioned in a previous reply about the red-filter compensation- that's true. As I use a #25 once a year maybe this has'nt been a problem. It's a wonderful tool.

-- Mark Sampson (MSampson45@aol.com), April 18, 2002.


Thank you Stefan. I hope the sort of pernickety and meticulous users will finally force the manufacturers to pay more attention to the quality of their production, instead of resting on the laurels. Great topic.

-- Andrey Vorobyov (AndreyVorobyov@yahoo.com), April 18, 2002.

"the meter to believe" says someone, and therein lies the rub: I find your questions frankly unrealistic, and do not understand your quest for such an improbably high degree of metering veracity. The Gossen has a solid reputation, I used Minolta Spot-Fs for years, and currently I'm using the Sekonic 608, and they're all excellent meters. Like any meter though, their readings have to be interpreted, rather than taken literally. They are machines, so they are stupid. Sorry to be so brutal but I think in seeking a meter that will give you totally reliable readings under such highly specialised (arcane, even) lighting conditions, you're on a wild goose chase.

-- Anthony Harrison (AnthonyHar@aol.com), April 18, 2002.

I've used the same UNmodified Pentax digital spot since 1983. It's a great meter, and if I had to buy a new one for some reason, that would be my choice. I once thought about about having it modified by Zone VI, but decided against it because, at the time, it seemed like kind of a fad (sorry, Fred, wherever you are). It might have made the meter more accurate, I don't know.

Consistency would seem to be the key factor. Every single meter out there, even within the same type, is different. If you pick one and calibrate your particular film-lens-EI-development-agitation-developer-etc system to it, then it probably doesn't matter which one you get (except for the reliability and build quality thing).

FWIW,

Bill

-- Bill Marsh (redcloud54@earthlink.net), April 18, 2002.


Anthony, Bill, I beg to differ.

I agree there are a lot of situations where most meters will do. Moreover, there are situations where an experienced photographer can guess the proper exposure without any meter at all with precision of +/- 0.5 stop. But there are numerous real life situations where the correct behavior of the meter is critical.

"..calibrate your particular film-lens-EI-development-agitation- developer-etc system to it, then it probably doesn't matter which one you get" -- it is true for absolute value of the measurement (zero adjustment). But the adjustment found during the calibration is absolutely useless if the meter is not linear or if it is flare prone or if its spectral sensitivity is drastically different from film spectral sensitivity (including notorious IR-sensitivity) or all this together.

Machines are stupid, but they should work as specified. If one spends several hundreds for a meter, it is mildly speaking somewhat exasperating if he discovers that in certain (not uncommon) situations he has to guess and the machine instead of helping fools him.

(See for example my funny experience with Gossen Starlite: http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=007drq Does it mean the Starlite is unusable? No, it is pretty usable in a lot of situations!)

Solid reputation of a company it is good. Experience of thousands photographers in the world -- it is great. But I insist that a machine must work according its technical specifications.

Andrey

-- Andrey Vorobyov (AndreyVorobyov@yahoo.com), April 19, 2002.


I fully agree with Andrey - the spotmeter manufacturers either have to make their products comply with published specs, or change the specs to describe their products accurately.
This would mean that the Ultraspot's sensivity has to be listed as EV3-21, and the Spotmeter F has to be described as 3 degree meter (and the viewfinder indicator circle enlarged appropriately!). For both meters, a detachable IR blocking filter (w/ description how to adapt the meter readout when the filter is applied!) should be packaged together with the meter.
The way these products are delivered now make them IMHO amateur equipment... you can get some approximation of your subject's contrast range for many subjects, but you can't rely on the meter as a professional tool.
Considered the $$$ that you have to pay for a spotmeter (mind you, for the official resale price of an Ultraspot you can buy a comlete 35mm or digital camera w/ lens!), this is annoying, to put it mildly.

-- Stefan Dalibor (dalibor@cs.fau.de), April 19, 2002.


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