A Light Meter is not an Exposure Meter
Some people call it a light meter, but it’s not. A light meter probably won’t help you with photography. Knowing that there’s slightly more foot-candles or lumens here or there doesn’t help. Knowing what shutter speed you need for a given scene, what f-stop you would need for your fixed shutter speed, that’s useful, and that’s what an exposure meter can tell you.
What’s the best all-time exposure meter?
Hands down, it’s the GE PR-1
Why is the GE PR-1 the best exposure meter?
- It’s cheap, maybe all of 10 bucks on eBay including shipping.
- It’s built like a tank so just about every single meter ever made is still in circulation
- It’s a selenium cell meter so you don’t need a battery.
- The zero point is adjustable so you can make sure it’s accurate.
- The needle locks into place once you’ve taken your reading.
- It has a massive range across two sweeps of the meter so a shift of a given amount of light registers as more movement on the GE PR-1 compared to other meters.
- The GE PR-1 “trident” let’s you get readings for bracketing your shot almost instantly
- It can measure reflected and incident lighting.
- Huge range of film speeds, from ISO .2 to ISO 1600
- Huge range of f-stops, from 1 to 128
- Huge range of shutter speeds, from 1/3000th to 2 minutes
So say you have a Lomography Diana +/F+ and you want to shoot without the lens and do some pinhole work. Grab a tripod and your GE PR-1. The Diana’s pinhole is f-128 just take your reading and you can see immediately that you need a two second exposure or whatever. Yes, you can do that with other meters and just count stops to get the right speed but it’s nice that you don’t have to.
If you have a shot that you absolutely need to have come out, meter it. Then you just do a bit of quick math in your head to bracket it. If you want to bracket but want to mix things up and not have the same shot use the meter. Here’s how, take your reading, and line up the center tine of the trident with the reading. Make your exposure for the f-stop or shutter speed you want. Then if you want to shoot one stop more or less exposed you can just turn the dial to the + or – tines. Easy enough to do in your head, but with the meter you got the information all right in front of you. Want to shoot it a stop under and wide open for some bokeh, read it off the meter. Worried about shake so much you want to use a fast shutter but still shoot a stop over, line up the + tine and read it off the meter.
Can you do that all just counting stops in your head? Absolutely, but just because you can bake a cake from scratch doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a box of Betty Crocker for convenience.