Light meters, while not as popular (or necessary) as they once were, are handy things to be familiar with and capable of using. I tend to use them for planning a day’s shooting, verifying the in-camera meter (or as the primary meter on a meterless camera), working on a tripod, or working with manual or multiple flashes. They serve a role in reducing shot-to-shot time (repeating shots to get the right exposure), and reducing post-processing time (reduced computer work through getting exposures right in-camera).
I have two meters: a Gossen Profisix SBC, and a Sekonic L-358 Flash Master. The Sekonic is my primary meter nowadays, though I will still haul the Gossen out for certain tasks.
Gossen Profisix SBC
The Gossen is one of a number of meters and accessories in the “Profi” line that Gossen produced many years ago. “SBC” in the model designation stands for “Silicon Blue Cell”; the meter uses a silicon photodiode, as opposed to a selenium or cadmium sulphide cell. Silicon cells were introduced as they were more robust and accurate (as far as I understand it, anyway). Accessories included fibre optic extensions for reading microscope eyepieces and ground glass screens, spot meters, flash meters, and even a kit to convert it to a colour meter. Many of these are still available (at a price) through the likes of eBay.
This was my first ever light meter, and found (like many of my good purchases) in a camera store in Cambodia. It was a constant companion with the likes of the Praktica, and also saw a lot of service doing landscapes with Pentax DSLRs. However, when it came time for me to get a flash meter, the Sekonic proved to be a better option, with a much wider range of flash functionality for not much more than the Gossen Profi-Flash attachment.
I like the incident/reflected measuring selection; it’s simply accomplished by sliding the incident dome out of the way of the sensor. The dial readout is also nice, as it shows me all of my possible exposure combinations, without having to scroll through several different numbers on a screen. On the downside, it is much bulkier than newer meters, with a lower inbuilt function-size ratio, and I also find the absence of a (straightforward) integrated averaging function irritating.
While not as glamourous as the Sekonic, the Gossen is a reliable and accurate meter. For that, and its upgradeability (especially for view camera work), it’s a keeper.
Sekonic L-358 Flash Master
Recently out of production, the Sekonic L-358 sat roughly in the middle of the Sekonic meter range. Boasting splash-proof construction, a screen that automatically backlights in the dark (hooray), and a wide range of metering settings in a more svelte package than the Gossen, it’s become my go-to meter. Unlike the Gossen, expandability is limited to a few spot meter attachments, and a wireless flash trigger (limited to the Pocket Wizard system, from memory).
Highlights of the meter have been the screen (it’s really nice, especially the backlight), compact size, and ease of use. Also enjoyable are the dual ISO buttons (I keep my two film ISOs, 100 and 400, programmed onto these), which allow me to quickly compare film speeds if I have to choose between cameras loaded with different film; and the averaging mode, which will average up to nine readings of a single scene (I just wish they’d included a “memory clear” button, too). Negative points are the incident/reflected metering selection (you have to take the incident dome right off and replace it with the reflected light diffuser; I normally incident meter, so it’s not too bad); the reduced upgradeability over the Gossen (all newer meters seem to be like this, though); and the screen not showing me other aperture/shutter speed combinations simultaneously.
Over the past few years of use, the Sekonic has proven to be a reliable, accurate, and rugged meter. Thanks to the fact that it offers all the metering functions I need, and is easily upgradeable for spot metering (should I ever require this), it looks set to be my primary meter for many years to come.
Though less common than they used to be, I believe that having at least one good light meter, and understanding how to use it, is as important as ever. In the Gossen and the Sekonic, I have two reliable meters. These are an asset in getting things right first time, be it a scene I can’t re-shoot or a frame of film I don’t want to waste. Ultimately, this means more time shooting, and being able to spend more time shooting is something I find quite appealing.