Necessary for Light Meter?

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      I would like to ask, is there still a need to use a light meter when shooting with a digital camera? There are many tools available now to measure exposure, such as false color, which uses the colors displayed on a monitor to determine exposure, and it seems more accurate than using a light meter. Using a light meter on a shoot feels unnecessary to me, just a matter of ceremony. But I don’t know if I’m oversimplifying things and if there are still situations where a light meter is necessary.

      Also, I have another question about using a light meter. If I only have an incident light meter and I want to shoot flames or light bulbs that emit light themselves, how do I control the exposure? I can measure the exposure of the environment around the flame, but how do I measure the exposure of the flame itself and control the brightness deference between the flame and the environment as I desire? I’m very curious about how cinematographer dealt with this situation before reflective light meters were available.

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    • #214482
      Max A.

        Hello Jeff, if I can share my thought about this topic I would say that exposure is something subjective and so also the method that you seems it’s better for you is the right for your work.

        I use a mixture of: incident light meter, false color, waveform, and also spot meter.

        When I started to be fascinated by photography there were already digital cameras and so monitors to judge exposure, but when I “grew up” in terms of knowledge and awareness I understand that, for me, relying only on a monitor is something a bit approximate. When you have to balance lights for a set and you want to be specific about contrast/tone/differences between bright areas and dark areas I think you have to be a bit more specific than seeing on the monitor and dim down the lights while you look at the monitor without knowing at what STOP that light is.

        The same for me is for false color, when you look at a false color, you see a scale based on IRE, now there are a lot of people more prepared than me over this forum, but each camera has its own increase of IRE to reach a STOP of value.
        I look at false color (as for waveform) only to see if I’m clipping highlights or blacks but everything in the middle I feel is quite complex for me to judge.
        If you do multiple tests and understand (with a light meter) how your camera sees a full STOP with a false color, you, of course, can be the idea of which color means in terms of under and over exposure.

        For me, an interesting tool, that would be a mix of false color and spot meter, is the EL Zone, by Mr. Ed Larchman, but if I remember it is only for Panavision.

        Please note, this is MY own thought, there are a lot of fantastic dp’s over there that expose their image fantastically well only watching at a monitor because they are fixed and solid a workflow and this is the point for me.

        Develop your workflow and stay on which you feel better comfortably with.

        I wish you a great day.


          “For me, an interesting tool, that would be a mix of false color and spot meter, is the EL Zone, by Mr. Ed Larchman, but if I remember it is only for Panavision.”

          Panasonic VariCam LT and 35 and the small Sigma FP have it. Also SmallHD external monitors I believe. It should be featured in more and more cams going forward.

          I haven’t used EL Zone yet but love the intuitive color palette and distribution opposed to the confusing False Color (which also varies from company to company).

          It seems to be great to evaluate contrast ratios around middle grey and thus replace a light meter. But it does not do a good job at showing sensor clipping or noise floor (depending how many stops you distribute above or below middle grey), so it needs to be combined with another tool that does this.

          Good overview:

          EL Zone Exposure System- how does it work and how do you use it



            <p style=”text-align: left;”>I rely exclusively on my light meters to light and expose. Why?
            Even I’m not that old I started on film so that’s how I learned to look and expose. Also the productions I work can’t have good calibrated monitors all the time and I refused to buy my own monitors, or sometimes it’s not practical to have monitors at all. So the only way for me to keep a perfect consistency on lighting and exposure is to trust my own light meters that I carry with me all the time. They don’t take much space neither.
            With today’s tools it’s not mandatory to use them. It’s just another tool. But for example when you are lighting and camera is not still ready not having a lightmeter is a bit of a pain in my opinion.
            I find easier to use a light meter for exposure once I calibrate it against the camera/s and look we will use for each project. Don’t get me wrong, monitors, even not calibrated, are very useful, and I’m guilty to vary exposure after I look at one but here experience also plays a big role. But to me the ultimate tool to know exactly what’s happening are my lightmeters.</p>


              I used EL Zone for the first time this past week on a short film and it was absolutely wonderful and intuitive.  A great way to help maintain consistency throughout a project.  It inspired some creative confidence as well.  I used it along with false color and my light meter.

              I would love it if ARRI and other major manufacturers would implement it directly into their systems – I know Ed Lachman has been trying to get that to happen for a while now, so it just needs to be adopted by more DPs as another useful tool in the kit.


                The new EL system is a fantastic method to standardise how we rate exposure across different sensors.


                As mentioned before the traditional IRE scale does not correspond equally to logarithmic exposure on each camera system so its not really that useful apart from telling where things are clipping.

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