Sekonic Dualmaster L 558
Is This The Ultimate Meter

In the 1960s my father got me a used twin-lens reflex camera, and, with a few rolls of Kodak Plus-X in hand, this teen-ager set out to photograph New York City. Lacking a light meter, I learned to guess exposures following guidelines on a cue card. It wasn't long before I was given a General Electric Exposure Meter that measured light in foot-candles. It measured light with a simple battery-less photocell, and by selecting the measured values on a rotating metal dial I could calculate the exposure. I had never heard of the Zone System and didn't think very much about highlights and shadow detail, but the primitive meter gave me a far better exposure than the guessing method. Meters have come a long way since then.

Enter the Sekonic Dualmaster L-558. With my primary work being nature and landscape photography--shooting with view cameras and 35mm--this meter gets me closer to a world of perfect exposures than any other meter I have owned. In short, this one tool cuts no corners in its ability to spot meter reflected light and strobes, store and display multiple and average readings, utilize exposure and filter compensation factors, and analyze light ratios. And, it can remotely trigger cameras and studio strobes. It will measure in 1/10 stop intervals and, though I lack bench testing equipment, I have complete confidence in its sensitivity and accuracy.

Toyo Field, 90mm f/8 Schneider, Manfrotto tripod and ball head, Fuji Velvia 100 exposed at 1/15 sec at f/32.5, scanned on UMAX PowerLook III with Silver Fast SE, color corrected in Photoshop 7.0 on an Apple Power Mac G4.
© 2003, Paul Mozell, All Rights Reserved

In The Field
For a first field test of the meter I set out on a perfect New England autumn day to photograph the fall colors in a state forest near my home. Shooting the new Fuji Velvia 100 in my Toyo Field view camera I knew that I had about a five-stop exposure latitude to work with. After adjusting the diopter ring to correct for my nearsightedness, I used the built-in 1Þ spot meter to pick out dark shadows in the scene, reading the basic exposure information first in the spot meter's viewfinder, and then on the backlit LCD display on the meter's main panel. I determined that the shadows were a couple of stops beyond my film's sensitivity. (This meter's predecessor, the Sekonic L-508, had a zoom 1-4Þ spot meter. Sekonic found that very few photographers used the 4Þ angle.)

I also learned that a white reflection of the sky in a pond would be about a stop out of range as well, but it was not critical to the composition. Next I took readings on some medium gray tree bark, a gray rock, and some red leaves, and pushed the "Memory" button to store each one. By pushing the "AVE/EV" button I got a reading that averaged all my spot selections. Not trusting the reading entirely, I compared it to an incident reading I took with the large retractable, swivel-mounted white dome on the top of the meter. I was not surprised that my incident reading was about 1/2 stop under the average spot meter reading. Incident readings in bright sun can be tricky--varying slightly as you change the measurement angle of the dome. The L-558 allows you to store up to nine different values. I went with the spot meter reading and the processed film showed that I made the correct choice.

Next, I screwed a polarizing filter on my 90mm Schneider lens, applied the filter factor using the meter's handy buttons and thumbwheel, and exposed another sheet of film using the corrected values. The processed film showed matching exposures but the polarized sky was too deeply saturated for my tastes.

Digital And Film
As unforgiving as Velvia can be to highlights, readers of this publication know that "overexposure in digital is death." And, the underexposed and muddy shadows that you sometimes get with transparency film can be even more of a problem in digital--recorded as noisy, color-shifted shadows. As good as the in camera meters have become, they still don't give the photographer as much information as a good handheld meter can. In the studio it's the same. The more you know about your lighting, the less time you'll spend editing files. It remains true that you can't fix everything in Photoshop, and shooting dozens of digital exposures because they are "free" is an inefficient use of your time.

Working With Flash
Later, I decided to shoot some portraits of my daughter. With bright sun coming in the south window I had a chance to use flash fill techniques. I used the sun as a hairlight and popped a Norman studio strobe with an umbrella as my key light. A disk reflector provided fill. The Sekonic very handily showed me the flash and ambient readings, plus the combined reading of the two on one legible analog scale. That's the power of information that I need.

Photographers with large studios that have multiple banks of ceiling-mounted strobes will love the remote triggering capability of the L-558. Using the optional PocketWizard transmitter that pops into a door in the backside of the meter, you can trigger and measure different power packs and cameras up to 100 ft away. Sports photographers who use strobes mounted in the catwalks above a basketball court will also love this capability.

Low-Light Capability
Later in the day, as dusk arrived, I stepped outside to try the meter's low-light sensitivity. Sekonic claims that this is the most sensitive meter of its kind on the market. It takes reflected flash readings down to f/2 and incident down to f/0.5, ambient incident readings to -2 EV (Exposure Value) and ambient reflected down to 1 EV (at 1Þ). So if you want to make 30-minute exposures by moonlight and test the reciprocity failure of your film, you're all set with this meter!

Metering Standards?
Because I put more film through my Nikons than any other camera, I use its metering as my personal standard. Over the years I have found that all my handheld meters were 1/2 to 2/3 stop under the Nikon reading. But Sekonic, Gossen, et al. make no apologies for this, saying that there is no international standard for a neutral gray. Sekonic says they match Nikon's standards but I found about a 1/2 stop difference. Further shooting and tests will tell me more.

Fortunately, the L-558 lets you make separate global calibrations for both incident and reflected light. With other meters I always had to adjust the ISO speed or filter factor to accomplish this. Just remember that you made the change, because there is no reminder on the LCD screen.

Other key functions include: full, 1/2, or 1/3 step readings; dual ISO settings; corded, cordless, radio-triggered, and multiple-flash settings; all-weather design; and full CINE features for motion picture and video use.

I have only one complaint about the Sekonic Dualmaster L-558--its size. Being somewhat bulkier than some dedicated spot meters or single-function meters, it doesn't slide easily into a photo vest or coat pocket. But the size is a small sacrifice, given the comprehensive functions and accuracy of this tool. Its LCD settings are straightforward and intuitive, and the manual's text and graphics are precise and no-nonsense.

The Sekonic Dualmaster L-558 has a street price of $499, and is distributed by Mamiya America. For more information, visit Sekonic's website at: www.sekonic.com.

Paul Mozell is a nature and landscape photographer and digital imaging consultant. See his work or contact him at: http://mozellstudios.com.

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