Sekonic’s DualMaster L-558R Flash/Ambi Meter; Exposure Measurement Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

Handheld exposure meters have grown increasingly complex over the years. At the same time, they are proving even more utilitarian for a wider range of shooting situations. All of this thanks to microprocessor control. I won't go into the long history of their evolution, but suffice to say that today's high-tech marvels are something else entirely. And the new Sekonic handheld meters establish new benchmarks each step of the way. The coolest and most sophisticated of these is the DualMaster L-558R. While sold separately, it has also been fortified with fancier packaging as the Sekonic X-Rite Digital Suite (see sidebar below), designed to facilitate the digital workflow process. Digital Suite comes with the MonacoOPTIXXR colorimeter to calibrate and profile CRT and LCD monitors on PCs and Macs.

The DualMaster L-558R: An Overview
By itself, the L-558R is a powerful tool for ambient light and flash exposure control, by either incident or reflected light. The L-558R (note the "R") adds a built-in Digital Radio Transmitter Module that is compatible with all PocketWizard Digital Radio Wireless Receivers ( for more info). More and more photo gear, especially strobes, comes equipped with this wireless slave-triggering technology these days. And you can always buy the receiving unit separately for camera or flash. Since the radio receiver is not part of the package and none of my gear comes with it built-in, this feature was not tested. But in practice, the radio-triggering system allows you to trigger the lights with the meter, as you would in flash Cord mode, while doing away with any troublesome sync cord connections. Commercial photographers I've worked with have raved about the PocketWizard ever since its introduction, so we know it works. But how well does the meter itself work? That's what we're here to find out.

Standing on its own, the L-558R is a very sophisticated photo tool. The meter is large by comparison to others boasting similar capabilities, but with good reason: It incorporates a 1Þ spot meter with parallax-free optics. The spot meter replaces the typical broad-area reflectance reading capability found on many handheld meters.

Spot measurements begin with a twist of a dial around the eyepiece (which has diopter correction), switching over from Incident to Reflectance mode. When the meter is first turned on, or when the mode setting is changed, an icon on the display blinks for a short period to make you aware of which setting is in effect--nice touch. (Note: There is no lens cap for the eyepiece, so, when not in use, it might be best to keep the meter inside its padded pouch, which will also protect the display.)

On the flip side, when the dial is set to Incident mode, the rotating turret with its white plastic dome comes into play. The dome is recessed for travel and for taking contrast readings. A short twist raises the dome in preparation for incident-light exposure measurement.

As with many cameras, you first have to input the film speed in a handheld light meter. The L-558R has two ISO settings, for instant readings with different films. The meter is powered by a long-lasting CR123A lithium battery. The meter will power down on its own, but it never hurts to save battery power and turn the meter off when not needed.

(Top): I wanted to bring out these crepuscular rays, even if it meant everything else went dark. I aimed the L-558R's spot-metering lens at the brightest point within the converging rays for a highlight reading of 1/125 sec at f/18, ISO 400, with the camera in Manual mode. Notice how this exposure resulted in a silhouetted skyline. (Camera/lens/mode: Canon EOS 20D/EF 17-40mm f/4L USM/Manual.)
(Center, & bottom): I used the L-558R to take spot readings of a shadow value on the building with the smokestacks (1/125 sec, f/4.5--overexposed). (Camera/lens/mode: Canon EOS 20D/EF 17-40mm f/4L USM/Manual.)
All Photos © 2005, Jack Neubart, All Rights Reserved

An Extremely Versatile Light Meter
Because many of us have grown to rely on a camera's built-in TTL metering system, we may feel we no longer need a handheld meter. But that couldn't be further from the truth. For starters, it takes an extremely long, bulky lens to deliver true 1Þ spot readings.

Beyond that, this meter can do what your camera meter cannot. While some cameras may be able to read and average several readings, that's as far as they go. With this meter, you can store up to nine readings in memory--flash or ambient light--and recall those readings after shutdown. Usually you could suffice with a spot reading of a key highlight and key shadow value to determine brightness range. The touch of a button averages those readings for the recommended exposure settings in f/stops and shutter speeds.

With Incident mode, you may want to determine lighting contrast--the contribution of the key light and fill light measured separately, with the recessed dome aimed in the direction of each light source--before making a final exposure reading with the dome raised and all studio lights switched on.

Alternatively, take a singular key reading, then put the meter in AVE/EV-A mode for contrast measurement, and hold down the measuring button again while aiming the recessed dome or the spot lens as needed. The L-558R will deliver a direct reading of the difference in EVs, to help establish contrast. (Refer to a table in the manual to translate that value to contrast ratios.)