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Thread: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

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    Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    The question of spot meters comes up frequently, and the usual outcome is either 1.) a Pentax Spot V or Digital or 2.) a Minolta Spot F or M. An Soligor (or its Adorama replacement) is also mentioned for those on a budget. But I have discovered a another option that I think fits well with our application, and I thought I'd seed future searches with some description of it.

    I own a Pentax Spot V and that's my preferred meter for use with 4x5, particularly if I'm in a Zone System frame of mind. When I am doing the Zone System, I will sample the scene, and then place values on the zone scale according to how I visualize them. I will then measure other values to see where they fall on the zone scale. A meter that reads in EV and provides a scale that shows all the EV at once is perfect for this concept of use, in that one can put a zone scale on the dial and see all the values they have measured across the continuum of zones. I had put a home-made scale on mine, and last year replaced that with one of the commercial stick-on scales from Zone VI sent to me by a generous forum member. In this application, the Pentax meters shine--they read in EV and have excellent mechanical calculation dials for assessing zone values across the subject brightness range. With a memory for several values, one can make several readings at once and then consult the scale.

    The only things I don't like about the Spot V are the fragility of the mechanical needle movement (which forces me to devote a lot of brain cells to being careful with it), and its bulk, particularly for a travel kit. The Pentax Digital Spotmeter solves these problems, but at a price.

    I also own a Minolta Spot F. It does provide a feature for doing the Zone System, but it requires that you measure a value you want to place on Zone III, press a button, measure another value that you want to place on Zone VII, press another button, and then it will provide the exposure. I usually put my finger on the wrong button, or spend a lot of time moving the meter around to where I can see the buttons. I find that I have two choices in using this meter in this application: I can either let it read in EV and do the math in my head (since there is no scale), or I can fiddle with the buttons quite a lot to make use of its built-in feature. If I used the meter for that purpose every day, I might get used to it, but I found myself reverting to the first approach because I didn't have to remember what the buttons did.

    The Minolta has a feature that is quite nice--it will measure flash and includes a PC outlet and a flash trigger. This is useful when measuring lighting ratios and the like using strobes. I have used and enjoyed this feature when using studio strobes (I have a Speedotron kit).

    The Minolta is also small and light, making it perfect for squeezing into the corner of a camera bag that will fit in the airline overhead bin. It has therefore been my standard meter when I travel with my Pentax 6x7, despite its fiddliness.

    The Pentax and Minolta meters are so commonly recommended that they get a high price on the used market. Even the old Spot V routinely gets close to or more than a couple hundred bucks, and the Spot F gets more. I bought my Spot V new for $175 decades ago and the Spot F maybe 10 years ago at a camera show for $180 (a right-before-closing deal).

    The Spot F is small and light, but there is a limit on its durability. It cannot survive being crushed by the hydraulic slide-out of a rented motorhome, even (or perhaps especially) with my wife at the controls. It folded in half, dividing the interior circuit board into two parts in a way that shredded far too many traces to contemplate a repair. I've just taken it apart to assess the damage, and have determined that it is a pile-'o-parts.

    So, my choices: Replace the Spot F for considerably more than what I paid for it (if I want it without having to wait for manna from Heaven), get another Spot V (which seemed wasteful--I already have one that I could move back and forth between kits), or pay far more for a Pentax Digital. Or I could search for something else.

    I rejected getting another Spot F, despite that I think it's a wonderful meter. In my usage, it's too fiddly. Neither Pentax will do the flash, so I'd give up that feature that I have used, in addition to the Pentax Digital just being too expensive. So, I started looking around at the alternatives.

    Requirements are:

    1. Calculation scale that is amenable to Zone System markings.
    2. Flash measurement.
    3. Small and light.
    4. Durable for travel (preferably with no mechanical needle movement).
    5. Cheap.

    I suspect these requirements are fairly common among the people on this forum, with the possible exception of the support for flash measurement.

    And I think I have found a rarely mentioned solution: A Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot.

    This model has been mentioned perhaps two or three times in the entire archive of LFPF, which is surprising given that it fulfills all the above requirements. It will read in EV (or in exposure settings), and has a dial with a ready-made spot for a zone scale, roughly similar to the Pentax. But it will also read exposure settings directly for someone working with a gray card who is not concerned about subject brightness range.

    It will read flash and provides a PC socket for triggering flash.

    It is, of course, a real 1-degree meter, but will also read the 21-degree full field of the viewfinder. That was not a requirement, but it does not damage its versatility as the only meter in a travel kit.

    Sensitivity is EV1 at ISO100.

    My Sekonic L-718, which is a similar vintage, has been excellent, so I do not doubt that this one will be also. Sekonic is not a budget-brand.

    $125 at KEH, with case--the usual price for a far older Spot V that has something that doesn't work. And that was the more expensive of the two.

    Rick "who will add to this thread a more detailed review when it arrives" Denney

  2. #2
    Drew Bedo's Avatar
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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    Rick:

    I have no experience with the Pentax meters, but I do have the Minolta. Your assesment of the Minolta is spot-on.

    Please let us know how the Sekonic works out for you.
    Drew Bedo
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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    I own a Pentax Spotmeter V, Pentax digital Spotmeter and that Minolta Spotmeter F. The Minolta never gets used. I got it through a package deal when buying some equipment.

    My Spotmeter V has taken a beating and is still ticking. I like the big dial on the thing and all your shutter/aperture options at a glance. But its size is too much to fit in a pocket. I like the Pentax digital spotmeter for its size but my eyes are getting old and in low light I have to carry a key chain LED light to read the small numbers around the lens. They didn't select good colors for the numbers for contrast on that black body. But it is the spotmeter I now use the most.

    I think your check list for a spot meter is like that for tripods. You want a strong, inexpensive and a light tripod. You get one with any two of those characteristics but not all three.

    You can get get a Sekonic meter with a one-degree attachment and will fulfill all but the cheap requirements is the closest thing I can think of. But then it will be like the Minolta F which is not as convenient, IMHO, for zone system metering or slapping on a 9 or 10 stop ND filter as the Pentax spotmeters.

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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    Quote Originally Posted by tuco View Post
    You can get get a Sekonic meter with a one-degree attachment and will fulfill all but the cheap requirements is the closest thing I can think of. But then it will be like the Minolta F which is not as convenient, IMHO, for zone system metering or slapping on a 9 or 10 stop ND filter as the Pentax spotmeters.
    The L-488 Digi-Spot is not a standard meter with a spot attachment. It is a purpose-built spot meter similar to the others I mentioned. They must not have made very many of them, because they seem to be rather submerged in spot meter lore.

    Download the manual here from Mike Butkus's invaluable resource.


    (Picture from Mike Butkus's web page, scanned at low res from the manual, but it will give you an idea. The calculation wheel is on the other side.)

    Rick "who was surprised to be unaware of this meter" Denney

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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    At one time, the L-488 was the flagship meter in the Sekonic line. I got mine shortly after it was released and happily used it for many years (until I dropped it and broke a solder connection). It's deadly accurate to the point where I felt it completely unnecessary to bracket exposures in ambient or flash mode with transparency films. It reads out in both the finder and on the side of the meter. The 1 degree circle is dark against a bright background and illuminated against dark backgrounds. The L-488 is a little boxy, but works very well with the geeky solution of using the case as a belt holster.

    I've always thought it was underrated and a bit forgotten as Sekonic released newer meters. At one point they were selling for around $75--which is crazy considering how much people pay for the newer Sekonics with lots of bells and whistles that never get used. The only major feature difference with the newer models is incident metering. If you can live without that, the L--488 is a bargain

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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    Looks like a great meter and I kinda wish I had flash capability on the Pentax V. Well there goes the used market Rick...

    Don't bid on the one on ebay, it's mine!!
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    All comments and thoughtful critique welcome

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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    Here's a review, now that the Sekonic has arrived and I've had a chance to look at it.

    In size, it is about the same as the Minolta and smaller than the Pentax Spot V. I've attached a picture of the three meters side-by-side, including the Minolta corpse, the Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot in the middle, and the Pentax Spotmeter V on the right. I don't know what order the pictures will appear, so I'll call this the first picture. In all three cases, the meter is pointed to the left (it's obvious on the Pentax and Minolta, but not so on the Sekonic).

    In the second picture, I've shown the exposure calculation dials. The Pentax meter does not read in EV, except at ISO 100. The dial makes the conversion from the meter reading to other film speeds, and thus it must have a setting for ISO. This is not the case with the Sekonic, which sets the ISO using the electronic controls which are visible in the first picture. The Sekonic dial only has one rotating element, which is the center dial. In use, one rotates the outer dial on the Pentax. The Sekonic dial is just a flat sheet of aluminum with markings on it, with a center pin, and you rotate it with your thumb. The Pentax dial is much more three-dimensional to the touch, and seems much better made. Indeed, the dial on my "Bargain"-rated Sekonic is a bit battered, as you can see in the second picture. Both dials are easy to mark for zones.

    In terms of construction, the Pentax is clearly more nicely made than either of the new meters, and the Sekonic is in a plastic case that shows its experience very obviously.

    Note that I have removed the Zone VI zone dial from the Pentax. I did this because I became concerned when I started comparing the two meter readings.

    It is axiomatic that no two meters agree. This should not be the case with spot meters, but it is when comparing the Sekonic and the Pentax. At EV 15, the Sekonic read the scene as a stop brighter, and at EV 7, the Sekonic read the scene as two stops brighter. When the Sekonic read EV15, the Pentax read EV14, and when the Sekonic read EV9, the Pentax read EV7. So, I compared both to my Canon 5D (because it was handy), and it agreed with the Sekonic within a fraction of a stop at all readings except very dark, where I believe the Canon meter accounts for the reciprocity effect (if there is one) on the sensor. Below EV 3 or 4, the Canon meter gave increasing exposure (at EV1, it gave two stops more exposure). At subject brightness levels above EV 4, they agreed exactly.

    This creates mental conflict. I have used that Pentax meter for many years, without any doubts as to its accuracy. But the period of most intensive use was when I was doing black and white work back in the 90's, and I simply calibrated my development time around what the meter gave me. It always seemed to work. I have used it with Velvia over the last couple of years as I have returned to large-format work, but I did always seem to adjust exposure a bit when comparing to Fujiroid test exposures. I've been doing a lot of those as I have recalibrated my technique for narrow color, but in reality not much of what I've done has been with transparency film, and most of what I've done has been in sunny conditions where the Pentax differed from the Sekonic by only a stop. But it seems clear now that the Pentax has lost its calibration in the 15 years or so that it languished unused during my large-format dormancy. Time for a trip to Mr. Calibration.

    In use, the Pentax and the Minolta show about the same field of view, but the Pentax does it with greater magnification. The Sekonic has less magnification as the Minolta, but with greater field of view. Thus, the viewfinder experience of the Pentax is the best of the three, and the Sekonic is the worst, which is not unexpected just looking at the size of the optics. That's the trade-off for the smaller case, I suppose. Also, the Pentax has a d'Arsonval needle movement and needs room for the needle and scale in the viewfinder.

    The Sekonic illuminates the ring around 1-degree spot, and includes an EV display (or F-stop when in that mode). The measured value changes as long as the trigger is depressed, but the reading remains displayed in the viewfinder and on the external display when the trigger is no longer pressed. This is nice. The Pentax, of course, only provides a reading when the trigger is depressed. That illuminated circle may provide to be a problem, though. It reads beautifully in dark conditions, but it is rather hard to see an object that reads over EV15 at ISO100. I'll know when I test it reading targets brighter than Zone V in bright sun. The Pentax and Minilta have the opposite problem--seeing the black target circle when reading very dark targets. The Pentax provides a button that illuminates the left end of the reading scale, but not the target circle. The Minolta also has an illumination button. The Sekonic doesn't need it.

    The dimmer viewfinder of the Sekonic meter also means that it has greater depth of field. This is good, because the eyepiece is not focusable. The image appeared within the ability of my eyes to focus at all useful distances with and without glasses. I have to focus both the Pentax and the Minolta in use. This might be a problem for people needing strong corrections for near-sightedness or far-sightedness (vs. the astigmatism that I suffer from). But the eye relief on the Sekonic is good--I can see both the spot and the readout with my eye a full inch from the eyepiece. It's fine when wearing glasses.

    When the Sekonic powers up, it is in F-stop mode, providing aperture readings given a shutter setting and ISO. One must press the F-EV button to return it to EV mode, in which case the shutter speed setting disappears and the reading is in EV for the given ISO. The meter powers itself off automatically after 5 minutes of non-use, so I will need to get into the habit of turning it on and pressing the F-EV button to put it in the mode I will use.

    The Sekonic also provides a 20-ish-degree averaging mode, similar to the older Pentax spot meter. When it that mode, it illuminates a spot at the edge of the measurement field as a reminder. The control is mechanical and I'm sure just moves a lens in front of the sensor.

    As with the other spot meters, the metered area falls slightly outside the circle in the finder--maybe 10 or 20% of the diameter outside the circle when a contrasty edge starts to affect the reading. But the measured zone is exactly centered on the circle (it's a bit left on my Pentax).

    The Sekonic uses two AA batteries. With the auto-off feature, these ought to last nicely.

    So, in summary, the Sekonic is spot meter that is accurate and can be used for Zone System measurements in the same way as the Spot V. For that approach, it is more useful in practice than the Minolta, and can be used without mental gymnastics. The Sekonic is well-made, but not as solidly as the Minolta or as elegantly as the Pentax.

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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    Speaking of Sekonic, I picked up a curiosity, the Sekonic L 288.. it's a zoom light meter. Surprisingly accurate when put up against my Pentax analog spotmeter and it's pocketable. I wear it on a lanyard around my neck and keep it in a shirt pocket to stop it swinging around when I'm over a camera.

    Here's a link to a photo and write up : http://www.jollinger.com/photo/meter...onic_l228.html

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    Re: Selecting a spot meter: Sekonic L-488 Digi-Spot

    I've had a Sekonic L-488 for a couple of years. I've found it simple to use, and accurate. Mine tends to get through batteries quicker than imagined, but no big issue so long as I have some spare! All up, it's a good meter and significantly cheaper than the more common Pentax and Minolta.

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