REVIEW: Sekonic L-308S Light Meter

by Mike on July 5, 2011

Product: Sekonic L-308s Flashmate Incident, Reflected, and Flash Light Meter

Price: $233 at AmazonAdorama, B&H (same price everywhere)

Recommended Accessories: AA batteries (which you should have in your bag already)

You know those light-meter thingies with the white plastic domes on them that photo assistants wave in front of models’ faces?

They’re actually pretty freaking useful.

I recently picked up a Sekonic L-308s and I really don’t know how I went without one for so long.

The concept is pretty simple.

The meters in our cameras are reflective meters. This means they measure the light reflected off a subject. Reflective meters aren’t always accurate because they can be unduly influenced by the properties of the subject. Reflective meters can’t also read the power of an external flash.

What’s really important is to measure the amount of light hitting the subject and scene, and that’s where incident meters like the L-308s come in. Think of it this way: if you see a white car next to a black car in the street, one’s not harder to see than the other because they’re sitting in the same light.

An incident meter lets you measure the actual light, and that means increased accuracy because the reading isn’t influenced by dark and light areas in the scene. For example, if you shoot a dark subject against a light background, or a light subject against a dark background, your camera will attempt to average out the exposure, instead of exposing for the subject the way an incident meter can.

Also, our-in camera meters are useless with flash – they simply can’t tell us how our cameras need to be set in relation to the power output of strobes. A flash meter, however, can read the flash and tell us the aperture value needed to equalize the exposure.

Use as an Incident Meter

The L-308s is pretty simple. Here’s how you take an incident reading:

1) Set the meter to Daylight mode (the one with the sun icon)

2) Set your desired shutter speed and ISO

3) Hold the meter up directly in front of your subject with the white dome aimed at the camera lens

4) Hit the button on the side

Like magic, the meter spits out an aperture reading for an even exposure. Note, you can adjust the ISO and shutter speed after the fact and it will adjust the aperture automatically.

For example, let’s say you get a reading of f/11 at 1/200s at ISO100 and you want to use f/8 instead. You can hit the up/down buttons to change the aperture to f/8, and the shutter speed will automatically adjust to 1/400s.

The advantage here over your in-camera meter is speed and control. You won’t have to play around taking test shots over and over because in most situations, the incident meter will nail the exposure every time.

And if you ask me, anything that minimizes taking test shots and chimping is worth its weight in gold – especially if you’re in front of clients.

Use as a Flash Meter

This is where the L-308s is insanely valuable. It’s pretty similar to the regular Daylight incident mode:

1) Set the meter to one of the two flash modes

-one allows you to plug in a sync cable to fire your flashes and take a measurement
-the other takes a measurement when the meter detects a flash

2) Set your shutter speed, ISO, and flash power output

3) Hold the meter up directly in front of your subject with the white dome aimed at the camera lens

4) Fire your flash with either the meter, your wireless flash trigger, or your camera

The L-308s will then spit out an aperture value. So let’s say you’re at ISO400 at 1/200s with your flash on full power, and the meter spits out f/8. However, you decide you want to shoot at f/4 for a shallower depth-of-field.

If you know your reciprocals, then you know that you need to subtract two stops of light since changing your aperture from f/8 to f/4 added two stops of light. So you know automatically than you can take your flash power from full power to 1/4 power and you’re exactly where you want to be.

Now you can perform this entire process by taking test shots and chimping and looking at the histogram, but a flash meter gets you there more or less instantly.

I first used the L-308s on a headshot job. I set up my camera and lights, took a reading, and bam! Perfect exposure on the first shot – no endless chimping and adjusting with my subject sitting there being bored. I remetered with every lighting change, and again – perfect exposures on the first shot, every time. This means more time shooting and engaging with my subject, and less time playing with my camera and lights.

So, I took a total of 348 pictures, the exposure was 100% dead on the money almost across the board. This meant that I didn’t have to throw out otherwise-great pictures because of bad exposures, and more importantly, I’m spending less time in front of my computer.

Same deal on other recent shoots – by metering every setup, I’m getting consistent exposures across the board, and spending a lot less time fiddling with my gear.

And hypothetically, even if my exposures are off a bit, they will ll all be off by the same amount. With Lightroom or Aperture, batch changes are easy as pie, so if you fix one, you fix them all with just a click.

Exposure Accuracy

I have found that the L-308s is pretty close to dead-on accurate with both my Canon DSLR and my Fuji X100.

I took a few pictures of my sister (she wouldn’t allow me to post them because she looked horrible).

Here’s how it went down: I set up my camera and lights, and metered with the L-308s. It gave me an aperture of f/5. I took a test shot at f/5, and then three more at f/4.5, f/4, and f/3.5.

I pulled them all into Aperture, and turned on ‘Highlight Hot and Cold Areas’ (shortcut is Shift + Option + H).

The shot taken at f/5 was perfectly exposed, without a single spec of blown highlight anywhere. However, at f/4.5, just 1/3 stop brighter, the skin started blowing out, and it progressively got worse from there.

However, even the shot taken at f/3.5 looked okay on my camera’s LCD screen. If this was a paying job with a client and I had relied on the LCD screen, I’d have screwed the pooch because blown highlights can’t really be fixed with digital.

Ease of Use

The L-308s is dead easy to use, and I figured out how to use it in about 2  minutes. The only time I the manual is to figure out how to switch it to measure in 1/3 stop increments. (You can also use 1/10, 1/2, and full-stop increments.

Construction/Build Quality

The L-308s is built entirely out of plastic, and it’s extremely light. It doesn’t feel as tough as the fancier and more-expensive L-358 or L-758DR. However, my L-308s has seen its fair share of bumps and bruises and it still works 100% fine.

Conclusion

So do you need a flash meter?

If you’re shooting film, absolutely.

For digital, it’s not essential, and I thought I’d never need one. However, from here on out, I’m never going out on a shoot without a meter ever again.

Now it is true that you can get away with chimping and reading the histogram, but an incident and flash meter like the L-308s dramatically speeds up the process of getting the exposure you want. In 99% of situations, the meter’s going to get you pretty close to what you want more-or-less instantly, especially as you gain experience and figure out where and when you’ll want to add exposure compensation.

That means less time playing with your gear and less time in post-production fixing inconsistent and incorrect exposures. It also means more time shooting, and more time working directly with your clients and subjects.

If you’re interested in picking one up, the The L-308s is very affordable at $233 from AmazonAdorama, and B&H.

 

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: