Sekonic L-758CINE Light Meter Review – by Guy Rhodes

Guy RhodesEmployed as a contract photojournalist for The Post-Tribune, part of Chicago’s Sun Times News Group, since 2004, Guy Rhodes‘ highlights include covering the 2008 U.S. presidential election, as well as flying with aerobatic teams during coverage of the annual Gary South Shore Air Show. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater/Lighting Design at Columbia College in Chicago, and splits his lighting disciplines between shows for live audiences and lighting for the camera. As director of photography, Guy has completed numerous independent short and feature films, as well as music videos and industrials.

Like many photographers, I demand a lot from the equipment I invest in. However, if you’re familiar with my work specifically, you know that I might demand just a bit more. It wouldn’t be uncommon to find me focusing and programming a rig of 150 Source Four’s for a theatrical show one day, then heading off to light and shoot a portrait shoot with strobes the next, followed by the same DSLR being used on a video shoot later in the week.

In order to get the best return on investment from big-ticket items, they must find uses in one or more of the fields I work in, and work very well. Having to purchase multiples of the same stand / light modifier / whatever for different disciplines simply won’t cut it. With all that on the table, the stakes were quite high for a light meter when I set out to purchase one.

I needed a meter that could measure light from both continuous and strobe sources. The ability to trigger strobes via Pocket Wizard channels directly from the meter would be a huge plus. The ability to provide luminance readings in foot candles (the most common measurement dealt with in TV and film setups) was required. It had to measure both ambient (incident) and light falling on far away objects (reflected / spot). Measuring continuous light under different frame rates for video shoots would be helpful. Color temperature readings would also be fantastic.

Sekonic L-758CINE

Taking an incident reading of ambient light on the Sekonic L-758CINE light meter.

The Sekonic L-758CINE came the closest to the “Frankenmeter” I’d wished for, only lacking the color temperature function from my extensive list. The L-758CINE’s sister meter, the L-758DR, is also advertised as being able to measure foot candles, but I found out (from reviewing the L-758DR first) that the L-758CINE is the only meter that will actually show a foot candle readout on the display. The L-758DR requires one to measure luminance using the “EV” function, then convert to foot candles using a printed table in the back of the owner’s manual. This was a no-go for me, as I need a foot candle display to show people in real time that a stage is indeed evenly lit for video (using a measurement those clients understand).

The L-758CINE arrives in the box in a nice protective, soft carrying case, accompanied by the built-in Pocket Wizard transmitter (if equipped – it’s optional on the CINE model), a battery, a printed manual, a quick guide, a CD with calibration software, a USB cable, and a lanyard. Additionally, two “shortcut” stickers are included that go on the back on the meter and inside the battery door to help with setting preferences and other operations that aren’t spelled out on the buttons.

The meter is made entirely of plastic, and can feel slightly squishy in your hand when you give it a squeeze, especially against the battery door area. While I wouldn’t make it a habit of dropping this precision piece of equipment on a regular basis (if at all), the construction feels rugged enough to stand up to years of sensibly cautious use.

Sekonic L-758CINE

Here, I use the L-758CINE’s spot metering ability to take several readings around a contrasty scene to make an exposure using a film camera.

The included lanyard will hopefully lessen those accidental drops, though I was a bit puzzled at first as to why the lanyard was so long! With the included lanyard around my neck, the meter hung way down near my hips. I quickly realized that this extra slack is allowed to pick the meter up and take incident readings under a portrait subject’s chin, while standing at a distance as to not interfere with the light. While this is nice, the extra long lanyard made the meter difficult to wrangle when shooting landscapes or buildings in the field with my antique Crown Graphic 4×5 film camera. I replaced the included lanyard with a standard one to allow the meter to hang at my chest, which was much more comfortable for me.

One of my first shoots in the field with the L-758CINE was using Kodak Tri-X 320 4×5 film on the Crown Graphic at a local abandoned church. Using the spot meter, I was able to take several readings around the frame and record them into the meter’s memory by simply pressing the “MEMORY” button. By pushing the “AVE./EV” button, I was able to instantly get an average of all those readings, much like using a DSLR meter in evaluative mode. I typically take those readings and put them up against an incident reading taken in the center of the room to choose my final exposure. So far, the meter hasn’t let me down. All of my negatives have been right on, with a wide range of latitude on either side of the scale.

Sekonic L-758CINE

The resulting image, metered using several averaged spot readings on the Sekonic L-758CINE meter (shot on Kodak Tri-X 320 film) contains a wide range of tones.

A few weeks later, while prep’ing concert lighting at a local theater, one of the theater’s followspots (the spotlights that are moved by an operator to track a performer) went down, and a rental unit was brought in. The rental unit, which we were told would match or exceed our in-house unit’s brightness, was un-usably dim. I was able to use the L-758CINE’s foot candle mode to measure exactly how much more dim the rental unit was than our in-house unit, and relay this information to the rental company for a refund.

The L-758CINE’s built-in Pocket Wizard triggering ability makes setting up strobe levels, and the ratios between them, a breeze. I used the meter extensively at a wedding where strobes were used to light the entire room the ceremony was held in, as well as for outdoor night portraits of the bride and groom, candids of guests, etc. In addition to triggering my ‘Wizards on channels 1-4, the meter has the ability to trigger all 32 channels in the Pocket Wizard family, including selecting any of the four zones individually that are available on channels 17-32. Of course, the meter can trigger strobes the old fashioned way via the L-758CINE’s PC output terminal, or it can be set to see and measure a flash pop (or several) with no connectivity whatsoever.

Sekonic L-758CINE

The L-758CINE light meter helped me quickly balance my flash against the dim ambience outside the reception hall (with no guessing) when I pulled the bride and groom aside for a few quick portraits on a wedding shoot.

Whatever way you want to trigger your lights, there’s no more guessing on the camera’s LCD with this meter in your arsenal. Want your backlight to be a stop under your key? Use the meter to dial it in perfectly, without picking up your camera once. Want your white seamless paper to be perfectly blown out? Use the meter’s memory function to actually see the evenness of the overall exposure from several readings right on the display.

Sekonic L-758CINE

For this strobed portrait, again shot on the Crown Graphic using film, the L-758CINE meter was essential in allowing me to match the camera’s exposure with the output from my flashes, as well as setting the ratio between the flashes (here, my backlight is exactly 2/3rds of a stop lower than my front light).

Want to know how far your strobes are above ambient light when shooting arena sports? The L-758CINE tells you this as well, with a percentage of how much of your reading is comprised of the strobes, as well as showing you your strobe vs. ambient light measurements on the scale (which can be switched between f-stops and EV-stops), all with the press of one button – a truly powerful device. The ability to light confidently and quickly the first time around, without the need to look at the camera’s LCD, is fantastic.

Sekonic L-758CINE

Metering the ambient light before creating a profile from my Canon 1D Mark IV using the Sekonic Exposure Profile Target II and accompanying software.

One of the L-758CINE’s best assets is the ability to create custom profiles in the meter for each of your cameras. Using the Sekonic Exposure Profile Target II (sold separately), a series of three bracketed exposures is shot of the target with the camera you wish to profile. You also take and record (via pencil and paper) a spot reading and an incident reading of the target, which must be almost perfectly evenly lit. I used 2 Arri 300w fresnels with heavy diffusion at 45 degree angles to the target on either side of the camera, per the instruction manual which came with the target (there’s also a YouTube video which outlines the process). You’d be surprised how much of a challenge it is to perfectly light something as small as the Exposure Profile Target II, but the L-758CINE, ironically, made evenly lighting the target a breeze. (When I say perfectly, I mean even to within 1/10th of one f-stop across the entire face of the target.)

Using the included Sekonic Data Transfer Software, the spot and incident readings are fed in to the software, along with your bracketed exposures, and the software creates a custom profile for your camera which you load back into the meter via the USB cable. You can have up to three profiles in the meter at a time, but can have several saved in the software to swap out as needed.

Sekonic L-758CINE

The resulting meter profile, created by Sekonic’s Data Transfer Software, shows the exact dynamic range of the camera. The profile is loaded back into the meter for more precise light measurements.

A word of note: The Data Transfer Software that was included with the L-758CINE, version 2.0, would not talk to the meter via USB on both of my Macs, one running OS 10.6.8, and the other running 10.8. Through my own troubleshooting, I found that a new version of the software, 3.0, was available on Sekonic’s web site. I downloaded the new version, and all was well.

When it’s all said and done, you end up with a handheld meter that perfectly matches the one within your camera! The meter will display your camera’s dynamic range, along with your white and black clipping points on either side of your current exposure. You know exactly how much latitude you have before things blow out, or fall into the shadows, respectively.

The meter profiles I created for my Canon 1D Mark IV and Canon 6D, when used with the meter outdoors, matched the meter readings from each of the cameras exactly. Having this piece of mind that things match up perfectly makes me trust the L-758CINE in the field that much more. The Sekonic L-758CINE has become a tool that I can’t imagine working without.

One final word on light meters in general, and why having one is an asset to your business. In addition to saving you a lot of time (and, thusly, money), a meter is a professional tool that clients will appreciate seeing in use on their shoots. Normally, I don’t care how things appear, as long as good work is being produced. The reality is, “Uncle Bob” and his Wal-Mart camera rig (the guy who probably thinks he can do better work than you) have no idea what a handheld light meter is, or how to use one. Competently using a meter on a shoot is one more reason to make the client feel assured about the large sum of money they’ve just spent with you, for the quality of work a handheld light meter will ultimately help you deliver.

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