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"Measuring Light" - a civil debate on S8 practices


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#1 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 09:00 AM

I am always astonished by the amount of people who use an external lightmeter to adjust the manual aperture control when shooting with their Super 8 cameras.

Don't misunderstand me, folks, shooting with either a digital spotmeter or incoming-light exposimeter as a cinematographic technique and in formats like Normal 16 or Super 16 or bigger, is a no brainer for me!

But I always considered the "easy-to-handle" principle one of the Super 8 format's benefits, and having a TTL CdS cell built-in which is usually of the same quality as the one people use in their Gossen & co. lightmeters, was always a welcome break from all the gear you need when shooting The Beauty of 16.

I confess: I have always shot Super 8 with the internal cell and adjusted aperture in manual mode accordingly. The amount of correctly exposed results I got from using this technique is not at all different from the results I get when "spotmetering" for 16mm.
Am I just a lucky bunny that my Super 8 shots always expose as I want them to be using the TTL cell? Or are other people distrusting their S8 camera gear too much when it comes to exposure?

I mean, a generous zoom function can double as the angle-measuring spot of a spotmeter, the CdS cell is TTL, its f-stop output is linked-up and calculated internally with the other parameters of the camera exposure system such as opening angle of the (variable) shutter, the exposure index of the film stock, the filming speed of the camera... It even compensates for the ? not unimportant ? loss of transmission through the lens and the further split-off from the beam-splitter. And that one varies from camera to camera and from the optical quality of the used prism: Leitz made quite a fuzz about their bespoke low-loss prism for their Special.

What intrigues me is how fellow Super 8 filmmakers here make the necessary calculations for getting the right f-stop out of their external lightmeters? After all, usually, (with the exception of a handful of cameras), one or two parameters for the calculation ? usually exposure time and shutter opening angle of the camera ? are unknown to the camera operator. Just assuming that the Nizo 156 might have the same shutter than the Nizo 561 XL is a bit far-fetched... ;)

So please allow me to initiate a discussion full of enlightenment:
How many here are relying on external lightmeters? Why? Always? For some set-ups only? Why avoid the internal CdS? Bad experiences?

And what about people who do it like me? Are there some? Are Rick Palidwor, Chris Cottrill and me the only ones on ciny.com out of the closet?
"Hello? Is anyone out there??"
(sorry for that, saw Romero's "Day of the Dead" yesterday night...)
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#2 kevin jackman

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 09:52 AM

external meter is more more, generally more accurate. you have more control and data coming in with them. an old super8 meter runs the risk of not being accurate. i like holding the meter right next to the subject so i can check out the ratios quickly. when you say things are usually right on for you im thinkinghow can that be improved..hehehe..well, use an external light meter!
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#3 Toby L Edwards

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 11:21 AM

I just prefer to use an external meter.
I like being able to hold the meter where I want to take a reading. I like to know how the shadows and highlights are going to read compared to my reading at my subject. I like to know if I need to bounce a little fill. With super8 and especially reversal film it's a must, for me anyway. On top of all that what a great way to really understand why your footage looks the way it does. Nice to know your shooting a silhouette of your subject, if thats what you want. With strong back light thats what you will get if you just point and shoot with an internal meter. Yes you can zoom in and take your reading then lock it off.
Any way just my opinion.
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#4 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 12:06 PM

I do hand held readings about 95% of the time.

Pragmatically speaking S8 internal meters have been known to die in the middle of a shoot ruining the footage of the poor bloke who relied on the internal meter.

Personally, I always want to control where black is and where highlights are. Using the BTL meter means you are always doing the same thing: going for a normal exposure on the subject of the shot. For me normal exposure is rarely the goal of super 8 image making.
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#5 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 09:03 PM

If the shot is really important to get a perfect exposure I will shoot a BW polaroid that has a settable shutter and f-stop. If the exposure comes out perfectly on the polaroid I know the exposure equivalent for my super-8 camera and set it accordingly.
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#6 Rick Palidwor

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 10:04 PM

Yes you can zoom in and take your reading then lock it off.
Toby

Exactly. Those of us who use internal meters rarely if ever leave it in auto. But rather than zoom in and take a reading and lock it off, as you say, I prefer to set my focal length, walk in, take a reading, and lock it off (or adjust accordingly) since light loss changes a little with focal length setting.
Rick
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#7 Rick Palidwor

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 10:15 PM

Pragmatically speaking S8 internal meters have been known to die in the middle of a shoot ruining the footage of the poor bloke who relied on the internal meter.


While I guess it could happen, but I haven't experienced this problem yet. Couldn't an external meter also die in the middle of a shoot?

Personally, I always want to control where black is and where highlights are. Using the BTL meter means you are always doing the same thing: going for a normal exposure on the subject of the shot. For me normal exposure is rarely the goal of super 8 image making.


Who says BTL meter gives me "normal" exposure only. I don't leave it in auto. I take a reading (getting an actual T-stop, preferable to an F-stop - take that external meter!) and then I set it over or under depending on the situation, achieving the blacks and whites I want. So I too am controlling my blacks and whites, only I am doing entirely wtih the internal meter.

In general, like Michael who started this welcome thread, I am astonished how many super 8 shooters don't know how to use the internal meter to get the same results as an external meter.

As others have pointed out, one nice thing about an external meter is walking around the set taking readings of various parts of the frame easily. Of course, you could do this with the super 8 camera meter as well but if the camera is set on a tripod and you don't want to mess with your shot, I'd consider using an externa meter to read parts of the frame to tweak my lights, but I would calibrate this meter to the camera meter - it would be supplementing my decisions based on the internal meter.

Rick
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#8 Kevin Olmsted

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 07:55 AM

I'll be the 'amatuer's voice' here. 70% of the Super 8 I shoot is documenting travels, the flora and fauna of the local park, etc. So I agree more with Michael's 'easy to handle' statement. I'm too young to have used Super 8 in its prime but I always thought it was meant to be an 'on the go' sort of format. Pros used 35mm and 16mm while home movie enthusiasts used Super 8 and 8mm.

As a personal preference, carrying my light meter and a whole bunch of gear kills the spontaneity of shooting on the go. I shoot handheld (I saw an earlier post complaining about handheld Super 8), I use my internal meter, and rarely zoom. I find it more challenging to treat my lens like a prime lens and find a good shot that way.

I imagine if I was shooting a short film, though, I would be metering every scene to make sure everything was just right. Personal preference.

So that is my home movie enthusiasts side to the debate.
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#9 kevin jackman

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 09:24 AM

well i guess the term home movie is sibjective. if you are shooting a doco it suggests you arent making a home movie. i suggest to michael that he tries using an external meter and then decide what he prefers. it might take an extra couple of minutes to take a reading but hey isnt it worth it when you push the button?
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#10 Michael Waite

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 09:34 AM

I mostly do still photography & use the built in reflective meter. If you know how to use them properly you can get predictable results. We are dealing with reflected light, so reflective meters are good. A meter behind the lens is also good as it will account for any filter on the lens. I only use an incident meter for cameras that don't have a built in meter or for studio work with flash.

On my Super 8 & Single 8 cameras I also rely in the built in meter. Esp with the Canon 814 as there was a thread a while back on this forum about how the camera diverts some of the light from the lens to the viewfinder. So you might get 2/3 or 1 stop less light on the film than you would have accounted for with an external meter. I like to think that the companies making these cameras had adjusted the internal meters to any quirks like this.

I'll zoom in & selectively meter some important tone. Generally a highlight as I'm shooting reversal. Take the reading, perhaps open up a stop to place the highlight above a mid tone & then shoot with the manual aperture setting.
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#11 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 11:10 AM

i suggest to michael that he tries using an external meter and then decide what he prefers. it might take an extra couple of minutes to take a reading but hey isnt it worth it when you push the button?


Oh, I love pushing the buttons, Kevin. I am also ruinously obsessed with S8 maximum quality ? Stanley Kubrick would shiver. I am also not quite unfamiliar with using external measuring ? as is the case, I am sure, with those few people here who seconded my "coming-out" so far ;) .

Sorry if my original post gave the impression that I shoot fully-automatic on a Nizo 116 ? which by the way is on its sixth CdS cell in as many years ? trusting only its red dot setting and prefering 16 2/3 fps to save film ? I usually stretch it back to 25fps in post on VHS B) .

As I wrote in my initial post, none of my S8 TTL/BTL work would really merit the film title "Overblown Highlights Matter", as it always is as minutely exposed as I wanted it to look.
Yet I couldn't imagine myself shooting other cine-formats without an external light meter, either.

But that is because of the fact that those other cine-cameras don't feature a built-in light meter whereas S8 cameras, especially top gear, have excellent CdS systems allowing way more elaborate manual (!) measuring techniques (from zone system to spotmetering via long zooms or via cam-portability as Rick stated) while even being fully aware of the camera's other crucial parameters (transmission loss, prism loss, shutter angle etc.).

What I would hence like to understand: why people eschew that luxurious benefit of S8 in favour of more gear/labour-intensive work while every tool one would need is already at hand WITHOUT necessarily compromising quality.

How do you guys get the shutter opening angle or exposure time of your cameras if it's not given in the manual or spec sheet?
How do you compensate for transmission loss?
How do you find out how much percentage you loose of your incoming light in your prism (do you all shoot on Beaulieu?)?
And why are you using incident meters over reflective meters ? Michael Whaite made a very good point here?
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#12 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 11:18 AM

I will shoot a BW polaroid that has a settable shutter and f-stop.


Just to stray off-topic here, Alex, as Polaroid users have become even rarer then S8 shooters: what Polaroid packfilm camera do you use? Or do you have a converted Polaroid rollfilm camera? And what film stock: 664 for 3 1/4" x 4 1/4" , I assume?
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#13 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 12:46 PM

While I guess it could happen, but I haven't experienced this problem yet. Couldn't an external meter also die in the middle of a shoot?


The 30+ year old consumer grade cells are FAR more likely to fail than the 5 years old professional grade cell in my $500 light meter. I've seen the internal cells on Super 8 cameras die during a shoot on 3 - 4 different shoots. Some died quickly and it was clear that they were shot, but this is not always the case. In one case with a cell that started under exposing things dramatically but didn't fail all together, the DP didn't notice and all his footage was pretty much unusable. because day for night was not the desired look.

Who says BTL meter gives me "normal" exposure only. I don't leave it in auto. I take a reading (getting an actual T-stop, preferable to an F-stop - take that external meter!) and then I set it over or under depending on the situation, achieving the blacks and whites I want. So I too am controlling my blacks and whites, only I am doing entirely wtih the internal meter.


obviously you can use your camera as a spot meter as you describe but I didn't think that was part of the context set up by the OP. Perhaps I just didn't read his post carefully enough. But if I am reading your tone correctly your opinion seems to be that using the internal meter is superior to using a hand held meter which is not true, its a matter of using one's tools in a way that is best for the context and the individual DP, its a tools not rules situation.
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#14 Rick Palidwor

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 01:09 PM

But if I am reading your tone correctly your opinion seems to be that using the internal meter is superior to using a hand held meter which is not true, its a matter of using one's tools in a way that is best for the context and the individual DP, its a tools not rules situation.


I agree, it's tools not rules. I thought your post suggested the external meter was superior, so I was reacting to that. Both methods can work equally well if you know what you are doing.
Rick
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#15 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 01:31 PM

Perhaps I just didn't read his post carefully enough.


An all too common problem, especially here in the "cloud", as it (self-)impedes that jolly thing called 'communications'. I recommend Jacques Lacan to build on your reading of Bergson ( :) ) .
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#16 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 04:25 PM

Pragmatically speaking S8 internal meters have been known to die in the middle of a shoot ruining the footage of the poor bloke who relied on the internal meter.


"Pragmatically" and anecdotaly almost everything regardless of product, quality, age and cost is known to die in the middle of a shoot. ;)

I think that concept is multiplied by some sort of cosmic algorithm based on how far you are from it's nearest replacement if you have one, how quickly the sun is dropping and how close you are to meal penalties and OT.

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#17 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 05:46 PM

Exactly. Those of us who use internal meters rarely if ever leave it in auto. But rather than zoom in and take a reading and lock it off, as you say, I prefer to set my focal length, walk in, take a reading, and lock it off (or adjust accordingly) since light loss changes a little with focal length setting.
Rick


However there might be a trade off, the reading may be more accurate the more the lens is zoomed in which may offset the slight overexposure that might occur.
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#18 Rick Palidwor

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Posted 27 September 2007 - 09:53 PM

the reading may be more accurate the more the lens is zoomed in which may offset the slight overexposure that might occur.


Since the focal length changes the light transmission (not a lot, but there is an effect) I recommend you don't zoom for the sake of a spot reading. As I said in my previous post, set the focal length where it will be for the shot and move close to the subject to take the reading.

But as you say, it will only result in a slight over-exposure, so as long as that is taken into account...
Rick
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#19 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 12:46 AM

Just to stray off-topic here, Alex, as Polaroid users have become even rarer then S8 shooters: what Polaroid packfilm camera do you use? Or do you have a converted Polaroid rollfilm camera? And what film stock: 664 for 3 1/4" x 4 1/4" , I assume?


Polaroid film 664 and 667. There were probably 10,000 of the Polaroid 50's style of camera that were converted during the 70's, 80's & 90's to take the modern film. They still seem to hold their resale value on eBay.
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#20 Anthony Schilling

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 01:21 AM

Of those of you using an external meter, how much light do you find your beam splitter to be eating up? And what camera do you use?
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