How to Meter for Film Photography

April 11, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

  Hey Ya'll! Happy Friday! Hope your week is going great! Me ? I'm doing well and excited about this weeks topic. As you know I have been working on a film project this year and have been getting into and relearning how to shoot film. It's not as strait forward as you would think it .  Many of the camera's that are used "now a days", are old camera's and the meters that are in them may not be as accurate as they used to be when they were brand new if they work at all. For one thing they don't make the same batteries as they used to .  Batteries used to be made with mercury which was outlawed and they Alkaline which is not as stable as mercury was.  The voltages are different too which affects the accuracy of the meter. So if you have a in camera meter that works and that is accurate you are very lucky. What is nice about these old camera's is that you don't need a battery to operate the camera the only thing that the battery operated was the meter.  So we just have to find a different way to meter. That's what this blog is about.

Shooting film is different than digital. When shooting film you hear expose for the highlights because you can bring the detail out of the shadows. So you can shoot up to a Stop under exposed with no problems. I set my exposure compensation at 1/3 under exposed just to save the highlights. If you over expose the highlights you can't get the details back. Film is the opposite . All the details are in the highlights so if you want to error you Over expose. Most films can be over exposed one or two stops but can only be under exposed one stop. The best practice is to get it right in camera and a good meter that you can trust no matter if it's in your camera or not. Hope that explanation isn't too muddy.

When metering for film and not using the camera's meter ,if it had one, there are a few choices. You can go with inexpensive to expensive and from convenient to not so much. Here are the ways. The Sunny 16 rule. This was developed by Kodak many years ago and works great but might not be as accurate so we are going to stick to mechanical meters. So the meters are.  Use your Smart Phone, A on camera meter that attaches to hot or cold shoe, Handheld meter, and a Spot Meter. I'm only going to talk about 3 of these. Spot metering although is very accurate it is very expensive to buy a meter that does this. And unless you are a high end professional photographer I wouldn't recommend. Film is expensive enough. But the other three I have used and will discuss. You can also use the obvious your digital camera set to the same ISO and transfer the settings to your Film Camera. But that's big and bulky and you have to carry 2 camera's. And it's a pain. But it does work.

Smart Phone, You can use a APP on your phone. Some are even free. Your smart phone uses the camera on your phone and you point the phone at the scene press a button and the app will give you the settings for your camera .  I used an app that I paid 5 dollars for and I got that I could calibrate the phone to match a trusted meter that I have. Using this is easy but cumbersome and inexpensive because you already have the phone and can use a free app. If you are only going to shoot film every now and then this might be the way to go.

Hand held meter, A dedicated hand held meter is accurate and easy to use. I think is a must for any serious photographer to have. Very useful in flash photography. The draw back here is that they are rather expensive and are bulky. You can get a decent one for 200 to 300 dollars. If you already have one like I do this is another no cost alternative. But it is bulky and something extra to put in your pocket or around your neck. 

Hot/Cold shoe Meter, These little meters connect using the Hot/Cold shoe on your camera. So they are always on your  camera and you don't have to have something in your pocket or carry with you. They come in two basic colors black and a silver to match your camera . They come in many prices mine was 70 bucks. Mine is accurate but can be adjusted if not. The one I have is USB rechargeable so no batteries. These are handy and sit atop of your camera but may take away from the look of your camera if your into the coolness of film cameras .  Some of them have dials that may mimic what your  camera has and look cool also. Mine has a dial and a digital read out for the numbers. I think the most convenient of the three.

Shooting film is fun but expensive so you want your meter to be right. All of these choices work and give accurate readings.  My choice is the hot/cold shoe one just for the convenance of it. It's always there I don't have to fish into a pocket to pull a phone or another meter out. It's USB chargeable so I don't have to mess with batteries. It was fairly inexpensive I've paid more for filters. So if you want to shoot film these are the choices for metering but you could always go the Sunny 16 rule. So until next time. Get out and Shoot!


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