8.29.2014

Lightmeter: There's an app for that!

I've been known to bemoan technology at times. 

I routinely vocally berate my "smartphone" for bungling the words in my text messages, wiping them out altogether, or doing seemingly random and insiduous things on its own accord as it sits in my shirt pocket.  I tire of software bugs, and continual calls to "update" a piece of software or mobile application.  And I so often question the totality of these headaches when taken in the vein of the catch phrase "technology makes our lives easier."


There are those times however, when I am left in awe of technology, for the ability to look up the answers to my continually rambling curiosities on a device that fits in my pocket and for my ability to pair up lens hardware of the 1960's with digital sensor cameras from the present day.


And now this:



This is an android app called "Lightmeter."  Sheathed in a wickedly nostalgic retro "skin" interface, this versatile tool promises to be a considerable help as I navigate back into the world of film photography on my decades-old medium format Twin Lens Reflex cameras.


In a previous experiment of mine with the Seagull 4A-103 which lacks a meter, I wound up bringing along my Olympus PEN digital camera to get starter light readings at its lowest setting of ISO 200, and then adding two stops of exposure to get an exposure and aperture combination for ISO 50 for the Velvia film I had loaded.  While this worked, it was admittedly cumbersome, and left some room for error.


And while my recent film camera acquisition does have a coupled meter, it operates on a discontinued mercury battery.  While I can circumvent this hiccup by purchasing a zinc air battery, there is a prevailing wisdom among old camera hobbyists that decades old selenium meters were not really built to go the distance for this long, and instead recommend using available iphone apps to obtain accurate exposure information.


Brilliant! I would have never thought there would be such an application catered towards such a limited demographic.  The one problem is that I've never bought into the Apple craze, and instead use the Android platform.  


Enter David Quiles, creator of this Android App, available in the Google Play store in both free and paid versions, as well as on good old Apple as well


The interface is remarkably simple.  Just select Reflected light as your source, set your ISO, aim at your composition, and then hit the large measure button at the bottom.  You can also use the "down volume" key for easier one-handed metering.  The "dial" will spin to show all the favorable aperture and shutter speed combinations to properly expose your scene.  From there, it's just a matter of choosing the setting combination that best works for what you are trying to do photographically, and then dialing it in, and firing the shutter!  



The pearly dial center offers a silvery black and white scene of what's being metered, perfectly complementing the retro look of the wheel interface.  According to this, I can shoot this scene at f/5.6 at 8 seconds.  It was soon after that I learned I needed to calibrate this.  

One disadvantage to using any app is that of glare coming off the phone screen in brightly lit settings, even if the brightness is turned all the way up.  Old light meters never quite had this type of issue! 

I downloaded the free version to test and was very impressed, almost instantly upgrading to the paid version for just a couple dollars, not just to support such a wonderful niche app and its creator, but also to benefit from having an expanded ISO range, and for the ability to load up the app with it remembering what ISO I'd already dialed in (the free version resets to ISO 100 on each start up).

NOTE: This product may require some calibration on your part, really a fairly simple matter of testing exposure on an actual camera and comparing to the results on the Lightmeter app.  From there, you can pull down the settings tab to "compensate" the EV so that it matches already known results.  I discovered this the hard way after firing off a few shots and getting the feel that the exposures were too long. Comparing it to my Olympus PEN, I discovered I had to compensate downward 2 stops, and now the Lightmeter app and the PEN's meter are in pretty much perfect sync.  

So far, it looks like this will be a great way for me to be able to get a handle on exposure for my film cameras without dragging along an extra camera to measure exposure, doing quick math on the "sunny 16" method, or to chance too much to aged and potentially unreliable meters.  My only minor quibble (aside from discovering the need calibrate a little late) is that despite an advertised ability to turn off sound, my phone still makes a loud "ker-chuk" sound to mimic a camera shutter, on each reading that I take, and there are times I'd like to be a little more discreet. 


Kudos to Mr. Quiles, for helping me, just slightly, be able to embrace technology just a little bit more.