Q What problems will I encounter if I cant use a spot meter

A: As you have seen in the previous chapters, a spot meter's ability to read small, isolated areas from a distance makes it the perfect tool for using the Zone System. On the other hand, you can achieve reliable results from any meter if you know how to use it properly.

A wide-angle meter will give you an accurate reading of any area if you get close enough to the metered area and are careful not to include unwanted objects in the meter's field of view.

A built-in meter, aside from being wide-angle, has two other features you should be aware of. The first is that built-in meters are very often "center-weighted," which means that they are designed to be more sensitive in the center of the frame than at the edges. Second, built-in meters are sometimes calibrated to place their meter readings on Zone VI instead of Zone V. The reason for these idiosyncrasies is that the camera manufacturer is making two assumptions. First, they are assuming that you are going to put your friends or relatives in the center of the frame. Second, the company is assuming that the subjects are Caucasian. Remember that Zone VI is the average zone for light skin.

If you are going to try using an in-camera meter in the ways described in this book, you will have to take these factors into consideration. For example, if you fill the frame of the camera with the area you are trying to meter, the fact that the meter is center-weighted will not matter. If you are metering a model's hair, this means getting close enough so that all you can see through the viewfinder is her hair. If you then center the needle or dot by adjusting the f/stop or shutter speed, you will have placed her hair on Zone VI if this is the way your meter is calibrated. (You can check your meter's calibration by comparing your readings to those of a hand-held meter or having it checked by a camera repair shop.) Let's say that the exposure the meter recommends is f/8 at 1/30 of a second. If you were to stop down three stops from this exposure, you would then have the correct Zone III exposure for her hair, f/22 at 1/30 of a second.

To measure the overall contrast of the subject, you will have to fill the frame with the Important Highlight Area, center the needle, and make note of how many stops difference there is between the shadow reading and the highlight. If the meter recommends an exposure of f/1.4 at 1/30 when you meter the shadow area and f/5.6 at 1/30 when you meter the highlight, you know that there is a four-stop difference between the two areas. Obviously, this system will work, but at best it is complex and cumbersome. If you find yourself having to do this very often, you would probably be better off investing in a decent spot meter. The 35 mm camera is a specialized tool that is designed to be quick and easy to use. With practice and an awareness of how the in-camera meter is designed, it won't take you long to develop working methods that are efficient for your shooting habits. Often you will see experienced 35 mm photographers taking a meter reading from their own hands before shooting. By metering a flesh tone and making use of the meter's automatic Zone VI placement, they are using a derivative of the Zone System.

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