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Review: Sekonic L-478DR Light Meter

by Abram Goglanian on 03/05/2013

Sekonic L-478DR

Sekonic released the L-478DR (and L-478D) touch-screen light meters not all that long ago, and they have had a pretty warm reception with studio photographers thus far. Sekonic is now taking things a step further with a new enhancement to the meter’s user-upgradable firmware that will tie in with X-Rite’s Colorchecker Passport. Head on past the break for my review of this meter and thoughts on what it can offer photographers demanding the most from their cameras.

 

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Accurate metering abilities (thank goodness!)
  • Able to control Pocketwizard FlexTT5 (ControlTL) system
  • Can now calibrate the dynamic range of your specific camera

Cons

  • Expensive (as most good meters are)
  • Touchscreen can be a little tough to read in harsh sunlight
  • Touchscreen isn’t as responsive as a capacitive screen smartphone

Gear Used

Sekonic L-478DR Light Meter

X-Rite Colorchecker Passport

Pocketwizard Mini-TT1 (Canon) (also available for Nikon)

Pocketwizard Flex-TT5 (Canon) (also available for Nikon)

Canon 600EX-RT Speedlight

Canon 580EX II Speedlight

Canon EOS 5DmkII

Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Tech Specs

Copied from Sekonic’s Product Page

Type: Digital exposure meter for ambient and flash light
Receptor Head: Rotating Domed Head 90° to the right, 180° to the left, Retractable for Contrast Reading
Light Receiving Method: Incident light and reflected light
Receptor Incident Light: Convertible to flat diffuser (Lumisphere in down position)
Receptor Reflected Light: 5° Viewfinder (Separate Accessory)
Light Receptor Element: 2-Silicon photo diodes (incident and reflected)

Measuring Range and Modes

Measuring Modes Ambient Light: - HD Cine – Shutter priority metering, FPS (Frame Rate Priority) metering, Lux/FC
– Cine – FPS (Frame Rate Priority) metering, Shutter Angle setting, Lux/FC
– Simple brightness measurement (foot-lambert, cd/m2
– Simple illumination measurement (lux, foot-candle)
– Aperture priority metering
– EV metering
– Shutter priority metering
Measuring Modes Flash: - Measurement using the included wireless flash radio triggering system (cumulative and non-cumulative)
– Without synchro cord (cumulative and non-cumulative)
– With synchro cord (cumulative and non-cumulative)
Measuring Range (ISO 100) Ambient Light: - Incident light EV-2 to EV 22.9
– Reflected light EV3 to EV 19.9 (requires accessory sold separately)
Measuring Range (ISO 100) Flash: - Incident Light f/1.0 to f/128.9
– Reflected Light f/2.8 to f/128.9 (requires accessory sold separately)
Measuring Range Illuminance: 0.63 to 2000000lux – 0.10 to 180000FC
Measuring Range Brightness: 1 to 980000 cd/m2 – 0.29 to 290000 foot lamberts

Display Range and Modes

Display Range Film Speed: ISO 3 to 409600 (in 1/3 steps)
Display Range Shutter Speeds Ambient: 30 min to 1/64,000 sec. (in 1, 1/2, 1/3 steps) plus 1/200, 1/400
Display Range Shutter Speeds Flash: 30 min to 1/1000 sec. (in 1, 1/2, 1/3 steps) plus 1/75, 1/80, 1/90, 1/100, 1/200, 1/400
Display Range Aperture: f/0.5 to f/161.2 (in 1, 1/2, 1/3 steps)

Ergonomics

IMG_6857

The most important part of this meter is certainly going to be the dome as this houses the sensor which takes your light readings. Protect this part! You can retract the dome to take a narrower reading which would be useful for flat objects.

IMG_6856

Directly below the dome and the touchscreen is your menu button; this is going to be the button you press to back out of the on-screen menus and also to call them up.

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Onto the side of the meter you will find a button labeled “Measure”. This is going to be the button you press to take your light readings and also to trigger your speedlights or strobes. The result will pop-up on screen instantly after the reading is taken.

IMG_6860

On the same side as the measure button, you will find the power button which you need to hold down for about half a second to power the meter on, and off.

IMG_6861

On the opposite side of the meter you will find the Memory button (which is used to take multiple readings and average them together) and a covered USB port which is how you connect the meter to your computer to update the firmware and edit camera profiles.

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On the bottom of the meter you will find a covered PC sync port for the times you’re not using a wireless trigger system.

Build Quality

I have been a Sekonic meter user for quite sometime, starting with an old 508 nearly 10 years ago, and then onto the 558R (which I still have and use regularly). Neither of those meters ever let me down once, so naturally I had pretty high expectations for this latest meter from Sekonic.

Though I must admit I was a bit skeptical about a touchscreen lightmeter at first. When I first opened the box I was taken back by how small the meter is! For whatever reason, I was expecting it to be large like my old 558R but it most definitely wasn’t, it’s about the same height as my iPhone (though obviously much thicker). The body is made entirely of plastic but feels solid in the hand. The touchscreen is not covered by glass or anything, so I presume one would need to be somewhat careful that you don’t damage the screen. It would probably be a good habit to store the meter in it’s included sleeve when not in use. Overall I can’t really complain about the build quality. If it’s anything like my old 558R (which has been banged, bumped, and bruised for many years now) then it should hold up to rigorous use for multiple years.

Ease of Use

The Sekonic L-478DR is capable of a great deal of functions beyond just metering ambient light. When you dive into the on-screen menu system you will discover that you can configure this meter to do all sorts of things, from turning it into a Cinema meter to controlling your flashes wirelessly via the PocketWizard ControlTL system. Given that there are so many more things one can do with this meter, it is to be expected that you should probably read the manual.

However if you are more of a visual learner then I highly recommend watching Sekonic’s webinar that they had in December of last year as you will be able to learn pretty much everything you need to get up and running with this meter. Being familiar with the way that light meters operate, I did not have too hard of a time figuring out the basics; however I was new to PocketWizard’s ControlTL system, so it did take a little “figuring out” to get everything talking the same language.

Best. Feature. Ever.

 

In my opinion, one of the absolute coolest features of this meter has got to be its ability to control the flash output settings of flashes connected to Flex transceivers. I am so accustomed to having to walk over to each individual light and modify its settings to get my flash ratios dialed in, so being able to control everything from the meter in my hand was really quite exciting to me. In addition to these wizard-like powers of wireless flash control, the L-478 has another trick up its sleeve: You can actually calibrate the meter to the specific dynamic range of YOUR camera which means you will get pin-point precision out of this thing if you take the time to make your custom profiles.

Here’s some details direct from Sekonic regarding this very subject.

Sekonic’s DTS System simplifies Exposure and Meter Calibration

Using the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport w/Sekonic Gray Balance Card with Sekonic’s Data Transfer Software, Version 3, image makers can create an exposure profile and map out the dynamic range of their DSLR or digital video camera. Transferring this data to a Sekonic L-478 Series meter enables knowing which details of a scene or subject will be properly imaged, and which will be over or under the range of the camera. Today’s photographers can now take full advantage of their camera’s imaging capabilities to produce pictures with greater tonality and clarity that they have ever known before.

Two ways to calibrate the L-478 meters using Sekonic’s DTS Version 3 software

Incident-only calibration with Sekonic’s Data Transfer System enables creating exposure profiles for precise metering without need for additional accessories. Incident and reflected-light calibration requires the L-478 series VIEW FINDER 5° , available as a separate purchase, to read the Passport’s Sekonic gray card for calibrated reflected-light readings

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport simplifies post processing

The ColorChecker Target enables minimizing color differences between cameras and lenses and aids in establishing true color in mixed lighting. It extends the power of Adobe® photo editing software with series of one-click warming and cooling enhancements that greatly reduce editing time.

Current Sekonic L-478D/DR Owners

For a limited time, current Sekonic L-478D/DR owners can purchase this special edition of the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport w/Sekonic Gray Balance Card at the special introductory price of $50 by going to their bundle page with the serial number of their Sekonic L-478 meter and follow directions located there.

So in the end, once you understand the relatively complex feature-set presented to you in this light meter you will be able to master the output of both your camera and your lights. That’s pretty cool and useful if you ask me.

Conclusions

As I mentioned earlier, I have been a Sekonic meter user for many years now, and I have watched their meters develop into more and more impressive tools as the generations have come and gone. A light meter is a tool often questioned by new photographers:
“Why would I need something like that?” is what most would say. The reality is that in-camera meters are not always as accurate as we would like, and the more you understand about light the more accurate YOU will be at being able to judge a scene and know exactly what settings you need to be at. I found the Sekonic L-478DR to be a really cool tool to have available, particularly for it’s awesome ability to control PocketWizard’s ControlTL system right from the touchscreen. That was a new and exciting feature for me to experience personally. Given that I don’t presently own any of the ControlTL system from Pocketwizard (I’m still using the good-old Plus and Plus II units) I don’t think I’ll be upgrading from my trust 558R as that triggers my old PocketWizards just fine, however, if I did have the Mini and FlexTT5 on hand then this would absolutely be something I would purchase for myself. It’s that useful.

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