Gear Review: Sekonic L-778 Spot Meter

This post has been inspired by a recent Tumblr blog post I came across and liked.

In any normal gear review, you'll hear the photographer plugging his/her newest acquisition as the best thing as sliced bread. He or she will spend countless paragraphs and sample photos demonstrating why you and every other photographer can't live another minute without this piece of equipment. This review, however, is going to be niche. There are those of you out there that don't use a meter, and I can understand that (I felt this way at one point too). But for those of you that are old-school enough to never trust your eyes or the back of your camera, here's a review of an oldie, but a goodie, the Sekonic L-778.

 If the only light meter you've ever seen was the one inside your camera, this one could take some getting used to!

If the only light meter you've ever seen was the one inside your camera, this one could take some getting used to!

I first came to know about this light meter a few years ago at a the triannual NE OH Photographers Meetup in Bath, OH (if you've never been to one of these, the host, John Powers, is fabulous and guests always have a fun time). While there, a fellow 8x10 shooter, Peter Spangenberg, was showing me around the Fry Historical Farm and carrying on him, what appeared to me as a concealed carry. When I saw Peter reach for his weapon, I was relieved to find out that what he actually had on him was a pistol-gripped spot meter.

Speaking of the L-778's appearance, let's talk about the ergonomics of this meter. It is larger than most hand-held meters, gun-shaped, and comes in an equally awkward leatherette holster. If you're using the L-778 with a hot shoe triggering system (a Pocket Wizard Plus-X, for example, the assembly becomes even taller and more awkward. Rounding off the odd features of this meter, the L-778 has a 1/4-20 socket at the base of its hand grip, in case you wanted to mount this to yet another accessory. In this meter's defense, it has been on the market for well over ten years, and as an older style LCD display unit, it is starting to show its age (dated by design).

 Yeah, it looks pretty funky and feels awful clunky, but it gets the job done in the studio when it counts!

Yeah, it looks pretty funky and feels awful clunky, but it gets the job done in the studio when it counts!

With all of the nay-saying out of the way, let's get to what this meter does well. Starting with the obvious, being a dedicated spot meter, the L-778 kicks ass at reflected readings! Looking through the eyepiece located to the right of the unit, you'll notice there are two circles, an outer 3 degree circle and an inner 1 degree circle for spot metering. About 90% of the time, I'm using the 1 degree spot to meter very small regions of the image to find the reading for a particular tone. Occasionally the 3 degree spot comes in handy for averaging out an area of similar tonality, like a bunch of shrubs in a shaded area. In addition to being super accurate at spot metering, like it's studio counterpart, the Sekonic L-758D, the L-778 can memorize up to five readings. With these five points, typically: black tone, dark grey, middle grey, detailed white, and bleach white, the meter can plot them out along an easy to read line graph, with set points for the important readings in the exposure. For those of us scared of the zone system or not wanting to do any additional mental computation, this thing is a life saver! Did I mention it's ASA range goes from 1 - 12,500?!

 Inside view of the eyepiece. Spot meter is easy to use, and great for getting reflected readings from a distance..

Inside view of the eyepiece. Spot meter is easy to use, and great for getting reflected readings from a distance..

Honestly, I'm going to stop right there with all the tech stuff on this review. This meter is good, damn good. If you already knew what is is when you got here or were on the fence, take my word for it and buy one. If you're paying < $300 for it, congratulations, you stole it from someone. Now go forth and spot meter to your heart's content!

Did you come here looking for examples? Any work I've uploaded to my Flickr from May 2014 on has been done with this meter. As mentioned a few weeks ago in my "5 Pieces of Large Format Fluff" post, this isn't a necessary part of any photographer's kit, but man, it sure helps having a consistent, accurate set of eyes on the scene.