Welcome to APUG, Squirt! You have asked an important question, and you got good answers here. If you stick with this sort of photography for a while, you will have many more questions about EI, ISO, development times, CI, gradients, and much much more. It may help you to get along this wonderful journey to read up something that will explain it all in a gentle, concise and authoritative way. One of the best such reads is a set of three books by Ansel Adams, titled: The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. Get the more recent editions.
Enjoy, and keep asking questions.
Thanks Rafal! I just picked up all three at a used book store about two weeks ago (I had read about these books and I have been thumbing through them, and there's a lot of info in there.....).
Awww, a BIG thank you to everyone! It's nice to know there are people that care enough to help. Everything I learned, I learned by myself...scrounging around on the internet. I've been dying to work with large format and thought it really couldn't be that different than 35 mm or a medium format camera with a meter. Boy, I was wrong!! I wasn't getting EI, because first of all, I didn't realize that I should have a light meter!! (DUH). I went through the entire Speed Graphic Manual but I realized yesterday morning, I didn't know how to change the film's ISO on the camera, LOL, until I thought about it a bit. Now the whole EI thing is starting to make sense. Initially, I was figuring I would just take my digital along and use that (and I guess I could, but don't think it would work quite as good as a light meter which I purchased today from B&H). Thank you again for answering all my questions. You folks are wonderful!
You CAN take your digital along and use it, but it may take some tinkering to figure out the best translation. The meters are, naturally enough, optimized for their digital sensors, and they may also make decisions based on metering matrices that may, or may not, work with what you want to do. Ideally I'd recommend a manual camera and hand held meter. But if the meter is another item you don't want to purchase yet and you have a smart phone there are metering programs available. I have an ap called "Pocket Light Meter" for my iPhone that is pretty versatile and agrees closely with my other meters. IIRC it was free (ad supported) though you can pay the developer just $0.99 to get rid of the ads. I've been meaning to pay the $4.99 to get rid of the ads and, as he says in the settings, "buy the developer a pint!"
You could take your digital camera along with you but set its meter to centre-weighted average. The high-tech matrix/evaluative/multipattern meters are calibrated along the Zone System with additional metrics overlaying this to assist with "judgement" by the camera (that is, after all, looking through a library of many thousands and thousands of images just like the scene you are viewing).
Otherwise, invest in a high quality meter that you can build your skills around. I don't regard using a digital camera to build knowledge the way to go: it has scant resemblance to the characteristic of film. This is especially true for MF and LF. At a later date, getting the hang of spot metering (something an iPhone does not have -- still!) for very precise analysis of scenes would go a long way toward rewarding you with beautiful, luminous images from MF/LF.
I've just come to realize that EI is meant to correlate your light meter to a study "Picture Tests".
A group of people were told to pick their favorite prints out of a pile.
The idea was to come up with a number to set on the meter that will make most of your prints end up in the "good" stack.
That's like how I work when I have to use a new film or developer and I'm in a hurry. There is a "standard" front lit scene every mid-morning near where I live. Direct sunlight is very consistent all year round because I'm near the Tropic of Capricorn.
I expose 4 sheets of 4x5 film in my camera with a stepped exposure sequence across each one done by pushing in the darkslide a little bit between clicks. I go from two stops under to two stops over in five steps. Because my darkroom is closeby I immediately develop all four sheets at different developing times. Within an hour I know the correct exposure for the scene. All I have to do is set a number on my light meter so that my usual metering strategy delivers the exposure reading I already know is correct. That's my film EI. And this test procedure also gives me the right development time either directly or by interpolation.
Certainly this is not a laboratory standard test but it is quick and the directness of it inspires confidence.
Photography, the word itself, invented and defined by its author Sir John.F.W.Herschel, 14 March 1839 at the Royal Society, Somerset House, London. Quote "...Photography or the application of the Chemical rays of light to the purpose of pictorial representation,..". unquote.