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  1. #1
    snegron's Avatar
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    Nikon Metering Accuracy Question

    I have noticed that there is a difference in the metering accuracy among several different Nikon bodies. I have been switching between center weight and Matrix metering for some time between several different Nikon bodies. I performed a few "field experiments" (out in the open under same lighting, same lens, same location, silde film, not in a controlled lab) and noticed the following.

    My F100 and N80 used in Matrix metering seem to underexpose by one or two stops. When turned to center weight metering they appear to over expose by a stop. However, when I use my F2A or F3, the metering is right on target, the F3 being more accurate of the two. Is this because the center weight ratio on the F3 is 80/20 vs. 60/40 on the others?

    To complicate matters even more I have compared the metering of my F3 with some of my Nikon digital cameras (D1X, D70s, and D200), and the results were surprisingly the same! Matrix metering on my DSLR's underexposes by two stops or more while centerweight overexposes by a half stop or a stop compared to the F3. Does this mean that the F3 has the "perfect" metering ratio of 80/20? Could there be the remote possibility that the images displayed through the viewfinder in all of my Nikon bodies (except for my F3 and F2A) do not "see" 100% of the actual image, therefore the slight added information on the final frame has more or less light than what the meter saw through the viewfinder?

    I know that after shooting several rolls with each camera you get to know what to expect, thereby adjusting your shooting method (manually overexpose/underexpose the shot in advance when needed). I am just curious about metering accuracy and why it seems to be that the F3 is much more accurate more times than any of the other Nikon cameras I have.

  2. #2

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    Funny -- I find both my F3s very likely to underexpose. The 60/40 "traditional" Nikon metering pattern seems to work quite well for me, though the Matrix system is one that never lets me down. Who knows?

  3. #3

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    maybe you've confused yourself, different metering patterns will give different results, else why bother

    if the differences are not obviously caused by different filter, ISO, lens or any of the obvious and the difference is no more than a stop don't worry about it

    how do you know which is the most accurate if they are all different?

  4. #4
    Mick Fagan's Avatar
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    Ray, different metering systems will give different results in exactly the same way that anyone who wears two wristwatches, will never know the correct time.

    I have a couple of F3 cameras and an FE2 as well as a spot meter attachment for my Gosson Profisix. The spot meter attachment gives me 1, 5 or 10 degrees area. By using a long focal length or a telephoto lens, I can emulate the spot meter reading area with the Nikon bodies, or I can walk up to the subject, sometimes.

    I have used a Nikon FA which was the first camera with the matrix metering system. I believe that the FA matrix metering system won a manufacturing award from the Japanese government. This was not a photographic industry award.

    I tested the FA camera with a view to add it to my arsenal, or replace the FE2. At the time my reference was my first F3 and my standard Profisix. With these two meters I had a standardised exposure and developing system that worked reasonably well. I was shooting slide film so my exposure had to be quite correct and consistent.

    With the FA, I found was that the matrix metering system gave a different reading, different enough to require me to adjust aperture settings to obtain near identical results to my other cameras. I didn't bother to purchase the FA.

    One important note with the FA camera and it's matrix metering system, it requires AIS lenses so that the body knows the focal length of the lens. This may or may not be a feature of the different readings being obtained with later Nikon bodies that also incorporate matrix metering. I'm not very knowledgeable about much Nikon stuff past the F4, so I don't know, but it could be a point of difference.

    My F3 bodies match very closely, my Profisix. I know my Profisix over the years may have drifted, so may the F3 bodies, but I don't think so.

    I have over time been with other photographers and the Profisix readings are virtually identical to the latest Sekonic digital readout light meters, this suggests to me as well as the film I develop, that the F3 bodies and the Profisix are reasonably correct.

    I'm not entirely certain about this, but I seem to remember hearing/reading many years ago, that whilst the F3 and most hand held light meters were set to a middle grey or Zone V, quite a few other camera bodies by various manufacturers had metering systems that over exposed slightly, up to about 2/3rds of a stop.

    I believe the idea was that as nearly all cameras were using colour negative film, slight over exposure was far better than slight under exposure. I know for sure, that a slight over exposure, around 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop on C41 film, gave finer grain and greater colour saturation possibilities for the automated printing systems of the day.

    The last thing in favour of the F3 camera body and it's metering system, is that it was the first electronic professional body released by Nikon, they really had to get it right, or lose to Canon. There was unbelievable money at stake, as well as pride. Nikon got it right that time.

    The F3 body with it's 80/20 metering system in the hands of someone who understands metering, can be more accurate than a computer memory matching system in many cases, not always, but almost always.

    My two bob's worth!

    Mick.

  5. #5

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    Garry Coward-Williams (Editor of AP) has long been intrigued by this one. As he says:

    1 Meters often disagree, sometimes by a stop or more.

    2 Most of us get exposure we're happy with, most of the time, even with slides

    3 How?

    But he's right...

    Cheers,

    R.

  6. #6
    PhotoJim's Avatar
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    If I test my cameras on an evenly lit surface, all of my cameras give the same meter reading, plus or minus 1/3 stop. That tells me that they are calibrated correctly. (I haven't tried my F5 like this yet - I've only had it a few weeks - and it could vary the exposure reading by colour, but if the meter is properly calibrated, it will agree with the other cameras if it's on centre-weighted or spot mode.)

    Matrix metering, of course, varies exposure based on the details. So do varying centre-weighted biases. As you mentioned, the F3 has a more concentrated circle than other cameras tend to have. This biases exposure.

    As long as you know how the metering in your camera works and you know how to read your scene, you should get consistent results. Metering seldom gives us a lot of opportunity for brainless photography... we have to think a little. (Or, I suppose, you can get a digi body and bracket brainlessly, and hope that one of the 45,000 shots you got had the right exposure.)

    I've learned how the matrix metering in my AF bodies works and I trust it, and I know when to turn it off. Somehow, I seem to intuitively know how the F3HP's meter will respond in the same scene because my exposures are good. One learns.

    If one doesn't learn, then one should get cameras with identical metering tendencies, to save the thinking. There will still be a lot of thinking left with this philosophy.
    Jim MacKenzie - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

    A bunch of Nikons; Feds, Zorkis and a Kiev; Pentax 67-II (inherited from my deceased father-in-law); Bronica SQ-A; and a nice Shen Hao 4x5 field camera with 3 decent lenses that needs to be taken outside more. Oh, and as of mid-2012, one of those bodies we don't talk about here.

    Favourite film: do I need to pick only one?

  7. #7

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    I find the N80 metering pretty good, but only as good as my understanding of the latitude of the film and what I expect the influences of the brightness ratio is and if the subject I'm metering is considered medium gray. Make sure you have your viewfinder covered if your eye is away when using a cable.

  8. #8
    FrankB's Avatar
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    I have had an F80 for several years and used to bracket half a stop either way with transparency and a stop either way with B&W. Then I realised I was always using the frame shot using the matrix metered values... ...so I stopped!
    The destination is important, but so is the journey

  9. #9

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    Metering varies. You likely need to determine an appropriate EI for your film and equipment.

    Mick: The FA(and F4) needs AI lenses for Matrix metering, not AI-S, the maximum aperture indexing post needed to enable matrix metering was introduced with the AI series. The FA prefers AI-S lenses in P and S modes as they don't need a second meter reading after stop-down to verify exposure due to non-linear aperture linkages on AI and earlier lenses. Interestingly, I've found my FA and F3 to give very similar meter readings. They're also the two most accurate metering bodies I own.

  10. #10
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    I've got a F80, and always been happy with the metering. In fact I used it as the meter for my 4 X 5. Then I bought a used Gossen Luna Pro F with a "spot" (7.5 degree) meter attachment. No matter how I test the two, the Gossen is always between 1/2 and 1 stop underexposed compared to the F80 (with the F80 on spot or centre-weighted). I also have an FM2, an FM3A and an F65. Yesterday I compared them all. To make a long story short, all 5 meters agree within one stop. I was using snow in shade as the "target" and had the same focal length on each camera. Personally I think that's a pretty high variation.
    If I had been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better arrangement of the Universe.
    Alfonso the Wise, 1221-1284

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