Sekonic L-858 D Review
From Barry Andersson:
I recently got my hands on the new Sekonic L-858 D light meter and I was excited to take it for a spin.
Before I go any further let me share with you that I started using Sekonic light meters a few decades ago. I got my first light meter when I bought an Arri S 16 mm film camera when I was 19 years old.
Here is the first unit I learned to how to actually use a light meter.
This model didn’t have a spot metering option nor did it have a huge range as there wasn’t that much different from film camera to film camera and film stock to film stock. Since most of the people I hired on my crews had their own spot meter units I never got one until much later in my career.
I stopped using this unit when I sold my film camera and when to HD video cameras. From there I owned one or two models but over time the way productions ran we relied more and more on monitors and started using the meters less and less.
I stopped using my meters altogether when DSLR cameras hit the market in mass in late 2009/early 2010.
The main reason was my camera was so sensitive my meter no longer could accurately tell me what exposure to expect. In a sense I was flying blind in this new world. As we always do we found a way to still create images.
However, what I started to notice is the old guard DP’s, gaffers etc that had used light meters their whole career started to retire and there were tons of people I worked with that didn’t even understand what the benefits of using a light meter are. That included to an extent myself. In the years when I didn’t have my go to meter I learned to entirely rely on the monitor for my lighting.
When I got my hands on the Sekonic L-858 D I wanted to see if it could be the light meter for the masses. I wanted it to be able to do all the following:
- Be sensitive enough to help me light with low light situations and high ISO cameras
- Work with any camera on the market (DSLR through major cine cameras
- Help me work faster
- Get me back to my roots of learning to light without being tied to a camera and a monitor.
In case you were wondering this meter hit all those marks and more for me. This latest model had greatly increasedthe sensitivity, contains a built in Spot Metering function and a heavily expanded ISO range.
In fact, this model was 3 stops more sensitive when using the incident metering and 2 stops more sensitive in spot mode than the previous model.
It also boasts a max ISO of 13,107,200. You read that right, 13,107,200! This means not only is it sensitive enough to help me meter right now but it has enough room to grow as cameras continue to get more expensive. This fits my necessity of gear I buy of being able to do more than one thing and is somewhat future proof. I’ll be able to use this light meter for likely 5-10 years.
Additionally the spot metering has sensitivity down to .1 LUX. That is simply crazy. I often remark that lighting today is not the art of adding light but rather the art of selectively taking away existing lights. The ability to read light down to .1 LUX is simply amazing and in the current state of video content creation a must have feature. So no matter how little light you have to light your scene you can meter with this meter.
Another must for me was the ability to have this meter work on all cameras and not just DSLR or cine cameras. In my particular case I am often jumping between camera platforms and in a lot of cases I am working in a mixed camera world. That means I cannot afford to have a light meter that would only work on DSLR or Cine cameras and not the others. The L-858 has a HD Cine mode for DSLR Filmmakers which allows you to select your shutter speed, ISO and FPS. This means you can easily set up your meter to work with any DSLR or mirrorless camera.
It also has a Cine mode that allows you to select your frames per second, ISO and shutter angle. This means whatever your Cine camera of choice is it is only a few quick selections and you are metering for your platform of choice.
If you happen to be shooting with say a C500 and a Canon 5D Mark IV then you can switch between the two settings and check confirm your settings to make sure everything matches lighting wise. This is such a huge help in making sure you are close in matching your footage in camera. Simply having and using this light meter will likely save you 100 hours or more in post over the course of the year. How much is that worth to you?
Another great thing is the actual ISO’s that you can select. They have added ISO’s that match the native ISO of leading cameras (i.e. ISO 850). This means you are never caught in no mans’ land and have to pick an ISO that isn’t exactly what you are shooting at.
Additionally, they have traditional framerates but also popular ones such as 23.976, 29.97, 47.952 and 59.94. Again this means whether you are shooting for film, broadcast or whatever, you have the control and you can rest assured the tool you are using is directly in sync with your workflow.
As with all my electronic devices, my camera included, I love setting up custom settings. The Sekonic L-858 allows you to create your own frame rate and shutter angle in custom mode.
The meter features a 2.7 inch touch screen that allows you to more quickly select and/or change your settings without having to use buttons to navigate through the menus. This may not seem as big of a deal but any piece of gear I add to my kit I need to be able to be FAST. The future of shooting is smaller, lighter and faster. If it doesn’t fit those requirements, then I am less likely to be able to use it. This unit passes that with flying colors.
Another thing I love is the ability to save up to 30 of your favorite filters/gels so you know exactly the exposure compensation you needs to be considered. I use ND’s, circular polarizers and CTO and CBO gels all the time. I hate trying to guess exactly how much exposure compensation I need to make when I put a filter on but no I don’t have to guess. I can save my most used filters as presets and I just select and meter and I have the answer on exposure. Simple, fast and accurate.
Another super useful way to use this light meter is just for simply evaluating brightness of the scene (or brightness of your lights). In practical terms this can most easily be applied to lighting a green screen. The key to lighting a green screen is making sure you have even coverage of the light, with no hot spots, over the entire face of the green screen.
Normally you are judging my eye, sometimes looking at the waveform and getting it close. When you use this meter you can simply walk across your green screen and take readings at whatever interval you want and with running back and forth to the camera, lights and green screen you can figure out what adjustments need to be made and do the job once. This helps me shoot faster which helps me keep my clients happy and earn more money over time.
I am simply blown away at how Sekonic was able to cram in pretty much everything I want into a small portable, multipurpose and affordable package. If you own an older light meter it is time to upgrade. If you have never used a light meter you need to strongly consider buying this unit. It will help you do things you don’t know you will be happy you are doing in the future. Trust me your future self will thank you for checking out the Sekonic D-858. My future self already is thanking me.
Sekonic L-858D for Cinematographers
(cover photo credit: snap from Barry andersson)