• Pocket Light Meter by Nuwaste Studios

    Pocket Light Meter IconThis past weekend we traveled to a big volleyball tournament with our daughter. They were playing in the Greater Richmond Convention Center, and there were 35 courts setup for the hundreds of teams that were competing. This was our first big tournament, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Being the owner of Victory Photo, any sporting event for me is all about the pictures... and that means its all about the light. I had brought my massive bag of camera gear... DSLR bodies, lenses, cards, chargers, etc., but I didn't through my Sekonic light meter in the bag. My problem was that most of the parking garages were closed and we had to park about a mile from the facility. I really didn't want to carry all my gear around in this place all day, and after a scouting trip in to check it out, I was unclear just how much light we had there.

    So after a few minutes of debating whether I should run back to the car, and thinking about asking my daughter to see her digicam to take some test shots, I found myself playing Apple's commercial in my mind... "There's an app for that!". So out comes the iPhone 4 and off to the App Store I go. A quick search on Light Meter yielded a couple of responses. Ironically the one with the best reviews was the free one - Pocket Light Meter by Nuwaste Studios. A quick tap on the Buy button and it was installed within a minute. The little icon that landed on my iPhone looked like my familiar Sekonic meter, and I fired it up to see what it could do.

    The first thing I quickly figured out was that even though the icon that came with the app was a picture of a reflective light meter, this app is only a spot meter. That means that you aim it like a camera at the area you want to take a reading on, rather than holding it in the light in question. For my purposes this was fine, but it makes the icon a little misleading. It also has no ability to take flash readings. So I guess the Sekonic is safe for now in my kit. But the question was whether it could tell me what to bring into the arena. I was either bringing in my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS if there was enough light, OR, a bunch of primes at f/1.8-f/2 which I usually use for volleyball.

    I was pleased to find an easy to use set of controls that required no setup and little explanation. The main screen has a red square in the middle of the screen that is the area being measured. Across the bottom you have the measured shutter speed, f/stop, and ISO. As the iPhone is moved around and aimed at different subjects, the measurements change in real time very quickly. If you aim at something that the settings won't yield enough light for, it will give you an indication that the settings are unusable, which you can also see in the display. There is no zoom here either, so you have to frame the area you want to measure with your feet.

    You can freeze any two of the three settings by tapping on one of them and then picking the desired setting from the list. This adds a little padlock to the display as shown in the first screen shot. I was able to easily lock in ISO3200 and f/2.8 so that I could see what kind of shutter speeds I'd be able to get on the courts. I found that at best I'd get 1/400s which is marginal for good stop action shots. I also preferred to shoot at ISO1600 if possible as it yields cleaner shots. So I decided I needed to bring the primes if i really wanted to have the best shots that day. This proved to be correct when I brought in my gear.

    Pocket Light Meter has some other cool features that my Sekonic can't reproduce. First, you can go into settings and turn on a histogram to give you a view of the luminosity of the scene. I was a little dismayed by my short testing of this feature as it didn't seem to be showing a histogram that I would expect. I think this is due to it just giving a histogram for the small red square, but I'm not positive as there is no documentation with the app. It always seemed to be skewed to the left side of the histogram, even when I filled the frame with very bright subjects. I'm not sure that I'd use this feature, but it is nice to see this kind of function coming to a free light meter app.

    Another option allows you to turn on additional information which shows you FootCandle, Lux, and EV 100 readings. These are not readings that I have ever used, but it is again interesting that they are in this free app. I've got no way to determine if the readings given are accurate as my Sekonic meter does not provide these values either.

    Finally, there is a settings panel that lets you adjust some of the functions described. You can adjust each of the three settings in full, half, or third stops of light. This will allow you to have the meter give readings that are consistent with your camera's capabilities, or, the way you have your camera setup. You can also apply an EV correction if you are shooting with one dialed into your camera. This is done with a slider that counts up or down in 1/3 and 1/2 stops of light.

    That pretty much covers the functions of the app, and pretty much covers what you'd expect it to do and then some. It would be nice if there were some hardware add-ons to allow it to measure reflective light and/or be a flash meter, but I doubt that we will see anything like that forth coming from Nuwaste Studios. If something like that were to show up, it would most likely be coming from one of the traditional light meter suppliers like Sekonic or Pentax.

    Pocket Light Meter is a free app and advertising funded, so their are ads on the display whenever its running, but I didn't find them to be intrusive or inhibit the function of the app. I will now always have a light meter with me thanks to this app.