Note: This article was originally posted on my personal blog on November 5, 2012. It was also featured on the official Sekonic Blog.
Ever since Sekonic announced the RT-32CTL ControlTL module for the L358 Flashmaster (and other compatible light meters) I was very interested in what they might have coming up next, and I'm glad I waited. As soon as they announced them, the L-478D and L-478DR looked to be awesome devices.
Originally, My plan was to upgrade the pocketwizard module in my L-358 light meter so that it would work with my AC3/TT1/TT5/AC9/Power MC2 setup for my hotshoe flashes and strobes, but I tend to buy (most) of my photo stuff on an impulse so I waited until they showed up at my local camera stores. Unfortunately, they never did show up in-store for the time that I was looking to upgrade.
After a few months had passed, I just dealt with using my lightmeter in it's normal "flash" mode and triggered my flashes with the "test" button and controlling power remotely via the AC3 that sat atop my TT1's. This was fine for most things but it started to become a chore, so I looked at upgrading my module again.
Around this time Sekonic had just announced the L-478D and L-478DR Lightmaster Pro lightmeters ($389 and $469, respectively). The biggest change here would be the addition of a touch screen (a sign of the times, no doubt). Personally, I favor the jog-dial and soft-touch buttons of most other light meters, as the control scheme lends itself better to quick adjustments, but we'll get to that later. Sekonic's new 400-series lightmeters looked like they would be an awesome addition to their lineup, if not set the tone for upcoming revisions to their other meters. Since the higher-end L-478DR had features that would be relevant to my use, I started considering that one for purchase. The features that I was most interested in were that it had a ControlTL-compatible transmitter already built in, remote power control of my flashes/strobes, and the 478DR does cine, which is starting to be increasingly relevant for my work.
The RT-32CTL module by itself is $149.99 -- i knew i'd be able to sell my old L-358 with the standard pocketwizard RT-32 module for about $275-300, and Considering the added cost of having to purchase the RT-32CTL to trigger my ControlTL PocketWizards, the cost to upgrade to the new lightmeter would be minimal, so I decided to just get the new meter.
Now, onto the review. Most of it will be comparative in nature, comparing it to my "old" meter. This may not be the best or most-in-depth review, but I hope you'll be able to glean some useful information from my short experience with this device.
If anyone cares, here's the box. The L-478DR runs about $469 just about anywhere, while the L-478D runs about $389, and the box looks almost identical, save the model designation and the Pocketwizard logo(s). All of the contents are neatly packed inside, and here's what you get:
- Sekonic L478DR Light Meter
- Leatherette Pouch
- Anti-Glare Screen Protector
- 2 AAA Batteries
- Quick Start Instruction Manual
- Software CD
Both the 478D and 478DR come with 3-year warranties.
The pouch is nice, but lacks the velcro flap of the other meters. It does, however, have the belt loop, if you don't use the lanyard. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory.
The build quality of the L-478DR isn't quite on par with that of the L358 and L758DR. It by no means feels flimsy, but maybe that's more a testament to the build quality of those meters. The overall build of the L-478DR feels solid and dense. Quality plastic and rubber give it a good feel in your hand. Overall, the physical "feel" of the meter is good.
The meter measures 2.2 x 5.5 x 1" / 57 x 140 x 26 mm (W x L x D) and weighs 4.9oz (140g) without batteries. As you can see, it's quite a bit smaller than the L-358 (but every bit as powerful.)
The rubber around the perimeter of the meter is nice and grippy, so there's little chance it'll slip out of your hands. The buttons have a nice feel and tactile "click" to them.
Coming to the left side, we have a "Memory" button, which will store readings and all associated data into memory, which can be recalled later via a menu. This is useful for averaging readings or checking your contrast/lighting ratios. Below the "memory" button, behind a rubberized flap is a mini-USB port which is used for firmware updates or for uploading camera calibration information to the meter. This can be especially useful for those that need a precise handle on their photography. Firmware updates also mean that the device is relatively future-proof, bringing new features and functionality to the L-478DR...provided Sekonic continues to develop for it.
On the bottom of the device, behind another rubber flap is the PC Sync terminal for using the meter in Corded (PC) mode.
On the right side, we have the "Measure" button, which of course, will initiate the meter to take a reading. It should be noted that through the menus, the "Memory" button on the left and the "Measure" button on the right can swap functions, if that feels more natural to you.
Up top you have the lumisphere which can be retracted for flat surface readings or for shielding the lumisphere when taking contrast/lighting ratio readings. The lumisphere of the 478D and 478DR are a good bit smaller than the other meters, however, I'm sure this doesn't affect accuracy or functionality negatively.
The front panel is very clean and iPhone-esque with only one button, the "Menu" button, located where the home button would be on an iPhone. The "menu" button can be pressed and held to lock the screen when in use -- most of the physical buttons will still work (to take readings, etc) but the touch screen will be locked. The touch screen uses older technology (resistive? infrared? whatever..), not the new capacitive touch-screen technology used in modern cellphones and cameras, so that was unexpected. On the upside, it can be used with gloves in colder climates because of this, so perhaps it was intended, and not just a cost-saving measure.
The back panel houses the AAA batteries which power the unit -- this is great because most of the time you will have spare AAA's on hand, as opposed to the odd CR123A battery used in the L-358 (although you should always have spare batteries for everything, just in case!) Another thing to note here in the battery compartment is that there is no place to plug in a radio module, so if you need wireless trigerring from the device, DO NOT get the L-478D, as you will not be able to add a module later, unlike the L-358.
The L-478DR In Use
Earlier I mentioned that I thought the touch-screen interface would take some getting used to, especially being used to the jog-wheel style controls used on most other light meters. After a few days of fiddling with this thing, I can say that they've achieved their goal in making the meter much more intuitive and easier to use. Everything is laid out nicely and is more or less self-explanatory. I only had to dip into the manual to get a handle on some of the more advanced features (of which I haven't even begun to scratch the surface.) If you want to check out all of the features or an in-depth view of all the menus, you can peek at the L-478D/DR Manual on Sekonic's website here. I'll only be covering general use in this overview/review.
Let's work our way around the "Home" screen, starting from the top left. The top of the screen is a sort of "notification center", much like the top bar of the iPhone -- it'll tell you battery power, and any additional modes or relevant information.
Below that (the sun in the photo) is used to adjust the mode of the meter. The meter has a number of different modes, but the most important being T-priority, F-Priority, Flash, Corded flash and Cordless flash. To the right of the mode adjustment you have the shutter-speed adjustment (or aperture adjustment if you're in T-priority mode) and the ISO adjustment "dials". You can make these adjustments before or after you take your meter reading and the reading will adjust accordingly. Pretty simple.
Below those is the "main" area of the screen which will show the reading (the 3rd part of the triangle, as it were). Below the reading is an EV scale and below that are a few more buttons (from left to right): EV/AVG, which will average 2 readings to give you an averaged exposure. Info, which displays current display mode, input exposure compensation, and exposure profile in use. Setup/Tool Box, where you can set various options such as filter compensation, set the Pocketwizard channel/zone, recall previous readings (memory), and set/clear/recall midtone,.
One important menu to note -- below the mode adjustment soft-button, (but not pictured in the above photo) is the Flash Adjustment/ControlTL setup menu (the button looks like a little gear with a flash icon in it.) It brings you to the following menu:
This is where the L-478DR offers some really cool functionality. I previously used the AC3 ZoneController to control my flashes wirelessly, but it had always been a bit iffy when it came to its reliability when used with my Einsteins to adjust power, and even sometimes when controlling the output of my 580EXII's off camera. So far, I haven't really had any issues with the L-478DR doing this. In this menu, you can toggle the zones indivually on the fly (for taking readings of each zone when measuring contrast ratios, etc.) and it lets you control power output +- 3-stops in up to 3 zones with 3 flashes per zone. On standard channels, you can track up to 4 zones (up to 4 flashes per zone), but you cannot wirelessly control power output over standard channels. At the bottom of each adjustment slider, you can see the lightmeter's reading for that particular zone.
Another awesome feature in this menu: If you notice, there's a small icon in the bottom right that looks like a flashlight -- this controls the modeling lamp of the connected flash(es). This makes it easier to set up and position your lights without ever having to bring them down if they're up high, or if you're otherwise physically away from the light you're working with. It can control the modeling lamp of each zone independently -- a VERY useful feature when setting up your more elaborate lighting setups and you don't have an assistant. This was something that was an issue when I used my Einsteins on portable power because every time the TT1/AC3 initiated a change in power, it would bring up the modeling lamp unless modeling lamp control was completely turned off through the PocketWizard Utility -- so I had C1 on my TT1/TT5's set to have the modeling lamp on, while C2 had the modeling lamp control completely off/manual for when I was using it with a Vagabond Mini. Being able to control the modeling lamp remotely is really nice.
I currently have an AC3, but when I work with my strobes i'll probably be using the L-478DR because having a visual representation with the sliders is better than the dials atop the AC3 -- and the modeling lamp control is a nice bonus.
I think that about covers it for the general/basic use and physical overview of the L-478DR in the short week I've had it. Bottom line, it's an awesome meter and would definitely recommend you pick one up if you don't already have one. If you already do have a meter, unless you have ControlTL triggers, it may not be worth the upgrade, as you won't be able to make use of too many of the advanced features that the 478D and 478DR offer.
Maybe In the future I can write up a more detailed "in-use" review as I use this thing more in my work and learn more about it.