Trust Versus Evidence


Before I bought my Canon 20D (3 years and 3 days ago, apparently), fancy functions like auto-focus and evaluative metering were completely unknown to me. I was used to sticking my medium format camera on a tripod, carefully focussing manually and setting the shutter and aperture based on readings from a handheld meter.

Once you master auto-focus, it’s a truly wonderful function. I can’t focus a camera faster or more accurately. I (mostly) find the results from the camera’s built-in meter to be superb, too. The technology is there where you need it, it’s fast, accurate and reliable. Admittedly, you still need to know what you are doing, but I consider that to be the saving grace – if the camera did absolutely everything perfectly without my intervention, I would have no interest in being a photographer.

Anyway, the first time I connected up my Canon to my studio flash, I was very excited. This was how I was going to compare my new digital camera to my old film one. This was the photography I knew about. I set everything up and took a reading with my trusty Minolta flashmeter, set the aperture accordingly and took a test shot. Miles off! Checked everything, reset everything, took another reading, took another test shot – still miles off! To get the job done, I changed the aperture and checked repeated test shots on the camera’s screen until the picture and the histogram looked about right. “About right” is not really the way I like to work!

After the session was over, I visited my good friend Mr Google to see if he could help. I found several people on forums claiming issues with the 20D metering and I was pretty concerned. I was comfortable that the Minolta was accurate as it had worked perfectly with my film camera for many years (albeit it had sat unused for about 8 years prior to this). I spoke to a photographer friend of mine who said he thought that ISO for film and ISO for digital were not related, which would account for the different readings. Then I had a chat with my other good friend (in the real world), Charlie. We bashed through the logic and we both felt confident that ISO is ISO, meaning that either the flashmeter or the camera must be way out of whack.

To find out where the issue lay, we set up a test. We stood a Kodak grey card in front of a constant light source and took exposure readings with my 20D and lightmeter, as well as Charlie’s 350D and his Sekonic lightmeter. The Sekonic and both camera’s gave precisely the same reading (and I mean precise), but my Minolta meter was about 3 stops out! Although I was a bit gutted that my favourite gadget ever was malfunctioning, I was hugely relieved to find the camera was fine.

Luckily for me, Charlie knows a bit about electronics and he took the meter apart, cleaned it and re-calibrated it. Now it works perfectly. Best of all, I didn’t end up looking like a fool when I returned the camera with a “faulty” metering system!

The point of all this is trust. You need to be able to trust the equipment you use. You need to trust your own ability and skills. But you also need (as they say on CSI) to follow the evidence. Blind faith in your kit just because it is the latest/best/most expensive/highest specification could lead to some rubbish photos and to a lack of trust in YOU.

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