Considering the Pentax Digital Spotmeter

As a kid in art school during the analog era I learned far more about photography from the books of Ansel Adams and the newsletters and products of Fred Picker’s Zone VI Studios, Inc. than I ever did from the school’s under-qualified photography teacher. 

One of the most important lessons was that accurate exposure is crucial and that the best way to do that was with a spotmeter and the Zone System as formulated by Ansel Adams. 

Pentax Digital Spotmeter. I still have my copy of this analog era essential item, in the version modified by physicist Dr Paul Horowitz for Fred Picker of Zone VI Studios in Vermont. Photograph courtesy of Ricoh.

When Zone VI Studios released its version of the Pentax Digital Spotmeter, modified by Harvard physicist Dr Paul Horowitz, I placed my order for one and a leather holster.

The case succumbed to the mould problem that keeps getting worse in this part of Australia as climate change continues to set in, but the spotmeter itself is in good condition and so is perfectly usable.

Pentax Digital Spotmeter

The sticky paper Zone System label that denotes zones I through to VIII has seen better days though and I have been searching for a decent replacement for years now without success.

Then, today I came across not one but two versions of the label made by photographer James A. Rinner and retailed on ebay.

One version reproduces the look of Fred Picker and Paul Horowitz’ original label sticker, while the other is designed by James. A Rinner himself.

Zone System labels by James A. Rinner

While there were other spotmeters made during the analog era, and some current digital light meters have spotmeter capability, the Zone VI-modified Pentax Digital Spotmeter proved unique in its accuracy under all sorts of lighting conditions.

I made great use of my spotmeter when photographing in some truly terrible industrial lighting for commercial, industrial and mining clients in Western Australia during my corporate photography phase before I found a more pleasant home in magazine editorial photography in the east.

Although I also carried several other light meters of various types and brands, the Zone VI Pentax Digital Spotmeter proved to be the most accurate, most reliable and most durable of them all.

I cannot recall exactly what modifications were made to factory standard spotmeters, something to do with internal baffles, filters and possibly circuitry, but have read some online discussions about it.

Unmodified secondhand Pentax Digital Spotmeters are available on ebay for prices between $AU500.00 and $AU750.00 but so far I have not seen a modified one for sale and no doubt one would cost more than the factory standard version.

I hauled mine out from storage this morning, intending to carry it on a coming shoot in the city where I want to use my venerable Canon EOS 5D Mark II with East German and Japanese M42 manual prime lenses adapted with a Gobe M42 Lens Mount to Canon EF & EF-S Camera Mount adapter, intending to ignore the camera’s meter readings for the sake of what the spotmeter tells me.