Exposure Latitude, Or How I Stopped Worrying (so much) About Metering

Like anyone new to photography, I used to be very concerned about metering. More specifically, I worried about inaccurate camera meters. When working on a studio still life, I remain particular about metering. However, I am more lax these days regarding shots taken around the city, in the garden, or in street scenes. Here’s why.

Recently, while testing Pentax 645 bodies to determine whether to keep them, I accidentally shot a roll of Fomapan 200 ISO at 400. Being lazy, I developed the roll normally. I knew the negatives would be less than optimal, but pushing the film was more effort than I wanted to expend. The negatives did look a little thin, so when I scanned them, I used the histogram in Epson Scan to account for the exposure error. The grain was prominent, but the images were usable.

This experience made me wonder how well various film stocks handle under/overexposure. I’d read that film had broad exposure latitude, and this Foma incident seems to have born this out. Naturally, I searched to see if anyone had tested the exposure latitude of various film stocks. I found more posts than expected. It seems many people are curious about exposure latitude.

Color stocks were the most surprising (herehere, and here). Porta 400 could handle 2 stops of underexposure and still give useable results. All color emulsions dealt with 2-3 stops of overexposure with ease. Black and white films (here (at bottom), herehere (at bottom)) could handle at least one stop of underexposure and up to two stops of overexposure and remain usable.

With this knowledge, life with my 1950s rangefinders and my SLRs with wonky meters has gotten easier. The rangefinders have 1/300 to 1/500 as their top shutter speeds, so even with 100 ISO film, shooting during the day can easily outstrip their fastest shutter speeds. However, with what I know now, reading the metering app at 1/500 while having 1/300 as my top speed doesn’t bother me.  I  know now even if the metering app reading were 1/1000, my film could likely handle the extra stops of light. On my recent outing with the Minolta A, I took advantage of the Lomo 100’s latitude. For many shots, I set the shutter at 1/300 and fired away.

I love film!!!

4 Comments

  1. You should try slide film. Maybe you’ll love it, maybe you won’t. But you won’t know until you try!

    1. Author

      One of these days…

  2. Yeah, film is more flexible than I thought! I’ve shot a lot of ISO 200 color stock at 400 and it comes out fine. Black and white can be a little more finicky, depending on stock. Foma seems to not do as well with the underexposure vs. over, so I tend to overexpose.

    There is still one area that requires correct exposure, and that’s slide film. I like slide film but only use it in cameras that have been CLA’d. (So no XD5 yet.) I was shooting some Ektachrome in my SR-T 101 when I realized the metering was bad–when I was shooting in bright sun and the meter was telling me f/8 at 1/30! (That shot did not come out.)

    1. Author

      I haven’t tried slide film–it isn’t on my radar just yet. “Sunny 16” is far simpler when film latitude is taken into account. I can put 200 ISO film in my rangefinder, set the aperture to f11, and shoot away. I then meter only when I hit significant shade. This was my first time using Fomapan, so I have nothing to compare this outcome to. The Pentax 645 lens (75mm f2.8) are sharp though, huh?

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