The mysteries of exposure and film exposure latitude

I thought it was a shame I hadn’t shot my Nikon F2AS in a long time, so I put some film through it recently. The meter led me to shutter speeds that seemed slow for the full-sun conditions, out of line with Sunny 16.

I shot four subjects twice, once using the F2’s meter and once using the my phone’s light meter app. The app consistently had me expose two additional stops!

I shot Ilford FP4 Plus through my 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens (which I like less and less the more I use it). I developed the film in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II using VueScan. I brought the scans into Photoshop where I unsharp masked them all, corrected perspective if that was necessary, and on one shot toned down the highlights, but otherwise left them alone.

There are so many possibilities in any scene, from how you expose it to how you develop it to what you do with the negative in printing or scanning and post-processing. These pairs show it well. The F2 metered shot is first in each pair. In this first pair, I like the second shot more for its better definition in the houses, and the more silvery reflection in the pond.

Reflected houses, overexposed
Reflected houses, underexposed

In this pair, I prefer the second shot again for its rich, smooth tone in the tennis court surface and the better definition in the houses.

Tennis net, overexposed
Tennis net, underexposed

In this pair, I like the first shot better for its slightly better shadow detail. The first photo is the one where I toned the highlights down slightly in Photoshop. The path was a little washed out in the original scan.

Path, overexposed
Path, underexposed

In this pair, I like the first shot better for its slightly better shadow detail and its better definition in the sky.

Lowe's, overexposed
Lowe's, underexposed

What do you see in these photos? In each pair, which do you like better?

I think to some extent what we’re seeing here is the good exposure latitude of FP4 Plus — these are all technically decent photographs. Also, what we all like in a photograph is subjective.

After I finished this roll I checked my F2’s meter under a bunch of lighting conditions and couldn’t reproduce the odd meter readings I was getting. Soon I’ll mount a lens I know and like better, probably my 35mm f/2.8, and shoot this F2 again to validate the meter’s functioning.

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6 responses to “The mysteries of exposure and film exposure latitude”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Ach! Old camera internal meters! Who can tell! I have a selection of Pentaxes from Spotmatics (great!), to K-1000’s (very clunky and ‘unsmooth’ shutters compared to the screw-mount Spotmatics). Additionally, some of my beloved Miranda Sensorexes, and other odd-ball items (Praktina, anyone?). Some of the meters “seem” functional (I was surprised how close the old Miranda’s were with the proper “air” cell). But as a professional, thank the Lord I own 4 hand held meters!

    Yep, I know, a drag to carry. Most of my career was advertising, so I did very little 35mm and even “littlier” what we used to refer to as “on the fly” photography. Most all was very deliberate with plenty of time to make multiple meter readings.

    I can actually say I now have so many vintage 35mm cameras with questionable meters I’ve been looking at yet another hand held meter, continuous light only, to just use as a simple walk-around meter, most likely a Sekonic L-208. I’ve been hand-held metering for so long, I’m pretty fast at it, and it can be tons more accurate!

    Of course, that still means the old shutters have to be “within” tolerance”, or at least not constantly varying exposure! Even if it’s “off”, if it’s “off” the same all the time…easy to figure out…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This F2 got a complete overhaul, including meter calibration, from famed F2 repairman Sover Wong. He is very, very good. But that was at least six years ago. Who knows how long a meter stays calibrated on a 45 year old camera?

      My other F2, an F2A, is on its way to Sover now.

      I do want to just trust my onboard meters. But sometimes you just can’t.

  2. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    Have you tried this body with any other lenses? Years ago I had a K mount 28mm that was consistently off by about 1.5 stops.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Not yet, but that’s my next step. I’ll probably put my 35/2.8 on there, it’s known good.

  3. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    I’ve not been sure of the meter in my F2A, it seemed to be a stop slow compared to Sunny 16. The camera store I bought it from just went through it again (wanted it done while still under warranty) so we’ll see how it performs. Perhaps I’m just used to the averaging meter of my old Spotmatic and need to learn how the DP-11 reads light, or like Andy above, carry a handheld meter. I shoot so much Tri-X at sunny 16 that I haven’t used a meter much this Summer anyway. Most of the Summer it’s been the F with prism finder and hope for the best.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      i’d like to get a prism finder for my F2s.

      You have a point that I might not be used to the way my F2’s head reads light anymore. I’ll put a roll through it again soon with a known good lens and see what happens.

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