As a generalist pro who shoots portraits, weddings, and products, my lightmeter is about as important to my livelihood as a working phone. Tyros, who swear by their TTL 35mm's, don't live in the pro's world of big manual flash units, where consistency in ambient exposure is also required. No automated, on-board
meter can beat an incident lightmeter for reading flash exposures or existing light. Don't believe me? Check out the pros shooting from the sidelines of an NFL game. Although everyone is toting a monopod and monster tele, you'll see an incident meter dangling from almost every photographer's neck.
For most of my career, a Minolta has been my meter. In recent years, it's been the Auto Meter IVF (that's "four F") because of its light weight. But when they introduced the Minolta VF (that's "five F") and Sekonic came out with the new L-358 Flash Meter, I wondered if the new Sekonic had the mettle to dethrone my Minolta dynasty. I decided to put the two new meters to the test, and since September '02, the Sekonic has joined the Minolta in my arsenal.
The Sekonic weighs just an ounce more than the 4.4-ounce Minolta, but it isn't as well-balanced as the Minolta VF because the extra ounce is all in the dome end of the meter. And at $250 (street), the Sekonic is about $30 more expensive than the Minolta. But since it has a retractable dome that doubles as a flat receptor while the Minolta requires a $23 accessory to be used this way, the price difference is a wash.
While both meters have proven to be reliable and accurate, at first glance, I was put off by the Sekonic's LCD display-darkish gray numerals on a light gray field. Even with its automatic display illuminator beaming its brightest, the readouts aren't easy to see. And, if you look at the LCD panel straight on, contrast is much lower than if you tilt the meter's top away from you and view it at an angle. Conversely, the Minolta's LCD shows black numerals against a lighter, more contrasty background-very easy to read, even though there's no illuminator.
Then there was the feel of the Sekonic's controls-more rubbery and less precise than the VF's. Why? Unlike the Minolta, the Sekonic has gaskets protecting its control wheels and buttons. There's also one on the battery compartment cover, but for me, that's not worth a lot. Gaskets are nice, though perhaps overrated. I've been using Minolta meters for more than 20 years, and I've never had one fail because of water damage. Of course, I don't shoot in rainforests. For someone who does, gaskets could be a lifesaver.