Two meters face off for a spot on my staff
Low batteries haven't knocked any of my Minoltas out of action, either. The VF gets a good run on a single AA-like six months between changes-and even then, it's not because the battery fails, but only because I feel that I should change it. The Sekonic, however, burns through its CR123A like a kid chewing candy. And those batteries cost four times what an AA does. Also, try finding a CR123A at a convenience store. That's why I now carry two back-up batteries for the Sekonic.
But for me, all of these issues are overshadowed by what's behind the Sekonic's battery cover: a contact-lined compartment that accepts an optional PocketWizard radio slave transmitter ($100 street). This lets the L-358 fire a transceiver-equipped remote flash wirelessly. No PC cord, and no clunky transmitter stuck to the back of your meter (pros have been doing this for ages). As a shooter who uses PocketWizard radio slaves, and has a case full of PW receivers, transmitters, and transceivers, this feature alone edged my Minolta toward retirement.
What pushed the Minolta off my full-time payroll is the difference between the way it and the Sekonic compare relative flash and ambient exposures. Sekonic uses percentages, in 10-point increments-the easiest and fastest way to balance fill-flash and ambient light that I've ever seen. A readout of 100 percent means that 100 percent of the exposure is coming from the flash. A 50-percent readout signifies that the flash and ambient light are equal components. A 20- or 30-percent readout means the flash intensity is between one and two stops below the ambient light exposure (my preferred target). When the readout is 10 percent, the flash throws a catchlight in the subject's eyes but little else.
This feature has taken a lot of guesswork out of my portraits. Say you're working indoors, shooting a portrait lit by sunny window light. To keep the shadowed side of your subject's face from appearing inky black, a little fill flash could help. To find just the right amount of fill flash, roll the Sekonic's control dial until the meter's proportional reading changes to 20 or 30 percent. This means 70 to 80 percent of the exposure is coming from ambient light (the window) and 20 to 30 percent is coming from the flash-enough to assure that some of the details in those murky shadows will make it into your shot. Much more flash, and the lighting would look artificial.
The best part? Once a reading is taken, you simply roll the shutter speed wheel to change the f-stop, shutter speed, and fill-flash percentage displays simultaneously. No trial and error is necessary to find the exposure that will deliver the optimum mix of ambient and flash light.
The Minolta VF displays flash- and ambient-proportional readouts, too. Graphically, it shows four wedges that comprise the slices of one exposure pie. Two wedges mean the flash and ambient components are of equal intensity. Three wedges and the fill flash is one stop less than the ambient light. Four wedges translates to a two-stop difference. But if the difference is more than two stops you still get only the four wedges, so you're on your own, and back to guesswork. After much experimentation, I've found that fill flash somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 stops below the ambient light is about right for opening up the shadows without screaming "fill flash." The Minolta's system is too blunt a scalpel for the hairs I want to split.