Multi-Spot Metering with Mark III Cameras

March 28, 2011

Multi-Spot Metering with Mark III Cameras
... it’s a great way to avoid the problems of taking a traditional, single spot reading off of a bright highlight or a dark area of a scene…

An often-neglected feature on Canon’s professional EOS-1D and EOS-1Ds series cameras is their ability to perform multi-spot meter readings, when the camera is set to the spot metering mode.  This feature, unique among digital SLRs (as of November, 2010), allows a critical photographer to take more than one spot meter reading of a scene.  And the key is that the camera will automatically calculate the proper exposure as successive readings are taken.  Up to eight separate spot readings of different parts of a scene can be averaged automatically in this way. 

Why Use Spot Metering?

Many pros and advanced amateurs realize when trying to carefully meter a scene, that there are usually certain important elements that they want to either be sure are properly exposed, or to use as a reference in establishing overall exposure.  Green grass is a perfect example — it normally reads very close to a true 18% middle-gray tone, making it an ideal source to measure exposure from.  Once an exposure reading off grass has been determined and locked-in, it doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting a bride in a white dress, or a groom in a black tuxedo.  Exposures can be expected to be consistent and accurate, as long as the light doesn’t change.

Spot metering is the ability to read a very small portion of the camera’s picture area.  In this way, a photographer can take a meter reading off a select area of a scene, such as the green grass just mentioned.  Spot meter readings can be taken from other critical areas, like person’s face, or if they’re sufficiently close, they can read off just the highlight side of a face, or just the shadow side.  Critical photographers can very carefully expose their images in this fashion.

EOS-1D cameras (all versions) read about 3.8% of the picture area;  the full-frame EOS-1Ds cameras read a smaller spot of about 2.4% of the picture area when set to spot metering mode.

What is Multi-Spot Metering?

All of Canon’s professional EOS-1D and EOS-1Ds versions, including the latest EOS-1D Mark IV model, have the ability to take up to eight separate multi-spot meter readings of a single scene.  Multi-spot readings are taken by putting the camera into spot metering mode, and then pressing the Flash Exposure Lock (FEL) button on either the top or vertical controls.  Each time the FEL button is pressed, a new spot meter reading is taken, and added to any previous ones.

When the first spot meter reading is taken this way, the reading is recorded and the analog meter scale on the right side of the finder registers a reading at the center of the scale.  Each additional time the FEL button is pressed, the metering scale in the finder will update and clearly show the difference in exposure between the readings, relative to one another.  And a second cursor on the scale shows a live, continually updated account of what the spot meter area is reading at that moment.

Benefits of Multi-Spot Metering:

By taking separate, precise spot meter readings of different parts of a scene, a photographer can see right in the viewfinder’s metering scale if bright highlight areas and/or dark shadow areas are off-scale, and thus likely to be rendered as too light or too dark.

Additionally, the shooter can scan the scene once one or more spot readings are taken, and check how other areas compare to those already measured.  For example, a photographer shooting a portrait in a challenging indoor situation could take a spot reading off of the highlight areas and shadow areas of the subject’s face, and from there, scan the scene with the spot meter area to see how different areas of the background compare.  If the “live” cursor jumps off the top of the scale when you point it at a bright part of the background, for example, you know that if you shoot right now, that part of the background is likely to be washed-out.

Multi-spot metering always averages the different spot measurements, so it’s a great way to avoid the problems of taking a traditional, single spot reading off of a bright highlight or a dark area of a scene — and ending up with a poor exposure.

In bright, contrasty scenes (such as bright sunlight), it can be a great tool to get good exposures.  Start by taking a single spot reading off of an important tone that’s in bright sunlight, and follow-up with another important area that’s in deep shadow.  The camera averages both, usually giving you a great starting point for pin-pointing exposure.

A Few Notes About Multi-Spot Metering:

Most importantly, remember that Canon’s multi-spot metering in the EOS-1D and EOS-1Ds series models only functions if the camera is in an automatic exposure mode:  P, Tv, or Av.  It is not operative at all in the Manual exposure mode (single spot metering, of course, is possible in Manual mode).

Also, multi-spot metering is completely disabled if you’ve got an EOS speedlite attached to the camera, and the flash is turned on (to use multi-spot metering to calculate background exposure with flash, turn the flash off, take the multi-spot readings, note the final aperture/shutter speed in the camera’s viewfinder, and then switch to Manual mode and input these settings manually…from there, turn the flash on and shoot as many shots as you desire).

Multi-spot metering can be a terrific tool to learn, and it can gain you a new level of control over your exposures in available-light situations.  Here are a few additional things you may want to try:

• Exposure compensation is freely available with multi-spot metering.

This is a great way to further “tweak” the automated results of one or more spot meter readings…if you find that the initial results are too dark or light for your tastes, you can easily adjust them.

• Change the meter timer setting for more than one multi-spot picture.

Normally, when you take a multi-spot meter reading, it stays active while the meter stays on (up to sixteen seconds before a shot is taken, after you remove your finger from the shutter button, or up to two seconds after a shot is taken).  But if the meter and viewfinder information turn off, you lose any stored multi-spot meter results.  Suppose you want to take a series of pictures, using your carefully-calculated multi-spot reading?

With Mark III and Mark IV cameras, go to Custom Function IV-12 (“Timer length for timer”).  Highlight the word “register”.  Now, scroll to “16 second timer”.  Change this to any setting you want, to allow the reading to be stored before you shoot.  Now, navigate to “timer after release”.  Factory default is two seconds;  set this to any value you like, up to 60 minutes.  Any stored multi-spot reading will remain in memory for this time, after you take a picture.

Finish by scrolling down to highlight “Apply”, and press the SET button, then press SET one more time when “Enable” is highlighted.

You’ve now got a camera that will keep the meter on before a shot is taken, or after the shutter is fired, for the time you’ve input.  This will save your readings, and allow you to shoot an entire series of pictures using one multi-spot calculation.  (Keep in mind that you will be using more battery power to keep the meter continuously on.)

(With original versions of EOS-1D/EOS-1Ds, or any Mark II version, you’ll need to connect your camera to a computer with the FireWire cable, call up Personal Function 23 using the EOS Utility or EOS Viewer Utility software in your computer, input the timer settings you’d like (up to 3600 seconds — one hour), and then upload P.Fn 23 with these settings into your camera via FireWire.)

• Emphasize one part of a scene by taking two or more readings off of it. 
For example, you could emphasize sunlit skin tones in an outdoor portrait by taking one reading off a shadow side of a face, and two multi-spot readings off of the sunlit side of a subject’s face.  Doing so, you’d tend to emphasize the brighter tones, and darken the shadows a bit.  It’s an alternative to using exposure compensation.

• To quickly clear multi-spot readings, press the Metering button on top of the camera.
This can be useful if you’ve tried a set of multiple spot meter readings, and decide you want to quickly try a different approach, or elect to shoot a different subject instead.


Multi-spot metering is a really useful feature in some situations where a photographer wants to measure light critically, yet quickly.  For shooters brought up thinking about zone system metering, its ability to display differences on a clear analog scale between one measurement and the next, or between a measured area and any other part of the scene, allows quick and intuitive decisions about exposure.

If you own one of these cameras, you owe it to yourself to give this feature a try -- many EOS-1D or EOS-1Ds owners don't even realize it's there!  And if you're debating whether to invest in one of Canon's highest-end pro cameras, understand that Multi-Spot metering is just one of the many capabilities these cameras bring to EOS photographers.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

All images are copyright Erika Silverstein, Rudy Winston

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