Pros: extremely accurate, highly cusomizable, so simple to use it is idiot-proof, excellent contruction
Cons: I think the swivel head is a weak spot, VERY expensive, needs illuminated LCD panel
In the age of Photoshop, it might surprise you to know that the color meter is still going strong. Custom white balance on digital cameras goes a long way in reducing the reliance on these meters, but for those who still shoot film it is a necessity. In my humble opinion it is ALWAYS better to get the image perfect in the camera than it is to massage it to perfection in Photoshop. Not only will this decrease time spent editing (which is a sizable chink of my time), but I think it's obvious that ANY manipulation of the image reduces its quality. Rely too heavily on post processing and it will be reflected in your images.
The Konica Minolta Color Meter IIIF is the current top-of-the-line offering from Minolta. It builds on the fantastic meters of the past. I only recently upgraded from a Color Meter II and that thing was built like a tank! The new meter offers many fine improvements over the II while still maintaining the ease of use that was the trademark of its predecessor.
Spec's from the website:
Consistently Accurate Color Reproduction
The Minolta Color Meter IIIf makes it much easier for photographers to maintain consistent color under various types of illumination. The meter measures the color of the light illuminating the subject and determines the filtration required to correct that illumination for the film in use.
Measurement of Both Ambient Light and Flash
The Color Meter IIIf can take measurements of both ambient light and flash. Ambient measurements are taken by positioning the meter and pressing the measuring button. Measurements are possible under illumination levels from EV 3 to EV 16.3 at ISO 100. Flash readings can be taken in either cord or non-cord mode, with selectable shutter speeds from 1/500 to 1 second in full-stop increments. Measurements are possible for flash power levels corresponding to apertures (at the meter position) from f/2.8 to f/180 at ISO 100.
When measuring both ambient light and flash, selecting the Color Meter IIIf's analyze function will subtract the ambient light, and display only the measured results for flash light.
Three Major Film Types and Versatile Display Modes
Measurements can be taken for any of the three major film types: Daylight (balanced to 5500K), Type-A Tungsten (balanced to 3400K), or Type-B Tungsten (balanced to 3200K). Measurement results can be displayed as LB (light-balancing) and CC (color-compensating) indexes, Kodak Wratten filter number and CC index, or photographic color temperature (determined color temperature based on film sensitivity). Direct display of Kodak Wratten filter numbers makes selecting filters very quick and convenient; if two Wratten filters are necessary, the Color Meter IIIf displays both numbers.
Custom-Tuned Meter Readings
Color Meter IIIf users can store their own personal correction values for the recommended filtration. Correction values for LB and CC indexes can be stored in any of the meter's nine memory channels to custom-tune meter readings for the desired color reproduction. The correction values are added to the initial measured values to calculate the final displayed results.
For as complex an instrument as the color meter IIIF is, it is amazingly simple to use. Enter the film type (daylight or one of the two types of tungsten)...For ambient readings, simply meter off the subject in the same way you would use an ambient light meter. A position half way between light source and camera position often gives the truest results. Then the meter will display the corresponding LB and CC Wratten filter numbers (you have all of the them right? :-) add those filters and you are good to go. If you don't like the "true" color reproduction that the meter is suggesting, you can enter a target color temperature and it will give you the filters you need to achieve that. In this way you can custom balance the settings for a favorite film or "warming" or "cooling" effect.
The new flash functions are awesome!! Before I only used my Color Meter II for tungsten setups and outdoor shots. The meter now has the ability to handle light blending from tungsten/flash combos and other complex metering situations that use lights that issue 2 different color temps. You can even isolate the flash or ambient light and color correct JUST for that light. In this way you could add filters to your flash or tungsten heads to correct JUST them.... or add filters to the lens to give pure white light from one source but off colored light from another. The combinations are endless. More importantly the meter can handle extremely fast flash synch speeds so that it can better calculate the balance between instant flash lighting and ambient light and more properly correct for it. I had a meter from another manufacturer that could only do a 1/6pth synch and the color temp would often be off a tad if I used a faster synch with the camera since a 1/60th allows MORE ambient light than a 1/400th.... changing the color temp.
I cannot over emphasize just how simple it is to use this thing. Your exposure meter is probable way more complicated. Once you use it a few times it will not add ANY significant time to your shooting and it will save you LOTS of time in post processing.
Construction is like a tank. The only semi fragile part is the swiveling head. It is not as bad as the head on the Minolta Flashmeter VI but it is an area of concern. I personally would rather have a rigidly placed sensor like the color Meter II had. I felt that was less likely to get broken and the swivel function is something I never use anyway. The shell is ABS plastic and it is well weatherproofed. I have used it outside in the rain (a time when you REALLY NEED it). It holds up great like all the Minolta meter products I use. I DO however wish it had an illuminated LCD panel. In a dimly lit studio it can be a pain to read.
Now that I have made the move to digital I am using the color meter even more. With a digital camera's ability to dial in precise color temperatures manually I can achieve a more accurate result than with manual white balance. I daresay that the color meter is even MORE relevant in the digital age then it ever was.