Looking for the best light meter? What’s a light meter anyway, and why do photographers praise it so much?
Also known as an exposure meter, this device allows you to measure how much light hits the subject or how much light it reflects. Then it gives you a recommendation of what shutter speed and aperture values to lock in your camera to take a picture based on the sensitivity of the film also known as ISO. This last one is simulated in digital cameras since they don’t require film.
That’s why it’s so useful to photographers. Instead of underexposing or overexposing when taking pictures or filming, they have a good reference to capture as much detail as possible in both light and shadow; maybe intentionally tweak exposure for effect.
That said, let us save you hours of browsing reviews and shed some light on your search with our top 9 best light meters for photography.
You know an exposure meter is good when NASA takes it to space. That’s a nod to Sekonic’s Digipro X-1 and L-518 back in 1984. Nowadays, Sekonic still holds the same quality standard for its products ; most noticeably with the number one in our list: the Sekonic L-308X Flashmate.
What makes it so outstanding is how incredibly versatile it is. It includes features useful to photographers and videographers alike. We’re talking about incident and reflected light metering, priority and cine modes, plus other features we’ll cover up ahead. You would need two different types of light meters or even three just to get a reading on everything this little device can measure.
The L-308X-U Flashmate will give you readings on ambient light going from 0 to 19.9 EV within shutter speeds 1 minute to 1/8000th of a second when working at ISO 100. That’s pretty accurate already, but when measuring flash, it gives you readings in a range of f/1 to f/90.9 within shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second. You will find this light meter suitable for DSLR, mirrorless and cinema-grade cameras, which you will appreciate if you’re also a part-time videographer.
Taking the #1 spot in our list, the Sekonic L-308X-U Flashmate is, hands down, the Swiss knife of light meters you should have in your toolkit.
Kenko has a reputation for making quality specialized equipment for photography since 1957. We’re talking about lens, flashes, tripods and even astronomy gear, just to name a few. This time around, we’re going to focus on its Kenko KFM-1100 Auto Digi Meter ; a remarkable light meter for ambient light loaded with features usually found in more expensive models.
The Kenko KFM-1100 is made for ambient light and flash metering, hence the sync port and wireless flash trigger features. Either way the sync speed is precise to 1/1000 of a second. Another detail users will appreciate is the variety in types of measures, namely : contrast ratio, shadow/highlight calculation and priority modes for aperture and shutter speed.
With this light meter you will get aperture values in a range of f/1 to f/128 in 1/10 Step increments, plus Exposure Values for ambient light between 2 and 19.9 EV. Iso Range goes from 3 to 8000 if you want some more grain in the picture. Probably one of the sweetest features is the memory. You’ll be able to check your 2 most recent readings.
All in all, the Kenko KFM-1100 Auto Digi Meter is an outstanding light meter and a worthy inclusion you’ll want in your toolkit.
You came here to find the best light meter for photography, so we have to talk about the Gossen DIGISKY. This is the best exposure meter there is for studio photography, hands down. The expanded features in this device really tops the competition when it comes to macro, product and portrait photography. It’s essentially three devices rolled up into one. Let’s have a look.
This exposure meter has corded and cordless flash integration for flash metering and it provides incident and reflected reading methods. It also has a neat TFT LCD* where you can check everything from ambient and flash light metering to luminance (Foot Lamberts and Candelas per Square Meter) and illuminance readings (lux and Footcandles). Want to know the difference between flash and ambient light? You can get that ratio and use the Fill Flash measuring mode to compensate.
ISO Range goes from 3 to 16,000. Shutter speed ranges from 1/8000 of a second to 30 minutes. If it’s flash you’re measuring, this device is precise to 1/1000 of a second. Aperture for all readings ranges from f/1.6 to f/128.
*TFT LCD: Thin Film Transistor Liquid Crystal Display…or just «color screen», if you prefer.
The Gossen DIGISKY is packed with useful features for studio photographers. An intelligent investment that will pay for itself many times over.
If you notice a theme that’s because there is. Sekonic was first established in 1951 and has since become a reputable brand for photographers and videographers. But that’s just part of the reason they come on top for this category.
The actual reason is their Sekonic L-208 Twin Mate, is one of the best light meter for this price range. Key word: « photography ». You can find other quality, budget-friendly light meters, but they’ll only give you readings in Lux and you will need at least readings in EV for photography, which this meter provides on top of shutter speed and aperture.
This analog exposure meter measures incident and reflected light within an aperture range of f/¼ to f/32 in ½ step increments. Let’s say you’re trying to get a reading in Exposure Value (EV) instead of shutter speed and aperture; this light meter offers EV readings between 3 – 17 EV at ISO 100.
Speaking of shutter speed and ISO, the Sekonic L-208 has a shutter speed range of 1/8000 to 30 seconds and ISO Range of 12 to 12,500 in ½ step increments. It has no screen, but the needle indicators in the analog display serve you just fine.
Versatile, portable and user-friendly. This is the best light meter you will find in this price range.
It takes a lot of research and experience to make a reliable piece of equipment and Gossen has 88 years worth of both put into outstanding light meters that even veteran photographers have come to praise. If you’re a beginner, this is a brand you’ll want to remember. Here’s a good place to start: the Gossen Digisix 2 Light Meter.
This one is great for beginners because it has everything you would need at entry-level and it will continue to serve you as you transition to a more demanding stage in your career. Other meters might be fancier, but also pricier and by the time you get to use the expanded features, a newer one might come out and you’ll have to reinvest. This one will help you get the fundamentals down as you save for a specialized one in due time.
The Gossen Digisix 2 is an exposure meter for ambient lighting. You’ll be able to get readings on incident and reflected light with the corresponding shutter speed and aperture combinations ; all readily available in its 0.6’’ LCD display and analog scale. The digital screen gives you an EV in 1/3 steps and then transfers the information to the analog ring in the form of shutter speed and aperture. Flash range goes from f/2 to f/32 and exposure value ranges from 0 to 18 EV, which is great for photoshoots at dawn and dusk.
Excellent entry-level piece of equipment at a reasonable price from a reputable brand.
Here’s another brilliant tool from Sekonic, only this one is more of a throwback to classic light meters.
The fact that the Sekonic L-208 is able to measure incident and reflected light is great when compared to other analog light meters that are restricted to ambient and flash light only. Another cool feature is the accessory mounting shoe you use to attach the camera and measure reflected light more accurately.
This exposure meter is designed to be lightweight enough so you can comfortably consult it with one hand, which leads us to another sweet detail : The numbers are color-coded and are big enough to be consulted at glance.
Aperture range goes from f/¼ to f/32 in ½ Step increments. Exposure value ranges from 3 to 17 EV at ISO 100, which you can also tune in ½ Step increments from 12 to ISO 12,500. Finally the shutter speed ranges from 1/8000 to 30 seconds.
There are very few analog light meters that can contend with the versatility and range that the Sekonic L-208 has. It’s a trusty piece of equipment that you can rely on for accurate readings.
The Sekonoic C-700R-U is a specialized light meter suitable not only for photographers, but also filmmakers and gaffers. One of the many threads connecting them all is their concern for the management of color within the lighting scheme. That’s where this light meter comes in handy.
Here we have a unique ambient and flash light meter that also works as a spectrometer. You’ll be able to get readings based on the Color Rendering Index (CRI) to get reference values for colors going from R1 to 15. In other words, this meter will give you a very accurate estimate of how well your setup is bringing out the colors of your subject using natural light as a reference.
On top of that, you can also check the actual color temperature of your light setup in a range of 380 to 780nm, whether it’d be conventional, HMI, LED or fluorescent.
To wrap it up on this model, you’ll start to trust your instinct and depend less on the light meter, but it’s always a good idea to double check your colors, and the Sekonic C-700R-U has proven to be the perfect tool for the Job.
This one may surprise you a bit seeing it’s not a company particularly known for dedicated camera equipment beyond the outstanding quality of their in-built cameras. This accessory is a professional light meter on it’s own right and it’s sold as an accessory for the iPhone. It couples with an app so that you use the screen of your phone as a display for the meter.
For starters, it’s an ambient and flash meter and surprisingly reliable spot meter meter as well. One of the things that never ceases to amaze is the aperture range on this little gadget. It’s tricky to find a light meter with a range below 0 EV, but this one can very well go down to -4 EV. This is great news for night photographers. It can also reach f/20 at ISO 100, which is no small feat considering it’s a phone accessory.
Also interesting: You can use it as a spectrometer. That means you’ll be able to measure the color temperature of your light source in a range of 1600 to 18000K. Let’s not forget it also has flash integration and it can trigger bursts anywhere between 1/4000 and 1/250 secs in duration. Cherry on top? It also comes with a cine mode.
Don’t let the fact that it’s an iPhone accessory distract you from how versatile and useful it is. It can actually go to toe with some dedicated light meters.
We couldn’t make a countdown of the best light meters without talking about the Sekonic L-858D Speedmaster.
Yes, this list is about exposure meters for photography, but we bring it up because it’s common to hear clients request a short video mid-session or perhaps you want to break into your cinematographer’s shoes. Either way, this particular model is a great investment in gear and if it’s anything like its predecessor, the legendary Sekonic L-758 Cine, it’s bound to last for many seasons.
This meter has flash integration, which is always nice to capture a fast-moving subject or work in a studio, but what’s more is that it’s compatible with Elinchrom Skyport and Phottix Strato II and Ares II. ISO range goes from 3 to ISO 850.
Equally impressive, the shutter speed ranges between 30 minutes and 1/16,000s for flash and up to 1/64,000 for ambient light. Part-time videographer, you’ll be delighted to know that this bad boy has a Full HD Cine mode. It goes from 1 to 1000 fps and works with shutter angles between 1 and 358°.
Professional-grade equipment meant to last. Definitely one you should consider.
The handheld light meter or exposure meter is an essential piece of gear in every photographer’s toolkit, whether they work in a studio, in the streets or in the great outdoors.
Trusting monitors with your exposure might be too risky if they’re not calibrated, and even if they are, 18% gray is not always going to be the « right gray » for the job. Also, do you want to save yourself some time in post? Why not just nailing exposure right from the start?
This little device will give you the proper shutter speed and aperture for a given ISO based on accurate readings of the light hitting your subject or reflecting off it. There are many models to choose from, but at the end of the day, the best one is the one that works best for your specific needs.
Have you tried any of the best light meters in our list? We’d love to read your story in the comments section below.