Are you struggling to choose the best light meter for your needs? Do you want to know the best light meters you can buy in 2019 on any budget?
Look no further.
Because this article will give you a rundown of five amazing light meters, including a selection of both analog and digital options. You’ll figure out the perfect light meter for both your needs and your budget, one that will ensure consistently great exposures in the studio and the field.
Are you ready to select your new light meter?
Let’s get started.
The Best Light Meters in 2020: How to Choose a Light Meter
Before you decide on a light meter, it’s important you understand the different possible features–so you’re able to choose the option that fits your needs.
Now, when choosing a light meter, you must consider a few main factors:
Let’s consider these one at a time, starting with:
Type: Analog Versus Digital
A number of years back, analog light meters were the only way to go. They used needles and moving dials to display the ideal camera settings, like this:
These days, digital light meters are the more popular options. Digital light meters take a light reading, then display the exposure reading on an LCD screen. But some photographers still like to work with analog light meters, and several companies still manufacture analog options.
Generally speaking, I recommend working with a digital light meter. They do a stellar job of metering, and they also come with other useful features (see the next section for a discussion of these). The best digital light meters are extremely easy to use, with touch screens and large displays.
But analog light meters can be a bit cheaper than digital light meters. And unlike digital light meters, analog light meters don’t drain batteries, so you can worry far less about them failing on you in the field. Also, analog light meters tend to meter slightly faster than digital light meters, so if speed is your priority, an analog meter might make sense.
Features and Capabilities
The best light meters offer a whole host of features and capabilities for your photography needs.
First, good light meters tend to offer incident light readings, as opposed to reflected light readings.
Incident light readings measure the light that’s hitting your subject, whereas reflected light readings measure the light that’s reflecting off of your subject.
(Note that camera meters all take reflected light readings.)
In general, incident light readings are more accurate, because reflected light readings can be fooled by ultra-reflective objects, very dark objects, and contrast-heavy scenes. But it’s not always possible to get an incident light reading, because this requires placing the meter directly in front of your subject. While shooting in a studio allows for easy incident light readings, it’s tough to use incident readings on a moving subject or a subject off in the distance.
The best light meters also work as flash meters, which read the light coming from a flash and give you an exposure suggestion.
Finally, good light meters include a wide range of shutter speed and aperture readings (e.g., ranging from 30 minutes to 1/8000s and beyond for shutter speed, and from f/1.0 to f/32 and beyond for aperture).
Size and Handling
Light meters tend to be fairly small and compact, so you probably won’t need to worry much about size and weight. But it always pays to avoid unwieldy and heavy light meters; you don’t want to get stuck with unnecessary weight in your camera bag.
As for handling, simple light meters often perform best. If you’re just getting started with light meters, I’d recommend a simple digital light meter with only the basic readings and buttons. The more complex the light meter gets, the more difficult it becomes to work with, and the more overwhelmed you’ll feel.
If you’re a more serious photographer looking for a high-end light meter, you may be ready for more sophisticated buttons.
But until then, simpler is best.
Light meter price tags vary, and so we’ve included a number of options on this list, ranging from budget to high-end.
Note that higher-priced light meters come with additional features, such as advanced modes and touch screen interfaces.
However, unless you have a specific need for these capabilities, you can safely ignore them; you’ll do just fine with a more basic option.
The Best Light Meters in 2019: Top 8 Picks
In the next section, you’ll discover the best five light meters you can purchase (for any budget).
Note that all of these light meters will provide extremely accurate readings–and get you perfect exposures and beautiful photos.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Our Pick: The Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478D Light Meter
The Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478D light meter is, simply put, the best light meter out there for photographers, especially for those who want plenty of features for a reasonable price.
The Sekonic Pro is an incident light meter; it measures the light on your subject rather than reflected light, which makes for ultra-accurate, useful readings. However, you can purchase accessories from Sekonic to add reflected light reading capabilities. Plus, you can use the Sekonic Pro as a flash meter as well as a light meter, which allows you to use it in complex studio conditions.
The Sekonic Pro works EV -2 to EV 22.9. In other words, you can use the meter in near darkness to intense brightness. And it’ll give you all the basic measurements: aperture (from f/0.5 to f/161.2), shutter speed (from 30 min to 1/64,000s), and ISO (from ISO 3 to ISO 4096000).
Best of all, the Sekonic Pro features a high-quality LCD touchscreen. You can scroll through different aperture, shutter speed, and ISO options to get your desired set of values. It’s easy to use and you’ll easily be able to manage the meter on a shoot, even if you’re a first-time user.
- Instantly familiar and comfortable to use. Make settings by touching icons or sliding a finger on the screen. The large color...
- The L-478-Series meters are especially useful when using flash to lighten shadows or reduce background detail. That's because...
- The L-478-series has two motion- capture modes to fit camera in use. Touch to set shutter speeds for HD SLR cameras or...
- Special effects and light sources can push standard camera settings to their limits That's why the L-478 also allows creating...
- Brightness measurement in Lux or FC and Cd/m2 or FL will make the L-478 a major player on movie sets around the world....
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2. Best Budget Light Meter: Sekonic 401-208 Twin Mate Light Meter
The Sekonic 401-208 Twin Mate light meter is the best budget light meter you can buy in 2019.
No, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a high-end light meter.
But it’ll do the job, even in tough conditions, and will give you excellent results for capturing stunning photos. And it offers both incident readings and reflected readings, which gives you some flexibility when working with distant or moving subjects.
Note that the Sekonic 401-208 doesn’t offer digital readings. It’s an analog light meter, which means you use the dials on the meter’s face to select your exposure.
The Sekonic provides basic readings, but this is enough to get a well-exposed photo. It gives you a suggested aperture (with a range of f/1.4 to f/32) and a shutter speed (with a range of 30 seconds to 1/8000s), with an ISO between ISO 12 and ISO 12500.
One limitation of this analog Sekonic is that it doesn’t work as a flash meter. A flash moves too fast to create a useful reading, so you’ll need to work with continuous studio lighting (or no studio lighting at all).
A bonus of this Sekonic is its compact build: It’s small and light, and therefore easy to carry into the studio or the field. You can also mount it on your camera’s hot shoe for quick access.
And best of all, it’s relatively cheap; you can pick up a new Sekonic for just over $100 USD.
- ONLY SEKONIC METERS THAT ARE SHIPPED BY AND SOLD BY AMAZON.COM OR OTHER AUTHORIZED SEKONIC DEALERS CAN ENSURE THAT YOU ARE...
- Perfect for beginners, or as a compact ambient backup meter
- 30-seconds to 1/8000th, f/1.4 to f/32 in half-stop increments
- ISO 12 to 12500 in half-stop increments
- Hold-and-Read mode locks readings for 15-seconds, allows for extended exposure evaluation time
3. Also Good: Kenko KFM-1100 Auto Digi Meter
The Kenko KFM-1100 Auto Digi light meter is an excellent digital option, especially for those who want a high-quality light meter without the price tag of the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro.
The Kenko KFM-1100 doubles as an ambient light meter and a flash meter, which allows you to work both in the studio and the field without any trouble.
The Kenko offers a wide shutter speed and aperture range: from 30 minutes to 1/8000s, and from f/1.0 to f/128. This should give you plenty of breadth in your exposure choices. And accuracy is extremely high, so you’ll be able to capture beautiful exposures, consistently.
Another useful feature on the Kenko: Its ability to store two previous readings in its memory. That way, you can quickly recall the readings and do average calculations for the best overall exposure.
The digital readout isn’t huge, but it does the job. And the price is reasonable, even if it’s slightly higher than some of the other options out there.
So if you want a great digital light meter at a decent price, and you need to be able to do flash metering, the Kenko KFM-1100 is an excellent choice.
- Simple and easy-to-use ambient/flash meter
- Accurate and full featured
- Analyze function for mixed lighting
- Flash-ambient ratio calculations
- Cord or cordless operation
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The Sekonic L-398A Studio Deluxe III is the second analog light meter on our list. It’s geared toward more experienced photographers, and has a price to match, costing nearly twice that of the Sekonic 401-208 meter.
But if you’re looking for an excellent analog light meter, don’t let that stop you.
Because the Sekonic L-398A offers the basics, and more. You can easily grab aperture readings (from f/0.7 to f/128) and shutter speed readings (from 60 seconds to 1/8000s).
You also don’t need to worry about a battery, because the Sekonic uses an amorphous photocell (in other words, it’s solar-powered). So you can use this light meter all day without worrying about power requirements.
Note that the Sekonic L-398A works as both a reflected light meter and an incident light meter. Work up close and personal with your subject by using the meter in incident mode, then make a few quick adjustments and capture reflected meter readings.
Like the previous Sekonic analog meter on this list, the Sekonic L-389A works only as a light meter; you cannot use it as a flash meter. However, you can still use it with continuous lighting in the studio.
For those wanting a simple, easy-to-use, and (above all) accurate light meter, the Sekonic L-398A is an excellent option.
- ONLY SEKONIC METERS THAT ARE SHIPPED BY AND SOLD BY AMAZON.COM OR OTHER AUTHORIZED SEKONIC DEALERS CAN ENSURE THAT YOU ARE...
- Ideal prime or back-up meter for still photography and cinematography use
- Amorphous photocell requires no batteries or external power source.
- ISO range 6 to 12,000 in 1/3 step increments
- 60-seconds to 1/8000th, f/0.7 to f/128, 8-fps to 128-fps
Here’s our final pick for the best light meter:
It’s a great light meter for photographers just getting started with handheld metering, and it comes with several advanced features for those who need room to grow.
First, the Sekonic L-308X-U light meter offers a small digital display, on which it produces its basic readings: aperture (from f/1.0 to f/90.9), shutter speed (60 seconds to 1/8000s), and ISO.
At ISO 100, the device meters down to 0 EV, which is a good (but not stellar) dynamic range. In other words, you should be able to use this light meter in most conditions but will lose proper functioning in near blackness.
You can use the Sekonic L-308X-U to measure both incident and reflected light, which makes this a great choice for those who require flexibility. And it doubles as a flash meter for all your studio metering needs.
As an added bonus, the Sekonic is extremely compact; it fits into pockets and you won’t have to worry about the added weight during a shoot.
- Exposures accurate down to a tenth-of-a-stop for both ambient and electronic flash light readings in full-stop mode.
- At ISO 100 the ambient EV range is 0 to 19.9 flash f/stops range from f/1.0 to f/90.9 with a shutter-speed span of 60-seconds...
- Photo Mode: for still image photographers featuring shutter or aperture priority display of a full range of ambient and flash...
- HD Cine Mode: perfect for DSLR and mirrorless videographers who need to take exposure readings and control light using...
- Cine Mode: designed for use with cinema grade cameras, allows users to select from the most useful frame rates and shutter...
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The Best Light Meters in 2019: Conclusion
You should now know how to choose the perfect light meter.
If you want a high-end meter with lots of features and a large LCD touchscreen, grab the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478D light meter.
If you’re looking for a great option that comes for a very reasonable price and you don’t mind using an analog meter, then the Sekonic 401-208 Twin Mate light meter is the way to go.
And if you’re in need of a good digital light meter that can work with flash, but without the price of the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro, check out the Kenko KFM-1100.
You won’t be disappointed.
The best light meter is the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478D, which offers both light metering and flash metering, along with easy handling via a touchscreen. It’s extremely accurate and will satisfy pretty much any photographer!
Incident light refers to the light falling on your subject. In other words, an incident light reading involves putting the meter in front of your subject and capturing the light coming in from every direction.
Reflected light refers to the light bouncing off your subject. You capture a reflected light reading by pointing the light meter at your subject and measuring the light that hits it.
Light meters measure ambient light–the light that is falling on the meter from all around the scene. Flash meters measure light from a flash. They often hook up to flashes and trigger them in order to assess the flash strength.
The best light meter on a budget is the Sekonic 401-208 Twin Mate light meter, which is both cheap and accurate. However, it’s an analog light meter, and it doesn’t include flash metering.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.
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