Choosing a Light Meter

No matter how sophisticated our camera meters have become there is still an argument or for using a handheld light meter.

Handheld meters are very precise and can provide more information about the light in our scene and they can aid us in obtaining the optimum exposure for our scene.

Incident light meter readings

It is said that the most accurate form of metering is to use an incident light meter. Incident light meters measure the intensity of light falling on a subject and ignore the reflective properties of a subject.

Incident light readings ignore the reflective qualities of your subject

Why is this important? Because no matter how light or dark the subject is, it does not effect the exposure reading.

If the same intensity of light is falling both on a lighter and darker subject then they both need the same exposure. Its that simple!

Reflected light meter readings

When we take reflected light readings, our exposure is effected by the intensity of the light being reflected back from our subject.

light reflected back differs according to how light or dark a subject is

Our scene or subject is made up of different brightness values, dark tones reflect less light and brighter tones reflect more light.

A reflected light meter measures the light reflecting off your subject, taking into account the colour and brightness of the various elements in your scene (how dark or light your subject is) and this affects your reading.

Generally speaking scenes are made up of a number of light and dark tones

Most cameras come with three types of inbuilt light metering. Matrix (sometimes called segment, multiple), center-weighted and spot metering.

Reflected light metering always requires that you evaluate the scene and when necessary apply some form of exposure compensation.

Incident light metring versus reflected light readings

Incident light metering is fast and accurate and provides you with the optimum exposure for your subject.

Incident v reflected light readings

Recommended meters

Handheld light meters can be simple or more sophisticated and you need to think about what light meter will best meet your needs.

Many models also allow you to meter for flash and ambient light and if you use some form of flash you may want to ensure that you choose a meter that can read both ambient and flash lighting.

And some models also allow you to take spot meter readings.

Sekonic L-858D-U Speedmaster Light Meter

This light meter is aimed at both photographers and cinematographers. It is a very sophisticated meter providing

  • Incident light readings
  • Reflected spot metering
  • Multiple metering
  • Flash metering
  • Balancing of ambient light and flash readings

And has a touch screen. It is for the more advanced shooter and it is what I use. It may be too sophisticated for some users but will cover all lighting situations. It also has wireless trigger control.

Some people may find it a little bulky but I live with that as it is such a good meter.

Sekonic L308X

This is an accurate a pocket-sized meter, the Flashmate L-308X light meter from Sekonic is compact, poketable and can meter both ambient and flash lighting as well as working in video with dedicated Cine and HD Cine modes. It has a sliding lumisphere so that you can measure ambient light as well as reflected light.

This meter is ideal for those who want to keep their metering simple and still get accurate exposures. Whilst it offers reflected light metering it is a meter that will mostly be used in incident mode.

Gossen Digisix 2

If you want to keep things really simple you can go for the Gossen Digisix 2. It takes incident and reflected light readings that can read off from an analogue display. It can also do contrast measurements.

The three light meters here provide something for every level of user. LIke cameras as your photogpahy skills evolve you may find that your camera needs evolve too. Before purchasing a light meter, think about how your photography needs might expand. You don’t want to have to replace yur meter because it no longer meets your needs.

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