A light meter is a device used in both photography and cinematography to determine the perfect level of exposure of a subject or of a scene. The light meter measures the amount of lumens being radiated from the light source around the subject and the scenery needed to be photographed or filmed.
This measurement then calculates the perfect settings, i.e. aperture (F-stop) and shutter-speed, and sometimes your ISO, to take a photograph or shoot the scene and capture a perfect exposure shot.
Why use a light meter?
It is very rare to see a light meter being used in outdoor photography however it is wise to have one on any shoot, whether it be outdoors or in the studio. It does not really matter if you have years of experience in your field of photography or film, a light meter is still an imperative tool to get your desired effect first time round.
Granted, one of the biggest arguments in the photographic world is that you can mend all mistakes with post-production. However, a great photographer is not measured by his/her editing skills but by his/her ability to get the picture perfect out of camera shots. This applies to cinematography on an even bigger scale.
How to use a light meter?
Using a light meter is not as difficult as it may seem. Once you have everything setup and your subject or scene is in front of your camera – hopefully placed on your tripod, take the light meter and depending on your model of light meter press the ‘get settings’ button and wait for the light meter to calculate your settings.
Once you have the desired settings set your camera settings to the same in manual mode. Your camera should have a built-in light meter, but an external light meter works so much better and is far more accurate.
12 Best Light Meters for Photography
This digital display light meter is a perfect mate for any photographer. The L308S is not suitable for cinematographers though. If you’re just starting out this is the perfect light meter. However, it will last you into your pro years as well. The metering modes available are T-Priority, Cine, Cordless flash, cord flash and EV. It comes with a rubber skin protector, and you are able to buy others in need be. It does use 1 x AA battery, and the battery life is well over two shoots.
The light meter fits perfectly into the palm, and the buttons are perfectly positioned for easy use while shooting. It looks and feels professional and seeing as it been designed by Sekonic, the leaders in light meter production, you really have a light meter mate at your side.
This is your top of the range incident light meter, what does this mean? It means that this light meter calculates the amount of light that your subject or scene is exposed to instead of the amount of light that is reflected from it.
There are certain calculations to keep in mind when using a light meter such as the Dr. Meter, but if you’re a cinematographer, then this is the light meter for you.
Definitely a favorite with a digital upgrade of note. The Sekonic L-478D-U light meter has a touchscreen display, and even though its price is well above our two competitors above, it is definitely worth forking out a little extra.
Its buttons are placed perfectly for easy, fast calculations and to make it even more fantastic, the buttons on this light meter have the ability to have their functions reprogrammed to whatever you want them to be. It takes 2 X AA batteries, and it has a range of features beyond any simple studio light meter. This is definitely for amateurs and pro’s alike, a definite investment in your career or hobby.
The Leaton is a lumen measuring light meter which again measures the amount of light present in the specific area and not the reflective light off a subject. This means that this light meter is perfect for cinematographers.
The accuracy is Incredible and measures accurately up to 200 000 Lux. It uses a 9V battery, and the battery life is quite extensive, so it’s excellent to take with on a full day of shooting.
Besides being water resistant (Class 4) which saves you worrying about at least one piece of equipment in the rain, the Sekonic L-358 is both an incident and a reflective light meter.
Its aperture range is from f/1.0 – f/90.9, with a shutter speed range of 1/1000 sec in flash mode and 1/8000 sec in ambient mode. It has full calculations and has a memory bank as well where you can store up to 8 calculations.
The Extech LT300 is an incident light meter and with its ergonomic design makes filming an absolute joy. It has a backlight which cuts out groping in the dark, manning your camera and gripping a torch between your teeth.
The Extech uses a colour correction filter as well as a precision photodiode. The cable is only 12” but that goodness it can be extended to a 24” distance if need be.
This Dr. Meter is another incident, tiny and excellent for cinematographers who are just starting out. Its accuracy may not be as high as the Extech above, but it certainly does the job up to 100 000 Lux and in a record 0.4 sec. Using a 9V battery with an 18mm LCD display size your light meter will last you days at a time.
If you are looking at price and just starting out with your photography and film studies, then this is the light meter to go for.
The accuracy is 50 000 Lux, but at its super low price, it’s a light meter that can save you hundreds as well as getting the job done. It also uses a 9V battery which lasts approximately five days on full use each day.
Now, this is a definite favourite. If you have the money and wish to make a serious investment in your career, then this is the light meter to go for. It’s not only a reflective light meter which gives you all the desired calculations that you will ever need, but it is also a cordless external flash, and an external flash trigger if need be.
This multiple use light meter is an excellent best friend to take on photo shoots or film shoots. In fact, if you are thinking of using your light meter for a long time, make sure to invest in the Sekonic L758DR, it truly is a digital master in your pocket!
With the simple shift of a button, your incident light meter can become a reflective light meter. This two in one light meter is the perfect companion for photographers and cinematographers alike. Accuracy is impeccable and goes right to an aperture of 1/10. It is fairly priced for its versatile capabilities and will last you a long while.
This is one of the best light meters that money can buy in its range. It has precise measuring, and it works as an external corded or cordless flash. The buttons are easy to get used to, and the design is square yet small enough for any sized palm.
The display for the Gossen GO 4033-2 is done in such a way that even a novice in their field can understand and get used to the layout. This light meter definitely gets a big thumbs up.
Many old school photographers and cinematographers use an analog light meter, why? Because it uses no alternative power source and if you have one that is as accurate as the Sekonic L-398A then you can’t go wrong.
Yes, we all want digital, but when the batteries die on set, you then realize you wish you had one of these.
Hope you liked this list of Best Light Meters for Photography and Cinematography. Please do share which Light Meter you use or interested in buying.