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As a photographer, you’re only as good as your equipment. You can have the best eye for composition in the world, but if your gear is junk your photo will look like junk as well.
One piece of equipment you absolutely need to have on hand, both in-studio and on the go, is a light meter. After all, photography is all about controlling light, and there’s no better way to know what kind of light you’re dealing with than with a light meter.
But what light meter is best for you? There are hundreds of options out there and you don’t want to go and drop down some serious cash for a device that doesn’t work, doesn’t deliver, and doesn’t satisfy your needs.
That is why we combed through the hundreds of options on Amazon to identify the best of the best. From affordable options to the best bang for your photographer buck.
Things To Consider
As a professional photographer, you’ll need an accurate light meter you can take anywhere with you. Now, most DSLR cameras have a built-in light meter. This kind of a light meter is likely fine if you are a novice or if you just like taking photographs for fun. However, if you’re a serious photographer and want the very best control of your photographs you’ll want a spotlight meter. If you are shopping around for a light meter there are several specifics you’ll want to consider before putting down cash for a particular piece of equipment.
1. Analog v Digital
If you were to talk with an old school photographer who has been in the business for decades, chances are you’ll find they use the same light meter they’ve had for ages. There is a comfort when it comes to your light meter.
As long as it is well maintained a light meter will stand the test of time (although once you move into the professional world it is always a good idea to have a backup with you, just in case). And as these photographers have been in the industry for some time they likely will have an analog light meter.
Analog light meters don’t have the same fancy digital LED displays or touchpads, but in some instances, this can be more beneficial. The analog light meter will not use as much battery power, which allows it to last longer. Also, having physical knobs and displays are usually more durable than a glass screen.
Now, all of this doesn’t mean a digital light meter is bad. The light meter built into the DSLR is digital. Much of modern photography is now digital. Digital light meters will give you a larger display that is easier to read, and you can adjust readings faster, or even save other information within the memory bank of the device instead of being forced to remember readings on an analog device (or writing it down).
Just like anything else you buy regarding camera gear, there is going to be a large difference in price point. Now, more expensive does not always mean better.
It might mean you’ll receive more features, a larger LED screen, or more memory, so in reality, when it comes to price you may only need to spend more if you want to purchase more features.
As long as you go with a well-reviewed light meter and don’t mind skipping out on some bonus features you’ll likely be able to pick up a quality light meter for a less expensive price point.
You’re not always going to be in a studio setting when you use your light meter. There may be times when you are out in a rural setting, hiking, taking pictures in the great outdoors, or in a crowded setting. Wherever you are you’ll want to consider buying a durable light meter.
If you are going to be out, away from the studio, you’ll want to consider having a back-up light meter as you don’t want to miss out on an important photograph just because something happened to your go-to device, but you can reduce potential damage and extend the life of your light meter by investing in a rugged device that has some protective features.
Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478DR-U
Classic Design, Loaded With Options
Picking the right light meter isn’t easy. Everyone photographer has a unique take on what they like or don’t like. This design just happens to check every box you might have.
- Large, easy to read LCD, is visible in all lights (or no lights)
- Adjustable light meter
- Easy to grip and hold in one hand
- Everything is customizable
- Backed by 3-year warranty
Best Light Meters Under $100
When you don’t need a light meter that comes with a hundred different features and, instead, you just want an entry-level light meter that is as easy to use as possible, the Dr. Meter LX1330B is about as easy and basic as you’re going to find.
This particular light meter doesn’t have most of the same features you’ll find on the other meters on this list. It has a very interesting design. The meter itself is not attached to the controlling device and screen. Instead, it connects to it via a coiled wire (think a corded phone receiver wire). It looks more like a ham radio design than anything else, but that also makes it easier to take readings. You can hold onto the display/control part of the light meter, which is about the size of a remote control, and then hold out the light meter to the desired area.
The light meter has four different ranges of 200, 2,000, 20,000, and 200,000 Lux. It also has a very fast response rate, so you won’t be waiting for the digital display screen to produce the information.
If you work in a construction site or if you’re in a location where you would rather have a solid light meter designed to take a few bumps and bruises you’ll find this may be the best way to go. This way you can keep your more expensive light meter at home and instead use this device. It does come with a solid bumper case that fits around the entire handheld portion of the meter. When the bumper case is snapped on you can drop the reader, have it knocked off tables, and do just about anything else with it without fear of damage.
If you’re looking for a light meter that you can adjust based on if you’re shooting still photography or video this is not the device for you. It also doesn’t have much in the way of extra features. It’s just a light meter. It has one job and that’s what it does. There are a few control aspects you can adjust, but for the most part, you’re buying a bare-bones device. Which is either exactly what you’re looking for or it doesn’t fit at all what you want to buy.
- The meter portion of the device connects via wire to the handheld control portion of the Dr. Meter light meter.
- Comes with a solid bumper case that makes the light meter an excellent piece of equipment to take with you when you don’t want to risk damaging a more expensive light meter
- 1-year warranty
- Easy to use. It is a good way to learn how to use a light meter for novice photographers new to the idea of a portable light meter
- Easy to read display screen
- Bumper case both protects the equipment while adding extra grip
- The bare-bones device comes with few added features
- Having a wired attachment might get in the way of some users
Price: Under $40
Best Light Meters Under $250
This light meter is on the list thanks to its small size and the ability to take advantage of the technology you already have with you. It isn’t a stand-alone light meter. Instead, it plugs into the power port on your Apple iPhone or another mobile iOS device. Of course, this means you need to run an Apple device and it also means you’re tethered to the battery of your mobile phone or tablet (and when in use you can’t charge the device at the same time).
So there are several pros and cons with regards to this. However, sometimes you just don’t have the kind of room to bring a full camera kit with you. When you have next to no space to pack a large kit and you need to make do with what’s around, the Lumu Power Light & Color Meter is a nice way to go. It can also prove to be a solid backup option for other light meters.
With the light meter, you will download the associated application and can then use it to collect ambient exposure, flash exposure and also color temperature. The color temperature readings may not be as accurate as you’d like, but when you want a color temperature meter you should invest in a higher-end offering (there are other color temperature meters further down on the list that will give you an excellent reading).
- Plus directly into an Apple iPhone
- Offers ambient, flash, and color temperature readings
- Easy to travel within your pocket
- Fast and easy device to use
- Plugs into your iPhone in seconds
- Lets you save space on a travel kit when you don’t have room for a light meter
- Only works with Apple devices
- Can’t charge the phone while using the light meter
- Forced to rely on the battery life of your phone, which will drain faster while this is plugged in
Price Range: Under $250
If you are someone who likes analog light meters, were trained on an analog light meter, or want a device on hand that doesn’t require battery power, the Sekonic L-398A light meter might be the perfect device for you.
It has a classic light meter design that is adjusted via turn dials. It is also great to have as a backup for when you’re not able to use an electronic, digital meter. There may be times when you run out of battery power for your light meter. Instead of not using a light meter you can use this device, which doesn’t require any power at all.
- Analog light meter design
- Doesn’t require any battery power
- Classic light meter design
- Never have to worry about your battery running out again
- Durable as it does not have a large LCD screen front and center
- Meter head can be turned and adjusted to better fit your light reading needs
- The protective case comes with the meter
- If you haven’t used an analog light meter before it may take some getting used to
- Does not have a light-up screen
Price Range: Under $250
Best Light Meters Under $450
This is a powerful little light meter that packs a serious punch in its size. While it isn’t as large as some of the other devices it is still easy to hold in your hands and view all the necessary information on the LCD.
If you haven’t used a light meter before there is a bit of a learning curve with the device, but that is because there are so many features packed into the equipment. It very much has a familiar styling as the older, analog Sekonic light meters, which were made famous by the comfortable construction of the rectangular base. It fits snuggly into your hand and is easy to control with your thumb and fingers, without needing to use both hands.
The light meter can utilize flash power control and radio triggering, which gives it a more precise measurement, especially when using it along with a flash.
A nice add on with the Sekonic light meter is the additional deluxe case that comes with it. The case is durable and will help protect your lighting investment while on the go. There is also some room and a separate pocket to house the optional 5-degree reflected light attachment.
The light meter also comes with a 3-year warranty, which is one of the largest light meter product warranties you’re going to find on the market.
- Easy to grip design
- Adjustable light meter
- Controlled through both radio triggering and flash power control
- Incident metering for both flash and ambient
- The large LCD can be viewed in any lighting environment
- Packed full of customizable features
- Protective case
- Moveable meter
- 3-year warranty offers you extended protection over other meters
- Is more expensive than some other devices
- The LCD will use up battery faster than smaller displays
Price Range: Under $450
This is a compact, easy to use light meter that is great when you don’t have a ton of room to work within your kit, or when you want something that can fit into a pocket.
The Sekonic L-308X-U uses a smaller digital display that provides accurate exposures to a tent of a stop on both electronic flash light readings and ambient lighting situations. It features modes for both photo and HD video, which helps you adjust the lighting accordingly based on how you are capturing either stills or video. It even lets you account for the use of a DSLR camera and a mirrorless camera, which does have an impact on the amount of light that hits the sensor.
There are times when you don’t need anything large or with dozens of special features. Sometimes you just need a light meter that does one thing: read the light. When that is the case this particular light meter is easy to use and can fit in any kit.
If you are new to using light meters this is an excellent light meter to consider. It isn’t as complicated to use and the learning curve isn’t as steep as is the case with other meters. Plus, the light meter will work off of a single AA battery.
- Easy to control light meter that snaps into position by sliding the meter to the left or right
- Has display features for both still and video photography
- Can fit into your pocket for easy mobility
- The simple display and features make it easier to learn, which is helpful if you are a novice photographer
- An affordable option to consider
- It only requires a single AA battery.
- Amazon’s Choice recipient
- Might not have as many features a professional might want
- The digital display might be difficult to view in the dark
- The light meter is designed to work in temperatures between 0 and 40 degrees C. So if you’re planning on using a light meter in sub-freezing temperatures you’ll want to consider a different option
Price Range: Under $220
Best Light Meters Under $600
This light meter is built much like a classic analog meter. Of course, Sekonic has a long history in building exceptional light meters, so it very much uses a similar design construction, only with this device it has an LED digital display instead of an analog reader. With the digital display, there is the ability to build in additional features and controls as you scroll through the menu.
With this Sekonic you have an additional three stops of light sensitivity for incident light, and two stops for reflected light. This will give you far more control and reading capability. With the light meter, you can swivel the reader, which allows you to take different angular readings from the same position.
The light meter comes with a tripod thread on the bottom, which is helpful if you either want to leave it in position (which is helpful if you’re on your own or you want to keep it in the same spot), or if you want to connect an arm attachment to the bottom of the device, which means it possible to control the device from a further distance away.
The light meter does have a viewfinder built into the side, which allows you to spot up different potential capture angles without moving your camera around. This is especially helpful if your camera is already locked down and you don’t want to go about moving it around until you know exactly where you want it positioned.
With the light meter, you will also have a soft carrying case to protect your meter. The soft case is more of a scratch-protector than anything else. It doesn’t have a solid construction so you’ll still want to protect it in your camera bag, but it is nice to at least have this piece of protective equipment.
- The light meter offers heightened light sensitivity for greater reading controls
- LED screen
- Wrist strap attachment makes it easy to secure around your arm
- If you’re familiar with the Sekonic design you’ll feel right at home using this digital device
- The viewfinder is easy to use and helps you set up the perfect shot
- Tripod attachment and wrist strap are solid additions
- Adjustable light meter
- Might be a bit more than a novice wants to spend on a light meter
- There is a learning curve using the menu system
Price Range: Under $600
Best Light Meters Under $2000
This particular light meter is more than just a device constructed to read light. It’s also designed to read the color temperature. This will help with taking a vibrant photograph and controlling the kind of color exposure within an image. This way, if you’re looking to make one particular color pop or want to cut down on the appearance of particular color temperature you can use this kind of a device specifically for that.
Additionally, this is an excellent device to use if you use black and white photography. It can be difficult to know how a particular color might look in black and white (or in an established color palette). With a color meter, you will have a better idea as to how a color might appear when converted into the black and white imagery.
The light meter is designed with an easy to read screen built right in the middle of the device. It also has the light/color meter pressed into the top of the meter. This is both good and potentially bad, depending on how you like to use your meter. The good aspect of it is the meter is better protected. On devices where the meter is positioned on the top of the equipment, it is easier to snap off and damage it if you were to accidentally drop the meter.
However, because the meter is firmly pressed into the top of the meter you can’t angle off the meter in a particular direction. You need to tilt the entire Sekonic device. In most cases, this isn’t an issue but there might be the occasion where you’d like to place the meter on the side of someone’s face while having the ability to read the screen yourself.
This is very much a speciality light meter. If you are just getting into the world of professional photography you probably won’t need a device that can read the color temperature. However, as you progress with your art and you want to better control not only the light but also the color, this will be something you should consider purchasing.
- Both light meter and color temperature meter
- Displays information in Kelvin, Illuminance, LB/CC filters, LB/CC Index, and UV
- Touch-screen display
- Easy to control and read touch-screen display
- Color temperature meter is a first of its kind as it measures flash illumination using wireless triggering
- Both color temperature meter and light meter
- Expensive. Likely out of the casual photographer’s price range
- Can’t move the sensor, which may be an issue for some users
Price: Under $1,500
Photography is all about how you control and work with light. The more knowledge you have about the light around you and the more skill you have in controlling it the better your photographs will be. One tool that is indispensable regarding your ability to do this is a light meter.
Light meters come in all shapes and sizes, and while most DSLR cameras now have a light-meter built into the camera you will want to have a handheld device. This will help give you a more accurate reading of not only the focal point of the image but also the lighting in different areas of the photograph.
Every one of these light meters will help you get the job done.
The right light meter for you will ultimately come down to what you’re looking for, the kind of features you’d like to have, and the amount of money you are willing to spend on the equipment.