Light meters – Buying guide & Comparison
If you’re short on time and you just want to find the best light meter on the market, this short paragraph should help you get exactly the model you need. We have gathered plenty of information about various products in this category by looking into expert review sites for DSLR photography gear and comparing the reviews and ratings there with actual owner feedback. According to our findings and research, the Sekonic L-478D LiteMaster Pro is the best because it is equipped with an innovative Camera exposure profile that provides today’s film and digital shooters with accurate measurement, repeatable precision and digital exposure control. This light meter uses the latest Data Transfer Software so you can set the instrument to optimize the unique features of your camera, its shutter speed, aperture and other components. Measuring exposure accurately becomes more effortless since you can simply call up those settings when needed. This model ships with all the necessary accessories so you can use it right out of the box. These include the CD ROM, which contains the full operating manual and Data Transfer Software, a soft case and strap for effortless portability, plus an anti-glare sheet for the LCD screen. If this best light meter for the money is unavailable, your second option should be the Sekonic L-308S Flashmate.
Exposure is a factor that even the most proficient photographer or cinematographer is very careful about. In every type of situation, it is quite easy to end up with under- or over-exposed images, which can stress out any photograph or film creator. The light meter provides the solution to this issue by providing a measurement of the exposure to prevent those undesirable situations effectively. Now what makes the top rating models in the best light meter reviews stand out from the rest?
Features light reading suitable for your purposes
The best light meter for photography can perform light reading in one of three ways. It should be able to read the light falling on the subject, which is called incident light reading. It can also read the light reflected from the subject, or simply reflected light reading. Flash metering involves the use of additional modes or connections to obtain a reading despite the simplicity in metering ambient and constant light. Majority of light meters can handle all three types of readings, and each light measurement method has its own advantages and disadvantages.
With incident readings, where the light falling on the subject is measured, the light meter needs to be pointed toward the camera from where the subject is. Proven to be extremely accurate compared to reflected readings, this method ensures that the instrument won’t be fooled by dark or overly reflective surfaces, but can be quite challenging to use with extremely distant or fast-moving subjects.
Reflected readings are more frequently utilized nowadays especially with plenty of modern cameras already equipped with their own built-in reflected light meter. A light meter that handles reflected light readings takes the average of the varying reflected light and then measures across the entire scene so a photographer can have accurate exposure settings. The best light meter for landscape photography should come with reflected light readings, which ensures an extremely fast and convenient means to acquire initial settings despite the difficulty of obtaining a proper reading because of many differences in light or because there’s a great variety of contrast. The use of an 18 percent gray card can greatly benefit from reflected metering, since accuracy is improved thanks to the provision of a consistent surface from which light is to be measured. In addition, reflected metering also provides readings of several different subjects quickly so the shooter can better understand the dynamic range of the scene in its entirety.
A subtype of reflective metering is spot metering. This involves reading of a very narrow segment of the image area, usually varying between 1 degree and 3 degrees. The best light meter for beginners should even feature a wider 5-degree to 10-degree angle of view. With this parameter, a good light meter for beginner use will allow you to meter certain objects in a scene specifically while preventing you from getting thrown off by either bright spots or overly dark ones in an image, as for example, when you have a dark background or a backlit subject. In that situation, the subject would come out either overexposed or underexposed, respectively, if you simply opt for an averaged reading.
Flash metering utilizes additional modes or connections to get a reading because of the very short duration of a flash, which is usually more than 1/1000-second. A quality light meter with flash metering capability is equipped with a PC terminal or similar sync port to trigger the flash directly. Some models include a radio transmitter to work a strobe unit wirelessly. With dedicated flash mode, the meter is put on standby and then reads and saves the measurement of the flash of light as it gets triggered by another source.
Videographers and cinematographers need specialty meters for their work. Unlike common exposure meters, the ones that these individuals use can be a spectrometer or color meter that provides a detailed analysis of the lights used in filming. The supplied information can be as basic as color temperature to Color Rendering Index (CRI) measurements and spectrum graphs. These kinds of meters enable the comparison of two varying light sources and make them either vary or match, based on the needs or preferences of the filmmaker. They can also be used to check the quality of light because some illumination sources can be lacking in specific colors, which can adversely affect your resulting images.
Form factor that you prefer
Since modern technology for cameras has provided the user with an onboard through-the-lens (TTL) metering configuration for reflected light readings, this has led some professionals to question the wisdom of still going for a dedicated handheld unit. The best handheld light meter still happens to be the answer to fixing the insecurities you have on exposure. It is extremely accurate because of its ability to measure light in tenths of an f-stop. Its reliability is beyond dispute, so if you take a bad exposure reading using a handheld model, there is a greater likelihood that you messed up and not the instrument. The numerous advancements and settings available may enable you to take center-weighted, spot or average readings but this does not detract from the fact that for some situations, a handheld meter is still the best option.
A handheld meter will not be fooled by extreme contrast, unlike built-in camera meters. Neither will it be deceived by flash, snow, transillumination, side lighting and backlighting. While reflected light is also measured by a handheld meter, the device provides even more reliability with ambient light measurement. Built-in light meters are unable to take incident light or flash readings at all, so a separate unit to handle such situations is needed.
Light meter features you can appreciate
The best light meter for photographers has a host of features that are different from the ones that are in the best light meter for film. Light meters designed for film production feature expanded settings for frame rates (frames per second), as well as the ability to display readings in foot candles, lux and shutter angles.
Some light meters are designed both for still photography and filmmaking use. These types of products come with ambient full-featured flash modes and DTS Exposure Profiling for still photography. For filmmaking, they feature Cine or HD Cine modes for use with today’s Video Cine or High Definition digital single lens reflex camera. They even have a light-source filtration compensation mode, making them the best industrial light meter units. This is aside from an extended ISO range and light measurement capabilities.
Top light meter reviews in 2017
Today, there are plenty of brands and models of light meters for various applications. To simplify your decision making process, we encourage you to go over the buying guide above for helpful information. We have also showcased the best products in this category below to help make your shopping experience smoother.
Sekonic L-478D LiteMaster Pro
Which light meter is best for still photography and for filmmaking? The Sekonic L-478D LiteMaster Pro is the answer.
This awesome product comes with a host of features designed to make photography and filmmaking easier and less stressful for the professional who is constantly worried about over- and underexposure. The full-featured ambient flash modes are perfect for taking photographs. This model even includes the new TF mode, which sets to shutter speed and f-stop priority.
This is a highly useful feature for modern digital cameras when a fixed aperture or speed is needed and the ISO has to be adjusted to obtain proper exposure. Other ambient flash modes include: T or shutter speed priority; F-stop priority; HD Cine Mode; Cine Mode; Illuminance lux mode; Luminance cd/m2 mode; and Luminance fl mode.
The different modes allow you measure, compare and mix ambient and flash as they appear on the color touchscreen to ensure you get controlled, beautiful results. The performance of your camera is matched to the light meter thanks to DTS Exposure Profiling, for precise lighting and exposure every time. Filmmakers will surely appreciate the extraordinary light-source filtration compensation mode that ensures optimization of precise control lighting using industry-grade CTO/CTB/ND types at just the touch of a finger.
Outfitted with a large, intuitive, 2.7-inch color touchscreen LCD, this light meter simplifies incident metering for both ambient and flash light, which makes it suitable for photography and filmmaking.
This device enables the filmmaker and photographer to maintain a complete control of the power of their flash in 0.1-step increments, which effectively avoids under and over-exposures.
This light meter functions optimally within a range of -2 to 22.9 EV at ISO 100 while expanding its standard stills functions using two distinct video modes, so you can have more options on whether to go for Cine or HD Cine settings to fit the situation.
With these settings, you gain an access to frame rate selection ranging between 1 and 1,000 fps and also adjust the shutter angle settings from 1 to 358 degrees along with the ISO 850 when using Canon cinematic cameras.
Among the suite of functions this model comes equipped with is the flash analyzing feature that employs ambient and flash at the same time so the photographer or filmmaker can simply dial in their desired mix.
It can be difficult to read the screen in harsh sunlight, according to one customer.
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Sekonic L-308S Flashmate
Easily the best small light meter on the market, the pocket-sized Sekonic L-308S-U Flashmate is geared to read ambient or flash exposures in either incident or reflected modes. This model displays precise exposure readings from third- to half- to full-stop increments in accordance with the exposure settings in today’s film and DSLR cameras.
At full-stop mode, display of exposures is in tenth-stop increments, with repeat accuracy of +/- 0.1 Exposure Value (EV). The LCD screen has been engineered to look and feel like that of the bigger Sekonic L-358 flash meter, with exposure data and related information displayed in large font and with easy-to-read icons, making them easily legible during poor lighting conditions.
The reflected light readings are captured at a receiving angle of around 40 degrees when the camera is used for subject readings. This model enables incident light exposure readings of three-dimensional subjects by simply sliding the built-in Lumisphere over the silicon photodiode.
You can also meter flat work or measure exposure ratios and/or contrast within a scene by snapping the supplied Lumidisc on over the sensor. At shutter speeds from 60 seconds to 1/8000th of a second , you can measure incident or ambient light over various lighting conditions.
This model runs on a single, good quality, double-A battery that can easily be inserted into the battery compartment at the back of the light meter.
This pocket-sized device is the lightest and smallest digital light meter from the Sekonic line-up and is engineered to read both ambient and flash exposures in either incident or reflected modes.
This tool displays accurate exposure readings in varying increments from full, to half, to third-stop values to provide a similar functionality to the DSLR and film cameras of today.
The fantastic LCD screen is geared to resemble the larger Sekonic L-358 flash meter in feel and looks, making it a great backup device to ensure truly accurate measurements.
The exposure data along with related information are displayed via easily readable and large type icons that can be easily viewed even in low-level lighting situations.
Those who have never used a light meter or who have not thoroughly become familiar with how this kind of instrument can dramatically improve exposures might not find this tool useful.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($189)
Undoubtedly the best inexpensive light meter, the Dr.Meter DM-LX1330B has a 3.5-digit 18mm LCD that makes it easy to read the measured values with the large type used. Powered by a 9-volt battery, this model measures the following lux ranges: 0.1-200/2,000/20,000/200,000, to ensure ample exposure so still photos and movies come out looking just as you want, never under- or overexposed.
The silicon photodiode with filter ensures fast rise time for high-bandwidth applications. The light meter has an operating temperature from 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure optimum performance in a variety of situations. The light meter makes the most of its battery with its 200 hours of battery life, for use in many sessions of photography and filmmaking.
This model offers easy transportability and handling with its 100 x 60 x 28 mm dimensions. The light meter ships with a carrying case, a battery and the user manual to facilitate out-of-the-box functionality. It also features over-range indication to ensure proper exposure, as well as a Unit and Sign display that enables easy reading.
This model offers high precision light measuring plus rapid response for stress-free use, along with auto-zeroing functionality for accurate readings every time. It also comes with Data Hold and Peak-Data hold switches for easy recording of readings.
Providing 4-range exposure measurements of 0/200/2,000/20,000/200,000 Lux, this light meter is an indispensable tool for scenic designers and cinematographers whose business is to ensure that their subjects get optimal lighting at all times.
Offering a rapid response, this device is geared to deliver highly accurate readings every time to prevent nasty overexposures that can ruin a good scene or a nice photo.
The Auto Zeroing function works to ensure that values are obtained without any pre-conditioned components so the reading is accurate and there won’t be a waste of filming and photography resources because of any discrepancies.
This device comes with the convenient features that help in the proper and speedy yet superbly accurate readings to accommodate the needs of the film or photo, including an indicator for over-range and a Unit and Sign display that facilitates easy readings.
You can set this to the low power consumption setting to preserve the life of the battery, especially for extended measurements.
The manual has been noted to be not too helpful, according to one user who also noticed some misprints in it.
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The Extech LT300 is indeed one of the best digital light meters on the market today. Equipped with a large LCD screen, this model comes with an analog bargraph that lets you see the reading as it rises and falls to complement the digital readout.
This model employs a precision photo diode with color correction filter to help you obtain accurate readings and adjust ambient lighting according to the needs of the scene or the subject. Readings are backlit to enable the effortless viewing of measured values even when the lighting conditions are poor.
The remote light sensor ensures greater accuracy while preventing such factors as side lighting, backlighting, transillumination, flash or snow from interfering with actual reading results. The remote light sensor even comes with a 12-inch coiled cable that can be uncoiled up to 24 inches to enable measurement around the subject.
This unit also has relative and peak modes so you can do averaging of measurements if necessary to determine the best exposure value. The peak mode measures the highest readings while the relative mode indicates the change in light levels for extra versatility. Compact and rugged, this model can go with you anywhere. Maximum and minimum readings are stored with the min/max features, with values expressed in lux or footcandles.
This is a rugged, compact, light intensity meter that is able to measure the luminance or light level in five different ranges, from 40 to 400, 4,000, 40,000, and 400,000 footcandles or lux, which is highly useful when setting up a scene for a film or for optimal photography results.
The large LCD backlit display features an analog bar graph that enables you to read and interpret data on the spot while using the device, with the data Hold feature enabling you to record and take notes as you go.
Suitable for indoor lighting tests, this light meter simplifies the checking of security and safety illumination in night-time ATM areas, parking garages, landings, stairwells, and hallways for the protection of the users of those facilities.
This tool easily switches between footcandles and lux units to suit the application or the requirements of your system while also providing color- and cosine-corrected measurements.
To save on battery life, this device turns off by itself if left idle for a long time.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($129.99)
Cooligg Docooler HS1010
The Cooligg Docooler HS1010 provides a resolution of 1 lux or 0.1 foot candle for error-free capturing of exposure values. The measuring level selection can be done automatically or manually to enable you to measure according to your preference or for double checking of obtained readings.
This compact instrument is easy to carry and is powered by two triple A batteries you can purchase separately so you won’t have to search for the right power source to use. Equipped to deliver a high accuracy and broad measuring range, this model provides both minimum and maximum measurement for averaging as well as to enable you to adjust the lighting as needed.
This generic model measures up to 200,000 lux to accommodate various lighting situations and for easy correction. It also allows you to choose between lux or foot candle unit for measuring and comes with data hold for easy recording of values plus data automatic recording to ensure easy recall from memory.
This unit can record up to 50 measurements so you can perform multiple readings before erasing them to capture new ones. Use it to compare the illumination obtainable from old lighting fixtures with new ones so you can reduce the number of fixtures by replacement with fresh and more powerful ones.
With its distinctive red-and-black housing, this light meter is a professional-looking device that offers easy functionality and won’t take a long time to learn to use optimally.
This generic 200,000-lux digital LCD handheld light meter can be brought anywhere in your pocket without sacrificing the high accuracy in its broad measuring range for versatile applications including architecture, photography, video creation, and other purposes.
The device performs an automatic measuring level selection for a strategic exposure level determination while eliminating the often error-filled guesswork for professionals.
The device enables you to do a unit selection between footcandles and lux so you can use the appropriate one for your specific needs or the demands of your job.
Powered by two separately purchased triple-A batteries, this model enables you to do a measuring level selection either manually or automatically to suit your preference.
The ‘on’ button on this model is exposed so when it is placed in a crowded tool box, the unit might get switched on by accident.
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Extremely useful for measuring environmental light levels in various types of environment including manufacturing plants and warehouses, office buildings, hospitals, schools, university campuses and many other places, the Extech LT40 is a valuable tool for precise light reading .
This model helps you optimize lighting in those environments to save on power consumption while ensuring that illumination is adequate for specific tasks, as promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for workplace lighting. This light meter ensures that the establishment complies with regulations as well as local and state public safety ordinances and codes.
This model measures white LED lighting and various other standard light sources such as metal halide, fluorescent, incandescent and high sodium, to maximum level of 4000,000 lux or 40,000 foot candles. The easy-to-read 4,000-count display shows you overload indication, auto-power off with disable function, and data hold.
This model lets you record extremes with its MAX/AVG/MIN mode. Toggling between lux and foot candle values is effortless with the simple push of a button. This model comes with zero calibration, auto ranging and hands-free use thanks to the tripod mount on the bottom. It also conforms to JIS C 1609:1993 and CNS 5119 general class A Specifications to ensure safety and reliability during use.
Allowing professionals to measure and optimize the environmental light levels in a wide variety of settings, this device can be used in warehouses, manufacturing plants, and office buildings to determine if all areas conform to the standards on occupational safety.
This device is also ideal for use when measuring lighting in hospitals, schools, university campuses, and many other locations where inadequate lighting could lead to hazards and security and safety issues.
This ensures that establishments are able to adhere to standards on regulatory compliance along with local and state public safety ordinances and codes.
The device measures not only LED lighting but also standard light sources including metal halide, fluorescent, incandescent, and high-pressure sodium for up to 400,000 lux or 40,000 footcandles, whichever is applicable.
With its basic accuracy of ±3%, the 4,000-count LCD, data hold feature, overload indication, disable, and auto power off, this model promises easy and convenient use without compromising its precision in readings.
The LCD screen is not backlit so making readings in poor lighting conditions or at night is not possible.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($96.03)
HDE LX-1010B HDE-F86
The HDE LX-1010B HDE-F86 enables you to accurately measure lighting in an area so you’ll know if there are enough fixtures to make work or task completion safe. This model is powered by a simple 9 volt battery, which can be bought separately.
Equipped with a light sensor built separate from the light meter, this unit enables you to find the best position for measuring because you are not tethered by cables to it. Able to measure up to 50,000 lux or approximately 5,000 foot candles, this light meter is highly useful for determining the level of luminance, which is defined as the density of the luminous flux incident.
When the area of a surface is illuminated, luminance denotes the quotient of the luminous flux of that surface. In simpler words, luminance refers to the measure of the quantity of light that falls on a given surface. This light meter offers convenience when used in various areas where illumination plays a huge role for ensuring safety and high quality of work during task completion, and they include photography, inspection, construction and more.
The instrument offers rapid response without compromising on high level of accuracy and reliability. It features Over-range indication, a clear LCD Display, Data Hold and Low battery alert.
Able to measure up to 50,000 lux with an accuracy of +/- 5 percent, this device enables you to determine whether an area is well lit, needs additional lighting, or can’t be used to perform specific work or tasks.
The independent light sensor enables you to take measurements at a comfortable position, so you wouldn’t need to assume awkward measuring poses in challenging environments.
This device is highly useful for school science fair projects as it enables you to determine the intensity of a light source and how it changes with the distance.
It also serves well for determining the proper exposure levels for photography so you can set the camera to the perfect shutter speed and f-number, for great-looking pictures.
Delivering high accuracy coupled with a rapid response, this tool enables you to complete the light measurement tasks quickly and efficiently while the Auto Zeroing function ensures independent measurements for accuracy every time.
One customer has noted that this device presents problems on calibration, as it is sensitive to red light, which is different from the human eye being sensitive to green light. This means the user has to remember to make corrections for the differences in wavelengths.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($16.99)
The Extech 401027 measures up to 2000 foot candles to ensure that areas are lit optimally for problem-free carrying out of tasks. With a maximum resolution of 0.1 foot candle, this light meter provides simple operation with its remote, adjustable, color adjusted photodiode sensor that maneuvers into various positions to enable accurate readings every time, used together with the 45-inch cable and protective cover to enable easy measurement and convenient portability.
You can choose between two ranges based on your light source: 0 to 199.9 and 200 to 1999 Foot candle. Those that fall in the lower range are classified as weaker light sources and they include work lamps, while those in the higher range include industrial lights.
The easy-to-read display is a 13-mm 3.5-digit LCD screen with 1999 count for the type so you can easily read the numerals for reference. The 47-inch coiled cable on the sensor ensures easy deployment of the sensor unit.
The built-in stand enables hands-free operation. The over-range indicator tells you when the light source is below or above the set range. The low battery indicator even emits an alert when the battery needs replacing. Use this light meter to measure the amount of light in spaces where optimal lighting is to complete tasks effectively, as in workplaces and computer rooms, while ensuring that lighting fixtures comply with standards set by safety regulation agencies.
Allowing you to monitor the efficiency and intensity of a light source, this light meter is valuable for use in the home, workplace, and outdoors as it helps you know if lighting conditions are optimal for a specific task, purpose, or activity.
This special meter comes equipped with a remote, color-corrected photo-diode sensor that can be easily maneuvered for proximity to the light source being evaluated, with measurements given in footcandles.
This device is suitable for use in a variety of settings, with two ranges you can select from to facilitate easy and fast operations every time.
Providing an accuracy up to 5 percent, this device helps you determine the ideal lighting conditions for specific activities or tasks and whether or not the existing light source is adequate to serve that purpose.
This instrument features an LCD screen that shows you critical information including the measured values, over-range indication, low-battery alert, and more so you can enjoy an optimal functionality.
The LCD screen is unfortunately not backlit so taking readings in poor lighting conditions or at night cannot be done.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($86.93)
Light meter facts you should know
What is the best light meter for photography
A handheld meter is the best light meter for photography. Handheld models are extremely accurate compared to built-in camera meters, as they are not easily fooled by flash, snow, transillumination, back and side lighting and extreme contrast. They provide versatility, precision and the ability to measure ambient light that falls on the subject instead of simply reading reflected light. Handheld light meters can measure in tenths of an f-stop.
A good quality handheld model has three modes of measurement: flash; reflected; incident. It can read from a 1-degree angle for effortless control over the exposure of the subject from any distance. It should also be able to fire a studio strobe if you use a flash. It should have the capability to record multiple pops from a single or more strobe units, after which it then calculates the correct exposure based on the collected light. The light meter viewfinder should display the exposure reading, which can also be viewed on the external LCD. Some models display how much flash is used in an exposure, compared to the amount of continuous light (ambient or tungsten).
What is the best light meter for cinematography
Good cinematography involves the use of creative lighting to influence the mood and tone. A good light meter for cinematography is easy to bring along during location scouting so you can take readings at that location. It should help you determine light ratios and maintain light levels to maintain continuity throughout the shots so even if you move in for a close up, the light can be flattering to the actor. It should enable you to communicate effectively with the film crew, from the gaffer to the key grip.
A good light meter for filmmaking does the math for you so you know the ratio is correct. Seasoned cinematographers recommend the use of both an incident meter and a spot meter. For an affordable option, you could settle for the spot meter in your DSLR camera in shutter priority mode but make sure your shutter is set properly and take your readings with that. Don’t expect the spot meter in your DSLR camera to be as accurate, though. Look for models that create custom profiles and that load the dynamic range of different camera systems that they also map first.
What the best light meter app
The Pocket Light Meter by Nuwaste studios is a free app that even does reciprocity calculations in addition to everything you can appreciate from a light meter app. Pay only $0.99 to eliminate the ads so you can have a larger exposure display. The app is pretty straightforward and is easy and quick to deploy. It displays a viewfinder plus three dials along with Hold and Save buttons. The ISO value has to be adjusted first. If you’re using the app when shooting film, this setting will depend on the film, so it is essential that you get the setting right. You let more light in with greater ISO values, making it vital that this value has been properly configured beforehand to prevent your settings from getting thrown off.
To focus on diverse areas of the frame, you only need to tap the viewfinder in the same way you would use an iPhone’s built-in camera. A red box informs you of the current portion of the image that has proper exposure, with the other value getting adjusted accordingly depending on whether you change the aperture or shutter value. Shooting wide open at f/2 requires that you adjust the aperture and obtain a reading for the shutter speed. The shutter speed needs to be set to 1s and the aperture ring on the camera also has to be adjusted with the provided reading from the app if you intend to do a second-long exposure.
The app can be frozen in its current position if you press the Hold button. The Save button saves a log to the camera roll on the scene you’re obtaining exposure for, along with the time and date, geographical information and exposure values. Providing practical settings, the app measures exposure correctly just like an actual light meter so it is usable for the zone system. You can also do spot metering with a simple tap on the screen.
Using a light meter
Whether you’re a photographer or cinematographer, you know how important light is in making up or composing your images. No light, no photograph, no film, right? However, too much light results in overexposure, which creates an undesirable silhouette effect, and what good would that be to your work? This is why photography and cinematography professionals invest in a light meter.
Is a light meter really necessary?
Light meters are virtually indispensable in photography and filmmaking. While it may be true that seasoned photographers are quite proficient at guessing the exposure values for a given scene due mainly to their knowledge and experience on the nuances of light, you’ll find that many of them still carry a light meter, or use the one in their camera. Basically, the light meter reads how much light is in a scene. In photography, this enables the perfect setting of the exposure time. In film making, the light meter helps save on costly film and processing costs. Since any light recording system only functions in a relatively narrow band while preventing either over- or underexposure of the image, a filmmaker or photographer should be able to find the proper exposure level for image recording by knowing the amount of lighting in the scene. This is where sheer talent alone may not suffice, and where a light meter may come in handy.
Why use a light meter in the first place?
In photography as well as in cinematography, a light meter enables you to set up your camera correctly, quickly and more effortlessly compared to simply relying on gut feel. Of course, a light meter won’t guarantee you can take fantastic photos or shoot great videos, because the success of your work really depends on your capability as a professional in your field along with a combination of other factors such as your choice of equipment, the setting, or even your mood or attitude toward your work. However, a light meter ultimately lightens the load to make your job easier when setting up your cameras.
Photographers need a light meter to help them figure out the exact amount of light falling on the scene so they can adjust aperture, ISO and shutter speed to capture a consistent tone. Highlights and shadows can be effectively captured along with ranges in between. The instrument allows you to find a space that provides the greatest range of tones by measuring the quantity of light hitting your sensor to enable you to determine whether you’re overexposing or underexposing the essential parts of your composition. Knowing the intensity of your studio lights can be supplemented by the measurement of background light, which a light meter can do. This becomes even more essential when you do outdoor photography, where the values can vary greatly in any given situation.
Good cinematography is much more than getting an exposure. It’s about carefully and creatively placing light to reinforce the story being told. The light meter is the tool you need to help you shape that light. It is a tool you can bring along when scouting a location so you won’t have to lug around and set up your camera. The light meter lets you quickly and easily get the information you need and make your plans accordingly. Knowing what the light levels are like and determining the tools you need are important steps in the pre-production process.
Secondly, a light meter is helpful for determining the light ratios and maintaining light levels. If you’re lighting a scene to a specific ratio and want to maintain continuity throughout the shots, you’ll need to know what each light is giving you and what the ratios are. That way, when the crew moves in for the close up, you can make the light flattering to the talent while maintaining the same ratios of light.
In addition the light meter allows you to effectively communicate with your crew. When you’re lighting a scene, it’s important that you’re able to communicate with your crew, from the gaffer to the first assistant cinematographer to the key grip. Precise and clear communication speeds up the work on set. If there’s a trouble spot, such as an overexposed portion of the frame, you will need to know how much to bring it down or how much you need to bring up the shadows in order to get a proper exposure. You could waste time by guessing what needs to be done and then have your crew make multiple changes, but with a light meter, you could just take a reading and know right away what needs to happen.
A light meter is also much more efficient to use instead of the camera to light a scene. If you’re lighting through the camera, it means you’ll have to wait for it and the talent to be ready and available, which is not the most efficient way of working. You can start working right away. You can also light more than one area at the same time and not have to wait for the camera or move it from one location to another. Besides, when you always use a light meter, your eye gets trained to different light levels and ratios, which allows you to work even faster.