Checking and adjusting settings based on what you see on your camera screen is not professional. If you're doing analog photography, checking your screen is not an option.
A light meter is an important tool for photographers, videographers, and cinematographers. Without a light meter, you're not going to be able to accurately recreate lighting setups.
This list of the best light meters will help you choose one that fits your needs. There is a range of light meters available, from entry-level to high-end professional models.
The more you pay, the more features you get, and the larger the meters are. So paying more isn't always the best thing to do if you want small, easy to carry meter.
Best Light Meters for the Money
1. Sekonic L-308X-U Flashmate
- Accurate exposure readings to a tenth-of-a-stop.
- Capable of ambient and flash light readings.
- HD Cine Mode for videographers and cinematographers.
- Shutter-speed range of 60-seconds to 1/8000 of a second.
- f/stops from f/1.0 to f/90.9.
- Ambient EV range from 0 to 19.9.
- Sliding lumisphere for taking incident or reflected light measurements.
The Sekonic L-308X-U is a great light meter for photography. It is small enough to easily fit in a pocket, light, and only needs a single AA battery to operate.
It is capable of both flash and ambient light readings. The LCD screen is backlit, which will automatically turn on when the EV reading is less than 5.
An advantage of the older style LCD screen, is that it can easily be read in direct sunlight. This makes the meter usable with one hand, as you don't need the other to shade the screen.
Photo Mode can display measurements in EV, as well as being set for shutter priority or aperture priority. Those modes will display readings as shutter speed or f/stop once the other settings have been entered.
HD Cine Mode lets you take readings based on frame rates and shutter angles.
Cine Mode also uses frame rates and shutter angles, but additionally allows for readings in Lux (lx) and foot-candle (fc).
2. Gossen Digipro F2
- Shutter speed range of 60 minutes to 1/8000 of a second.
- ISO range of 3.2 to 8000.
- Automatic battery check and auto off.
- CINE value of 8 to 64 including 25 and 30.
- Extension factors 1.0 to 240.
- Calculation for multiple flashes.
- Contrast Measurement.
The Gossen Digipro F2 is similar in design to the Sekonic L-308X, but a bit more expensive.
You do get all the features you'll need for the vast majority, if not all of you photography, videography, or cinematography needs.
It runs off of a single AA battery and has a LCD screen that can be read in direct sunlight. Battery life is going to be excellent.
You can easily fit it into a pocket or carry it around your neck. It only weighs 95g (3.35oz) without a battery.
3. Kenko KFM-1100 Auto Digi Meter
It has a basic LCD screen and is powered by a single AA battery. A benefit to that design is the excellent battery life.
The ergonomics of the light meter are good. While the build quality isn't incredible, it is good enough.
However, the price is higher than the Sekonic L-308X, while having fewer features and smaller measurement ranges. That doesn't make it a bad buy, as long as you buy one used.
You can occasionally find a used Konica Minolta Auto Meter VF for less than $150 down to $100 on eBay. At $100 it is the best cheap light meter for photography.
Professional Light Meters
4. Sekonic Speedmaster L-858D-U
- Measures flash duration.
- Measures High-Speed Sync (HSS).
- PocketWizard module available for wireless control of lights.
- Elinchrom & Phottix module available for Skyport triggering and control.
- Capable of reading as low as 0.1 lx of illuminance.
- Dust and splash proof.
- Shutter speed range from 30 minutes to 1/64,000 of a second.
- ISO range from 3 to 13,107,200.
- 2.7" color touch screen.
The Sekonic Speedmaster L-858D-U is the best light meter for photography. No other light meter comes close to the features that are included.
While the meter is not going to easily fit into a pocket, batteries won't be an issue. It runs off of 2x AA batteries, or can be powered by USB.
Having the ability to measure flash duration and high-speed sync is important when trying to freeze action, get shallow depth-of-field with HSS, or overpower the sun. There won't be any second guessing of a photo when you open it in post.
A benefit for landscape photographers is the 1-degree spot meter that displays full information. Ambient EV readings range from EV 1 to EV 24.4.
For cinematographers, the meter can take readings as low as 0.1 lx of illuminance. This makes it possible to accurately meter scenes lit by candle light.
5. Kenko KFM-2200 Cine and Flash Meter
- Shutter speed 30 minutes to 1/16,000 of a second.
- ISO range of 3 to 8000 in 1/3 stop increments.
- LCD screen can be seen in direct sunlight.
- Memory can store up to 10 values.
- Displays both analog and digital readings.
- Shadow-based and highlight-based spot measurements.
The Kenko KFM-2200 is an update to the KFM-2100, which was the same as the Minolta Flash Meter VI. The design dates back to 2003.
As the meters have been out for a long time, you can save a big chuck of money by buying a used meter.
Only a single AA battery is needed to power the light meter. Not having a color touch screen, means the battery life is going to be significantly longer than the Sekonics.
Kenko lists the battery life as ~30 hours of continuous operation. Sekonic does not have a specification for battery life on their meters.
The KFM-2200 is also quite light weight coming in at only 185g without a battery. That's ends up being about half the weight of the Sekonic L-858D, with batteries.
6. Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478D-U
- 2.7" Touchscreen display.
- Ambient light readings from EV -2 to 22.9.
- Aperture and shutter priority metering.
- ISO range 3 to 409,600 in 1/3 step increments.
- Shutter speed range of 30 minutes to 1/64,000 of a second.
- Cine Mode with frame rate & shutter angle.
- Optional 5° viewfinder for spot metering.
- Upgradable firmware through USB port.
The Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478D-U meter sits between the L-308X-U and L-858D-U in terms of price and features. It is a great choice if you want a greater range for measuring EV, shutter speeds, and setting ISO than the L-308X-U has.
Power will need to be provided by 2x AAA batteries. Rechargeables can be used, which is convenient if you already own them.
With no spot meter, the L-308X-U is light and small enough to stick in a pocket. It does have the same dust and splash proof build as the more expensive L-858D-U.
One potential downside of the meter is that the manual is not very thorough. For tasks such as calibrating the meter, you may need to rely on YouTube tutorials.
Special Use Light Meters
7. Gossen Digiflash 2
- Smallest light meter on the list.
- No flash sync port.
- Two button controls can make changing settings slow.
- Ambient light measurement range EV 0 to 18.
- ISO range of 6 to 3200 in 1/3 stop increments.
- Built in thermometer.
The Gossen Digiflash 2 is by far the smallest and lightest meter on the list. It weighs just 40g, including the battery.
The small size comes with a reduction of features and ranges of measurements when compared to the other meters on the list.
For everyday use, this is going to be the best light meter for film photography. No one likes hauling around a larger kit than they have to.
It uses a 3V CR2032 coin cell battery, like you would use in a watch. While not as convenient as a AA, they are small, cheap, and easy to find.
8. Sekonic L-398A Studio Deluxe III
- Completely analog exposure meter.
- Does not use a battery.
- Very robust and durable.
- Popular with cinematographers.
- Direct reading slide set available.
The Sekonic L-398A is a analog meter with a couple advantages over its digital counterparts.
The first is that it can take continuous measurements. Holding down the metering button allows you to "walk the set" to check light levels.
Releasing the metering button locks the needle into place. Allowing you to see all combinations on settings for both cine and stills on the exposure calculation dial.
The second advantage is that it does not require batteries to operate. That alone makes it attractive to have as a backup cine light meter.
Best Spotmeters for Landscape Photographers
9. Pentax Spotmeter V
- Analog 1degree spotmeter.
- Gigantic viewfinder.
- EV range of 1 to 19.
- Exposure calculation dial has shutter speeds from 4 minutes to 1/4000 of a second.
The Pentax Spotmeter V has been out of production for a long time. If you want one, you're going to have to hunt down a used copy.
Beyond taking light measurements, there is a very dim light that will illuminate values on the low end of the EV range.
Many landscape photographers are a fan of the meter because it makes using the zone system easy.
The meter is powered by 3 LR44 button cell batteries. These can easily be found online or in a big box store.
10. Minolta Spotmeter F
- Capable of taking ambient and flash readings.
- Large viewfinder.
- Can store 1 reading in memory.
- ISO range from 12 to 6400
- Shutter speed range of 30 minutes to 1/8000 of a second.
The Minolta Spotmeter F is a digital alternative to the Pentax Spotmeter V. Many more features are included, as well as automatic calculation of exposures.
If you want one, your only option is to find one on the used market. They have not been in production for a long time.
There is a light to illuminate the reading in the viewfinder. The LCD does not have a backlight, which is unfortunate.
Another option is the Pentax Digital Spotmeter, but I'm not a fan of it. A huge part of the bottom of the viewfinder is taken up by an LCD that shows the EV reading.