BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 

Selecting first light meter

I am looking to purchase my first light meter. I use 2 Nikon 8008 and shoot both color and black and white. Outdoor still life is what I enjoy, such as fences, signs, small buildings, etc. I would like ideas on selecting my first light meter with out spending a fortune to start with.
Thanks much
Bill J

To love this question, log in above
12/14/2005 8:55:34 AM

Glen Taylor   The choices are reflective, incident, spot, and a combination of those three. For landscape and still objects, an incident HH meter can be very useful. The more options, the more sensitive the meter, the higher the cost. You also need to examine whether or not you need low-light sensitivity, if you do, you want a battery-operated cell. If you like battery-free operation and don't need low-light operation, a lightly used selenium Gossen incident/reflective meter could be as little as $35. See here also:

To love this comment, log in above
12/14/2005 9:26:22 AM

Larry T. Miller   I use the Quantum Calcu-Light XP. Very sensitive (Down to -7)In EV terms, that's low. Especially good with early morning and late, late evening measurements. The other I use doesn't use batteries, a Weston Euromaster. Not as sensitive as the Calcu-Light but surely gets the job done.

To love this comment, log in above
3/27/2006 12:53:36 PM

Bob Fately   Bill, there are three basic attributes to a light meter (other than accurate reading, which I will assume):
1) type of readings it takes,
2) sensitivity, and
3)whether it can handle flash.

A reflected light meter is what you already have in your camera - it reads the light that bouces off the subject (your camera's is just a through-the-lens type) A spot meter is the same, but reads a very narrow angle of acceptance (usually 1 to 5 degrees). An incident meter (recognized as it has a diffuser dome) is used to read the light falling on the subject, and this is probably the feature you want most for the type of work you mention. View camera folks like spot meters as well - if the scene is distant and they need to get a good reading off a small portion or something like that.

Sensitivity, as Larry points out, can get quite high (that is, some meters can take readings in very low lighting). I don't know if that's important to you, given that outdoor still lifes are usually daytime shots. But, if you do night shooting, it's something to consider.

Flash reading is a separate feature set - there are incident and reflected flash meters as well. These are geared to read the sub-1/1000th second bursts of light that might come from multiple flash units (in a studio, say).

The metering mechanism is usually cadmium sulfide (CdS) or Selenium cell. The former requires a power source (battery) while the latter generates voltage so does not need a battery to run. I don't know if there are any selenium type meters made today anyway.

Brands to consider are Gossen and Sekonic, as well as the Quantum. If you are willing to get a used meter, you may find some bargains as it's the rare shooter nowadays to fusses with a meter any more. Get one from a reputable store so you can take a test roll (even compare to your in-camera meters) to ensure accuracy.

To love this comment, log in above
3/27/2006 2:31:44 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Greetings Bill: I thought I'd add a couple of additional points. First, you can get some excellent, clean used equipment, including meters like the Gossen and Sekonics, from an outfit called Although I've got a few meters, including a 1 degree spot meter, my preference is for an old reliable Gossen Luna Pro. It's extremely accurate, built like a hockey puck and hasn't failed me in any operating temperatures. You can probably get a good one used for less than $100 bucks or so.

Sometimes a meter requires calibration, especially under daily use. So, once every couple of years, I send the Luna Pro back to Bogen Photo for cleaning and calibration.

Quantum and Sekonic make good products, as does Minolta which has a combination meter like the Minolta IV F which does ambient, flash and reflected light. I don't like using my Sekonic outside the studio though because it's always seemed a bit more prone to inaccuracies if it gets bumped around.

Whichever meter you decide on, you'll likely see a significant improvement in the exposure quality of your work. To help along those lines, you'll find a book entitled (oddly enough) "The Hand Exposure Meter Book" by Martin Silverman, etc., quite helpful. It used to be published by the Photo Books Division of Mamiya America Corp. but probably has been picked up by another publisher since 1998. It explains usage in detail, gives you a lot of straightforward info and AND includes a handy, dandy, genuine, 100% gray card you can actually carry around and use to take actual exposure meter readings !!!
Ok, so that's not a big deal but it's good to know how to use a gray card to calculate exposures since light meters are essentially gray meters. For less than $20 bucks, a good investment along with your meter.

Take it, errrrr....light ;>)

To love this comment, log in above
3/27/2006 3:48:40 PM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.