There’s no question that in some complex metering situations, an incident light meter can be quicker, faster, simpler, and more accurate than the meter in your camera. Many incident light meters can also measure light from an electronic flash, a huge bonus when you are using a flash in the manual mode.
An incident light meter is so quick and simple to use because it meters the light falling on the subject, rather than the light that is reflected off the subject. This changes everything. To learn why this is important and how to use an incident light, read this article. There is a lot more information on metering and using an incident light meter in my highly rated book (five stars at Amazon.com), Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies.
My favorite incident light meters are made by Sekonic and Gossen. Polaris meters also have an excellent reputation and a lower price. Minolta meters are worth finding on the used market.
The two meters I use the most are the Sekonic L-358 and the Gossen Luna-Pro F (no longer manufactured but worth finding on the used market). Both meters will measure incident light as well as light from an electronic flash. I did a lot of research before deciding the Sekonic L-358 was the best modern light meter for both my landscape photography and portrait photography in the studio. I recommend it highly. Although it is no longer manufactured you can still find the Sekonic L-358 on the used marketplace.
If I were buying an incident light meter today my first choice would be the Sekonic L-478D-U or L-478DR-U. Both models are an update for the L-358. The “R” in the L-478DR-U stands for “radio”. The L-478DR-U works with Pocket Wizard radio remotes to control cameras and studio flash units. If you use Pocket Wizard units (or plan on using them in the future), get the L-478DR-U. If you have no plans to use Pocket Wizard units, get the L-478D-U.
On a more limited budget, I would suggest one of the light meters I recommend at my photography store.
My selection of the best light meters in each price range is here at my photography store. My store is powered by Amazon.com so you get the same great Amazon prices, convenient ordering, fast shipping, and excellent guarantee.
This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.