How well do smart phone light meter apps work?

  • There are a number of smart phone apps which use the phone's camera as a light meter. How well do these work?

    The metering built into most modern cameras is very powerful and accurate, but in some cases it's nice to have a detached device. A smartphone is something I already have with me, and the app are only a few bucks, compared to $40 for a very cheap analog meter — or hundreds for a nice one.

    Do these apps really work, or are they gimmicks? Can they get the same information from a scene that a real device can? Can they be used as incident-light meters without additional physical attachments like a diffuser dome? Are they accurate? How accurate, compared to the various stand-alone devices? Do the phone apps have any advantages?

    So I also want to add. If you want to use this as an incident meter then just buy a grey card and get the reflective reading from the grey card. Works like a charm :)

    @user11336 Incident meters are aimed at the source. Your configuration describes a reflectance one.

    Didja try a comparison of the readings? How do they compare? Why would you use the smart phone reading in preference to the one in your smart camera?

  • Adam Wilt

    Adam Wilt Correct answer

    7 years ago

    Disclosure: I'm the guy behind Cine Meter and Cine Meter II, so take what I say with a grain of salt, grin.

    Do these apps really work, or are they gimmicks?

    They really work, within the limits of what the built-in camera allows. They may not be able to measure really dim light, for example.

    Can they get the same information from a scene that a real device can?

    Yes.

    Can they be used as incident-light meters without additional physical attachments like a diffuser dome?

    No. You either need a diffuser dome like Luxi or an add-on incident meter like Lumu

    Are they accurate? How accurate, compared to the various stand-alone devices?

    To within 1/10 stop (the limits of my measuring capability) if done correctly.

    Many apps use the camera's own exposure setting, so can vary by nearly a stop at times from what a meter might see (smartphone cameras often "expose to the right" a bit to maximize SNR). iOS devices provide a "brightness value" in their EXIF data stream, and that value appears to track external meters pretty much exactly. Apps that use the brightness value, or that do image analysis on captured pix to compensate for the camera's ETTR behavior, should track an external meter to within a tenth of a stop.

    Do the phone apps have any advantages?

    1. "The best lightmeter is the one you have with you."
    2. Cost: if you already have the phone, a metering app is a cheap add-on. If you don't have a phone, an iPod touch works fine, and it's cheaper than a standalone meter.
    3. Features: an app can add things like a false-color display or a waveform monitor to help in visualizing how the light falls on a scene and to look at contrast ratios. If they enable the front-facing camera, you can use 'em for reflected-reading "lightmeter selfies", using yourself as a model before your talent arrives. Also, when taking reflected readings, they show you exactly what the "meter" is seeing.

    Make fun of the windows phone all you want but it has a built in light meter that is just as accurate as my incident meter. It's a shame that apple decided to hide the lux from the light meter they use to detect your face.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM