Upgrade Your Meterless Film Camera!

The beauty, the style and the build quality of mechanical film cameras made before the 1960’s is simply unmatched.  Barnack Leica’s, the original Nikon F, Rolleiflex TLR’s, Konica rangefinders, early Pentax SLR’s, Zeiss, Voigtlander and Agfa folders.  WOW!  Okay, I’m going to need a moment to calm down!  (Particularly since most of the cameras pictured in this blog are pretty junky!)

But one problem that all these mechanical jewels have in common is metering.  Before the 1950’s, exposure was by guess, Sunny 16, handheld selenium or these forgotten things called extinction meters.  Small accessory clip-on selenium meters, built-in selenium and specifically CdS meters of the 1950’s and 60’s changed photography forever.  The shrinking and coupling of light meters turned once all-mechanical devices into electro-mechanical ones and allowed photographers to get much more accurate exposure in challenging lighting conditions.

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Agfa Solina with Sekonic LC-1 vintage selenium meter | Photo from Johnny Martyr

Until now, your only modern option was the Voigtlander VC or VCII.  These are awesome little meters and the first silicon LED clip-on meters that I think anyone has released.  I use one, particularly for my Leica’s but even my Yashica TLR.  Very handy, nicely made and accurate.  They look great too!

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Canon VI-L with Voigtlander VCII new silicon LED meter | Photo from Johnny Martyr

But they’re costly.  B&H sells them for $225 currently.  I find that many people aren’t willing or able to spend this for the convenience/speed of metering which can also be done with a $20 Weston handheld.

Enter the new, made in Canada, Reveni Labs Light Meter which recently launched on Kickstarter and has already overshot it target funds.  It’s a tiny OLED display meter in a 3D printed case with a small price tag to match; only $95 USD.

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Pentax K1000 with Reveni Labs new OLED meter (I guess this is the only K1000 in the world with a dead meter?)| Image from Reveni Labs

Where the Voigtlander VCII is very flat, the Reveni is a bit taller but not as wide as the VCII.  It doesn’t appear to be much wider than a standard accessory shoe itself!  This size is inviting because it ensures that the Reveni will fit many cameras that the VCII simply cannot be adjusted to fit onto comfortably.

The VCII is also rather useless in low light due to the settings being engraved into its metal surfaces.  Only the LED indicators are visible in dim light.  The Reveni uses an OLED display and is therefore visible in total darkness.  OLED technology has been around since the 50’s but first made practical by Kodak in 1987.

The VCII requires two LR44 type batteries but the Reveni only uses one.  Not sure how this affects amount of time between battery replacements, however, it certainly cuts down on weight and perhaps cost to run the Reveni over time.

My only criticism of the Reveni is that the 3D printed case and buttons look very rough and unprofessional.  The VCII nearly looks like it was crafted alongside a chrome Barnack Leica or M3.   But the Reveni somehow manages to look even less toy-like and more trash-like than the average Lomo.  To embrace it you certainly have to be of a function over form mindset!

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Leica M3 with L-101 | Image from L-101 eBay ad

While researching the Reveni, I was surprised to find that there are two similarly designed and built Chinese clip-on light meters available on eBay.  Both of which use a rechargeable lithium ion battery and sport the same smart and practical OLED display.  The L-101 (made by who knows who) is half the cost of the Reveni and only a little bit larger.  It appears to be cased in a higher quality black nylon material and is only slightly less frumpy than the Reveni.  For a little more money, there’s the V-201X which comes in a $53 nylon case or cleanly machined black or silver colored aluminum.  The aluminum versions are the most handsome but run about $73 USD.  Still, significantly cheaper than a Voigtlander VCII or VC and a little cheaper than the Reveni but quite a degree nicer in appearance.  They do, however, seem to sit rather high off the shoe mount.

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Phenix with V-201X OLED meter | Image from Fame Cherry

These Chinese meters present the exposure display on top whereas the Canadian Reveni’s display is around back. I can see where either position could be desired but the Reveni is perhaps that much quicker to use when keeping ones eye to the finder.  Whereas the conventional design of the Chinese meters and Voigtlander is handy when walking around, setting exposure before lifting the camera to the eye.

The Reveni beats all the meters discussed here in terms of range.  It can meter down to a staggering EIGHT MINUTES yet as fast as a blazing 1/8000th of a second!  With an ISO range up to 12800, a stop faster than the V-201X and two stops faster than the Voigts.  Pretty impressive!

Price-wise, the new OLED contenders are all pretty affordable so choice may simply come down to which features/style you prefer for whichever cameras you’re going to use the meter with.  Each has a very practical range and feature set.  But if price is no object and you want something that doesn’t embarrass your pre-war German folder, nothing beats the Voigt VCII.

Below is a chart (well, two charts) I put together to compare the features of these wonderful little light meters.  I gathered as much information as I could find on everything that seemed relevant.  It was rather difficult to find what I was looking for with the OLED meters including who the hell makes the Chinese ones, but this should shed some LIGHT on the general strengths and weaknesses of each meter.

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It does seem that the Reveni and Chinese meters share electronic components and none of the OLEDs of course are mass manufactured.  My money is still on the costly, stylish Voigtlander VC meters but it’s exciting to see this niche product find some evolution!  I may pick up an OLED meter just for fun.

Which meter is best for you?  Are there any others out there?  Which ones have you tried?

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

UPDATE:  Check out this in-depth review of the V-201X by Alan D at Canny Cameras

And since I published this blog, two more OLED meters have come to my attention.  The ZB-M08 is another Chinese meter but moves the OLED screen to the back like the Reveni.  The KEKs EM-01 has become Reveni’s biggest competitor.  Check out this fine review of the KEKs:

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8 thoughts on “Upgrade Your Meterless Film Camera!

  1. Thanks to this review, it helped me hone in on the V-201x. It seems budget friendly, capable with a decent angle of view and a reasonable range. I wanted something for the slower ISO films I shoot, which are often 1.6 to 6. The Reveni labs one is simply too ugly to adorn any of my classics and I’mnot even a purist, but…no, not going on one of my cameras. If they ever made a reasonable handheld version with the same material, I’d consider it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Johnny for this excellent review. I was not aware there’s such a variety of set- top light meters! Hopefully this will finally make my older cams more useful.
    p.s.
    There appear to be a new light meter on kickstarter, that gives a similar experience to those you mentioned. But this time, with a nice stylish design. Unfortunately it doesn’t ship to my country, but might be relevant for others.

    Like

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