My latest purchase for my analog cameras is the TTArtisan light meter, a hotshoe-mounted meter accessory. The market for these shoe-mounted light meters for vintage cameras has become weirdly competitive. They fit on top of a mechanical camera and provide you with the right shutter and aperture settings to take photographs. A decade ago almost no one made them anymore, but the recent resurgence in analog photography has brought them back. Now you can get a variety of meters from brands like KEKS, Reveni, Hedeco, DOOMO, and tons of unbranded models like the V-201X, L102, and ZB-M08 on Aliexpress.
Since I have a lot of old cameras without a light meter built-in, like my Leica M3, I got a Reveni meter for them at the start of 2020. I’m planning on writing a long-term review of that little meter soon! However, this cheap meter caught my eye and for the price, I figured I could give it a try.
So, this is the TTArtisan Light Meter, which can you get from Amazon and other online stores run by TTArtisan. TTArtisan is a Chinese brand best known for making affordable lenses for both modern and classic camera systems. But they’re not known for other photography accessories yet, so this meter is an interesting extension of their portfolio.
Voigtlander VC meter II
The light meter is obviously a clone of the venerable Voigtlander VC meter II. The Voigtlander is a classic 2-dial model that was last updated in 2004. Modern competitors have a screen to display the correct settings for the metered scene, but this uses a 3-light indicator. After metering the scene, you can adjust the shutter and aperture dials on the meter. A correct combination for the metered scene will result in the center, green light activating. If instead, you’re over- or under-exposed, the corresponding red indicators will light up. Once you see the green light, copy the settings to your camera and take the pic.
A lot of people who use the Voigtlander meter seem to prefer it to digital meters with a screen. They cite the superior looks, the tactile feel of the dials, and the fast operation. So the system intrigued me… Maybe I would prefer this over my Reveni as well?
Now the TTArtisan is far from the first Voigtlander clone, as DOOMO also makes a popular option. But the TTArtisan is the cheapest, at about $62. That makes it less than half the price of a DOOMO Meter D, and less than a quarter of the price of the original Voigtlander VC II. But what do you get for that money?
TTArtisan Light Meter
When I ordered the TTArtisan meter in early October 2021, it wasn’t even available yet from the official TTArtisan stores. I had to order from one of the few sellers on eBay that already had supply available. I ordered the silver one to match my Leica M3. The black one also looks nice and might have been a better fit for my Hasselblad. It took a while to arrive, but soon a little box appeared on my doorstep.
The box contains the meter, a small Philips-head screwdriver, and a tiny manual. It doesn’t come with a battery included, so make sure you buy a CR2032 battery ahead of time. Luckily, I use the same batteries for my smart home sensors and had some lying around.
The manual that comes in the box is quite brief, the instruction video above covers the same points. No one will accuse TTArtisan videos of having high production values, but they’re clear enough. What more do we discover when we take the meter out of the box?
Build quality of the TTArtisan light meter
The light meter looked pretty good in pictures, but it ends up being a bit less impressive in real life. I have not used a Voigtlander or DOOMO meter before, so I can’t make a direct comparison. But even for the TTArtisan’s low price, I had kind of hoped for more.
The specs state that the meter body is made out of anodized aluminium. Actual aluminium is preferable to the painted plastic that is often found on cheap Chinese gadgets. But in this case, it’s so light – just 35 grams according to the specs – that it doesn’t feel very reliable. It just doesn’t have any heft, it doesn’t feel solid. Now, if that was the only problem it’d be fine. But that lack-of-reliability feeling doesn’t stop there.
It also comes up when you open the battery compartment. After inserting a CR2032 battery, I screwed the compartment shut (by the way, there is a tiny washer inside it you are almost certainly going to lose) and… nothing happened. Replacing the battery didn’t help either. And no matter how I jiggled the battery and changed the placement, it didn’t seem to make contact. In the end, I inserted a folded-up piece of paper between the battery and the cover. The added pressure finally powered up the meter and the indicators lit up when I hit the measurement button. It works, but not a great experience right out of the box.
The next problem is the ISO selector. Just like on the Voigtlander, the aperture dial doubles as the ISO selector. A cutout on the insert reveals the current ISO you’re metering for. Turning the insert to select another ISO changes the placement of the aperture numbers on the dial. It’s an elegant way to select ISO mechanically and I would probably be a huge fan – if it stayed in place. The insert is far too loose and easy to adjust, making unintentional ISO changes very common. During testing, it happened more than once that I adjusted the aperture dial and accidentally moved the ISO as well. Because the ISO is recessed you don’t notice these accidents immediately. And as you can imagine, setting the wrong ISO doesn’t work out well for the resulting images.
The shutter speed dial is clicky, so you can only select the proper shutter speeds. The click doesn’t feel very substantial but still does the job. The aperture dial, on the other hand, is not clicky but spins freely to any point on the scale – you can select any random aperture. This gives you the freedom to select half or third stops, but it doesn’t give you a sense of security. Like the ISO insert on top of it, it’s too easy to accidentally adjust the dial.
It also means you can’t set the aperture dial by feel, just by counting the clicks. And at some angles, the aperture dial rubs against the case – which doesn’t help make the tactile experience better either. Just to make it worse, after a month some oil started to seep out from under the dial.
Another issue is the position of the mounting foot. It’s aligned to the right of the meter, so it fits a Leica M-body camera without blocking the controls. The edge of the meter aligns with the edge of my M3’s shoe like it was designed for an M-body. But if you want to use it on another camera you may find that this position blocks your controls instead. Other meters, including the Voigtlander, have adjustable mounting feet to fix this. But the TTArtisan foot is directly attached to the battery cover and can’t be adjusted.
A small thing that bugged me, though it’s something that only affects owners of really old cameras, is that the shutter dial uses the modern geometric shutter speeds. Before this became the standard, cameras used whatever scheme the company thought was best. My Leica M3 for example uses the non-geometric speeds of 1/1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000. But this meter uses the geometric 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000 speeds. If you’re planning on using this on an old camera, the measured speeds will not correspond to your camera dial.
I can’t fault TTArtisan for using the modern standard. After all, none of the other cheap meters can deal with this either. But having a clicky aperture dial and a non-clicky shutter dial, allowing for other shutter speeds, would have been an interesting way to resolve this problem.
One last thing – though I admit that this is really just applicable to people with Leica M-bodies. The meter is just a tad too big on the front! It looks ugly sticking out of my M3, especially since it feels like it’s mostly empty on the inside. Considering it’s made to be used on non-Leica cameras as well, it’s not a dealbreaker. But then again, the mounting foot position seems to indicate they did use an M-body to design around. And the DOOMO doesn’t stick out. So maybe it is just a poor design choice.
Metering functionality of the TTArtisan light meter
So, all in all, the build quality leaves something to be desired. But how well does it perform its intended function? I’ve shot some rolls with the TTArtisan on the M3 during the last two months and it seems perfectly adequate! When compared to my Reveni meter or my smartphone light meter app of choice (my Lightmeter PRO on an iPhone 13 Pro) it returned similar measurements most of the time. This is not really a proper test, but I don’t have a quality, calibrated, stand-alone light meter to compare with. So, as far as I can judge, the TTArtisan meter should work just as well as any other affordable light meter.
Like the Voigtlander, the dials have a nice feature where there are three lines total connecting them. There’s the setting you turn the dials to in the middle, but an additional two for settings that also work. So if the centerline says f/5.6 and 1/500 are good, the lines above and below it would also indicate f/8 and 1/250, and f/4 and 1/1000 as options. An experienced photographer can do this in their head, but having them displayed on the meter like this is nice.
The noted issues with the aperture dial and ISO selector do hamper the use of the meter in fast situations. If you’re like me and you shoot mainly with a fixed aperture setting and adapt the shutter speed to the scene, you need to double-check both aperture and ISO regularly to make sure they are still on the right setting. And if they turn out to have moved, you’ll end up wondering how many pictures ago that happened. That’s exactly the kind of problem a modern light meter should not have.
In the end, the better user experience people talk about with a 2-dial system didn’t hold up for me. The tactile experience of the TTArtisan dials was poor. Using the dials was faster than using a smartphone app, but slower than using a screen meter like my Reveni. As far as looks go, the protruding bulge of the meter on the front of my camera was not great.
The big, final question remains: should you buy the TTArtisan light meter?
If you really want the cheapest 2-dial light meter you can get, and you can forgive the TTArtisan for its mediocre build quality… This is a decently cheap meter that will do the intended job for not too much money.
However, if you’re in the market for a 2-dial meter like the Voigtlander, you probably want a certain look and feel to the meter on your camera. An old-school meter for an old-school camera. A meter that visually complements the camera’s design. Something with a premium build quality, that feels just right when you touch the dials and button. If you want a more affordable version of that… the TTArtisan simply is not it. I haven’t tried the DOOMO meter D myself, but that might be your better option.
On the whole, I would actually not recommend a 2-dial meter at all. My Reveni with a screen was just as accurate, but faster and easier to use. And if you think the 3D-printed Reveni looks ugly – I can’t really blame you – there’s a variety of options with screens in different price ranges, from the cheap V-201X to the KEKS or DOOMO meter S.
Disagree with my view on 2-dial meters? Or think I’m not giving the TTArtisan a fair shake? Let me know in the comments! Would love to hear your thoughts on this cheap meter.