Spending the Solstice with the Doomo Meter S

Spending the Solstice with the Doomo Meter S

Introduction

Another year, another Doomo! Almost a year ago to the day I reviewed the Doomo Meter D. Now I’m back with their second offering, the Meter S.

The Doomo Meter S is a shoe-mounted external light meter for cameras without internal meters. The major differences between the S and D are an LCD screen, USB-C rechargeable lithium-ion battery, single-dial operation, and smaller size. It handles quite a bit differently from the Meter D, for better or for worse.

I used the Meter S for about a month during the Christmas holidays, shooting a few rolls through my Kiev-4 to test this new product.

Why Use an External Meter?

Some cameras don’t come with meters, and some require batteries that are hard to find or replicate! Older cameras, especially professional models, didn’t come with built-in light meters. The professional photographers at the time were expected to have an expensive external meter or know the rules of exposure enough to not need one.

Even some mechanical cameras with built-in meters would benefit from an external meter. Minolta SRTs, Olympus OM-1s, and some other cameras use batteries that can be hard to find and hard to duplicate. There’s a mess of adapters, hearing aid batteries, and other DIY solutions out there, but an external meter is a simple, elegant solution.

An external meter will give you a trusted source for metering information that you can carry with you and attach to many cameras. Doomo even sells attachable cold shoes that you can stick to your camera if it doesn’t have a shoe of its own.

Essentially, there are many cameras that are made more useful (or useful to a new audience) with an external light meter. That’s why we’ve seen so many new ones hit the market in the past few years.

The Light Meter Market

It’s quite a crowded market out there! There are meters from Keks, Reveni, Voigtländer, TTArtisan, Doomo, and more. Each offers a unique mixture of features, size, battery life, and function that make the best meter largely personal preference.

The oldest model that’s still available new is the Voigtländer VC meter. This two-dial LED meter has been produced for decades and provided clear inspiration for the Doomo Meter D and TTArtisan Light Meter. As in they copied it. These meters use physical dials to convey settings and LEDs to convey over/underexposure.

This setup has the advantage of being quite timeless looking, blending together with the look of classic cameras quite well. It also provides very tactile feedback. The disadvantage of this system is that the metering range is limited to what can fit on the dials.

Other models, like the Reveni and Doomo Meter S, use an LCD system. This system allows any combination of shutter speeds and apertures to appear, which means a wider metering range. For some people, this setup is easier to understand visually as well.

Simply press the metering button and the meter will tell you what aperture and shutter speed to use. Buttons or dials control either aperture or shutter speed, so the meter essentially works in either aperture or shutter priority mode.

Most shoe-mounted meters made today fit either one of these two archetypes. 

Build Quality

As mentioned, the Doomo Meter S fits the second archetype by using a screen to show its metering information. The screen is an OLED, which makes it quite bright and easy to read in almost any situation. It also uses a single dial to control everything, rather than the double dials of the Meter D or buttons on some other screen-based meters.

In terms of build quality, it’s quite nice. It feels as well built as the Meter D, although mine did experience some chassis flex after some heavy use. Tightening the screws on the bottom helped a bit.

Unlike the earlier Meter D, the bottom of the S isn’t meant to be removed. That’s because they’ve swapped the disposable battery with a USB-C rechargeable lithium-ion model.

My first reaction when I heard of this change was.. Why? For many users, though, it’s probably a good thing. It means you don’t have to go out and find a strange battery. The Meter D took the odd CR1632 battery. Although they promise quite a long lifespan (I haven’t replaced the battery in mine since my review a year ago) some people may not be able to find the battery at all.

Using USB-C is nice compared to micro or mini-USB. It allows for faster charging and compatibility with more modern devices. Doomo kindly provides a comically-short USB to USB-C charging cable, but I charged my meter with the same cords I use to top off my phone, laptop, and Nintendo Switch.

It’s handy having everything use the same cord. I guess the U in USB does stand for Universal, though, so it only makes sense!

The power button doubles as the metering button and feels identical to the Meter D. That’s a good thing, as build quality was one of the Meter D’s strengths.

One thing that’s a bit disappointing is the inclusion of only one thickness of shoe mount. The Meter D comes with two different thicknesses because different cameras can have slightly height shoes. By only including one, Doomo is lowering their production cost but limiting the number of cameras the S can fit on.

It should also be noted that the shoe is a more advanced version than what came on the older Doomo models. It’s thinner with metal bits that hold it in place. Maybe Doomo has figured out how to make one shoe to rule them all. Ha. Sorry. Lord of the Rings would’ve been a lot less interesting if it was just about Frodo returning shoes he bought online.

The Meter S is significantly smaller than the Meter D, as well. When I showed the S to my coworkers, their first response was always "it's so small!". It's verging on Reveni territory, although it's not quite as compact as that sugar-cube-styled external meter.

One of my biggest complaints with the Reveni was its poor build quality, and Doomo has shown that it’s possible to make a tiny light meter that isn’t made of cheap 3D printing plastic.

In Use - Software

The single-dial and screen system took some getting used to for me, as I’m a big fan of the two-dial LED system. You press the power button to turn the meter on, then have to press the button again to take a reading. Because the Doomo Meter S turns itself off after a short period of time, I found this a bit frustrating.

It may be possible, because of the way the Meter S works, for them to update the firmware to automatically take a reading upon start-up. If so, I hope they do that. Otherwise, it’s just another button to press and another second before you can take a picture.

That just about sums up my experience with the software side of the Meter S. It’s just a bit clunky, and comes with a learning curve I didn’t find on other LCD-based meters, like the Reveni.

For example, when in aperture-priority mode, turning the dial left lowers the f-stop number (f16 -> f11). This makes sense to my brain. But when I switch to shutter priority mode, turning the dial left goes to a higher shutter speed (1/250s -> 1/500s). This made my head hurt when I realized it for the first time.

Luckily, because of the digital nature of the Meter S, things like this can be changed quite easily by Doomo. It’d be nice to be able to control which direction the dial should spin ourselves. People love customization these days, especially on camera gear. I predict we’ll have cameras with no labeled buttons within 10 years.

One feature Doomo seems quite proud of is continuous metering. If activated (by holding the metering button until three squares next to the mode indicator turn on) the Doomo will meter consistently without you needing to press the button to take a reading.

I didn’t find it particularly useful, but it’s a feature of many screen-based meters like the Reveni so it’s nice to see it here too. I imagine it drains the battery a lot faster than the normal mode, which only activates the meter for an instant when you take a reading.

To be honest, I found it a bit annoying because you have to hold the button for quite awhile to change the ISO. The way it works now, you hold the metering button on the back for a few seconds to activate continuous metering, then hold for another few seconds to change ISO. Personally, I change my ISO so much more often than I’d like to activate continuous metering. Plus, the way it is now, you have to deactivate continuous metering every time you change ISO! It’s a bit silly, and definitely a waste of time.

One nice feature is the battery life monitor. In the top left corner, there are 4 squares. These represent 1/4 of the battery each, so you get a live feed of how charged your battery is. This is another advantage of using a rechargeable battery, and a welcome feature.

It's annoying when your meter dies, but infuriating when you had no way of knowing it was about to die. I'm looking at you, Reveni.

In Use - Hardware

One reason I loved the Doomo Meter D was the tactile, clicky feel of the shutter dial. It clicked into position with a confidence that felt natural when paired with a classic camera. The wheel on the Meter S is clickless, and offers little feedback aside from the screen changing as you cycle through combinations of settings.

Maybe I’m just a baby, but I use my Meter D in aperture-priority mode specifically because the dial is fun and clicky. I would set the aperture (which is a clickless dial) and then use the satisfying, clicky shutter speed dial to find the right combination. It sounds nice, it feels nice, and it looks nice!

I do think, though, that the S loses out to the D in terms of satisfying feel because of this.

I used the Meter S in aperture priority mode for the majority of my time with it. That’s just how my brain works, as I feel aperture affects the look of the photo more directly. I prefer Nikon to Canon, sue me.

That being said, because both settings are controlled with the same dial the Meter S works exactly as well in shutter or aperture priority mode. Like I said, though, switching between the two might be tough because of the weird reversed turning directions.

One thing I miss from the Reveni is the mid-stop metering. By using a dot-and-line diagram, the Reveni was able to provide ultra-precise metering beyond the single-stop accuracy of the Meter D or half-stop accuracy of the Meter S.

So, while the Doomo Meter S is more accurate than the D, it’s not the most accurate meter out there. Again, perhaps Doomo can add something like this to future releases of the S. The beauty of a software-based system is that you can change things.

Speaking of battery, how is that rechargeable battery in practice? Well, compared to the Reveni it’s far better. Compared to the Meter D, though, and it’s not up to par. My Meter S has died three times in the month I’ve been using it.

It’s probably not fair to compare the rechargeable Meter S to the Meter D or Reveni, though. The convenience of a rechargeable battery will outweigh the lower battery life, and the smaller body size explains it a bit as well.

Don’t get me wrong, the battery life isn’t awful! It won’t stop working after a day and a half of intermittent use like the Reveni, and even has a helpful battery life display on the screen. Charging my light meter is just another thing to get used to, but we’re able to keep so many electronic devices charged nowadays that one more isn’t such a challenge.

The Results

I used my Doomo Meter S on a very cold day in early winter, paired with some Kodak Portra 800. The swirling lake paired nicely with the calm, serene ice to make some nice scenes, I think. Plus, the fog on the lake eliminated most of the horizon. It was a pretty day!

The Doomo handled this somewhat-challenging scenario quite well, I’d say. Snow can be a tough thing to meter, with many people insisting that exposure compensation is necessary to avoid ruining shadows. I’ve never really compensated much for snow, and I’m always happy with my results. To each their own, though!

 

I’m especially fond of some of the shots with prominent ice. It’s very cool to me to see how the ice develops on signposts and things right by the water.

I would say the Meter S, or my copy, perhaps biases towards underexposure if anything. It’s also possible that my Kiev’s shutter speeds are not up to snuff, as I did grab it from the Camera Rescue Outlet Boxes. Regardless, the exposure was close enough that I could fix it in Lightroom.

I also quite love this next shot of a man leaving the frozen lake after taking a dip. It's customary in Finnish culture to jump into frigid water after sitting in the hot, steamy sauna. No matter how cold it is outside, if the sauna is open there will be Finnish people jumping in the water. Call it crazy, call it strong (sisu in Finnish), call it whatever you want. I find it hilariously endearing.

My next roll was our own Santa 1000 during my Christmas trip to the US. It was fitting to use Santa for Christmas, and some of my coworkers and I agreed to all shoot a roll of Santa through a Kiev for the holidays. Cute, eh?

Even in the dim interiors of the Brooklyn Museum, the Doomo was able to deliver usable and correct metering. I think it did a great job with difficult lighting, and I was able to work quite quickly with the meter to get proper exposure without losing my shots. But what about outside?

Well, it was a bit more mixed for me. While the Doomo Meter S did a good job with the cloudy skies, it did bias towards underexposure when no sky was present. Take, for example, the next photo of a person walking past “Post No Bills” signs. It’s a dark background, to be sure, but this photo is very underexposed. I even brought it up in post a bit, to no avail.

 

I would say a good amount of the underexposure can be attributed to me metering more of the sky than the scene. I put too much sky in my photos for my own good, and this leads to darker foreground subjects.

Like I said, though, when properly positioned or facing flat light, the Doomo Meter S does a great job. I would assume it’s the same sensor as the Meter D, just feeding into a screen instead of LEDs.

Conclusions

For me, the Doomo Meter S is a mixed bag. While I appreciate how it’s technically more flexible and useful than the Meter D, I can’t help but feel that I prefer the D. Maybe that’s the beauty of it, though!

Yes, the S offers more precise metering and a wider range, but the D feels more classic, fits on more cameras, and makes sense to me as someone who loves physical experiences. The physical experience is one of the main reasons I love film cameras, and the Meter S just can’t match the D in this regard.

Perhaps I’m not the intended audience of the Meter S. I would rarely use continuous metering, want my dials to go clicky-clacky, and probably won’t be using the ultra-fast shutters or lenses necessary to really take advantage of the wider metering range.

That being said, it gets the job done with accurate metering and feels quite nice while doing it. It’s nice to see new products being developed and introduced in the film community, and the Meter S gives the Reveni and other screen-based light meters a new bar to reach.

I feel like a broken record every time I say something is personal preference. Best medium format camera? It’s personal preference. What lens should I get for my Nikon? It’s personal preference. And yet, here we are dealing with.. Personal preference.

If you like the single-dial + screen system the Doomo Meter S has to offer, it’s likely the best option out there for you. It’s small, works well, and is built better than the competition.

If you’re a nerd like me who likes physical dials paired with his mechanical cameras, the Doomo Meter S is likely not for you. Maybe they’ll pair the rechargeable battery and smaller size of the Meter S with the tangible dials of the Meter D in the future. Then maybe I’d have something to replace my Meter D with.

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