The KEKS EM-01 is a compact, well-made and functionally elegant shoe-mount light meter. It’s described on the manufacturer’s website as “a whole new generation light meter.” After using it for a month or so, I’m not sure what that means. But I do know what this light meter means to me – it means that I can finally use my favorite camera and actually make decent photos with it!
A couple of years ago in celebration of a big accomplishment, I spent $4,500 to buy myself the best film camera that Nikon ever made. I expected that the Nikon SP 2005 Limited Edition, a perfect reproduction of the Nikon SP of 1957, would be the camera I used every day for the rest of my life. Since then I’ve only run about ten rolls of film through it. This mismatch of expectation and reality exists for one reason – the Nikon SP doesn’t have a light meter.
Many years ago I could meter by eye. Squint at the scene, choose my aperture, and then estimate the shutter speed. Most of the time I’d get it right; a decent photo made. The ability to do this has left me. I’ve no idea why. Maybe I have more on my mind these days, or maybe my brain was damaged that time I fell over at the gym and woke up three minutes later unable to speak. Maybe I should’ve told my doctor about that.
Whatever the cause, I’ve accepted the truth – I can no longer meter by eye and I’d largely given up on the Nikon SP, the best and most valuable camera I own. It’s been sitting in my office for a year or two, just a decoration. Something to look at occasionally and say “Ah, such a pretty camera.” A camera I take out once every few months, shoot, and put away again after being frustrated by photos that look nothing like the way that I wanted them to look.
I know that this shouldn’t have stopped me. I could’ve carried an external meter, but the decent ones all cost upwards of $200 and I don’t like carrying bulky things in my pockets. I could’ve used my phone to meter, but I don’t like fiddling with my phone when I’m taking photos. The best solution seemed to be the shoe-mount Voigtländer VC Speed Meter II, and this is indeed an excellent product and a very attractive answer to the problem of meter-less cameras. But I didn’t love the top-mounted three-LED readout, and its relatively high price point of $225 kept me from buying one.
There just wasn’t a perfect solution to my particular problem. Until I found the KEKS EM-01 shoe-mount light meter.
Details and Specs of the KEKS EM-01 Light Meter
I’m sure that there’s quite a great deal of significant engineering and design behind the KEKS EM-01 light meter. But on paper at least, it’s a simple device. Here are the quick specs.
- Construction – Aluminum body, steel screws, plastic mount
- Metering – 30º average metering (reflected light)
- Aperture Range – F/1.0 to F/64; 1/3 stop increments
- Shutter Speed Range – 30 seconds to 1/6400 of a second; 1/3 stop increments
- ISO Range – 50 to 8000; 1/3 stop increments
- Display – 0.91″ OLED
- Battery – Rechargable 220mAh
- Battery Life Per Charge – 20 hours continuous metering
- Charging – 5V/450mA via USB-C
- Mount – Shoe mount, adjustable to size and position
What’s in the Box?
The light meter comes in a small black box, and inside this box is the meter itself, a USB-C cable for charging the battery, two additional plastic shoe mounts of differing sizes, and a tiny hex wrench to remove and install these shoe mounts. Instructions for use of the meter can be found attached to the inside of the box lid.
That’s all that comes with the meter, and that’s all you’ll need. Fit the correct mount size for your camera’s hot or cold shoe, and pop the meter onto your camera. You’re done.
Using the KEKS EM-01
The KEKS EM-01 mounts to any camera with a hot or cold shoe, and its mounting point is adjustable. By unscrewing the mount we’re able to attach larger or smaller mounts, as well as position the mount in the center or to the side of the bottom of the meter. This makes the meter well-suited to nearly any camera.
Once the meter is mounted to the camera, use is simple. To set the ISO, hold the metering button (the one on the back of the unit next to the screen) and then press either up or down on the aperture adjustment. Once you’ve selected the right ISO, you’re ready to meter.
The unit works in a way that’s similar to a camera’s aperture-priority or shutter-priority mode. After setting the ISO we then select either the desired aperture or shutter speed, after which pressing the metering button on the back will result in an instant calculation and display of the final variable which will result in a correct exposure.
Say we’re shooting 400 ISO film and we want to shoot a shot at F/8. We set our ISO to 400, and then simply press the aperture button up or down until it’s set to F/8. After that, pressing the metering button will tell us which shutter speed we should choose. The ISO, aperture, and shutter speed values are all adjustable and displayed in increments of 1/3rd of a stop.
The KEKS EM-01’s 30º metering angle of view strikes a good balance between average and selective metering. It corresponds well with the readings I’m getting from my Leica R5 in side-by-side comparison when the R5 is set to selective metering mode. For users accustomed to average metering, like the 60/40 split of most Nikon SLRs, for example, this meter will measure more precisely. It may take some getting used to, but more accurate metering is usually a good thing.
The OLED display shows the currently-set ISO value, as well as the scene’s exposure value (EV), and a lux reading. It of course also displays the shutter speed and aperture, selectable by the user. It’s bright and vibrant, and entirely usable even in direct sunlight. There’s a battery status indicator as well, which flashes when the battery is low and stops flashing when the meter is fully charged. I’ve not yet had to charge mine.
The buttons click with a pleasant snappiness, and the OLED shines nice and bright. Once I found the mount that fit my Nikon SP perfectly, the unit slips into place snugly. The aluminum cover is nicely finished. The thing looks great.
Is the KEKS EM-01 a perfect product? No, and for some users it won’t be the right answer. There are no provisions made for metering exposure compensation, unless we simply adjust our ISO to match our desired push/pull. It lacks the precise spot-metering mode that some more advanced meters offer. In addition, I can imagine the text on the OLED screen being too small for some users who suffer from troubled eyesight. I also wish the mount attachments were made of aluminum. The plastic mount, to me, keeps the KEKS EM-01 from being a perfect product. These issues noted, this light meter will be all we need and nothing we don’t for most people shooting film on meter-less cameras today.
You can buy more serious handheld light meters, like the ones made by Sekonic, Gossen, and others, and in many cases these meters will do more than the KEKS EM-01 – things like flash calculation and spot metering, as well as average metering. But meters with this expanded functionality are bigger, heavier, and more expensive than the KEKS. There’s the Voigtländer VC Meter II, mentioned earlier, but as also mentioned, this meter is about two times more expensive than the KEKS. All of these solutions are excellent products if you don’t mind the extra cost and weight.
The closest competitor in price and specification to the KEKS EM-01 is the Kickstarter-funded Reveni Labs light meter. This 3D printed light meter is about 15% less expensive compared with the KEKS unit, which is a real benefit. This makes the Reveni Labs light meter a better buy for those on a budget. Incidentally the Reveni Labs meter uses button cell batteries as opposed to the KEKS rechargeable battery, and the Reveni Labs meter has a 45º metering field of view, which is less selective than the KEKS. I’ve not used the Reveni Labs meter myself, so I’ll refrain form commenting on its use or appearance. I’m sure it’s a very good product.
Where to Buy the KEKS EM-01
As of this writing, the KEKS EM-01 is backordered with production occurring in batches. New units are scheduled to ship about one month from time of order. My contact at the company has told me that the delays have been caused, in part, by the current global pandemic and that production should be streamlined as time goes on. For now, though, if you want a KEKS EM-01 you’re best served to order it today and patiently wait for its arrival about one month later.
Interested customers can place their orders directly from the KEKS Cameras website, where the KEKS EM-01 will costs $130 shipped to the United States from the company’s Taiwan headquarters.
I’m also happy to announce that my own camera shop is the first shop within the United States to stock the KEKS EM-01. I was so impressed by this little device that I wanted to help KEKS reach more customers, and to be able to offer U.S.-based customers faster shipping when the production delays are eventually solved (for now we are backordered as well).
Consider this a glowing endorsement of the product, but let me also be clear – as always when receiving products from manufacturers or my retail partners like B&H Photo, my editorial review was not influenced by the affiliate or retail side of the business. Had my experience with the KEKS EM-01 been a negative one, I simply wouldn’t be stocking them in my store, as has been the case with countless other accessory products that I’ve tested over the years. Were I in this for money, I’d be selling every strap and bag that companies have sent me over the years, and telling you that each one will change your life. This is not the case.
If you’d like to buy your meter from me, please visit my shop. If you’d like to buy any of the other excellent meters I’ve linked to in this article, you should do that. I hope that after more than six years of running Casual Photophile I’ve established trust with my readers, but clarity is always good. Happy shooting, everyone.
Buy the KEKS EM-01 light meter from KEKS Cameras here
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Monday morning in southern New England; already hot and humid. I’ve got my final two replacement windows to install this morning. I should be excited because it’s the end of a project I foolishly started when the weather started to turn into a heat wave with high humidity. But no, I read about the nifty light meter you reviewed and I’m happy.
I have a cigar box full of functional lightmeters: analog & digital Gossens, a tiny Sekonic, Leica MR-4, a pair of Weston V’s and a Voigtlander II clip on meter. I’m a meter geek. But my mild obsession with metering is rooted in the knowledge that a properly exposed (and processed) B&W negative makes darkroom time creative rather than corrective.
I like this meter. The ability to recharge rather than replace batteries, the design of the unit and the ability to read the settings from the back are all pluses.
The problem I have with the Voigtlander is remembering to transfer the meter settings to my camera. I don’t have the problem with a hand-held meter, but for some reason, I sometimes find myself making a correct reading, then not adjusting the camera. Duh.
But I think this meter will not present the same problem because the readout is on the back, it’s presented as an LED setting, and there are not dials to set (setting the dials sometimes tricks me into thinking I’ve set the camera.) I’ll order one from you in the near future, after I’ve completed the window job.