Kenko’s KFM-2100 Flash/Ambi Meter; Everything You Always Wanted In A Handheld Meter, And More

You might think that the sophisticated metering system in your camera is the be all and end all when it comes to exposure. The truth is, it does deliver remarkable results, but it can only take you so far. Want to tackle high-contrast scenes or tricky lighting or tonal situations without wasting a lot of time bracketing? Then you'll need a handheld meter. Shooting studio flash? Camera metering systems are of no help here, so you'll need a handheld flash meter. Prefer keying exposure to important highlight or shadow values, especially of areas off in the distance? You'll need a 1° spot meter for that--something with pinpoint accuracy, which is a far cry from spot metering in any camera. But the question really comes down to: How sophisticated does a handheld meter need to be? With the KFM-2100, you're getting a lot of bang for the buck, and if you feel this is too much meter for you, you can scale down your aspirations and opt for the smaller and more economical KFM-1100 (not tested at this time).

Even in the digital age, the Kenko KFM-2100 proves its mettle in the field and studio as a powerful handheld meter capable of reliably delivering both incident and spot readings, with ambient light and flash.

As I'd previously indicated in my PMA report (available at, the KFM-2100 heralds the rebirth of the venerable Minolta Flash Meter VI, which introduced us to pioneering technologies and novel ways of using a handheld meter. Little has changed, and from what I can tell, the current iteration is every bit as accurate and durable as the original. THK, in bringing back this meter, did not skimp or cut corners. The meter is back in all its glory, but under a new moniker and now marketed for both the film and digital photographer. While some may argue with the need for or efficacy of some of its more esoteric features, we can't argue with the Kenko meter's ability to deliver consistently reliable results.

On The Face Of It
The KFM-2100 is at its heart a digital meter, with alphanumeric and analog Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). It's powered by a single and easily replaceable AA battery, which appears to last a long time. The incident dome resides in a rotating turret, while the 1° spot eyepiece sits above the display on the main housing. Unlike some other meters, the white dome is fixed, not recessed, for light ratio readings, and there is currently no flat disc replacement available for such readings. However, you can use a method long in vogue, which is to shade the dome from extraneous light when determining lighting ratios.

The few buttons are clearly marked, although a couple may require clarification. The secondary ISO button (below the one labeled "ISO") is a legacy feature aimed at setting the ISO for instant prints. However, no one says you can't use it simply as an alternate speed setting, regardless of the medium used. The S/A/H button is the one used to bias readings to a key highlight or shadow value, or to average two or more readings (10 max). Each press of the Memory button stores a reading. Use CLR to clear memory or any existing readings (it's good to get into the habit of doing this so you can start with a clean slate). Shutting the meter down retains the last measurement and stored readings. Switching modes keeps memory intact but erases the last reading.

I saw the sun producing patches of light and dark in these woods. So I took advantage of the early fall foliage to make several exposures, based on key tonalities, and used the S/A/H button to arrive at the final exposures (a dial on the side cycles through Shadow/Averaging/Highlight settings when the button is pressed, as well as shutter speeds by rotation of the dial alone). I should add that you can set your own custom highlight and shadow bias values, or use the default values (I recommend setting your own--the defaults go too far in either direction, unless you're shooting print film).

While the exposure made with the camera is satisfactory (top left), it felt a little light. So I tried again with the Kenko meter. In custom functions, I'd set the highlight compensation on the KFM-2100 to +1.7 EV. I used the spot meter to read a bright patch in the woods (initially leading to underexposure) (top right) and activated the S/A/H key at its highlight-compensation setting to deliver an image with what I felt has more contrast and pizzazz (above).
All Photos © 2008, Jack Neubart, All Rights Reserved

Spot Meter Test
This shot of Karlstejn Castle, outside Prague, was made under pristine blue skies. As I made my way up toward the castle, I saw looming above me a fetching contrast of light and dark tonalities, with parts of the castle walls receiving full sunlight, other parts in shadow. So I made two spot readings (key highlight and shadow) and used the meter's averaging function to arrive at the final exposure. Needless to say, the camera is always in Manual mode when using a handheld meter. And be sure to set the same ISO on camera and meter.

I took one spot reading with the Kenko meter of the shaded area on the curved wall (middle of frame) and another of the brightest wall to the right, then used the S/A/H button to arrive at an averaged reading. As a final step, I adjusted contrast in Photoshop. (Canon EOS 5D; f/8, 1/320 sec; ISO 100).

The Mode button shifts operating mode: ambient ("Ambi"), cord-activated flash ("Cord"), and cordless ("Non Cord") flash. Because I was shooting either by available light or with my Canon EOS-compatible flashes, I used Ambi and Non Cord modes. The Non Cord mode was especially handy in determining how much of the exposure was made with available light and how much fill from flash--via the Light Ratio Analyze (known elsewhere as "flash analyze") function. Had I used studio strobes, I would have made heavy use of Cord mode, connecting an old-style PC cord to the flash and my Canon EOS 5D. In Cord mode, the meter could be used to trigger the connected studio strobe (and all strobes synced to that one) for a reading.

The only function that may be confusing is Latitude. This is actually a measure of brightness range, which means that it applies to spot meter readings only. The instruction manual says something about using the Latitude function with an incident reading and for you to use that as a basis for determining the usable tonal range when reading with the spot meter, but that is clearly in error--they're mixing apples and oranges. The instruction manual also confuses tonal range and dynamic range, but that's inconsequential when it comes to the overall usefulness of the meter.

Ambient & Flash Tests
Using a JTL small product shooting table, I photographed the small ceramic sculpture first by available window light coming in from behind the white diffusion plastic of the sweep table, then with flash fill, and finally flash sans daylight. Depending on how much of the field the white plastic occupies, the camera exposure can be mildly or seriously underexposed. But the exposure was on target when measured with the incident meter (Ambi mode), which meant I didn't have to bracket exposures. When I added a flash (bounced off the ceiling) for fill, the Kenko meter told me how much of the exposure was daylight and how much flash (meter set to Non Cord mode and flash in Manual mode). I used this measurement to prevent the flash from overwhelming the exposure. My final exposures were made solely by flash illumination with two shoe-mount strobes--one main, the other fill (also in Non Cord mode; manual flash).

Metering in Incident mode with the KFM-2100, I bounced one shoe mount off a white surface to the right of the ceramic figure (top), then added fill from a second flash bounced off the ceiling from the left (above), which produced a more pleasing rendition, with just enough contrast.