A Review of Lumu – and a Case of Kickstarter-opathy

by Hugh Brownstone3 Comments

There must be a name for what I’m going through.

Kickstarter-opathy? As in: from the Latin -pathia, from Greek -patheia, from -pathēs suffering, from pathos, and from the VC-enese Kickstarter– the wildly successful crowdsourcing platform.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

It’s what happens when I come across a project on Kickstarter and love the team, love the vision, love the way the product is designed and presented in a charming, elegant and witty video… but can’t figure out why the heck I’d want one.

Enter Lumu, from LumuLabs.

Lumu Does What it Is Designed to Do– for the Most Part

Lumu is a beautifully designed Ulbricht sphere with onboard electronics which – when plugged into an iPhone’s jack and used with the free Lumu app — turns an iPhone into a more precise, more sensitive incident light meter than the iPhone can be on its own.

It is also beautifully packaged in a minimalist and sleek Apple kind of way, with a neckstrap and small leather case for it.

Lumu Image 3

My own informal testing was interesting.

It revealed the Lumu to be significantly more sensitive at an indicated EV of -4.7 (measured at Lumu’s default ISO 50) than an iPhone metering app using only the iPhone’s sensor. Lumu suggested an exposure of ¼ second at f/1.4 and ISO 6400 — the same reading as the on-board meter of the Canon Rebel SL1.

This exposure produced an acceptable result, whereas the very different reading from the iPhone-only metering app I used for comparison suggested 1/125 second at the same aperture and ISO which resulted in black – an epic fail.

Lumu Image 2

Though to this middle-aged set of eyes, the resultant Lumu and SL1 exposure reads brighter than what I actually saw.


Lumu Image 5

On the other hand, when in photo mode the Lumu is no more precise than any other light meter, with distinctions no finer than 1/3 stop increments.

And the fact of it is, I can’t explain how the SL1 meter – or, by extrapolation, the Lumu — read in light that low, as its meter is spec’d at EV 1 – 20. Based on the exposure reading by the SL1 in the test, it was sensitive down to an EV of -3 (at the more standard 100 ISO generally used for EV measurement), well outside its meter’s theoretical operating range. This is also outside the range of purpose built meters like the Gossen Digisky, which at almost $600 only reads to EV -2.5. I can think of just one camera – the Sony A7s with its purported ability to autotocus down to EV-4 — as surpassing it.

Lumu Image 6

Can that really be right?

On a more mundane level, another thing I couldn’t do was record voice notes with the Lumu sphere plugged in, a minor but notable inconvenience given the ambition set out by the team to use smartphone features just like this. I guess with the Lumu plugged in, my iPhone assumed there was a mic attached.


But Who is It For?

I like the team and I liked the product (those other meters in the photos are my own, none of which I use regularly anymore).

But like just about everyone else, I already have a perfectly adequate and more convenient light meter built into every picture-taking device I own for the work I do.

And when I get into really dark scenes, I just use my common sense and the real-time feedback of digital cameras with their built-in electronic viewfinders and screens to make adjustments on the fly.

Lumu Image 4

Concerned that I might be a statistical outlier, I showed the Lumu to a group of mostly-under-30 local area filmmakers.

Turns out I'm not a statistical outlier at all: they felt the same way (though in fairness, I also showed Lumu to an award-winning documentarian who LOVED it and will probably buy one. He also makes me look young, and I am NOT).

That’s the challenge, really. For many if not most, Lumu is a nice-to-have-but-not-need-to-have product, even taking into account the features they’ve added through their Lumu app.

So: who is it for?

LumuLab’s stated goal for the Lumu is “to be invisible. To not disturb your creative process of making a new photograph. Making you a better photographer.”

But there’s just no way using ANY kind of external meter is going to be invisible or not disturb your process (unless your process is predicated on using an external meter).

Yet maybe THAT’s the real point of owning a Lumu: it forces you to slow down and think – not a bad thing.

Because the flip side of this age of digital sensors and all of the functionality built into even our smartphone cameras is that it invites us to get lazy AND profligate.


In the end, I imagine the Lumu is a wonderfully thoughtful gift for the photographer in your life because it will make him or her a more thoughtful artist.

And maybe a better photographer.

Visit their site at www.lu.mu.

(cover photo credit: snap from Hugh Brownstone)


  1. A color temperature reading would be a real value.  The Sekonic c500 costs over $1,000 — out of reach of most HDSLR filmmakers.

    NB: LumuLabs has created a new video app, but the functions are essentially identical to the photo app (save for an ND compensator).

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