Monday, July 28, 2014

Legends -- Remembering the Weston light meter

Remember when a light meter was an analog device you held in your hand and used it to read the light and then transferred the exposure information to your camera? Sometimes we would read reflected light, sometime incident, and sometime both -- just to be sure. Weston light meters were one of the most popular meters with professional photographers. They were primarily set up for taking reflected readings, although later models had a snap-on opaque dome that converted them into incident meters.

As a "reflected" meter they measured the light reflected from the subject or from a substituted neutral gray card. I used to measure the light from the palm of my hand, maneuvering my hand in the light to simulate the light that was falling on my subject. Basic, but it worked, even at a time when the margin of error was small due to film latitudes that were a tiny fraction of the dynamic range available with digital cameras of today.

A selection of early Weston meters ranging from the first Master of 1939 to the CdS cell 1966 Weston Ranger 9 with Ansel Adams zone scale. 

Edward Faraday Weston (1878–1971) was the son of a renowned chemist, Edward Weston, who started the Weston Electrical Instrument Corp in 1888. It was Edward Faraday Weston, the son, who applied for the patents on the original Weston exposure meter in 1935. Edward, the father, died in 1936 and the Weston company was acquired by Sagamo Electric.

The meters had selenium cells for taking a direct reading of reflected light. Beginning with the Weston Master II in 1946 an accessory called the "Invercone" could be attached over the selenium cell, thereby converting the meter to incident reading. 

Weston was an early light meter pioneer before film speeds were standardized so the company came up with their own film speed scales, and would publish them in pamphlets called "Weston Ratings".

Weston's son Edward Faraday Weston (1878–1971) received several exposure meter patents for meters that were then manufactured by the Weston Electrical Instrument Corporation and widely distributed since the 1930s. He also established the system of the Weston film speed ratings for the measurement of film speeds.

Also know as the Model 715, the Weston Master was made from 1939-45. Because there was no film standard such as ASA, Weston introduced its own film speed tables, which it supplied to photographers. The tables rated all the film speeds of currently manufactured film. these speed could be entered on the meter scale to set it to read for that particular film. 

Weston  made several models of its meter with the Leica name on them Shown here is a 1938 model 650 in an Art Deco box. 

In 1945 Weston introduced a sleek new aerodynamic design with the black Weston Master II. 

Working with a Weston Meter:

Weston Masters all have a large cell on the back of the meter to read the light. You hold the meter facing you at eye-level and point it at the subject to be measured.

The meter has both high and low light metering levels. On the back of the meter is a plastic door with holes in it. When you flip this panel to cover the cell, you are reading the bright light. To read in low light fold the door down and lock it with a pin. This signals the meter to change its scale from the high to low reading range. 

Set the film speed on the innermost dial. Take a reading with the meter. Note the number where the needle is pointing.  Turn the outer dial to correspond to this number. Now the next two inner scales will give you all the correct combinations of shutter speed to f/stop. Simple. 

The Weston Master III (1956-60) was the first of the Weston meters to have its exposure scale calibrated with the ASA  index system we still know and love today as ISO. If you have one of these still in working order you can continue to use it with today's cameras. To my mind, this and is the most stylish of all the Weston meters with its rounded Machine Age design  brushed metal case. 

The Weston Master IV was made from 1960-63. This model is my personal favorite. It has a locking lever on the right side so you can take the exposure, and lock the needle in place making it easier to read when you then move the meter in front of your face to read it.  

Made from 1964-72, the Weston Master V was the last of the Master series. The U.S. company closed down in 1972, but a similar version of this meter continued to be produced until 1984 by the British subsidiary as the Weston Euro-Master.
By the mid-1960's more and more cameras began to have built-in meters, rendering the hand-held meter became an obsolete accessory. The Weston company consolidated it holdings in 1972 by closing down its U.S. operation, moving everything to its British affiliate company where the company continued on until 1984.

The clip-on Invercone converted the Weston's direct reading selenium cell into an incident meter.

The Weston Ranger 9 was introduced in 1966 as Weston's the first CdS cell meter. It came with two scales. The one shown here has the Ansel Adams Zone system scale printed on it.  This meter had an 18° bullseye window for viewing the area to be measured. It was popular with the photographers Ansel Adams and Minor White. The Ranger 9 was powered by one PX14 or two PX13 batteries, which are not impossible to obtain today. The meter now requires either an adapter to use watch batteries of the correct voltage, or a modification so it will work with a different electrical voltage.

This early photo of Ansel Adams shows him with a Weston Master II around his neck. It was a Weston meter Ansel did not have with him when he took his famous "Moonrise, Hernandez" photograph in 1941 by guessing the exposure.
If you would like to read more about the history of Weston meters check out this site dedicated to Weston meters.   Another place to visit,  James Orllinger's meter site, has plenty of good info on Weston as well as other early meters. 

Some time ago I have had many of the meters featured here re- calibrated by Quality Light Metric Co. in Hollywood. I am not sure they are still doing this, but their contact info was:


9095 Hollywood Blvd. #550
Hollywood, CA 90028

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