Light meters or Exposure meters were once an essential piece of equipment for any photographer, until the advent of in-camera meters and TTL metering.
We became spoiled, and worse, got used to accepting the “average” readings that the meters gave us, leading to photographs which were muddy grays, with no life in them… gone were the pristine whites and deep liquid blacks, and the fine gradations that characterized black and white photography in the 30′s 40′s 50′s and even the 60′s. With the in-camera meter, came the age of the drab grays… if you don’t believe me, look at older black and white pictures and you will know what I mean.
Then came color, and contrasts became less important – in fact, contrasty light which was previously ideal for textures that defined and dignified black and white photography was undesirable… and we became accepting of colors that weren’t true to life, and blamed the processor for the lack of brightness.
Honestly, I think there still a place for a light meter in every camera bag. Used meters are so cheap that there no real excuse for not having one – the solid well made feel of a rugged selenium (or for that matter CdS meter) is a pleasure to hold and use.
I’ve 3 of them – a direct reading GE PR-3 (when it works), a beautiful old GE PR-1, and a lightweight Weston Master 6. They all agree on within a 1/3 stop of each other, and the PR-1 and Weston 6 are spot on.
The Weston 6 was a little pricey, I must say, but still only cost a third as much as a comparable Gossen Lunasix. The GE Light meters are a real bargain – less than $10 most days on eBay.
When buying a light meter, remember that the older Westons used their own film rating scales, and not ASA – they are about a 1/3 stop off. Weston started using ASA ratings from the Weston III onwards. The Weston 4, 5, and 6 and the Universal meters are all good meters and worth having.
The crème de la crème, of course is the Weston Ranger 9, designed by Weston with Ansel Adams – for the Ansel Adams Zone system. The GE meters always used ASA ratings so they don’t need to be compensated.
I also have a couple of specialized incident light meters – a SPER Scientific that I’ve had for ages from my Grad school days, and a Gossen Panlux that I picked up recently really cheap from a scientific instrument seller . These are not really meant for photography, though they can be used in a pinch, if one has a reference table.
text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.