In the days of hand held meters

LIFE November 18, 1946 advertisement for a GE Exposure Meter.

Toronto. My thanks to George Dunbar for this gentle reminder of days long ago. In mid-November 1946 General Electric advertised its DW-58 hand held exposure meter  answer to Weston in LIFE magazine. You can watch a video of a slightly newer (1949) GE meter here.

The speed of black & white film and the slow shift to colour films necessitated  an accurate means to verify exposure. Films of the day demanded daylight for decent exposures. Night or indoors, photographers had to revert to flood lights or flash bulbs. Professionals already knew and could gauge the best exposure – or bracket any critical shot. Flash was common as a fill-in light or as a means to get a shot – any shot – in dim light.

When I first bought an exposure meter just over a decade later in the late 1950s, I opted for the Weston meter (meters that attached to the accessory shoe and linked to the speed dial were also popular). It was considered the standard while GE was considered an upstart. Those who had no meter could resort to the table that accompanied every roll of film, or use a tried and true rule of thumb.

Amateurs like me were delighted that some shots “came out”. Kodak helped us with its Verichrome black and white film. Verichrome  used two emulsions, a slow one and a fast one layered on a single transparent backing. This technique had the advantage of extending the dynamic range so a slightly under or over exposed shot would still print correctly.

For decades now cameras (and the ubiquitous smart phone) have had built-in exposure meters, initially as separate internal gadgets and later as an automated complement to the camera. Today, like films, glass plate negatives, and flash bulbs, separate hand held exposure meters have been relegated to history.

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