My father gave me my first "good" camera on my 10th birthday in 1935, a 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ Reflex Korelle SLR. I've written about this camera many times and I needn't tell you how magical it was and is to see the world through the lens on a ground glass.
What I haven't mention before is a second gift, fresh on dealers' shelves and a bit exotic for a 10-year old: a Weston 650 Universal, selenium cell exposure meter, invented by a brilliant electrical engineer and photo enthusiast, Dr. Edward Weston (but not Edward Weston, the famous photographer).
|Doc Weston's Magic formula: Combine a selenium meter cell with a very complete exposure calculator dial and let a 10 year old learn how to use 30 combinations. Note Art Deco exterior design.|
So while virtually all other photographers at that time, amateur and professional, were using exposure tables, extinction meters in which they had to determine which was the darkest number they could see on a gradually darkening strip of numbers through a translucent viewing screen, or were depending on instruction pamphlets packed with the film, I was ahead in the exposure accuracy game.
From the Weston's movable calculator dial with its over 30 possible equal exposure shutter speed-f/stop couplings, I learned all about speeds, apertures, film latitude limits and usable highlight vs shadow compromise settings. Peering through the magnifier built into the Korelle's finder hood, I could see how the depth of field shortened or lengthened as I opened and closed the lens diaphragm.
|Just center the viewfinder meter needle and shoot: Exposure's correct, but what exposure?|
But that very same year I fell in love with the Weston meter dial, Zeiss-Ikon built a selenium cell exposure meter into the 35mm twin lens Contaflex. Manipulating the meter controls and aperture ring, a correct exposure could be achieved by zeroing a meter needle, without resorting to a calculator dial. "Center the needle" was the imperative which spread like a disease to virtually every post WW-II SLR. Even the mighty Rollei succumbed in 1962 and the Leica in 1971. (Did you know the Leica was originally not conceived as a camera but as a professional exposure meter to test movie film?)
It wasn't that only cameras with meters were being made. Camera makers thoughtfully provided many models with and without meters. The meter-less models sold poorly. A naked centering meter needle in a camera (or the equivalent in red and green go-no go diodes) is very convenient for setting an exposure. But which exposure is it setting? Do you want 1/250 sec at f/4, 1/125 sec at f/5.6 or maybe 1/30 sec at f/11? Now the photographers must inconveniently go in search of the shutter speed dial and the aperture ring and once located, reset them to get the right exposure he wants -- if he knows what that is.
But during holidays and at birthdays, what could have been or is a more thoughtful gift to a meterless or center the needle photographer than a up to date hand-held Gossen, Sekonic or Konica-Minolta meter with a calculator dial? Among their many capabilities, modern electronic meters provide full scales plus spot and incident readings and automatic integration of multiple meter readings. (If you did give photographer such a present, would he joyfully use it or put it away in a drawer?)
The in-camera, center the needle, is now fairly extinct photographically. Galvanometers, those little electro-magnetic coils that move needles to required positions on a dial, are delicate. Accurate ones, I'm told, are nearly unobtainable for exposure meter movements. (Digital numerology, however, had its fad day for watches, clocks and automobile speedometers until watch wearers and motorists realized they could not not tell the time or speed in the quick glance that hands and needles allow. Pilots like needles rather than digital numerals because they have many dials to watch but they can quickly note when a needle goes astray).
Providentially, thanks to electronics, we now have both shutter speeds and apertures visible in modern SLR and DSLR finders on LCD screens or both, and have our choice of metered manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and program exposure and all necessary variations as well.
|Not child's play: Invented sometime between 1000 BC and 500 BC, an abacus or calculating board would have saved me from smudgy self-inflicted illegible numerals and erasures, although my high school teachers might have thought it cheating.|
Alas there's no room for calculator dials. Those who value them must keep mental calculators in our heads and make adjustments to exposure accordingly. (Or do we just set our cameras to program exposure and ignore all else?)
The Weston calculator dial gave me a curiosity about numbers -- not the results of using them so much as how the numbers were achieved. When I was a kid, the cashiers at many Chinese laundries and restaurants summed up checks using an abacus upon which beads slid on wires attached to an outer frame. The beads made a nice clacking sound as they collided with one another. I was amazed to learn that abaci could also be used for multiplication, division, square and cube roots, but I had no use for such and therefore never learned the abacus.
|Right answer, but why? In school we were praised more for knowing how to solve a math problem than for getting the right answer with this gadget. Seems to me you need both.|
But doing arithmetic and math by hand when necessary is torture for me since I had and have atrocious handwriting and putting figures down in straight columns with little numerals above main figures to remind me to carry over a number produces undecipherable jibberish.
During World War II, the Navy rescued me from scribbling numbers. I was handed a Keuffel & Esser Log Log Duplex Decitrig slide rule and reasons to learn not only multiplication, division, square and cube roots but trigonometry and logarithms as well. I never used any of it on land or sea but analyzing how and why the slide rule could do what it does was fascinating. Don't ask me what I did learn. I haven't had it out of the box since 1947.
|Always up to date: You don't have to feed a slide rule new programs or update the software. No viruses, no crashes, no batteries. Still there are a few things it can't do.|
In the early 1950s, along came electronic calculators and spoiled all the whys by just giving answers immediately. What does 1/1000 at f/2 have in common with 1/4 sec. at /32? They're both the same exposure. Did you or the electronic calculator know that? The Weston would have.