Photography ... astronomy ... art ... design ... technology
(... and the odd rant)

All of these make my world go 'round, to some extent, and they will all be found here at some time or other. Some of the photography can be purchased from my Redbubble site. I can also be found at Tempus Fugit (no longer being updated).

Thursday, September 6, 2007

In praise of a Weston

Way back when the world was young, and the word papparazzi wasn't even a twinkle in someone's eye, things happened at a slower pace. In the 'olden times', as my daughter might innocently say, there was less urgency to get one thing done and on to the next. A fast computer was someone who could flick through log tables in a flurry of pages, on the way to completion of a Herculean multiplication task. A small quality modern camera was likely to be a Rollei twin-lens reflex or perhaps a Contax rangefinder. A fast lens was around f2.8, and Kodachrome was hot stuff. (Kodachrome remained hot stuff for quite some time afterwards, but that's another story.)

In those peaceful times, there was no such thing as automated exposure control; a photographer had to use judgement and experience to get it right, or revert to using a hand-held light meter, such as a Weston. Almost an institution, the Weston Master was (is) a lovely instrument, with its snug, thick leather case and slim, heavy construction. It wasn't too good in low light – that needed an as-yet-unknown CdS cell – but as long as the needle wasn't bumping the bottom end of the scale, you were in business.

A swinging baffle allowed the large self-powered selenium cell (show me a light meter now that doesn't require batteries) to measure light over a fairly wide brightness range, and in later models a diffuser could be fitted over the cell, to measure the light falling on the subject instead of the reflected light, allowing a more objective exposure measurement. And that was about it. No bells or whistles, no LEDs or thumbwheel-controlled menu. Just a basic tool for no-nonsense, get on with it, photography. Pick it up, point it in the right direction, turn the dial, and there's your answer. Later models did provide a locking button, so that you could hold the measuring needle in place after the reading was taken, but that was about as high-tech as it got.

My Weston Master III doesn't get to see daylight very often these days, but that's all right. Occasionally, a modern light meter's battery fails, and out it comes, dependable as ever, to give me a result when it could otherwise be difficult to get the right exposure. I still like its glossy black enamel and rounded styling; the later silver-grey models with harder lines did little for me. If I'm using a pinhole camera (they don't see much daylight either), the Weston is a very appropriate tool to judge the right exposure: an unhurried measurement for an even more ponderous exposure. Deeply satisfying...

No comments: