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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Perfect Exposure: Hoax or Coax?

Another good combination: Photography and Technology. Photography is a technology, especially because it continues to evolve with improvements to the components that make it up: optics, image quality, design, and the chips and bits that are in everything these days. But before there was any of this, photography was simple: Just a box with a pinhole and light sensitive paper. Keep the paper in the dark until ready to use and then in a *blink* show it what you want a copy of and there it will be (after development of course). No, it isn't that simple, but compared to what it is now, it was a simple process to understand. Photography had an open architecture as any early technology does, and until it is fully commercialized and becomes patent-locked those looking to improve on it can make a living off these helper inventions.

As with most practical, or common inventions, any company can spring up with "Hey! Look over here!" and sell an add-on (or in new-speak: APP) that promises to solve a problem, or enhance the experience for the end user. With photography, one of those aspects was exposure: having the right amount of light for the place and time and subject in order to get the perfect image. You can see my challenge with the image above: there is not enough of the gold lettering left on the box to be reflected by the available light to be reproduced. Ironically, the box reads, "The Perfect Exposure Meter" but, alas, I could not use it for its intended purpose (I apologize for the focus as well).

Keep reading to find out more about the mystery behind the meter!

I saw this box on a table at a Southbury, or was it Southford, CT sale.  I could tell it's age approximately by the color and gold lettering. I think I was expecting something for madame's vanity inside. Regardless, it was a box, and in my world that box needs to be opened no matter what's inside.  What I found was truly unique (Click for full size):

Yes, the top edge is a mirror, and as I have already given away what it is, the real beauty is in how it is supposed to work. (Can you guess?) One type of common light meter has a photo-reactive cell that collects the light and turns it into electricity. A kind of  hand-held solar panel that wouldn't save a flea a dime on his electric bill.  All that tiny charge needs to do is push a hair-sized pin across a calibrated or graduated scale to indicate the amount of incident (direct) or reflected light. The amount of light read by the meter can quickly be translated into what exposure setting (f-stop), and shutter speed, is needed based on the ASA, or speed at which the film is supposed to develop (faster speed for low light ASA 1600 and slower for bright light ASA 200).

The inventors of this product were likely looking to entice the amateur photographer into saving some dough by skipping the fancy meter and use the in-house light meter...in your eyes!

Again, as with many of my "finds" I don't know and can't find the date of manufacture.  The reference to Kodachrome means this card under glass here was printed between 1935 and June 22, 2009 (click on the link to see why I used the specific date). No matter, I love the concept put forth by the inventor: Look at your subject and then in the mirror, and then compare the the size of your pupil in order to set the f-stop of your camera. How many of these were ever sold? It pretends to be a precise computer of sorts yet I can't think of a more imprecise method for determining how much light is reflecting off the subject. Once you hold the mirror close enough for a size comparison, your pupil would be adjusting to the reflected light from your face.  I also wonder how vain a photographer would be considered if his subjects were waiting while he is constantly looking at himself in a mirror. Brought to you by Distributors Incorporated. Classic! 

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