Print Meters - Antique and Vintage Cameras

Print Meters

Image of Print Meters

Early meters were introduced for carbon and platinotype prints which were developed rather than being 'printed-out'. In use the carbon print is exposed in a printing frame to daylight, at the same time a test print on printing-out paper (POP) is exposed in the print meter which is placed next to the carbon print.

In the simplest form a small piece of POP was exposed until it matched a painted, standard, tint, a fresh piece of paper was then exposed. A normal negative required two or three 'tints', i.e. two or three exposures of the POP in the meter. The photographer judged the density of the negative and from experience how many tints were required. A problem with this form was the difficulty of estimating precisely when the standard tint had been matched. In Sawyer's meter a longer strip of paper was exposed through a graduated scale of opacities, each corresponding to a 'tint', the images on the test strip were compared to a painted standard tint. The operator still had to judge how many tints were required based on the density of the negative but it was easier to match how many tints had been reached and it was not necessary to move the paper during the exposure. In Burton's meter six small negatives were printed on the test strip, each negative varied in density corresponding to one tint. The operator first matched the density of the negative to be printed against one of the test images the exposure was stopped when the appropriate image was correctly printed.

With later bromide and other development papers the usual way of determining the exposure was to make a test strip by multi-exposure. This required no extra apparatus. Step wedges consisting of glass or celluloid sectioned into varying densities were produced, with these only one exposure need be made to produce a test strip. The difference between this type of meter and the earlier carbon meters is that the test strip is made first, prior to exposing the print. Densitometers where the density of the negative was read directly were used by dedicated amateurs but were the exception.

For daylight enlarging ordinary actinometers could be used to measure the strength of the light and after allowance for the degree of enlargement the exposure could be read on the meter. Watkins published details on using their meters for enlarging.

In the 1930s electric meters using the grease spot principle and other comparison types started to be produced. Later, meters using photo-electric cells, such as the Majus of the late 1930s, were introduced.

Autotype Disc Actinometer


Autotype Co.



Circular metal meter, the lid carries a standard brown tint, turning the lid brings a fresh portion of printing-out paper (POP) under a window.

References & Notes:
BJA 1903, p. 957.

Burton's print meter

An early meter for use with carbon or platinotype prints. The lid of the meter contains six test negatives of varying density which are printed on printing-out paper. The densities correspond to 'tints' i.e. when the thinnest test negative was correctly printed that was one tint. The operator matched the negative to be printed against one of the test negatives and exposed both the print meter and carbon print until that test negative was correctly printed. This is an improved form of H.J. Burton's meter introduced in 1872.

References & Notes:
BJP 20/12/1872, p. 604. BJP 25/6/1875, p. 302.

Johnson's print meter

This comprises a small metal box the lid of which has a glass window part of which is painted grey. The lid opens allowing access to the printing-out paper. The meter and the carbon print are exposed together, when the printing-out paper matches the tone of the standard tint the print has been exposed for one tint, the paper is then pulled forward to expose for the next tint. The number of tints required depends on the density of the negative to be printed. A metal flap separates the un-used roll of paper from the exposure. Introduced by John Robert Johnson.

Johnson's print meter

Improved model


The meter is similar to the previous entry except that a yellow glass screen covers the printing-out paper and the standard tint which is brown. The roll of paper is held in a wooden block.

References & Notes:
Eder, Jahrbuch für Photographie und Reproductionstechnik 1894, p. 363.

Carbon print meter

Consists of a flat mahogany box the lid has a window to show the test strip and two standard tints.

Wynne's Infallible Print Meter


Infallible Exposure Meter Co.



Image of Wynne's Infallible Print Meter

For use with carbon or platinotype papers. A series of figures of varying density are printed onto printing-out paper. Experience was used to judge which figures should print for the density of the negative or a trial could be made by printing the negative onto printing-out paper at the same time as exposing a test strip in the meter, when the print was correctly exposed the value that was just visible on the test strip indicated the density of the negative and was used in subsequent carbon or platinum prints.

Version without engraving on corners.

Used test print.

Wynne's Infallible Print Meter

Image of Wynne's Infallible Print Meter

Version with engraving on corners.

Instructions. Box.

One of the most popular of the early meters. On some examples there is more elaborate engraving on the corners of the case. The price was around 6/-, briefly a solid silver model was advertised at 15/-.

References & Notes:
BP 14865/1897. BJA 1898, p. 351. Book of Photography. Practical Theoretic & Applied, p. 189.

Kodak Actinometer

c. 1921

Eastman Kodak Co.



Image of Kodak Actinometer

Consists of a step wedge for printing on Solio paper, the final print is made on Velox paper for the indicated time. For use with the Brownie enlarger.

References & Notes:
Kodak Museum Catalogue, p. 16.

Primus Printing Gauge

W. Butcher & Son



Small meter for producing a step wedge.






Consists of a step wedge negative. This is either placed in the enlarging easel or with the negative in a printing frame. For bromide or gaslight papers. Quarter-plate size.

A very simple device for producing a test strip. An exposure is made, after developing the print will indicate the factor by which the exposure needs to be multiplied. Made in different sizes. Price 3/-.


References & Notes:
BP 216831/1924. BJA 1926, p. 333. BJA 1927, p. 156. BJA 1928, p. 163. AP 28/1/1925, p. x.

Ilford Test Strip Holder

Ilford Ltd



Simple metal form to hold paper 1" x 3 ¼" for four exposures.

Instructions. Cardboard case with brown/cream label.

Ilford Test Strip Holder

Ilford Ltd



Simple metal form to hold paper 1" x 3 ¼" for four exposures.

Instructions. Cardboard case with red/yellow label. c. 1940s.

Pavelle-Theilgaard Exposure Calculator


Image of Pavelle-Theilgaard Exposure Calculator

A test strip printer used in colour printing, three density strips (red, green, blue) are printed along with an exposure factor. Supplied in the UK as part of colour printing kits.

References & Notes:
BJA 1963, p. 169.

M.C.M. Step Wedge

c. 1939

Image of M.C.M. Step Wedge

This was designed by the editor of Miniature Camera Magazine in collaboration with the Research Department of Ilford. It was intended as an aid to classifying photographic paper. The wedge has 8 densities plus clear, the densities differ by a density of 0.3 thus each step in the test strip receives twice the exposure of the previous.

References & Notes:
BJA 1940, p. 192.

Corfield Grey Scale Kit

c. 1951

K.G. Corfield



Image of Corfield Grey Scale Kit

Continuous density wedge. Contrast Scale. 25 used and unused Grey Scale Mounts. Box.

This was used to compare and categorise printing paper, the kit was supplied with cards on which to mount the finished test strips, a Contrast Scale could be held against the strip which would show the contrast rating of the paper.

References & Notes:
Blue-Book 1952, p. 98.

Price's Photographic Printmeter


Image of Price's Photographic Printmeter

The address is given as 201-203 Waterloo Road, London.

Shade scale. Blank scales. Instructions. Box.

This device uses the familiar grease spot principle to determine the exposure required when printing from a negative. The negative is placed against the screen between the two light sources (candles), the screen is then moved along the strip until the transmitted light through the negative matches the surrounding reflected light from the other light source. At this point a value which indicates the exposure required can be read from a scale. The scale has first to be calibrated by finding the correct exposure time for the printing papers to be used, a test negative is used for this. A successful print is made from the test negative, the test negative is then used in the photometer to find the scale value, the exposure time, for the successful print, is divided by the value to give a constant for this type of paper. For different negatives the constant is multiplied by the value found on the photometer, a further calculation involves the distance of the light if this is not fixed.

This is a rather cumbersome device to introduce in the 1920s. The inventor was Aubrey Leigh Price. This example appears to be unused.

References & Notes:
BP 165509/1921.

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