James's Light Meter Collection: GE PR-2 Guardian
GE PR-2 Guardian USA
Maker: General Electric
Model: PR-2 Guardian
Circa: 1956
Designer:Hans Bakke and Allen Stimson
US Patent:2,924,144
Price (new): $28
Cell type: Selenium
Measure type: Reflecting/Averaging

click or advertisementGeneral Electric made several light meters in the 40s and 50s, but left the market in the 1960s as camera-integrated metering took over. GE's low-end units were the Mascots, which were very simple. The middle ground was held by the DW-series, even though they were a very old design and nothing much more than the Mascot. But the high-end was the Guardian and Golden Crown, which went up against (in price and capability) the Weston Master and the Norwood Director.

The PR-1 was the basic meter. The PR-2 and PR-3 were revisions. Like the PR-1, it carried over the pointer lock and the high-low switch that you could do simply by turning the calculator dial. The Weston Masters required you to swing away a baffle on the back, and the Norwoods used little metal slides that were easily lost.

This one brings a new feature to the table: the ability to use the "Dynacell," a folding booster cell that plugs in and adds more juice to the current for low-light work. That was a slick piece of engineering: you could clip it on and off as you see fit, or you could just leave it on. It's on a hinge so you can hold the meter horizontally and let the Dynacell hang down, or you can lock it in place and aim the cell wherever you want. There's a plastic grid for reflected light, or you could pop that off for low-light incident. My Dynacell also came with the clip-on incident cover for the meter.

Anyway, back to the PR-2. GE did away with the Trident Analyzer, simply went with calculator dial markings, and cleaned the "light level" markings off the face as well (this might be another first).

But in trying to simplify it, they never attacked the underlying problem of the general complexity of the whole thing—i.e. you need to read the manual to figure out how to use it. For instance, you have to press the GE logo on the middle of the dial and turn the outer ring to set the ASA. Then push the needle release button on the side and see where the needle goes. You turn the ring until the ƒ/stop you like is under the needle pointer, and then read the shutter speed in the window on the dial. There are no combinations, so you either to have to keep turning the dial to get shutter speed you like, or do the reciprocity math in your head.

Gone also are the marks to do contrast ratios and other spiffy stuff. But they added something interesting. When this meter came out, the EV System was starting out and people thought it would revolutionize photography. On most calculator dials, you'd make a reading normally and you could see the EV number in a little window somewhere on the calculator. Here, however, you could simply turn the dial around so that the EV numbers were under the meter face, and the needle would point to the proper EV rating. That is cool.

Still in all, this seems like a dumbed-down PR-1, and a big step backwards except for the direct-read EV (if you could make use of it) and the Dynacell.

But not dumbed-down enough. For years I thought mine was dead until I found out that either the needle lock is sticky or the meter-movement is sluggish from years of not moving. I finally figured out how to set the ASA and use this thing only by reading the manual after all attempts at just playing around with it proved futile (and I'm usually very good at figuring out how these work without reading manuals). In fact, I had the same problem with my Golden Crown. Either way, they're very nice meters, but I expect better than this.

Pat Walsh bought one that was bound-up and took it apart. He was kind enough to document it and emailed it to me. If you want to see inside this meter, check out the disassembly page.

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