Frequently Asked Questions
- How much is my meter worth?
- Which meters are more likely to be valuable?
- How can I tell what kind of photocell (selenium, CdS or silicon blue) my meter uses?
- How can I tell if my meter works?
- How can I tell if my meter is accurate?
- Does my meter need a battery? Which one?
- What if my meter takes a mercury battery?
- Where can I get my meter professionally repaired?
- Can I fix it myself?
- Where can I get an instruction manual?
- How much is my meter worth?
- Which meters are more likely to be valuable?
Probably not much. Exposure meters hit their mass-market peak in the late 1950s. In the 1960s many cameras had meters built-in, and by the 1970s nearly all of them did, so there are two full generations of amateurs (and probably some pros) who have never used a hand-held meter and probably wouldn't know how to use most of them anyway if they picked one up.
Beyond that, even fewer people collect them. The supply is high and the demand is low. I doubt that will change. Exposure meters (like electronic flash and many other accessories) just do not have the allure that cameras do.
If you want to value your meter, start at $5 US. If it doesn't work and you have nothing else but the meter, that's probably its value. If it works (responds to light) you can probably double the value. If it's accurate you might triple the value (so we're up to $15).
The more accessories or stuff you have, the better. The original case (probably leather) is always nice. Any of the original attachments are welcome too, like incident converters. Norwood Directors, for instance, shipped with a hemisphere dome, a flat diffuser disc, a grid, and two postage-stamp-sized metal slides. I have several Directors and none of them had all of the stuff. The Weston Master IVs and Master V's originally came with an incident attachement that's usually lost. Horvex meters always never have their booster cells.
The instruction manuals help, especially if the meter is complicated (like a General Electric PR-1). Collectors appreciate the original box and whatever paperwork may be with it (a bill of sale is always nice). You can add $5 to $10 to it, maybe more if it's all in really good shape. Maybe.
Some meters had optional accessories that were not bought in large volumes, so they're harder to find. A Brockway M3 with a set of slides (more than the single on that came with it) is quite a find. So is the original case for it.
The best way to get a real-world value for your meter is to search eBay listings for "completed" auctions, and try to find the ones that are closest to what you have.
These are just my observations as a collector:
Anything with the word Leica or Zeiss on it carries a premium larger than the same meter would have under another name. A good example would be the original Leicameter, which is really a Weston Model 650 Senior. The Leicameter version will fetch at least three times the Senior in the same condition.
Modern meters that are still being manufactured, like the Gossen Luna Pro sbc , because they are more likely to be working and accurate, and can be professionally repaired all over. Almost any digital meter will fall into this category.
Meters by Minolta and Pentax, which are still being made and are high quality (Minolta is now Kenko).
Brockway M3s were only made for a couple of years and they're somewhat scarce, and they're cute and they don't look like anything else, so they have a certain novelty value that's lacking in most other meters.
Spot meters like the Soligor Spot II, which are still desirable for zone system work.
Professional calibre meters, as opposed to those aimed at the mass-market. Spectras, Quantums, the higher-end Gossens, Minoltas and Pentaxes in particular. Mass market makes like General Electric, most Sekonics, Vivitars, etc., generally don't hold their value.
"Recent" Westons, namely the Euro-Master and Euro-Master II, because they're relatively young and most likely to still be working and accurate. Master IVs and V's are somewhat desirable if you can verify accuracy.
Older Westons (Masters (including IIs and IIIs), DRs, 650s, Juniors and Cadets) are not terribly valuable because they sold so well that supply is very high. Unusual Westons, on the other hand, can be quite valuable, like the first model 617 and (to a lesser extent) the second model 617.
"Special" meters are often valuable, partly from novelty and partly from rarity. A great example is the clear-cased Westons that were used as sales tools.
General Electrics are worth very little, even though some of them are very good meters. Supply is far too high for demand. Same goes for Norwood Directors and Brockway M2s.
CdS cell meters are likely to have an unusually low value because they almost always need mercury batteries which can't be purchased anymore. Almost all "equivalent" batteries are undesirable for one reason or another. On the other hand, CdS spot meters (e.g. the original Soligor Spot) do fetch decent prices, and a Weston Ranger 9 is collectable even though it uses mercury cells.
Selenium cells are fairly large. CdS and silicons are small. If the photocell is round and the size of small button (maybe 1/8" across), you've got a CdS or silicon. Larger panels are selenium. Westons and Norwoods use round selenium cells that are about the diameter of a US quarter or Kennedy half-dollar. Most other meters used rectangular panels.
CdS cells almost always take mercury batteries. Silicons almost always take modern batteries. If you're still not sure, you'll have to consult the owner's manual, or see if it's listed in my exposure meter directory.
If it has a selenium cell, you don't need a battery, so just hold it up to a relatively bright light source and see if the needle moves. If it does, that's a good sign. If the needle does not move, look to see if there's a needle-lock button or switch. Hold the lock button or switch and try it again--and hold it for a minute because sometimes meters that have been locked for a long time are sluggish at first. I've had more than one meter that I thought was dead return back to life because the movement was sluggish, and all they needed was bright light and some gentle jiggling to free up the movement.
If it's a CdS or silicon cell, put in a fresh battery and try to take a reading (you'll need to press a button to do it, since battery-driven meters only work when they're "on"). If the needle swings at bright light, that's a good sign. If it doesn't, try to verify that your battery is good and you're pressing the right buttons. If you're doing everything correctly and the meter still doesn't work—you're out of luck.
The most common way is to compare it against a meter you know is good, like one in a camera that you trust, or another hand-held meter that you trust. Try this:
Find something that is relatively large, flat, featureless and evenly illuminated in relatively bright light. A building wall works very well for this. A large piece of plain cardboard could work, too. What you want is something that's evenly lit and the same all the way across the field of view.
Set both meters to the same film speed rating (ASA, ISO, DIN, it doesn't matter), and take a reading. Do everything you reasonably can to ensure that both meters are measuring the same area--e.g. keep them about the same distance, the same angle, etc. Otherwise you're measuring apples and oranges and your comparison will be meaningless.
Compare the results between the two. If you're within 1 ƒ/stop, I would consider your test meter to be "accurate." At least reasonably so. Selenium cells should be within 1 stop. A CdS or silicon ought to be within ½ stop.
For better results, try the same thing but with different light levels. Ideally the test meter should be off by the same amount in both dim and bright light. If it is, then you can "correct" it by making allowances on the calculator dial. For instance, let's say your meter consistantly reads 1-stop higher all across its range, you'd know to shift the dial 1-stop down to get the proper combinations.
If it's a selenium meter, it does not need a battery: selenium cells generate electricity. CdS and silicon-based meters do require batteries. A very few special meters (like my Spectra Combi-500) have both a selenium and a CdS cell, and requires a battery if you want to use the CdS side of it.
The very best way to determine which battery to use is to look at the instruction manual (see my answer below for sources of manuals). If you can't find the manual, try a Google search.
Please see my page regarding Mercury Battery Replacement for more information on batteries.
Try Quality Light Metric: 6922 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Phone (323) 467-2265. I've never used them so I can't personally vouch for them, but I have read very good things about them from professionals on the net. For what that's worth. Also, they take older meters like Weston Masters and Norwoods.
You can try. If you don't want to pay for a professional repair, and you're willing to
probably possibly ruin your meter, then by all means go ahead. If you don't want to take this risk, then leave it alone.
A few important things to consider about repairing old meters. First is that service manuals are almost impossible to find even as reprints. The older the meter (particularly prior to the 1960s), the more unlikely you'll find a manual. So expect to fly blind. Second is that meters with analog movements (i.e. needles, not digital displays) are delicate and very easily ruined (I've done it). Third is that parts are pretty much impossible to get, so if you want to restore or repair a meter, you'll probably need another dead one to use as a parts donor. And finally, some meters (Westons in particular) have tamper-resistant screws to keep people like us from opening them. The special tools needed are even harder to find than service manuals, so you'll need to make your own special tools, or figure out a way to get those screws out with what you've got.
I've documented a few of my own repair/destruction attempts of various meters on my Autopsies page.
Start with my Manuals page from my camera collection site. I have scanned the manuals that I have and they're available for download for free. If you don't find it there, at the bottom of that page there's a list of other sites. First try Mike Butkus's free camera manual site, as he has a lot of items and they're all free (he would appreciate a donation, though); then check out the other sites I've listed which sell manuals (either originals or reprints) for a fee.
You can also try your luck with ebay. The prices are often less expensive than the pay sites, but they get you on postage & handling fees. Or there might be missing pages and the seller didn't realize it. Caveat emptor.