Gray Cards

Meters Don’t See 18% Gray

You’ve learned an untruth.

Welcome to the real world of 12% gray.


“A recent discussion on one of the digital camera sites caught my attention. Basically, someone had shot a picture of a gray card, and then remarked that his meter must be off, since the histogram that the camera generated showed the peak of values to the left of center.

This reminded me that we’ve all been brainwashed into believing something that isn’t true: light meters don’t measure 18% gray.

Let me elaborate. But first, let me state that the 18% myth is so ingrained in the photography world that virtually everyone just parrots the party line. This includes Nikon USA, who will tell you that their camera meters are calibrated to 18% gray (talk to the Nikon Japan camera engineers, and you get a different story, as they’ll respond “yes” when you ask if the Nikon meters are calibrated to ANSI standards; and yes, I had the chance to ask them a few years ago when I was in Japan).”