How are the image statistics of global image contrast computed? We answered this by using a contrast-matching task for checkerboard configurations of ‘battenberg’ micro-patterns where the contrasts and spatial spreads of interdigitated pairs of micro-patterns were adjusted independently. Test stimuli were 20 × 20 arrays with various sized cluster widths, matched to standard patterns of uniform contrast. When one of the test patterns contained a pattern with much higher contrast than the other, that determined global pattern contrast, as in a max() operation. Crucially, however, the full matching functions had a curious intermediate region where low contrast additions for one pattern to intermediate contrasts of the other caused a paradoxical reduction in perceived global contrast. None of the following models predicted this: RMS, energy, linear sum, max, Legge and Foley. However, a gain control model incorporating wide-field integration and suppression of nonlinear contrast responses predicted the results with no free parameters. This model was derived from experiments on summation of contrast at threshold, and masking and summation effects in dipper functions. Those experiments were also inconsistent with the failed models above. Thus, we conclude that our contrast gain control model (Meese & Summers, 2007) describes a fundamental operation in human contrast vision.