The Nikon FM2

I'm trying to proceed a bit further into this series of camera reviews or whatever you like to call them, by chatting to myself about the nice little Nikon FM2.

The FM2 is a tiny bit different camera compared to a lot of others in a few ways. Back in the days it was often used by the professionals as well as the serious amateur photographers all around the world. The pro's often chose it as a second camera in case something went wrong with their main camera during a job in the field, and many a nice shot has seen the light of day through this setup. I will not start a big discussion around Steve McCurry and the later discoveries around some or many of his snaps, but his famous Afghan Girl photo were taken with the exact combo showed in my first example picture down below. At least that's the story Nikon World Magazine tells us. Nikon FM2 and the great Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 lens. It's also a typical Kodachrome shot, but that's a totally different case these days as that's long gone, dead and burried, sorry to say.

First of all, and most important to me and the reason why I went for the FM2 in the first place, is the fact that it's an all manual and mechanical camera. No automatic stuff whatsoever. At the same time it's not a dinosaur in the sense that it's a fairly new(ish) construction. It does have a light meter onboard, but there's nothing more to it than giving you a slight visual warning if it got the suspicion you are way off with your choice of exposure. But more about that in a moment.

The old and standard first version of the Nikon FM2 as I received it one day back in the 90's. Same lens attached (Nikkor 105mm f/2.5) and everything. The only minor modification from day 1 would be the yellow shutterbug thing, which I actually find useful on this camera for some reason. 

I was talking about the Nikon F3 a while ago and was mentioning the fact that it was produced from 1980 to 2001, over a period of 21 years which probably means it's one of very few cameras around having been into production for that amount of time. As the FM2 was made from 1982 to 2001 it's not falling far behind the F3 in that respect, but then again they are two very fine but still quite different cameras for sure, and no one can blame Nikon for having cameras like these made for such a number of years as they are among the best (we're talking tiny 35mm stuff here, remember...!)and most rigid pieces of consumer photographic equipment ever made.
You could argue that the other big manufacturers also made great equipment through these years, and yes they did. Pentax, Olympus, Canon, Minolta and a few other companies also made some very good stuff back in those days when the Nikon FM2 first saw the light of day.
The times were a bit different then compared to nowadays, and things were usually made to last. It was nothing like today when anything you buy seem to break for nothing after just a year or two in use, and they are actually supposed to do so... how does that look from the environmental side of things? Buy and throw away seems to be the spec things are built by nowadays.

And this is the "new" Nikon FM2n camera. Exactly the same as the one above just with a few minor alternations. The new shutter is not visible in this snap, of course, but you can probably see the introduced 1/250s red marking on the shutter time wheel as opposed to the first snap where the X200 marking is placed after the 1/4000s time on the same wheel. Everything else is just the same on the two versions, so no big surprises there.

The Nikon FM2 is a direct descendant of the Nikon FM. It was produced as the FM2 a couple of years until they came up with a tiny bit different second version just renamed FM2n. No big changes between the two of them, but a new shutter (aluminum instead of costly titanium) and the flash sync speed increased from 1/200s to 1/250s was among the things changed from the first version. Oh, and the serial number suddenly had the letter "N" as a prefix to it. On the front they are both named FM2, and they literary are the same camera to use. No big differences or things you have to think of either you pick up this version or the other.

Old version. Check out the speed on this thing! 1/4000s was totally unheared of back in 1982/83, and if you add the fact that we are talking about a fully manual shutter it's even more impressive. 

New version

The Nikon FM2 is the SLR type of camera I personally have the longest experience with. I got my first one some time around the mid 90's I think, and this very example would still be the one I grab as I go out the door to use as my every day cameras today. This first one was sold to me by a news reporter/photographer in Trondheim (Adresseavisen or just Adressa, one of the three or four big ones in Norway) for what, back then, was a quite fair price. It was delivered with a Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 lens, which I probably will write something about some time later, which made the deal even a tad better. It was my first real camera, and I will never forget the feeling when I went to the post office to get that packet out of there. It beats more or less anything I have received in the mail, ever.
So, I think I can say I'm getting to know the FM2 and it's pros and cons from shear experience. And I bet you have found out some time ago that this is up there, and one of my real favorite camera of all times.
It's handy in size (everything is always relative to something else...), it has never failed on one single shot during the hundreds of films I have fed through these things no matter the weather or temperature conditions, they are a breeze to use and they are fully mechanical and does not require any batteries to work. A brilliant construction from top to bottom, at least from my point of view. Nikon really nailed it with this construction.
When I say they do not require any batteries to work it's the truth with a tiny twist, because there is a light meter inside them in the need of batteries to work. But as the light meter is not coupled to anything at all, and the shutter is fully mechanical, this means the camera itself works very well without any power from the batteries. The batteries seem to last for something like a lifetime anyway, so this "issue" is nothing much to worry about during the daily use of the camera.
Go learn the sunny 16 rule some day if you like, and you will be perfectly fine without both batteries and light meters no matter which manual/mechanical camera you lay your hands on. At least if the shutter times is somewhere in the area of accurate, which they tends to be on the FM2 even after lots of years in good use anyway. I have never felt the need to have one of these handed over to some guru doctor living in a strange corner of the world to check and adjust anything on them. Would probably not be worth it either. Use it til it drops dead, then run out and buy a new one would be my best advice if something heavy eventually should run over it.

First version serial number. Not too easy to find these days I'm told. This one just came to me without me knowing which version I was buying...

The "New" thing. Not the most exciting difference to the old one, when truth is told...

When you pick up any camera there's always something you just don't like, or stuff you think should have been done in some way different to what the designer decided was a good idea at the time of construction. With the FM2 I must say I do struggle a bit to find anything to dislike at all. I have been mentioning a few minor things earlier, where the worst thing seems to be the breaker to switch the thing on. You have to slightly pull out the film winder lever to free the lock on the shutter button, and to me this is something I just don't find very intuitive. Not that it's a big deal, and it's not like I have to stop my movement or anything, but it is still sometimes a tiny issue for me to actually pull that lever out a notch to be able to snap something. The good thing about this feature is of course that you save the need for a dedicated on/off switch, which probably would be just as annoying at times. You can also turn the camera on as you lift it towards your eyes without the need of looking for some tiny little knob hidden somewhere else. It's also acting as a very reliable (mechanical) shutter release lock, which is a nice thing to have. You learn to appreciate things like that when throwing old Leica M cameras around and find quite a few frames gone blank because of no way to lock that tiny little bugger on top of the thing. 

There's nothing much extra you can put on the FM2, but the MB-12 winder is a possible addition to the system should you fancy it. They are cheap as chips these days, and for a reason. Too heavy, making the camera too bulky and far from the handy little thing it is in it's normal configuration. The best thing I can say about it is the better grip you get on the camera if you take it for a walk without a proper strap attached. 

Other flaws? Nah, not really. I could of course put up a short wish list, but that's a bit late as Nikon stopped production of the camera around 15 years ago. On that wish list would be, and this is also very much valid for the F3, a real analog light meter inside the viewfinder. That would make a reall difference, and a visually way cleaner and more intuitive way to see the indicated best shutter speed compared to the chosen one. On the FM2 the over/under exposure indication is instead given by means of a +0- series of led symbols on top of each other on the right hand side of the viewfinder which works well enough. I really don't understand why a company like Nikon could buld great professional cameras with such stupid and very little intuitive sollutions as they did on the FM2 and the F3.

I have never tried the Nikon FM3A, but I'm pretty confident that my more or less secret wish list for the FM2 is hidden somewhere inside that camera. The combination of a mechanical and electronically controlled shutter would have been nice to see, but you obviously need to upgrade to a different level (and price these days) to get that. 

Nothing much happening over here at the left side of the FM2 body. Only the usual take up spool and the rewinder with the locking mechanism to prevent unintentional opening of the hatch on the back. There's also a flash contact underneath the black small cover, and the lens release button a bit further down. The lens mounted is a 50mm f/1.8 modern plastic thing. Light weight and sharp, but with way too little resistance on the focus ring and all over flimpsy feel. I doubt it can take a real punch as well, but I have not tried that (or been lucky) as for yet.

As for lenses you can pretty much put anything Nikon ever made on this camera and make it work wonderfully. OK, there's probably a few exceptions, but more or less anything made from 1959 up to this day. Obviously you have to stay away from the G(elded) lenses without aperture ring and the DX lenses made for tiny electronic sensors only. Anything else and you should be good to go without any issues at all. There's probably a million third company lenses you could use as well, as a lot of stuff has been made with a Nikon F mount up through the years. 

The as usual very ergonomic Nikon house with it's few buttons right where you need them to be is what you get if you're in the market for a camera like the FM2. It's always nice to find everything placed right where you expect them to be, placed exactly at that spot for a reason.
It's possible to adjust the ASA and the shutter times, of course. In addition there is also a dedicated lever you may operate to make a deliberate double exposure. By maneuvering the tiny thingy placed on the right hand side of the film winder you will be able to crank the shutter without feeding the film forward. To the right of the lens there is also a small handle which you will find on most Nikons, the lever for checking DOF with a stopped down lens. There is also a traditional timer/delay lever on the right side of the lens, exactly at the spot where you're used to find this kind of thing. Everything is very well designed and put together, making this camera a well thought through construction in every way. The film transport is nice and smooth, just as the other inner mechanical parts both inside the shutter section and other parts of this wonderful machine. It can take any temperature from around -50 to +50 deg. C with no hassle at all, and I guess there's some very well thought through lubrication secrets and building matierials inside the thing to make specifications like that possible. Show me any camera of today able to do that for a few weeks in a row when needed.

There is no way to change out the prism by the way, or to take it off for cleaning and such. It's not a thing I have missed either, to tell you the truth. If that's something you're in need of, look for something else than the FM2. 

Bottom plate. Nothing much to say about this area, but from near to far you have the mechanical winder connection between the MD-12 motor and the camera, the film winder release button, the tripod mount, a battery cover containing a couple of LR44 cells or whatever you like to put in there, and finally the electrical contacts between the camera and the MD-12 motor furthest away. Looks like there's a couple of bullet holes there as well, and the plate is obviously made out of brass...

So, if you think you might want to try a fully mechanical 135 film size camera some day, I have no bad feelings recommending the Nikon FM2. It has everything you will ever need to get the job done in a proper way, and it's quite small and light weight as well. A very good camera put together just the way we like them. 
Nikon made these to really last a lifetime, and it seems like they succeeded quite well. At least it's the one single model of camera I have snapped a serious ammount of film through and never had a single issue with. Ever.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Great review, Roy - thanks for posting. My only real good Nikon experience is withthe Fm3a and it too has the slightly annoying lever wind pull out thing as well. The Olympus OM1 has no such restriction on pressing the old shutter release and the big On/Off lever is just for the can choose whether to use it or not, of course.

    You are right about the Fm3a viewfinder info....simply the best, an analog needle and all the shutter speeds showing where the speed is currently set as well as where the camera's meter brain thinks it should be. Impossible not to like. I've used my mates Fm2 a couple of times and i also think the Fm3a's viewfinder is way brighter...almost Leica M6 bright. Almost. But as you say, the Fm3a is a lot more expensive than an Fm2. Both lovely cameras.

  2. Thanks a lot for your comment, Michael. Always nice to get a few words in to get things confirmed or further discussed :)
    The lever wind pull out thing is a very good lock for the shutter release, but that's about it. I find it annoying, but I'm not a 100% sure about how I would have designed the thing should I have been in charge of that department back in the days. The OM1 solution sounds like a good one, but still some like this and others that. We are probably a hard bunch to please :)

    It surprises me a bit that Nikon decided to equip both the FM3a and the FE2 (and probably a few more cameras) with real analog light meter needles, but failed to do so on both the F3 and the FM2. I think they went for the LED solution just because they could, and because they were both a product of the eighties. Flashy stuff, you know...
    It's not a secret, and probably will not cause any of my very few readers to fall of their chairs when they learn that I still like my watch to be circular with good old analog hands to tell me what the time is. It's just simply more intuitive, and you don't even have to look closely. A hint is enough to tell you what you need. With numbers and LED's you actually have to move your eyes and see what's going on, and then you have to think. With the needle you don't have to do that.
    But you know all of this very well, of course :))

    I might start to wright something on the next camera soon, so stay tuned...


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