NIKON FE /FM series (1977-2006) - The
Mechelhoff NEW July 2022
Image: Nikon FE2 (left), FM (right). 2nd row
Pentax K2 and KX
In 1977 Nikon
introduced the FM, a mid-range, open aperture metering, full
mechanical SLR. It
followed the technical specs of as the Pentax KX
launched a year before, and had even the same dimensions
- a tad smaller (142x89.5x60.5mm) and lighter in weight
(590g). Functionally, it replaced the
Nikkormat FT2 and FT3, all of them significantly larger and
heavier (148x85x54mm, 750g) and based on the Nikkormat FT from 1965.
In this respect,
it was Nikon's first "slightly more compact" mid-range
SLR (read as, the same size as the competition).
It was available in black or
chrome and established a long-produced and successfully sold
SLR that established an entire series, replacing the Nikkormat cameras (1965-1977).
The FM shutter is a vertically
travelling metal sectional shutter (Copal CCS) with 1/125s
sync speed and set times of 1s. - 1/1000s and B.
Copal's compact blade shutters played an important role in
Nikon's FM/FE series. They (and Seiko's) were important drivers in the
1970's to make cameras more and more compact, but also
ensured a certain standardization and similarity (the task
of marketing then was to emphasize differences and
was one of those who relied on Copal as a manufacturer.
The FM's film sensitivity
setting is integrated into the shutter speed knob, rather
than on a ring around the lens like on the Nikkormats.
Pentax KM had it in the shutter dial as well, whereas KX had
it under the film rewind crank, alike the earlier Electro
Spotmatic (the K2, oddly, had it on the same place as the
As with the Pentax KX, the
exposure meter is using gallium photodiodes instead of using CdS cells
as before and had a center-weighted
(60/40) metering. The aperture set (for AI lenses with their extra
small aperture scale) is also reflected. Instead of a time line with
pointer and needle, there are three red LEDs on the
right-hand side of the viewfinder. If the middle one lights up, the exposure is correct. The exposure time is shown
mechanically on the left opposite. The whole thing is
therefore not as clear as the KX finder, and the points for
best handling goes to the Pentax - whereas I admit to prefer
the shutter sound of the Nikon FM (but winding
goes smoother with the Pentax).
In the same year of
1977 Nikon introduced the AI system ("Automatic Indexing"), replacing the old
mechanism with "bunny ears" on the aperture rings and
corresponding bolts on the camera. This system, later called Non-AI or Pre-AI (= all F lenses since 1959) was a bit
odd, both mechanically and in terms of handling when
With the AI system, the
lenses no longer had to be set to f/5.6 before the change
and then compared with the camera ("ritsch-ratsch"). Instead, the connection
between the camera and lens is made here via a milled step
in the aperture ring and the corresponding feeler ring and
knobs on the camera. Minolta followed a similar approach on their
upgrade from MC to MD lenses. The aperture rings of the
old lenses could be modified or changed by Nikon Service.
With the Nikon FM and FE , NonAI
lenses could still be used in working aperture mode, i.e. like Pentax with their old M42 lenses
with adapters. Not at all with their successors (from FM2, FE2).
Nikon continued to produce
the AI and later AIS lenses with the "bunny ears" (coupling prong), probably for Nikon F or F2. Voigtländer
continued until today ontheir Nikon "SL" lenses. The AI coupling required
new camera models, the first yet were introduced in the
Nikkormat family. However, the first "original" camera designed for the AI system was the FM.
The first "professional"
camera for AI didn't come out until three years later, the F3 (1980).
Image (modified) from Runner1616
Die Nikon FE - Automatic
Exposure/ Aperture Priority (1978)
Image (modified) from Edgar Bonet, Wikimedia Commons.
One year after the FM with tracking
exposure metering, Nikon added an aperture priority in the
same housing. The
FE was based on the corresponding electronically controlled
COPAL sectional shutter. The FM and FE were
indistinguishable at first glance, especially since they
didn't have a model designation on the front.
The FE replaced the earlier AE cameras (still with CdS
cells) Nikkormat EL or the Nikon EL2, which was only built for a
short time, and also took over their viewfinder image, the
set aperture is also reflected.
corresponds to the Pentax K2 that was
introduced two years earlier (which uses a basically identical shutter but
from SEIKO) with the same dimensions but is lighter (599g).
image corresponds to the K2-DMD, which has the aperture
reflected into view. Like the K2, the electronically controlled shutter
works only with batteries, or manually at 1/90s (synch time)
without exposure metering. However, Pentax already had
1/125s. synch time.
At DM 785,- (in
Germany) the FE was considerably more expensive
than the FM (DM 525 - each in 1979 without a lens
automatic comfort cost quite a bit extra! Purists resorted to the
cheaper FM and despised the FE, it was also used more in
the market, the FE struggled against other automatic or
multi-automatic models with just as good characteristics, but more modern to a certain
extent, and sold better: First and foremost the CANON AE-1 (1976) and the Minolta XD-7 (1977) . But
of course she benefited from the good name NIKON. Minolta was not taken very
seriously as an "amateur brand", although both the XD-7
and successor X-700 were perhaps the best cameras in their
class, and CANON had been in serious trouble after its
failed model policy in the late 60's, only survived with
luck and the good sales of their pocket and desktop
calculators, slowly closing the gap with the sales success
of the AE-1 and Program AE-1 and the growth of the FD system
back to what was later called the "Big Five" of camera manufacturers (Canon, Minolta, Nikon,
Olympus, Pentax - in alphabetical order - in which Olympus was always the
Die Nikon FM2 - First
The successor model to the FM - presented with great
advertising and a long latency to wait for customers -
received a new, then fastest focal plane
shutter in the world (also from Copal) with 1/4000s -1s, and X 1/200
as the fastest sync speed and B. The shutter blades are made
of profiled titanium - something that
has been seen in the Nikon F 1959 already, but settled for
1/1000s and 1/60s.
Since the AI aperture
driving pin on the FM-2 can no longer be folded back with a
tiny joint, non-AI lenses can no longer be used with this
camera (and all those presented later).
The FM2 has gained
interchangeable focusing screens, which was the standard of
the time in the upper mid-range SLR.
In 1989 the FM2 was
replaced by the FM2n, with only the difference of 1/250s synch
time instead of 1/200 and aluminum blades in
the focal plane
the odd 1/200 setting could be omitted. In 1994 there was a special
model with titanium (800 DM more expensive and not
necessarily prettier). Upper shell, lower shell and film door are made of
titanium, whilest the chassis is aluminium. While the FM weighs 590g and the FM2n around 540g, the FM2n/T weighs 515g.
It is the
lightest of the whole series.
Die Nikon FE2 - Automatic
exposure with 1/4000s (1983-1988)
In 1982/83 the FE was
replaced by the FE2, which (like the FM2) received the
new super-fast shutter with 1/4000s as fastest speed, here
electronically controlled, and up to 8s, and 1/250s as the
only battery-free working option. With 19 settings on the
shutter speed dial, this is now slightly overcrowded... well, you can always leave it
to "A". The
viewfinder display - traditional with time scale, pointer and
needle- corresponds almost exactly to the FE, an exposure
correction warning (red LED) has been added on the right side.
had been offering this for a long time.
Image: Nikon FE2 with the Reportage Wide Angle
35/1.4 AI version
Image: Above Predecessor model Nikkormat EL with Nikkor-HC 85/1.8
NonAI with corresponding aperture coupling, below Nikon FE2 with
Nikkor-AIS 85/1.4 --- The EL, which has very similar controls to the FE
series, is one of my favorite Nikons because it is the only
one with almost all F lenses since 1959 , regardless of whether NonAI, AI, AIS, AF - as
long as you have the "bunny ears" - offers automatic exposure with open aperture metering . This is forward and backward
FE2, on the other hand, doesn't work at all with NonAI lenses!
The fans who initially
despised the FE now cried when it was discontinued
without notice in 1988. Overall replacement was
the F801, first
semi-professional NIKON with autofocus and integrated
motor (3.3 fps) and super-fast shutter with 1/8000s as the fastest
However these are not part of my chronicle --- I never
bought any of these plastic cameras and I
photographed the whole 90's with my old cameras.
Nikon FA - 1983-1989
The Nikon FA was the
most sophisticated individual of the family, and originally
intended to replace the FE, but was then marketed separately,
which was probably a good idea. It had the same shutter as
the FE2, but with the addition of aperture and program auto control. Chassis height and prism were a bit
more voluminous than their series siblings (dimensions 142.5
x92x64.5mm, weight 625g. Again, Nikon was not up to date in
terms of compact design.
Despite the high price (1,175 DM in chrome 1984, the FE-2 in chrome was
for 775 DM - a F3 in black with DE-2 standard viewfinder did n't cost that much more, 1,335 DM) demand was initially high because it was the first
Nikon with a multi- automatic (Canon had had a
multi-automatic with the A-1 since 1978! ). Unfortunately,
the camera's complex electronics proved not as reliable as it
should, so overall it achieved little market success and
remained an outsider. The CANON A-1, on the other hand, had a great seven
years sales run.
Finish line: Nikon FM3a
FM3a was presented in 2001 as the last manual focus
camera and kind of retro model, when almost only
multiautomats, autofocus and integrated motor (all in
plastic housing) were sold, so it remained a niche model. The demand had been
overestimated and the supply of unused "New in Box" cameras is still high today, although
unfortunately workmanship does not appear as solid as the
models from the 1970's or 1980's. Apart from the fact that
the Pentax K series were the better factured cameras right from the
Even if Nikon has always
emphasized the robustness of these cameras (especially the
FM or FM2) in advertising, this and the longevity are often
overestimated. Admittedly, the shutters supplied by COPAL are
reliable, durable and accurate - this is also known from
other cameras in which they have been installed. And they don't have eternal
Nikon FM10 (1995 ~ 2017)
Nikon FM10 was at least spared from the fate
of the FM3a, gathering dust in some storage facility as an
unsold "cult camera" without ever taking a
picture with it. This is a robust utility camera built by Cosina on behalf of
Nikon based on the 1986
, which is largely made of plastic. It has nothing to do with the
"real" FM - except the specification !
Because the FM10 is also a
manually adjustable SLR with TTL open aperture exposure
metering, mechanically controlled lamellar focal plane
shutter, 1/2000-1s and B, sync speed 1/125s, its two LR44
button cells required only for center-weighted TT metering and LED light
balance in the viewfinder (red-green-red). In terms of dimensions, it is
more compact than the others (139x86x53mm) and also lighter
switch, mechanical self-timer, hot shoe and multiple exposure
lever are also available, the lens bayonet is Nikon-F with AI
coupling. A sibling was also available with shutter priority, as FE10 , in a few
markets (mainly third world countries)
As of 2006, it was
the last film-based manual focus camera sold by
Nikon. Although it was not officially
discontinued in autumn 2018, it was listed on the
Nikon USA website as "momentary out of inventory" (
Christian Zahn ) .
|If machines could feel happiness,
they would be happy if they were used by
people according to their technical
specifications until the end of their
service life due to wear and tear, and not
just gathering dust on shelves or showcases.
people have successfully captured beautiful
moments in their lives with these simple,
robust cameras, and for some they may have
become the first step towards serious
photography with quality equipment (here
with the "NIKON" logo) . Because
that is what's counts!
NIKON EM/FG - the unwanted small ones
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