Die little NIKONs (the unwanted ones)

(c) Frank Mechelhoff                                       New July 2022                  Deutsche Version English

Die kleinen Nikons...
          im Schatten der Großen

In 1979, Nikon introduced the EM, their first truly compact SLR - apparently as a reaction to arch-rival Pentax, whose successful ME model had appeared 3 years earlier and was very successful. ..One can say that Nikon had overslept the trend towards miniaturization (initiated in 1972 by the Olympus OM-1). But fortunately they got on their feet with the EM in time, because a few years later compact, electronically controlled single-lens reflex cameras were simply a "must have". In 1977 they had with the FM/ FE released two mid-range SLRs in "standard size" for the first time, now a more compact product was missing to round off the portfolio.  

Nikon EM Sucherbild

Autofocus wasn't even experimental in 1979 , instead SLRs were manually focused. In the viewfinder of the Nikon EM there is a prism ring and split image indicator, as was customary at the time, plus a time scale with a pointer instrument for checking the shutter speed selected by the automatic exposure system (CdS cell), overexposure and underexposure display. A very decent viewfinder image for the price range. However, the Pentax ME had long had LEDs here, and they were even available in multiple colors. The measuring range of the exposure meter went from 2-18 EV, this was also standard.
Nikon EM

In terms of technical properties, NIKON copied the
Pentax ME more or less well. Size and weight (460g) were identical. As with the Pentax ME, times could not be set manually. There was no shutter speed wheel - the ME didn't have one either - instead a switch with "AUTO", B, and 1/90s as the only manual shutter speed , which at least worked without batteries (and with the automatic setting set to automatic without batteries, the shutter fired at 1/1000s , but this was only documented in the repair manual).

Nikon EM

As with the semi -professional
Nikkormat EL , the type designation was emblazoned in the middle of the prism. It was only available in chic black, Nikon's "professional" color for decades. The Italian star designer Giorgo Giugiaro was involved in the exterior design - at least that's what the advertising said. In photographic practice , a few things stood out negatively compared to the competition, the Pentax ME:
Nikon EM und Pentax ME Which brings us to the topic of marketing! Nikon advertised the EM as a pure beginner's and women's camera because of its ease of use! Real photographers had to lug around real chunks of kilos like the F2 or Nikkormat EL2 as proof of their masculinity at Nikon. The new small EM was undoubtedly interesting for every photographer who wanted a camera with an F bayonet, compact and lightweight, and focused on the essentials. In fact, many husbands may have bought EM as a Christmas present for their queen of hearts. But a larger proportion of (male) buyers may have been put off and didn't want towalk around with or buy a female camera!

Man(n) also imagined (and some still do today) that it is impossible to take reasonable pictures without setting the shutter speed manually. Me too, back then! The old machinist's thing with the many levers and dials... I didn't love the Nikon EM back then and preferred to buy..
a PENTAX ME Super with the first money I earned myself. Because one thing was certain, compactness has always been the company philosophy at Pentax and not a marketing gimmick.

Nikon EM Chassis
Also, at least at the time, it was thought of tremendous importance that Pentax had metal bodies. The Nikon EM had hard plastic shells. It could hardly be seen or felt. Could such a "cheap camera" even be called a Nikon? The purists were outraged, something like this had never happened before. -- Today we know that the EM is a solid, long-lasting camera, as long as you don't use brute (manly?) force to break off things like the rewind crank or the winding lever, and it still looks good after 40 years if it hasn't been messed around with too much , because of course plastic ages less gracefully than sheet metal.
Incidentally, the chassis - new then, standard today - does not existmade of plastic, but a high-strength, yet light copper-silumin-aluminum alloy - just like 1 year later with the F3.
Nikon EM neben Pentax ME
After all, there was also a motor drive for the EM (called Power Winder, 2 fps); only the mechanically more stable cameras were given this. The others would have carried the customers back to the store and asked for their money back.

The EM cost DM 435 new (list price 1979 in Germany, without lens), while a chrome FM was available for DM 525 and an FE for DM 785. It was only cheap when it was sold out (1982), when the price fell to DM 285.

A total of 1.5 million Nikon EMs are said to have been sold! And that, although in a direct comparison she can hardly make a trick against her main - 3 years older - competitor. Only its main switch is a little less clunky and has a more practical shape.

If you also include the "Series E" lenses in the comparison, the EM falls even further behind the Pentax ME with the silky smooth running SMC M lenses.

Conclusion : It sold well because it was a NIKON - and undoubtedly a good looking camera..!

Nikon EM - F3

By the way: The F3 was developed at the same time as the entry-level EM, replacing the F2 from 1972 and remaining in production from 1980-2002. It was the first F with automatic exposure (aperture priority), which the EL already had in 1972 . Here a Nikon F3P (without motor) for size comparison with the EM. The F3 was not without fault either. The shutter speed and aperture displays in the viewfinder (LCD crystals, new at the time) were only moderately visible at best, and professionals therefore mostly used the HP (high eyepoint) viewfinder. Also, unlike the Pentax LX, it wasn't splashproof. Therefore, the F3P received a rubber cap on the shutter release, which meant that the cable release connection was lost.

Lenses - The E-Series

At that time, Pentax switched its entire range of lenses to "compact", the lenses were now all called "Pentax M" or "SMC-M". A complex operation. NIKON launched the "E-Series", a handful of particularly compact ones - the other lenses also fit, as long as they weren't old non-AI. This made sense in that few EMs were ever fitted with lenses other than the "standard" lens. Economically, they went one step further and were the first "premium" brand manufacturers to produce lenses with plastic housings . The first lens of the series looked a bit plastic-like, only linked (in the upper picture on the right). The later ones could hardly be distinguished from the feeling. At that time, Nikon had newly developed and presented a very good 50/1.8 as a replacement for the age-old Nikkor 50/2 and optically much better than the (also old) 50/1.4 and the CANON FD 50/1.8 . This came in the new, compact version, and many also bought it for their FM or FE because it was simply 100 DM cheaper (and not worse). But they didn't want to call the series " Nikkor " so as not to sully the supposed professional name - all nonsense!

Nikon EM, FG
Nikon EM and FG with the " Series E" 50/1.8. EM with Version-2 : Shortest focus distance 0.6m - that's a little very close ! The FG has the Japanese domestic market lens (Version-3 with "NIKKOR" label) with 0.45m and metal body. See one I assure you, you won't feel any either, but of course 0.45m is much better, not just for photographing cherry blossoms.

Nikon FG

NIKON FG (1982)

Three years after the introduction of the controversial EM, this was then replaced by the FG: The housing was just as small as the EM, but it now had a decent shutter speed wheel and an exposure correction on the ASA/DIN wheel (where Pentax had have it for a long time). The button for backlight correction of the EM was kept anyway. And the light metering cells had been upgraded to Si cells instead of the old CdS ones - very good..!
The latest craze was program auto (P setting) and real-time TTL exposure metering at the film level, alike the Minolta X-700 a year earlier - in the upper amateur price segment. In program mode, the FG even corrected inaccuracies in aperture control -- the lenses were not designed for program automatic at all! As well known, there is no "P" setting on Nikon AI lenses. It was actually a small revolution, but Nikon didn't dare to advertise it because they probably weren't sure if it worked well in all cases. What is certain is that it took NIKON little effort to make their lenses "P-compatible" - as did Minolta - while the main competitor Pentax, unfortunately, messed around with their K bayonet, which was only a few years old, and it without additionally inserted electrical contacts - called KA , the corresponding cameras were the A series , which replaced the M series - did not get there.
The FG offered a surprising amount for the money!
The FG was again in chrome or black available, and it came with a small, practical grip strip for the right hand that could be unscrewed - like the Pentax LX, but not the Nikon F3...
As has been common with Pentax for a long time, a row of LEDs , albeit a single color, now displayed the shutter speed. A better solution in low lights and not as sensitive to impact as a needle instrument.

Nikon FG Sucherbild
(Image of Nikon FG-Review at Casualphotophile.com)

A large shutter speed dial around the shutter button, which protrudes beyond the camera's housing edges was first featured at the Leica M5 (1971) and then the Canon EF. Since 1976 they had also arrived in the middle class (CANON AE-1). I actually like them a lot from a haptic point of view. Nevertheless, they never have been very common.

→ All in all , the FG was a much better , more user-friendly camera than the EM - even better form specs than Pentax ME Super, which was already 3 years old at the time - and it's hard to understand why it's worsesold and was taken out of production after only 2 years. But I also don't remember that it was advertised at all, or that it was better known. Perhaps there were some unknown issues, or fears it was cannibalizing FE2 sales, which were already struggling in the market.

Nikon EM und FG
Above "Series E" on the EM, below "Nikkor" 50/1.8 - the darker reflection suggests a higher coating quality - solely for Japanese domestic market with 0.45m, on the FG

The FG was is offered in black (German maket 1986) at DM 418; but that was already the sale price reduced by about 1/3. Tis compared to the much more advertised, technically comparable Minolta X-700  in 1984 - no longer new - for DM 549. As a new model, the FG will probably have cost about 550-600 DM, i.e. under the price of the Minolta, so it was actually a bargain. Because the Minolta actually only offered a better trigger and was slightly better manufactured (but also with a lot of plastic), but no Nikon...

Nikon FG-20 (1984)

Nikon FG20

As the successor to the FG, the FG-20 came out in 1984, unfortunately rather disfigured from the outside: Even more plastic, the TTL real-time exposure was deleted, now electronic self-timer (cheaper than mechanical one), the detachable handle also went away, viewfinder again with pointer instrument like the EM. But even arch-rival Pentax didn't really get off the ground with the Program-A at the time, so Nikon was able to shift down a gear...

Nikon FE2, FG
Nikon FG next to FE2 (1983-1988). Honestly, I almost prefer the cuddly FG with the large shutter speed dial in practical use, even if some might think that's heretical. The FM and FE cameras were no longer "big, heavy" cameras, and they weren't as solid as the NIKON models of the early 70's, the later, lighter models feel more "hollow" to my haptic perception. But the reputation of indestructibility still resonates with them...

Final personal note: 
  I was never a NIKON guy (unlike my dad), and after 3 years sold my Pentax ME Super for a new Minolta X-700 to purchase. Although I didn't actually need program and TTL automatic flash, I was simply looking for a robust, compact SLR with aperture priority and shutter speed dial. I would probably have been just as satisfied with the Nikon FG , because I knew of course that NIKON builds better lenses. But then I just didn't notice them...

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