NIKON FE /FM series (1977-2006) - The "undestructibles"

(c) Frank Mechelhoff                                       NEW July 2022             German Version  Deutsch

Nikon FE FM w.
          Pentax KX, K2
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).

Nikon FM - Pentax

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 uniqueness). Nikon 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 old Nikkormats).
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).
Finder View Nikon FM

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 changing lenses.
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).

NonAI AI Difference Lens
Image (modified) from Runner1616 (commons wikimedia)

Die Nikon FE - Automatic Exposure/ Aperture Priority (1978)

Nikon FE Top
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.
Functionally, it 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). The viewfinder 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.
Viewfinder Readout Nikon

At DM 785,- (in Germany) the FE was considerably more expensive than the FM (DM 525 - each in 1979 without a lens ). The automatic comfort cost quite a bit extra! Purists resorted to the cheaper FM and despised the FE, it was also used more in demand. On 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 smallest).

Die Nikon FM2 - First 1/4000s (1983-2001)

Nikon FM2

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 shutter. Thus 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.
Nikon FM2n Oberseite

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. The competition had been offering this for a long time.

Image: Nikon FE2 with the Reportage Wide Angle 35/1.4 AI version
Nikon FE2 m. Nikkor AI

: 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 compatibility! The FE2, on the other hand, doesn't work at all with NonAI lenses!
Nikkormat EL und
        Nikon FE2 mit 85ern

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 exposure time.
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

Nikon FA
Nikon FA
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 (2001-2006)

The Nikon 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 start.
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 life either....
Nikon FM3a

Nikon FM10 (1995 ~ 2017)

The 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 CT1-Super , 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 (420g). Stopdown 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)

Nikon FM10

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" ( according to 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. Countless 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!

continue with NIKON EM/FG - the unwanted small ones

Nikon Main page

Camera Main page