The Nikon FM2n falls right into that sweet spot of SLR cameras. It is well built, small and tough, uncomplicated, reliable and easy to use. While not the leader in the student camera division, it has a real following there too.
This is not to mistake it as a light weight contender. A lot of professionals used the FM2 and FM2n as their backup camera for many years. In certain circumstances it was even the first-choice camera as some of the world’s most famous photos were taken with it. Just look up the Afghan Girl photo as that was taken with the FM2 with the iconic Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 lens.
The attraction of such a camera is that it is a tool that does not get in the way of being creative. There are no automated functions, but if you are across the exposure triangle, very simple to use. Even the meter with the 3 LEDs can’t be easier to use. Worried about batteries running out? Not a worry, the FM2n is fully mechanical, only uses the batteries for the meter.
I have loved using the FM2n. More often than not, it is the camera I will reach for and has been for a few months. It is so easy to slip it into the camera bag, pick out a few prime lenses and apart from film, I have everything I need. When I recently took a trip to New Zealand it was an obvious choice. There I found out the importance of not being battery dependant, though it was mostly through my own silliness! More on that later.
While the FM2n was aimed at the consumer market, it does stack up against the professional models from Nikon. A couple of the older pro models have been reviewed on this site, the Nikon F and the Nikon F2.
Nikon has a long and very interesting history, from its early beginnings in 1917, through to its adaption to the digital age. Nikon also created one of the most pivotal moments in photography history in 1959 when it released the Nikon F. It was not the first SLR, but it started a dominance in the camera market which lasted over forty years. Mike Eckman has a fantastic article covering the history Nikon to when they released the Nikon F, including a review of the F. You can link to it here.
Nikon always had a full consumer range of cameras, even from the early days of the SLR with the Nikkormat. In 1977 the Nikon FM was released within this range, with the idea being that it will compete against the likes of the smaller SLRs like the Olympus OM and Pentax MX series. A parallel line of cameras with auto exposure features was also released, the Nikon FE.
The FM differs from the professional models in that it is not a full systems camera. For instance, it has a fixed prism finder. The FM was sold until 1982 when the FM2 was released with a ground breaking fully mechanical 1/4000 second fastest shutter speed. The FM2 was only sold for short period of just over a year when an upgrade, the FM2n was released in 1983.
There were only a few slight differences between the cameras, with an upgraded focusing screen and an update to the flash sync speed from 1/200 to 1/250 second amongst the main changes. A major change to the camera is actually not between the FM2 and FM2n but within the FM2n itself. In 1989 the titanium honeycomb shutter curtain was replaced with a full aluminium shutter due to advancements in manufacturing.
Production of the FM2n continued until 2001 when the FM3A was introduced to the world and continued to be manufactured until 2006. The fact this line of cameras, aimed at the consumer/prosumer market lasted for so long is a testament the quality and care taken by Nikon to produce them.
The Nikon FM2n itself came in a few variations. While the standard chrome and black finishes were available, the FM2/T was introduced in 1994. This is a coveted camera, as was manufactured in a titanium body and was discontinued in 1997. The relatively low production length tends to make them harder and more expensive to obtain.
In 2000, the FM2/2000 was sold to commemorate the new millennium. Only 2000 cameras were manufactured, making them quite rare and very much wanted in a collector’s cabinet.
The Nikon FM2n is a fully mechanical 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera. It can operate without a battery if metering in-camera is not required. It does have a meter which is the only function which requires the batteries.
As a Nikon, the lens mount is the long running Nikon F bayonet mount, which has an enormous number of lenses available. All lenses from 1977 when Automatic Indexing (Ai) was introduced will work well. Pre-Ai lenses from 1959 can only be used if they have been Ai converted. More recent G lenses can be mounted but as they do not have an aperture ring, it is a pretty useless exercise limiting to shooting wide open. Avoid IX lenses, as they were specifically designed for the APS system and can damage the camera and lens.
The camera can accept ISO ranges from ISO 12 to 6400 for metering. This is set lifting and rotating the dial on the top which also houses the shutter speed selections. Metering is 60/40 centre weighted. Metering is displayed by 3 LEDs in the view finder. Overexposure of over 1 stop is indicated with a red “+”. Underexposure of more than 1 stop, with a red “-“. Correct exposure is shown as a red “o”. Where exposure is within a stop, the camera will indicate this with a combined “o” and one of the other symbols at the same time depending on whether it is a little over or under. The meter is operated by two 1.5v or 1.55 batteries, so LR44 or SR44 work very well.
Shutter speeds are selected by rotating the shutter speed selector on top, with a range from 1 second to 1/4000 second. Bulb is also available. The shutter is fired by the shutter release, also on top. It also has a cable release thread.
The shutter itself on this copy is made of aluminium as it is a later copy. Earlier copies had titanium shutters. The shutter curtain design is with vertical blades. This is essential to be able to achieve the fully mechanical 1/4000 second shutter speed.
There are some accessories available. The motor drive can be purchased helping speed things up and giving better vertical grip. The focusing screen can also be exchanged from the original split-image focusing aid to matte and micro prism versions.
Loading film is very standard, by lifting the rewind lever and depressing the release button, the back swings open. The cartridge is inserted on the left and threaded to the right. Frame numbers are displayed in a small window in front of the film advance lever.
On the back of the camera, under the viewfinder is a slot to insert the film reminder from the film box.
I’ve always wanted a FM2n. I love using my F3, but sometimes I want something smaller and a bit more convenient, but still within the SLR world.
Last year I attended the Sydney Camera Market, a three times a year market selling mainly analogue cameras in a local community centre. I ran across this FM2n sitting there in a row of cameras on one of the tables. It has been well used, has brassing and is a bit beat up. Perfect as a user camera! It’s also a black paint version, so ticks all the boxes.
There was a young man behind the table, so I asked him if it was in working condition, and he in turn asked his father next to him, interrupting him selling another camera. It had recently been CLA’d and everything works. I asked how much, so again he asked his father, who at his point is getting quite annoyed. So, I then offered a nice low price, and his father basically told him to just sell it for whatever I wanted as he is busy. Take my money!
True to their word, the camera was working. I’ve taken it everywhere with me. The form factor makes it fit into my hands really well. The aperture and shutter speed are in the viewfinder, as are the exposure indicators. I can easily adjust all aspects without removing the camera from my eye. Bliss!
The viewfinder is nice and bright, obviously dependant on the lens maximum aperture. The placement of the shutter speed dial is in a logical spot, easily found by my right hand. The film advance is perfectly located and effortlessly pushes the film forward.
I had a business trip to New Zealand in February. I took the opportunity to contact someone I have met through one of the photography podcast Facebook groups who lives a couple of hours from Auckland. Stephen in true New Zealand style invited me to stay with him and to take for a tour of the Coromandel Peninsula after I had finished working in Auckland for the week. Way more hospitality than I could ever ask for!
Of-course, the FM2n is a great choice for a trip like that, so into the bag it went. Stephen and his lovely wife, Caroline, took me for a great scenic trip and I got to use the camera. I did have one hitch though. Early on the meter stopped working. I spent a few minutes changing the batteries but still had nothing. As I deduced that the meter was not working, so I used sunny 16 and occasionally my hand-held meter for the rest of the trip. I was thanking my lucky stars it is a fully mechanical camera.
When I got back to Sydney, I thought to try out a different set of batteries. It worked, so it was just my stupidity where I took expired spare batteries with me without realising. Head slap moment!
In any case, the FM2n performed flawlessly. Combined with huge Nikkor lens range available for purchase, this is a camera that I can expect to have for a long time. While their prices are starting to climb again, they are still a camera I would always recommend for anyone just starting on SLRs through to full blown professionals. The build quality is top of the line for a well thought out and designed camera. I can fully recommend this camera for nearly anyone that enjoys SLRs.
The Nikon FM2n is one of those cameras which have a cult following. There are quite a few good reviews out there, but these articles are some of my favourites.
Alex Luyckx, of Classic Camera Revival fame, not only loves his FM2n, he kept it rather than pass it on as a gift that it was originally aimed for. You can read his FM2n blog review.
Johhny Martyr not only uses multiple FM2n cameras to shoot weddings (talk about pressure to make sure they work), but loves his enough to write; My ode to the humble Nikon FM2n.
Kosmo Foto have a great article on the FM2, outlining some of how it was used and what Stephen Dowling thinks of it. Nikon FM2 Review.
James Tocchio at Casual Photophile writes about the FM2/T the brilliant titanium version of the camera. Nikon FM2/T Camera Review – a Stronger and Lighter Nikon.