SLRs

Nikon EM – The “SLR Camera for Women” – By Mike Caputo

Nikon EM

It’s like the deodorant Secret: “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.”…

The Nikon EM is perfect! I love it. There’s nothing it can’t do. Well… that’s an exaggeration. There’s nothing I can’t make it do that it shouldn’t be able to do. There’s plenty of “features” missing; I simply use my vast and overpowering will to crush those obstacles. I’m the boss, not the machine. I say what goes, and for the 5 bucks I paid for this camera I’m willing to boss it around a ton.

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX, Ilford RC Peal Paper, Selenium Toned

For example, when I needed a particular shutter speed the camera said, “No, sorry, I’m just aperture priority I can’t do that.” I said, “You shut your hole EM and do what you’re told.” I changed the aperture and got the shutter speed I required.

When I desired the shutter at 1/1000, I barked, “Nikon EM, get your ass to 1/1000 at whatever aperture I please.”

Nippon Kogaku said, “Who’s asking?”

I told him, “The U.S. of A. mother fucker!”

I’m very persuasive, I removed the batteries and in A mode the Nikon EM fired at 1/1000. There are other examples. Those are my favorites!

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX, Ilford RC Pearl Paper, Selenium Toned

Now Wikipedia, Camerapedia, and every other review site has specs on the Nikon EM. I don’t care about those. This isn’t a serious review. If my man Hamish wanted a technical and concise review he wouldn’t have asked me. He knows what he’s getting. Also, I don’t want to copy and paste specifications here and try to rewrite them into my narrative; all I care about is how light and fun the Nikon EM is, and how the photos look.

So, how do they look? Obviously not a bit different from my Nikon F3 since I use the same AI lenses. Glorious I tell you!

The Nikon EM seems like a featherweight chump but shoots like a heavyweight champ. It can’t weight more than a pound. It feels like I’m carrying a little point-n-shoot with my favorite Nikkor glass. How cool is that! It might just be my new favorite 35mm camera (It’s not, although I do like it a bunch.) My F3 is a beautiful machine but lately I reach for the Nikon EM knowing what a breeze it is to carry. Don’t get me wrong, the F3 is much nicer to shoot; but it’s heavy, it’s expensive, and you have to look after it with care. Not so with the Nikon EM. The EM feels like a cheap plastic piece of junk…because it is; and yet, it’s deceivingly tough. I dropped mine a few times already. No problem! It can take a punch.

However, even with all that good, a couple cons stick out: The Nikon EM film advance lever is horrible. It advances as smooth as an old lady with a walker doing the Macarena. The camera has an annoying “beep” if it thinks you are over or under exposing the shot. It’s not annoying to me but it could be if you have tinnitus. I don’t have tinnitus.

Now here is a pro: It’s an excellent companion to the Speed Graphic; fits in the bag and I hardly notice the added weight. They go out together.

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX, Ilford RC Pearl Paper, Selenium Toned

Speed Graphic, Kodak Tri-X 320, Ilford RC Pearl, 4×5 Contact Print

This is what I know from using the Nikon EM. It has an Aperture Priority setting, M90 setting (mechanical), and mechanical Bulb setting; if you take the battery out the shutter fires at 1/1000 in A mode. So even with no battery the camera works in M90, Bulb, and 1/1000 in A. What can’t you shoot with all those options? Nothin’ that’s what. Give me a scenario on how this camera won’t work for your style of shooting and I’ll give you a workaround in two seconds (or I’ll make up some nonsense that sounds legit.)

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX, Ilford RC Pearl Paper, Selenium Toned

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX, Ilford RC Pearl Paper, Selenium Toned

I really do enjoy the Nikon EM and find it amusing that it was designed and marketed as “cute” for women and entry level photographers. That’s according to Nikon’s website and the internet. I don’t think it went over well back then and nowadays they’d probably be boycotted.

A friend gave me some good natured grief when he saw I was shooting one, “Got a matching purse for your girl camera!” That had me laughing, and puzzled. I didn’t know what he was talking about until he told me the history. I looked it up, then had a real laugh. I think my lady-camera is super! Don’t assume my camera’s gender, bro.

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200, Ilford RC Pearl Paper, Selenium Toned

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200, Ilford RC Pearl Paper, Selenium Toned

The Nikon EM is a great camera, for me. Not for everyone I’m sure. There might be a few who snark at it, my writing, or perhaps the photos…whatever. I did get some flack for comparing a $400 Yashica T4 to the $4 Canon Sure Shot Max – I imagine it was somebody who paid the $400 for a T4 and got mad at me. They said I had no idea what I was talking about and then threw odd and even numbers and scanning procedures at me. I answered with an emoji laughing face and moved on. I don’t have time for that silliness. The overwhelming response was positive. That’s what it’s all about. Enjoying photography and having a great time sharing and spreading the passion.

Anyway, if you like to travel light or only have a small saddlebag (or purse) and still want to use fantastic Nikkor lenses, this camera might be for you. Especially if you don’t feel like dropping hundreds of dollars for the exact same image you’d get with a Nikon F, F2, F3, F4, F5, and F6. How effin’ sweet is that!

Tri-X 400 Contact Sheet

The photos so far were shot with the Nikon EM, Kodak film, and printed on Ilford RC pearl paper in Ye Olde Darktoilet. I scanned them in color because I selenium toned the prints in a 1:3 dilution. It’s nice to see the tones. They are almost accurate representations of the prints. The paper looks whiter in hand compared to the website background.

I usually like to print on Ilford Art 300 fiber, my favorite paper. The texture is so hearty that it doesn’t scan very well. I always start off printing on 8×10 RC paper to get a taste of what the 11×14 fiber print might look like, and that means I wind up having RC prints of everything I do in the darkroom. Those are nice for scanning.

The following are film scans of Kodak Tri-X 400 and Kodak Tmax P3200 developed in Kodak D76 stock solution. My scanner is an epson V600 and my scanning and Lightroom skills are limited. I’m more of a darkroom kinda fella, and still learning there too. To this day I always manage to get burn marks on 135 film. It’s those metal reels I use; I’m too damn stubborn to upgrade or get plastic. I enjoy the solidness of the steel tank and reels. It’s all about the feels, yo!

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200, Red Filter

Nikon EM, Kodak TMAX P3200

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX

Nikon EM, Kodak 400TX

Surfettes in the photos:

https://www.instagram.com/lex.weinstein/
https://www.instagram.com/ladyslider/

The Nikon EM goes from $5 to $50 on eBay and there’s no way my praise here changes that. By the way, I don’t give a damn if it was made for broads, I think it’s cute too.

K Luv U,

Mike

You can say howdy on the Instagram or Flickr. Mostly Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/aloha_bigmike/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha_bigmike/

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41 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Tom Sheppard
    March 1, 2019 at 11:20 am

    A good review, and some seriously great shots as well.
    Cameras are what we make them, and you have made this one sing.
    Good job Mike

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 3:21 am

      Thank you, Tom! That’s nice to hear, I appreciate the comment.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Barry Reid
    March 1, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Of course the other SLR camera notoriously designed for ‘the ladies’ is the 90’s Contax Aria, which has many more features, showing how far women’s rights had gone in just a few years…

    😉

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 3:20 am

      Hmmmm, a Contax Aria you say… I’ll have to look that one up!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Nigel Cliff
    March 1, 2019 at 11:40 am

    Great review this is not the only AP only camera from the era that can give great results and can take quality results,some eally nice photos as well

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Bryan Costin
    March 1, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    I too have a $5 Nikon EM and I too am not a woman! The coincidences are astounding! It’s actually my only Nikon SLR, but my cold Canon heart was moved to mercy when I found it in a sad little ziploc bag at Goodwill store with a jammed-on and smashed 50mm and other signs of being abused. (Some careless woman carrying bricks in her purse, no doubt!) I eventually had to cut through the plastic E-mount on the broken lens, and bought a KEH bargain to replace it. Now it resides in my car’s console as a knock-around SLR. Happily ever after.

    Love your photos, BTW. 35mm and large format. Beautifully shot.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 3:09 am

      Right on, Bryan! It’s a perfect knock-around camera. Good rescue and save! How do you like the E mount lens or are you using something else?

      Mine isn’t without problems. The needle in the viewfinder doesn’t move, and sometimes the film doesn’t advance correctly and it double exposes frames. Who cares for $5. It’s a great camera. I’d pay triple that haha

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Leo Tam
    March 1, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    No exposure compensation dial, no problem – just grab your asa dial and crank accordingly. And people call these cameras “limited”

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Leo Tam
    March 1, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Who needs exposure compensation when you can change the iso

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Gary Paudler
    March 1, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    That was a great review with beautiful images. Anything that de-preciousizes photography is a service to all of us.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 3:00 am

      Thank you, Gary! I appreciate the complement on the photos too. All the best.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Michael Francese
    March 1, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Crazy review,Paisan! Given proper functioning,the photos produced by a camera are directly proportional to the skill of the photographer. I had similar camera,a Pentax MV-1 with a 40mm ‘pancake” lens. I took it everywhere with me and got hundreds of great shots. If it misbehaved like your naughtyNikon EM,I used a manual flash to over ride the AE.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 2:58 am

      Thanks, Amigo! I’ll have to look up that Pentax MV-1, I had the ME before. Yes, this Nikon won’t listen half the time haha.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Brian
    March 1, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    I worked in a camera shop when the Nikon EM came out. Never remember it being marketed towards women- but was marketed as an entry level SLR for new photographers, Nikon’s answer to the Pentax ME. When it first came in, our senior salesman looked at it, held it over his head, and dropped it to the floor. Picked it up, saw it was still working- and told the Nikon Rep that we would carry it. I bought one, but traded it to a friend that had a hard time using a Nikkormat FT-2. Found a second one in a thrift shop a few years ago, gave it to a student. I kept the Nikon FG- which is basically an EM with manual mode, full-program mode, and EV compensation dial. I’ve replaced the variable resister on an EM- not too hard. The fact that they work 40 years later, speaks well of the implementation of the design. The one “sadly lacking feature” is the compensation dial of the FG. I told buyers just change the ISO setting, would do the same job: but do not forget to change it back.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 2:56 am

      Hello Brian, that’s a great story! Did he drop it to the floor on purpose?

      I really enjoy the EM and would buy another if I break it from rough treatment out in the elements.

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Brian
        March 2, 2019 at 8:07 pm

        Yes- on purpose. Held above his head, and dropped it in front of the Nikon Rep. He was quite upset that Nikon would use plastic as the top and bottom cover. His faith was restored after the camera worked after the drop. We also carried the MD-E winder, which I also bought. Also bought the SB-E. That was a nice combo.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Peter Tunon
    March 1, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    Nice review! I consider the Nikon EM quite the underappreciated little gem in the used camera world. A steal on eBay for the US$10-25 they seem to list for. I don’t quite agree that it feels like a cheap plastic piece of junk. Maybe with the F3 in one hand and the EM in the other, but on it’s own, when you fish out of the bag I think it is more than fair, especially if you compare it to all the plastic models that came after it. I have a whole bunch of different Nikon’s, from F, F2, F3, F4, F100, and a bunch of “lesser” models from the 70’s and early 80’s . The EM, autmatic as it is, compares quite favorably. The view finder is good, and it is clearly something you don’t mind carrying in your backpack. (Which I did when I took it to Europe for two weeks in December). It did have a hard time with bright backgrounds, but other than that I think the auto exposure works very well. And, as you point out, the lenses are all the same glorious Nikkor glass.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 2:51 am

      Thank you, Peter. I agree with your not quite agreeing with me – that’s exactly what I was doing; shooting the Nikon F3, then a moment later the EM. On it’s own, after the F3 memory fades, the EM feels great! Solid. And like you said, a steal for $25!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    MB
    March 1, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    I like my Nikon EM. It’s as close to a compact camera as an SLR can be, especially with the 50mm series E lens which is almost a pancake.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 2:43 am

      I like mine too. I should get one of those 50 E series for it!

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    March 1, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    Here’s a “back in the day” comment…
    In 1982 0r 1983, there was a temple to the photo gods in Rockerfella Center. It was called Nikon House. Whenever I was in Gotham City back then I’d stop by. Good exhibits, knowledgeable staff, goodies to get your hands on and drool over. One visit, the had a Nikon EM completely disassembled under glass in a display case. Very cool. A few years later, they had an F4 similarly displayed. You could not help but be impressed with the 1000’s of precision parts, some very tiny. Sadly, it’s long closed. That’s it. Nothing thought provoking today.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 2:42 am

      Hi Daniel. I would have liked to see that display. When a camera of mine breaks I usually pull its guts out for inspection and I’m always amazed at what’s in there.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    James Northcote
    March 1, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    One of the greatest reviews I’ve ever read. Thanks Mike.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 2:39 am

      Thank you James, it was a fun one to write!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Charles Higham
    March 1, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    Great to read this and I’ve got this neat little SLR too. And along with everything Mike says, it can do well judged and endlessly long automatic exposures. As a suggestion, if you can get hold of some Fujifilm Acros 100 which has very low reciprocity failure, it will generally do a night-time job impressively. Kodak Portra 400 for colour is apparently ok for quite long exposures.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 2:38 am

      Thank you, Charles. I’ve got to try that long automatic exposure! Too bad about Acros 100. I liked that film alot.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Fleeja_
    March 2, 2019 at 2:41 am

    This site obviously needs a monthly (or weekly) ‘Camera Review from Ye Ol’ Dark Toilet’ – Tell me I’m wrong

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 3:17 am

      Weekly! It took me a month to write this LOL

      I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    BenHeijermans
    March 2, 2019 at 5:21 am

    I guess it’s a ladies’ camera cos it does do great photographing ladies 🙂 immediately checked the EM out on eBay, dirt cheap & bought a seemingly impeccable specimen. Just wanna feel how the EM does compared to my Nikkormat EL’s , the lenses I think I already got 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 4:16 pm

      Excellent! There’s so many of them on eBay and most are very inexpensive. Enjoy!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Amy Davis
    March 2, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Loved the review, Mike! My great aunt gave me her EM last summer. Normally, I’m a rangefinder girl, but I seriously love this little EM. My aunt carried it with her in all her travels, and I truly hope to be able to keep up with that tradition.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 4:14 pm

      Thank you, Amy. That’s terrific you have a family camera! It’s always cool using one passed down through generations. The EM is a great travel camera!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Chris Pattison
    March 2, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Now that’s a review. I enjoyed every word.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Mike Caputo
      March 2, 2019 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks Chris! It was a fun one to write.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Howard Dale
    March 3, 2019 at 12:33 am

    Great review and pictures. I love the design of this camera as well as its small size, light weight and aperture priority exposure. I picked one up a while back largely because I wanted the e-series lenses that came with it.

    I recently decided to use it. At first all seemed well but then it seemed to lose all power. I’ll try it again and if I can’t get it going I might just get another body since they’re not particularly expensive.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Robin Gray
    March 5, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    Lovely camera, lovely photos, and a wonderfully well written review. Bullseye! I used to have one, but gave it to a youngster as his first film camera. Its still going strong.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Otto
    March 8, 2019 at 7:24 am

    The EM was my first Nikon. I don’t have that specific example (gave it to a friend who was getting into photography many years ago), but I did pick up another one on craigslist. Its small size remains the target I wish Nikon would aim for.

    And thanks for teaching me something new (the 1/1000s in “A” mode) 36 years later!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Ed G
    March 11, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    Great write up and snaps. I like the style.

    The EM was my first film camera. Given to me by my uncle when I did a film course and university. It stayed in my closet for about 10 years after that as it was the 2000s and digital arrived. After getting sick of awful slugish digital point and shoots, I dug it out again in around 2010, bought some film and took it with me on a trip to China. Very few misses on 3 rolls and I was hooked on film. The EM died after it was accidentally left in hold luggage and smashed on a flight in Europe a few years later. But I went out and bought an FE to replace it. I’m still shooting film and will always have a place in my heart for the EM.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    John
    June 7, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    What a fun review!

    The EM was my first film camera in the ’80s and came with a cracking 50 ‘e’.
    I shot my first – and last – wedding on it. In the spirit of any full-on pro, just the spirit, I came fully-equipped, bristling with two rolls of standard film and considerable confidence.
    One roll of film came out blank, no idea what I did there, but the other was full of some super shots that made up for it. I was happy, they were happy, the vicar wasn’t happy and threw me out of the chuch for contravening photography rules.
    Over a career spanning many decades that has taken me from humble beginnings to dizzying heights of absolute obscurity, the one camera I look back on with genuine fondness is the little EM.

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