5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Nikon FM3A and Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AIS – by Anil Mistry

January 4, 2018

It was a week before Christmas back in 2006- I’d had a few pints and was in a panic to buy my wife a Christmas present- something that wasn’t perfume for once. I then remembered that her beloved Olympus OM1 – a beaten up old thing from her art college days- had stopped working, so I rushed to a camera store, and reeking of Guinness and Old Holborn, announced that I wanted to buy the best 35mm SLR they had. Despite their attempts to sell me a digital camera, I insisted on film and came away with a brand new Nikon FM3A with a second hand 28mm f2.8 Series E lens.  In the end she hardly used it, and so it slowly made its way back into my hands (…YES!).

It’s a gorgeous, solidly made camera – I believe it was Nikon’s last fully manual film SLR, made to incredibly high standards and capable of shooting at  1/4000 of a second without batteries. If it wasn’t a tiny bit noisier – and a little bit bigger and a bit more imposing than my Leica M7, it would certainly be my main go-to street photography camera. there are a number of well written homages to the FM3A online, worth searching out if you fancy geeking out for a while. The camera comes in silver or black- I chose the black version because everybody knows that black cameras take better pictures.

About a year ago I bought the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AIS lens- a heavy, all metal beast that is just awesome for portraits . I’d read great things about it online so I finally made the jump and got one off the Bay. It’s magnificent. I was using it a lot on my Nikon D750 for headshots , and decided to take it for a spin  on the FM3A and went out shooting street portraits, leaving the Leica M7 on the shelf for once.  I wasn’t disappointed.

I’d forgotten how easy it was to use this camera- if I’m honest with myself, I find the Nikon easier to focus with quickly than the Leica. It is a bit front-heavy with the bulky 50mm on the front- I reckon that’s nearly half a kilo of glass- but the combined weight of camera and lens is reassuring, and helps to keep it steady when shooting portraits. The shots I have presented were captured with Fuji Neopan 400 and Kodak Portra 400- two of my favourite portrait film stocks- and the results speak for themselves.

This camera has never metered incorrectly. EVER. There are lots of great Nikon cameras out there, but the unique history and build quality of the FM3A- and the fact that it is one of the newest Nikon SLR’s you can find- make it a worthwhile purchase.

If I could only have one camera and lens combination, this would be it.


I would never recommend buying a camera whilst drunk to anyone, but this one worked out for me.

Anil Mistry is a creative director and photographer.

You can find him here:

Website: http://www.anilmistryphoto.com

Instagram: @anilmistryphoto

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Anilmistryphotography/




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  • Reply
    George Appletree
    January 4, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Hey, you must be funny.
    I say that because people smile while you shoot them.
    And, that’s a very good thing.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2018 at 11:25 am

    the only one who would be sorry if I bought a fm3 would be my wallet. this worked out nice though! the results speak for themselves 🙂

    glad to hear the camera is so easy to focus with. I’ve had problems with getting f: 1.4 lenses to focus right so I haven’t been brave enough to try 1.2

    • Reply
      Anil Mistry
      January 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      Easy to focus- but the depth of field is super thin so stillness is essential

  • Reply
    Adam Laws
    January 5, 2018 at 11:53 am

    Great post and beautiful imagery Anil. The 50MM F1.2 is one of my all time favorite lenses for portraiture and you use it wonderfully.

    • Reply
      Anil Mistry
      January 5, 2018 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks Adam- are you in the process of getting one yourself?

  • Reply
    January 5, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Wonderful shots. I’ve got a black fm2n and I love it, and yes so easy to focus accurately. Reading this makes me want to use that camera more.

    • Reply
      Anil Mistry
      January 5, 2018 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks Neil. Time is alway the enemy – just carry it with you and seize those moments

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    January 6, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    Thee’s something about shooting portraits with an SLR which is more engaging than with a rangefinder.
    These are really good pictures Anil. Thank you for the interesting article

    • Reply
      Anil Mistry
      January 6, 2018 at 11:32 pm

      I agree Jeremy – and thank you for reading it!

    • Reply
      Anil Mistry
      April 11, 2018 at 9:35 pm

      Thank you very much

  • Reply
    David Hill
    April 11, 2018 at 7:40 pm

    I might lust for the FM3a, but I’ve just acquired a Nikkormat FT2 .. with a 50/1.4 and a 1.8. Its all pre-AI, and the poor man’s way into Nikon glass. Truth to tell, my wife wanted it: She tossed the X100 back at me and said “I want my old manual SLR again”, and the way things stand today, we can do a backscale upgrade into Nikon as easy as we can get back into any manual SLR. So its hello Nikon, hello HP5.

  • Reply
    Karl Valentin
    May 23, 2018 at 8:33 am

    I love the Nikkor 1,2/50 and also the older pre-ai Nikkor 1,2/55 lens.
    Hard to hit the point when it comes to explain why to use this old glass
    while newer constructions seem to be sharper and easier to handle
    with their autofocus – there is also no need for such fast lenses in a time
    the sensitivity of digital goes up to 25 600 ASA right ?

    But taking pictures is not just the technical side
    also emotions while taking them
    and I love to focus by hand and feel the sharpness
    on the subject – for this the Nikkor 1,2/50 is just perfect !

    @David Hill
    I really understand your wife I wouldnt trade my old Nikons too

  • Reply
    August 26, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    I ditched all the Leicas in favour of a FM3A, a few months ago. I don’t regret it at all. Just purchased the 50mm f1.2 so can’t wait! I was tempted by trying out the Canon FD 55mm f1.2 on an F1 recently. I only darkroom print my shots and the lens was stunning on black and white wet prints. But I don’t shoot Canon. Hopefully this 50mm matches the Canon’s quality.

    Great portraits btw, everyone looks very comfortable.

  • Reply
    Graham Line
    December 20, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    Nikon’s FM-size compact SLRs are vastly underrated. I have an FM that is smooth as silk and not much louder than a Leica; the other film SLR I have kept is a well-used FE2 with surprising accurate metering. They are generally used with a 20/3.5 AIS or a 35/1.4 AIS. Reliable and not particularly expensive.

  • Reply
    Shubroto Bhattacharjee
    July 30, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Lovely pics, Anil, and a lovely camera, too!
    The FM3A was a remarkable machine, not least for its masterful implementation of electronically-controlled aperture-priority auto exposure *and* mechanically controlled manual exposure with a full range of mechanical shutter speeds.
    This link should help:
    See the Section “Implementation of a hybrid shutter”.
    Enjoy your FM3A.

  • Reply
    Stewart Waller
    October 18, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    I was so happy to read this post! I have this exact outfit just put together. I somehow even had an old +0.5 correction eyepiece that works perfectly for me on the FM3a, and installed a grid focusing screen which I prefer. I got the silver model. I also got an SB-24 flash unit for it. I just experimented with the 50mm f1.2 AI-S on my D850 and am thrilled with it.

    I also have some Portra 400 film, but I bought it more than a year ago when I started the process of putting together the ideal street film camera, so maybe I need a fresh batch?

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