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.
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