I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of getting to understand one camera so well that it becomes an extension of oneself. Thus, some years ago, I set out to find this mythical perfect SLR. My forever camera, which I could take with me on all my photographic endeavours. I knew if had to be mechanical, and be compatible with a large catalogue of lenses, whilst being robust and reliable.
During my search I considered many possibilities. Starting at first with a gently used Pentax K1000. I loved that camera dearly. Sadly I had to part with it when my cash ran out and textbooks needed to be bought. The sad song every broke college student knows too well. Eventually I moved past Pentax’s K-mount cameras, for a time settling on their Spotmatic line.
I also took a brief stop over at Canon. Quite excellent for sure, yet not quite what I needed. Olympus had a chance to win me over with their OM-1. I also considered the Olympus Pen F, a half-frame camera. Both very beautiful cameras, however, the OM-1’s operation was to unconventional for me, and I just couldn’t make half-frame my primary format.
Eventually, perhaps inevitably, I arrived at Nikon. Specifically the Nikon FM, which turned out to be the most perfect SLR I could ever imagine. Striking just the right balance between too much and too little.
I’ve become somewhat tired of hearing such heavily recycled superlatives as “bullet-proof”, “built like a tank”, and “rock solid”. Even if these could accurately be used to give an impression of how the Nikon FM feels in hand, I find them to be tired clichés. So, I’ll sidestep them. Instead I shall attempt to convey the sturdiness of this camera through a different illustration. A word that springs to mind is meteoric. That is to say, should an FM ever drop from the sky, I would expect it to survive the intense stress of atmospheric reentry while remaining fully functional the entire time and indefinitely there after.
A robust construction was only my first condition. Among the other requirements was a compatibility with a large catalogue of high-quality lenses. Nikkor. Need I say more? In all seriousness, Nikkor lenses are among the best on earth, and in outer-space (ask NASA). The catalogue of lenses with which the FM may be used is larger than many of it’s f-mount compatriots thanks to the cleverly designed ai tab. This tab is normally needed for communicating the aperture setting to the light-meter when using mechanical Nikkor-ai lenses. On the FM it may by used, or folded away for native compatibility with non-ai lenses. Very few Nikon SLRs have this fold-away tab, not even the later successors to the Nikon FM do.
There were also a few “nice to have” features that I didn’t want to do without on my main camera. Such as an automatic timer, which in this case has a mirror lock-up built in, so win-win. A locking shutter release, film is dam expensive, wastage is unacceptable. A reliable light-meter that operates on modern batteries. All included with the FM. Some features that I didn’t look out for, yet may some day come in handy, come included too. Compatibility with a motor-winder. A double exposure mode. Hot shoe and a flash-sync ports, both of which sync at 1/125 sec. thanks to a vertical, metal focal-plane shutter courtesy of Copal.
Of course, a camera with all the right features but the ergonomics of a brick would make a poor case for the title of “perfect SLR”. Fortunately the Nikon FM hits the mark here too. It’s neither the lightest camera, nor is it the heaviest. It weighs enough that it inspires a confident and stable grip; invaluable when slow shutter speeds are needed and abstract art isn’t the end goal. It’s also light enough that you don’t need the neck muscles of a fighter pilot to carry it all day. While it may not be the smallest SLR ever made, in my hands it sits perfectly. Any smaller and it would be uncomfortable, any larger and it would be too cumbersome to use everyday. All the controls are just where I’d want them to be, easily reachable without needing to strain.
In summary, the Nikon FM is a great camera. A perfect package that I have happily made my main camera. It has every feature I could possibly wish for in an SLR, packaged in a simple, aesthetically pleasing, rugged body compatible with many different lenses. I’ve owned the camera for the better part of a year now, and slowly, as operating it becomes engrained in my muscle memory, it’s becoming what other cameras I’ve tried couldn’t: the camera that I know well enough to call it an extension of my being.
Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-free Experience
There are two ways to experience 35mmc without the adverts:
Paid Subscription - £2.99 per month and you'll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial).
Content contributor - become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.
Sign up here.