My father was a documentary photographer and shot a Leica in the 1950s and 60s. He photographed my brother and me all the time when we were growing up in Switzerland, mainly with his Minolta SLRs (in the mid-to-late 60s and 70s, yes I am dating myself!). I learned the craft of photography as a young teenager (including some darkroom skills), and my first camera was a Yashica SLR (I don’t remember the model!). Fast forward many years, and I have been shooting Nikon digital SLR and Nikon mirrorless cameras professionally and for many personal projects, including the classic Nikon FE.
More recently, I became intrigued by the artistic possibilities of film and by the entire creative process surrounding this medium. Given I was already using Nikon lenses, Nikon SLRs made sense and so I decided to purchase a Nikon FE. I was attracted to the Nikon FE’s spartan simplicity, size, and clean aesthetic (in particular in black)! Plus I love the fact that the camera model is not displayed on the front of the camera. But it is the Nikon FE’s usability that won me over.
The Nikon FE body is very light, and very compact. Next to my D850 with macro lens (my negative film scanning setup), the FE with the 50mm looks tiny. The FE is very well built, and has a reputation for being very reliable. I have been pairing the FE with a Nikkor 50mm 1:2 (f/2) AI lens. Those two seem to be a perfect match: both are (somewhat) underrated, lightweight, compact, solidly built, easy to use and very affordable (camera around $80-125 depending on condition, lens $60-80, in US-$). And I love the ability to focus as close as 45cm with this 50mm lens.
The usability of the Nikon FE is superb. The film-advance doubles as meter on/off switch and shutter release button lock (so battery depletion and accidental in pocket shutter releases are largely prevented). The camera can be shot in M90 shutter priority mode without light meter/functional battery. The FE has aperture priority mode (auto), and AE lock. And I love the super-responsive analog needle-based light meter.
One thing that I decided to upgrade is the focusing screen (to a K3 model). Thankfully those are readily available on eBay, affordable (depending on model and new/used between US-$20-40) and easy to change yourself (I ordered it, but have not received it at the time of this writing). I tend to shoot wide open more often than not, so this additional focusing aid will be appreciated.
Most of the shots shared here were captured with the Nikkor 50mm f2 AI lens: there were a few with a 28mm 2.8 AI (close focus 20cm!) as well as a Nikkor 50mm 1.8 (pancake lens, I just purchased that one, also great, even smaller/lighter, but doesn’t focus as closely, only 60cm).
This first set of color photos are from my 2nd film with this camera, a Kodak Portra 400 developed by a local lab in Minneapolis. The nature pictures are from the Lake Superior North Shore in Northern Minnesota (close to Canada). The autumn colors just have started to peak. My wife Amy and I love spend a lot of time at the North Shore and we love immersing ourselves in this beautiful and vast nature on long hikes.
My third and fourth rolls of film were a roll Kodak TriX 400 and Ultrafine Xtreme 400 B&W respectively. The latter I bulk-loaded myself and might keep doing this given the results compared to TriX.
I developed these rolls myself using Cinestill Df96 (still learning, and there were some hiccups along the way!). I scanned the negatives with a Nikon D850 with a 105mm 2.8 macro lens. I imported the scanned raw files into Adobe Lightroom and converted/edited them using Negative Lab Pro. The still life (and the train track image) were captured in Saint Paul, MN.
The classic Nikon FE is a great every day, travel/hiking and even street photography (for some great examples of the latter, see 35mmc post by Thorsten Wulff). I highly recommend the Nikon FE to anybody who is interested in getting into film photography with a fun, compact, affordable, easy to use SLR. The huge selection of high quality yet affordable F-mount Nikon lenses are a big part of this recommendation.
Thanks for reading!
PS: I do admit suffering from GAS, hopefully not the delusional one! And I did order a Nikon FM3a as well. I can’t wait to compare it to the FE and my digital Nikons!
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