Nikon FM2 Review – Its significance and modern appeal since 1984

I was hired once to take some portraits of a young woman. I asked her to give me a few portrait examples that she liked. To my surprise, she said that she liked “The Afghan Girl.” I suspect most of us know that image well. It appeared on the cover of National Geographic in June of 1985. It is a stunning image of a 12-year-old Afghan girl taken by the renowned photojournalist, Steve McCurry. In this photo she is wearing a tattered red shawl. With wide eyes she cast a piercing glance into the camera lens and the rest is history. As the story goes, McCurry disguised himself as an Afghan and crossed from Pakistan into Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. At that time, Afghan refugees were fleeing to neighboring Pakistan as the war raged. You can feel the fear and turbulence in this photo. Though a landmark image, it is another brutal reminder of the tragedies of war. As McCurry left the scene, he reportedly had rolls of film sewn into his turban and stuffed into his socks and underwear. What camera do you suppose he carried with him that day in 1984? It was the newly released Nikon FM2. In this article I would like to commemorate the use of this camera to capture that sensational image and highlight a few of its features that keep this thirty-nine-year-old camera relevant.

Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert Island, MaineNikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110
Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Nikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110

In the Hand

If ergonomics is the science of refining design elements to be optimal for human use, then the Nikon FM2 is an excellent example. It physically fills a niche between a smaller compact 35mm viewfinder, like the Rollei 35 and a larger medium format camera like the Mamiya 645 or c330. True to ergonomic principles, the camera elements are easily adjusted while looking through the viewfinder. There are no distractions. Like the golden ratio of visual proportions, Nikon achieved an ergonomic golden ratio for the hand-held camera. For some photographers, years of SLR use may have turned this ergonomic formula into a bland process. I suspect that is why it is so refreshing to occasionally look through a waist level viewfinder or stare at the ground glass of a large format camera beneath your black cloak. Variety is the spice of life.

Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Nikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Kodak Tmax 400 developed in Kodak HC110

Is it enough?

Most photographers are always striving for more. We want better resolution, higher shutter speeds and the best lenses of all. While we should hone our craft, it is safe to say that composition and storytelling outweigh technical prowess. In this case, the FM2, Nikons midrange camera was in McCurry’s hands, not the professional grade F3 of the day. With this camera, he took what some have called a modern Mona Lisa. Inspiring stuff, despite its sad story. As they say, it is more fun to drive an old sports car fast than a new one slow. This principle still applies as you dust off your thirty-nine-year-old Nikon. But is this camera enough? I think the answer is sometimes. Any audiophile knows that your stereo is as good as the speakers. A camera is no different. To squeeze the most out of your ergonomic Nikon FM2 you need to choose the best lens, film and developer for the job. Fortunately, there are many affordable lens options for this camera. Thankfully, there are still a variety of film and developer options too. These more subjective variables are fertile soil for experimentation and debate. Do you like grain? Do you like contrast? Do you know what acutance is? This well is a deep subject as they say.

Portland, MaineNikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford HP5 400 developed in Kodak HC110
Portland, Maine
Nikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford HP5 400 developed in Kodak HC110

Two User Friendly Features

The Nikon midrange camera parade began in the 1960s with the Nikkormat, followed by Nikon’s FE and FM models. In 1984 the FM2 hit the scene. For some historical perspective, this was the same year that Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh. The FM2 was to remain available for almost two decades. The oldest models, mine included, are now approaching 40 years of service. The verdict is that the Nikon FM2 is a rugged, mechanical unit with several features that make it user friendly today. I would argue that two features keep this camera fresh by modern standards. First is the TTL or through the lens light meter. Though many of my other cameras had a functional light meter at one time, this one still works four decades later. This also means that you can leave your hand-held light meter at home. Second is the shutter speed of up to one four thousandth of a second. Many of my vintage film cameras top out at one five hundredth or one thousandth of a second. With enough light, one four thousandth of a second will allow you to capture most objects in motion. This fast shutter speed is made possible by a titanium shutter with a beautiful honeycomb pattern which evolved into a more durable aluminum shutter on later models.

Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, MaineNikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110
Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Nikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110


Thanks to Nikon’s long history of lens production there are numerous vintage options. Here is a brief introduction to Nikon lenses that you can build on. All lenses produced by Nikon are Nikkor lenses and may be labelled Nikon and or Nikkor. Nikon introduced their lens F mount system in 1959. The AI lens was introduced in 1977 and refers to a mechanism incorporated into the lens providing a mechanical link that allows the aperture setting on the lens to communicate with the camera body. AI stands for Automatic Maximum Aperture Indexing. This enables you, the photographer, to adjust the aperture and or the shutter speed as you look through the lens at the light meter reading. Early F-mount lenses produced between 1959 and 1977 became known as non-AI lenses as they did not have this technology. These lenses cannot be used on the FM2. AI lenses will work with the FM2. The E series and AI S series were introduced in 1979 and 1981 respectively and are also compatible with the Nikon FM2.

Nikkor Lenses F Mount FM2 compatibility summary.

    • Non-AI 1959 – 1977: Not compatible.
    • AI introduced in 1977: Compatible.
    • E Series introduced in 1979: Compatible.
    • AI S introduced in 1981: Compatible.

Nikon Camera and Lens Compatibility Chart by J Ramon Palacios at
Nikon Lens Technology by Ken Rockwell at

For further reading on this topic and a comprehensive review of this camera, I highly recommend two articles by Nathaniel Stephan, The Nikon FM2 – Nikon’s Mechanical SLR Camera Masterpiece and The 5 Best Nikon FM2 Lenses, both published in Outside the Shot in November of 2022.

Thuya Gardens, Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert Island, MaineNikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110
Thuya Gardens, Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Nikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110


In 1984 this camera would have cost you about $400 depending on your lens selection. That is equivalent to a little more than $1000 today. In 2021 the mirrorless digital Nikon Z fc was introduced and sells for about $1000. Its retro appearance is based on the handsome looks and ergonomics of the FM2. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. For now, I am sticking with my 1984 Nikon FM2. I might pick up a mirrorless Nikon Z fc in the year 2062 if the reviews are good.

Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Maine Nikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110
Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Nikon FM2 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm 1:2.8 on Ilford Delta 400 developed in Kodak HC110

You can read another review of the Nikon Fm2 here on 35mmc, here on Photo Thinking and here on Kosmo Foto

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14 thoughts on “Nikon FM2 Review – Its significance and modern appeal since 1984”

  1. This speaks to me. I have loved that camera since it came out. At that time I worked as a news photographer. I used F2’s and later F3’s but the FM2 was the one that was immediately ‘right’ in my hands and to my eye. I never liked a heavier camera and at news events I preferred a less obvious camera. I shot plane crashes and storm coverage, murder and courtroom scenes, society events, concerts and sports all with that ever-perfect body. My go-to lenses back then were a 24mm and the 180 2.8. I’m sure I had a couple other lenses in my Domke bag but those two did the heavy lifting.
    Right now I have a perfectly working one within arms reach as I sit here. Yesterday I replaced the rubber eyepiece on the viewfinder. I was constantly wearing them out or losing them while pressing my eye ever closer to the scene I was viewing, warping my glasses out of shape You couldn’t have written a better ode to my favorite camera.

  2. Thanks John. Interesting article. I have an FM2n and two FEs, which form part of my “go to” group of cameras. I also have an F and an F3, both great cameras, but I almost always go to the FM2n or FE – they are lighter, easier and nicer to handle and take the same lenses. I have to say that I prefer the swing-needle meter on the FE to the LED spots in the FM2n, although the FE meter is more difficult to read in dim light. I also have an FA. Nice camera, but it doesn’t add anything for me except complexity. The centre-weighted meters on the FM2n and FE give me the same results as the FA’s matrix metering. You mention the reliability of the meter. Activated by your article, I took my FEs, FM2n, FA, FM3A and F3 out of the cupboard and checked the meters against a sunlit wall. They all gave exactly the same reading! How about that for confidence building.

  3. Nice camera! The proportions and size of the classic Pentax Spotmatic are quite similar. The Spotmatic F with its open aperture metering reminds me of the FM and FM2.

  4. The camera is also compatible with Nikon AF and AF-D lenses. I used a couple of FM2s in the mid ’90s alongside a couple of F90Xs, and only had AF lenses.

  5. Nice review.
    I switched over to the Leica M system about 25 years ago. I sold off all my Nikon gear except for the cousin of the FM2, the equally capable FE2. I held onto 2 lenses, a 50mm f/2.0 & the 55mm micro-Nikkor. Both Ai series. I added a TC-14a teleconverter.
    The FM/FE series are almost identical in size to a Leica M4. The weight is almost the same. The Leica M4 & the Nikon FE2 make a good 2 camera combo, without duplication.
    The FE2 is used more sparingly than the M4. I wear hearing aids, and the Nikon’s mirror action can be a bit too loud while wearing the devices. Since the M4 has only a 35mm lens, the Nikon with the 50mm & TC-14a serve as a portrait camera. The converted focal length is now a 70mm f/2.8. Nikon got it right, and IMHO this should still be in production as a film camera.
    BTW, my wife & I were up in that part of Maine about 4 weeks ago. Beautiful area.

  6. Hi John – I guess it’s very personal, but I’m of the camp that regards the FM2 as the best compact Nikon SLR. I came to it in the early 90s and used it for editorial work shooting tranny (more of that here ) I came to if from the Nikkormats and the FE and thought its ergonomics were the best – even though it didn’t have AE. That metering and the + . – view through the viewfinder were great! It was better than the FM because you could flick the shutter dial with one finger, leaving the viewfinder up to your eye – that was a bit harder to do with the stiffer dial of the FM. I used mine with an MD12 that I would leave home for travel. Three primes and all covered. These days I use an F2 with unmetered prism finder but my needs are different. I still have my FM2 that I’ve had from new. I took it on my last overseas trip and shot HP5 in it.

  7. Great article John! Like you I have a long held love for the wondrous machines of the past and recently purchased a 1984 Nikon FA. So recently in fact I haven’t run my first roll through it yet. I looked at the FM2 and now I wondering if I shouldn’t have gone in that direction. The FA is interesting with the first matrix metering system but the manual metering process leaves a bit to be desired. Regardless, I’m anxious to see how well the P, S & A modes work compare to my usual manual metering. I’m inspired by your endeavors, especially zone focusing in the street environment. I’m working on this as well and it’s certainly a good challenge. Thanks for your stimulating article, I look forward to more in the future.

  8. I use a pair of FM2n’s for alot of my wedding photography because they are the smallest but most functional/capable manual 35mm SLR’s ever made. Their size makes them effective for documentary work of any kind. And with the blazing fast shutter, generous ISO range and bright view screens, the FM2n is well-suited for running between bright sunlit ceremonies and pupil-dilating EI 6400 receptions.

    I would prefer if the FM2n shared some features of earlier, more rugged bodies like the metal, flipping pre-AI tab and metal controls of the original FM. The plastic AI tab can bind and the film door release and name plate just feels cheap. I wonder if anyone’s swapped these parts before?

    Anyway, this was a beautifully written tribute to one of my favorite cameras. Thank you!

  9. Great review, I used FM2s for many years whilst working for regional newspapers in the UK in the 1980s and 90s before we were given Nikon F90X camera. The FM2 seemed to work in all winds and weather, even torrential rain.

  10. The FM2 was my first “pro” camera, purchased while I was in college studying photojournalism. It was a great camera then and now. Thank you for the article!

  11. Ah… dangit. Guess I’ll start looking for an FM2.

    I have an FE and an FM3A, and a nice little lens collection. I love their size, ergonomics, reliability, and the match-needle metering. But I very rarely shoot auto: I typically move the camera around to figure out the range of light and then pick a shutter speed. But… the match-needle is very difficult to see at night when I shoot city landscapes.

    Thanks for the review John!

  12. I have a special relationship with this particular camera. My mother bought me a Nikon FM2n when I was a teenager in the late 1980s. It might be the greatest present she every got me. Not only did it help kickstart my love of photography, it has literally been around the world with me. I’ve taken thousands of photos with it and it is still going strong, nearly four decades after she gave it to me. In the last year it went to Mexico City and Tokyo with me in my camera bag. Thanks Mom!

  13. Great review John! It’s lovely to hear your perspective on this classic SLR. It’s been my constant companion for the last year, and it’s so beautifully made and reliable. Thanks for writing this!

  14. Re: The FM2n, it is beautifully ergonomic to use — I agree with all that’s been said — but what nobody has mentioned is that to switch the meter on, you need to set the wind-on lever at a small angle from the body. This then pokes into your right eye when you attempt to look through the viewfinder — with your left eye, which I do!
    Perhaps years of using my Leica Ms have “educated” me always to use my left eye for camera viewfinders — it comes naturally with Leicas!
    Sadly, this “design feature” of the Nikon FM2n entirely prevents me from using mine.

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