Like many millennials I grew up in the 90’s with family point-and-shoots, quickly watching them disappear for digital compacts in the 00’s, and then those being ditched for the latest iPhone onwards. Like many of you I also preferred to be behind the camera, it gave me a sense of social purpose when I was feeling anxious to fit in at parties or events. For a while I was interested in photography along with my music obsession, but both fizzled out as I took on adult responsibilities. However, recently I’ve been more interested in connecting with hobbies again, and discovering ‘a sense of self’ that I felt I had lost.
Trial and Error
I tried rescuing the old Olympus AF Zooms, and auto Minolta Dynax from the family storage box, but they didn’t last long, with fragile plastic and electronics – so they were sold for parts. I also tried a few reusable point-and-shoots and ‘creative’ films but honestly, I was sorely disappointed by the results. Then I tried going down the digital route with a FujiFilm XF10, and although it was useful for handing to folks for my wedding, I just didn’t enjoy using it, or editing my photos afterwards. After this I decided to purchase an SLR or Rangefinder to use, but ended up getting ripped-off buying (what turned out to be) lower-than-average items over the internet.
Feeling disenchanted with the whole enterprise, I boxed up all my items and contacted the guys at West Yorkshire Cameras in Leeds. They were very kind and generous in taking my collection of discarded cameras, and helped me pick out a reliable, fuss-free SLR that I could connect with. I would highly recommend buying from a physical store like W.Y.C’s that has a clear condition rating, offers items that are serviced, and come with a warranty. Do not chance it over eBay, it is not worth the stress! If you’re in the U.K. I would highly recommend checking out the West Yorkshire Cameras website – they are a top bunch of lads!
Despite all this trial and error, I felt like I had learnt a lot about what I didn’t want. The automatic features on other cameras weren’t teaching me anything about exposure, and I always got annoyed that I had less control with auto-focus lenses. Oh and I wasn’t a fan of the plastic feel of those old cameras I grew up with in the 90’s either! Also, in my opinion digital cameras can be anything you want if you have the time to go into the settings – but conversely this makes it feel like they have no identity of their own.
Having had many failures, I decided that what I needed to do was to go back to basics. I wanted something reliable, dependable, and simple. After my trials with other cameras, this meant choosing an SLR that was fully mechanical, with a good all-rounder lens that would be flexible enough to use in all sorts of situations. Actually what I really wanted, and still aim for, is to reconnect with my truest-self, and find joy in the process of photography again.
Nikon FM2 Camera Stats
The Nikon FM2 was released in 1982 as a semi-professional camera when other manufacturers were pushing further into automation. In fact, this camera continued to be manufactured for two decades with only minor changes – long into the proliferation of program electronic SLRs and the beginning of the digital era. Nikon added the ’N’ to serial numbers after the first production run when they made improvements to the flash sync, and later updated from titanium to aluminium shutter blades. In fact, the exact camera that I picked up is from 1991 and so is the pancake lens that came with it – not collectable or anything, but in excellent condition and sold the world over.
The FM2 only uses a tiny battery for the centre-weighted light meter, which means the rest of the camera (including its impressive 1/4000th sec shutter speed) is fully mechanical. The viewfinder is clear and bright, with the plus-zero-minus exposure indicator being the only assistance. More information can be found in the manual here, and you can watch Matt Day talk about why this camera is a perennial favourite here. The camera is known for its durability and reliability, and has ended up as the quintessential ‘backup camera’ for many famous photographers over the years.
When I held this camera I breathed a sigh of relief – finally! The Nikon FM2 is everything I need and nothing I don’t. I think it has such a classic look in silver, and the whole thing feels robust but not too heavy. The quality and attention to detail of this camera makes me feel reassured, and allows me to forget about the machine and just look through the lens.
Speaking of the lens, the 50mm f/1.8 AiS pancake is a no nonsense, easy-to-use fifty, with a short ‘focus throw’ and super-sharp rendering. I am loving it because it doesn’t get in the way, and allows me a great deal of flexibility in how I want to shoot.
On the camera, the dual concentric shutter/ISO ring is sturdy, and the shutter release button is responsive without being trigger happy. One handy feature is that the shutter button only works if the film advance lever is half-cocked. This means no accidental photos of my double-chin or my shoes! I simply rest my thumb between the film advance lever and camera body for a quick film advance.
I was beginning to fall in love with the process and act of using a camera again, I just needed to get out there and see how it worked in practice.
Nikon FM2 Photo Examples
So that you get an idea of how this camera might work for you, I decided to shoot some film in different styles. We all have our individual interests that draw us to photography, and I thought I would share my thoughts on how I personally felt using the Nikon FM2 in each situation. I’m still finding my feet and my own style at the moment, so this also provided me with an excuse to try different approaches. I’m not looking to evaluate my own pictures here, but instead reflect on how the camera felt to use in those situations.
I’d never approached a stranger for a portrait before, have you? It can be quite daunting at first! However, the FM2 makes this easier because of two things: people know the Nikon brand as a serious camera, and the SLR looks like you’re an enthusiast and is a ‘proper bit of kit’. I used the camera’s centre-weighted light meter pointed at the ground to find a balance of light/shade, set the camera accordingly, took a deep breath and approached some folks for a picture. This camera puts people at ease for portraits, they seem to trust the SLR format, and having it around my neck is an invite for conversation.
This is where zone-focusing on the 50mm lens comes in handy, as it’s more about capturing the action in the scene. What I noticed with this approach is that because the Nikon FM2 has a wide shutter speed range, I was able to set it to freeze the action and just adjust the aperture if the light changed. With the camera around my neck I was not as inconspicuous as using a rangefinder with a wrist-strap. Based on the wary looks and side-eye from strangers this camera would not be my first choice if I wanted to hide in a crowd, or remain unnoticed. Although I would add that I’m a 6ft, large, well-built, gregarious white bloke who smiles at everyone, so I’ve never really been inconspicuous in my life!
The Nikon FM2 allows me to really spend time thinking about exactly how I want to capture and frame buildings. I don’t usually want to carry a tripod with me in the city, so I set the shutter speed low enough to handhold, and adjust the aperture to capture all that detail. In the moment it’s important for me to slow down, and let life rush past at its own pace. The FM2 encourages me to focus on the process of taking a photograph, and I find such a joy and contentment in that.
Landscapes & Nature
Finally I drove out to get some fresh air, and find some uninterrupted natural space. I feel like the Nikon FM2 was made for the outdoors. I never felt worried about it, and again I slowed down and enjoyed the feeling of connecting with that moment. Although I’m sure a medium format camera would capture more detail, the 50mm f/1.8 is extremely sharp, and the FM2 would easily take a hike in the Peak District without any trouble. In fact, if Steve McCurry can take this camera to war zones in the middle-east, then it can certainly manage anything I could ever throw at it.
Nikon FM2 – Conclusion
As you can tell from my big smile, I’m loving my new camera, and my whole experience with an all-manual SLR! The Nikon FM2 is readily available, easy to maintain, and simple to operate. I am enjoying the freedom that comes from its simplicity, and embracing the process of making a photo. I feel more connected with the creative and technical choices I am making, and the FM2 has the functions and reliability to support a range of styles. After much trial and error I am glad to say that I am once again connecting with the joy I found in photography as a kid! I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you all soon.
Do you own a Nikon FM2, if so for how long? What do you like about it? Let me know your experiences with this camera in the comments below.
All scans were developed and processed by Come Through Lab in Ancoats, Manchester.
Find them on instagram here: @comethroughlab
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing more of my photos and experiences with this community soon.
You can find me on Instagram: @tedayre
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34 thoughts on “Nikon FM2 Camera Review – Joy in Simplicity – By Ted Ayre”
Some nice shots Ted, and a tale I resonate with searching for the right cameras to fuel my creativity. There are some digital cameras that have a strongly unique identity, although these are often seen as flaws, I’d give it another try sometime as a cost saving and experiment tool.
You could have been following me around these last few months with your locations! Leighton moss is lovely, as is the surrounding area. Check out a little place called ‘the cove’ in nearby Silverdale. Aim for a sunset.
Thanks Wes! Haha I bet we could have crossed paths mate – I’ll definitely add Silverdale to the list thanks for the tip. Interesting comment about digital cameras, maybe I’ll go down the rabbit hole again for a ‘unique’ digital compact perhaps? Worth thinking about.
I sill use my fm2 had it from new and the 1st fm2 model. Wont part with it and its still going strong
Yes Ian! You lucky thing to have it from new! Keep on to that gem my friend.
Hi Ted, great article! I own multiple FM, FM2, FE and FE2 (bought them when they were still dirt cheap..). While I agree that the FM2 is a great camera, I usually use my FE2 or FE instead, even in manual mode. I find it easier to match the 2 needles in the finder than the +/- in the finder of the FM/FM2. In addition, FM2s have gotten very expensive recently ($250+), therefore the FM (or FE) is a good, much cheaper alternative ($100 or less). The difference between the first and second generation is minimal, mainly the 1/4000 second shutter which I don’t really need.
Thanks Christof! Yeah the viewfinder is an interesting point of difference between that set of cameras, and definitely something potential users should consider. For me, I preferred the LED readout on the FM2, but I know the needles are traditional and can be more reliable for some people. Totally agree that the FM or FE are excellent cameras as well, and can be cheaper too! Maybe an original FE is on the horizon for me in future, as I know it can also take pre-AI Nikkor lenses which would be very flexible indeed. Cheers for the info!
I learned photography in journalism school around 1990 using an FM2, then used the same camera professionally for the next decade. The school offered Canons, but a photographer friend steered me toward Nikon. I then worked as a photojournalist for a local paper, even shooting college football with it using an MD-12 winder. The last time I used it professionally was shooting food producers for Whole Foods, including Maine blueberry barrens, salmon farms in Eastport, ME, and finally a land-based salmon farm in Iceland as well as Icelandic lamb farming—all around the turn of the 21st Century. The portrait at the Icelandic salmon farm was shot in an impromptu blizzard, but the camera delivered the goods. That camera was stolen from my office around 2002—and the company replaced it with a brand new one with a better 105mm Micro lens— but I switched to digital for advertising around the same time, and gave up on film. I kept the camera.
Then a few years ago, my interest in analog was rekindled, and I acquired an FM3a for a fraction of its value. I replaced the seals and mirror foam on my FM2 and gifted that to a daughter. Today, my personal DSLR is a Nikon D850, at work in the studio I shoot the company’s Canon 5Ds, and I’m a couple hundred vintage cameras deep into collecting. The FM3a is now displayed in a glass cabinet along with other film cameras. I think I’ll shoot it again soon!
What a great story Stewart! I’ve heard how reliable the Nikon FM2 has been for so many professionals over the years, and your assignments sound like it gave you fantastic service for a long time. Icelandic farming sounds like an interesting subject to photograph too! I’m glad you were able to pass on your FM2, and find yourself the FM3a – that’s a camera I’d love to try as well. Thanks for the comment!
Hi Ted, I don’t have an FM2 but I do have an FM3A that I bought brand new in Thailand when my Olympus OM4 broke in India. I was tempted to get a used Nikon, most probably an FM2 but Nikon had just brought out the FM3a.
I got a good price on it bundled with a 50mm 1.8 , it’s not the pancake like yours but still pretty compact. I also bought a 20mm and a 135mm and these suited me find for another 7 months of travelling.
It’s a fantastic camera as it’s full manual like the FM2 and can be used without a battery if required. But it also has the fallback of aperture prioty if you need it.
I have been toying with getting an FM2 as a backup but might get an additional lens instead as I sold all of my other lenses a while ago, something I still regret.
Thanks for the comment Shaun – that must have been so frustrating have a camera break during your trip! How exciting to get an FM3a though, and to have that Nikon as a companion for 7 months travelling is such a privilege. I hope to hear about if you do choose to get some more Nikkor lenses as well.
Hi Ted. I still have my FM2, the one I used on so many assignments for the newspapers I worked for in the 80’s. It was and is my favorite camera of all time. I had an F3 but the FM2 just fit my hands, my eye and my heart like a glove. I shot daily news events, concerts, sporting events, social events, fires and murders and boring meetings and anything else a newsphotog would have covered. I now use a Canon R5 for my current freelance work but that FM2 is one meter from my hands here at my desk. I have a large cabinet of cameras I used over the almost 50 years of my career but the FM2 stays close even though I don’t use it any more. It’s just perfect.
Thanks for the comment Art – I appreciate hearing your story, and it sounds like the FM2 really supported the work you were doing. I’m so glad to hear about that connection you have with your cameras too, that is something I am just starting out with, but I’m already appreciating each aspect of my own FM2 and getting to know it more and more. Also, ‘fires, murders and boring meetings’ sounds like one hell of an assignment mate haha! I hope to one day have that same connection with my tools as well.
I’ve been shooting digital since 2012, weddings, proms and other social stuff, and some fashion jobs sometimes. Since them I aways had the feeling that the pictures I really wanted to make was quite strange to shoot with my Nikon D610, even with heavy editing my images just look strange, something was not right. Then I was wondering that maybe all the flexibility of digital photography was making me don’t give the right value to the image itself. I was shooting and checking if it was good, instead of really feeling the sensation of being there in the moment. So I decided to give a try to film specially for that thing of having to plan your shot before and got myself the FM10, then the FM2 months later. After one year I figure myself out that shooting film was exactly what I needed and the FM2 is just a perfect camera for me, it’s small, solid and offers me all the tools and features I need. Today I have the F100 too, a great camera, but all those automations just don’t feel right to me. The FM2 instead push me to feel and think about the photo. For every shot I do I get myself wondering: “is this something I want to see in future?” If so, I press the shutter
Thanks for sharing Keller – I too understand that feeling of something ‘missing’ when shooting digital, as well as over-checking if an image was ‘good’ rather than simply being in the moment. I also agree that any manual camera offers enough tools to push me to ‘think’ about the photo rather than just taking it.I’m really glad to hear someone with a similar feeling about this too! I hope the FM2 continues to inspire you.
I felt the same when I used digital. It was a bit too convenient and I became sloppy. I am in a different age group than you and started photography in the 1970s. So after a brief enthusiasm with digital technology, I have returned to using film almost 100 percent. 35MMC is great because it gives a forum for us film users to express our experiences and the paths by which we started or restarted film.
Totally agree @Kodachromeguy! It’s great to have the 35mmc community here to share our stories. I’m glad to hear you found your enthusiasm for film again, and it’s your experience from the 70’s and 80’s that helps those of us from different generations too.
Thank you for this appreciation of the FM2. I have a few FM and FE series cameras, mostly bought new. I have long considered them the perfect cameras, just the right size and weight; precise instruments yet simple to operate. They just disappear in your hands. No digital camera I have owned has given me the same satisfaction in use, although of course they have other advantages.
Thanks Gary! What a joy it must have been to buy those Nikon series cameras brand new! I wholeheartedly agree that the ergonomics of them are very satisfying, and I too love the size, weight and layout of the FM2. It’s interesting to hear that your digital experience is similar to mine, they have some advantages but are just too different in the ‘frame of mind’ they put me in for shooting. Thanks for your comment!
To me, the FM2 is the best SLR – exactly because it has everything you need, and nothing extra, with great build quality. The 1/4000th top speed is so useful for a shallow DoF freak like me. It’s not the best at everything maybe, but out of all cameras I owned and used, it’s the most well-rounded. Utterly reliable too. Just a great choice.
And fortunately, there are plenty great lenses available for it too, at very reasonable prices, so building it out to a more complete system doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg too… if it’s not yet on the wishlist, get a 105mm f/2.5! From the photos shown here, looks like it would suit you.
Thanks for the comment Wouter – I agree that the versatility of the Nikon FM2 is what makes it so popular, as well as it’s reliability. Thanks for the tip on the 105mm f/2.5, that sounds like an interesting option, along with an 85mm f/2 I was looking at as well as I get more into portraits.
Well written article Ted????My silver FM2 has been with me for 30 years without any hiccups, although I don’t shoot as frequent as I use to, nevertheless I got some memorable shots with it. The FM2 has brassing all over the body, a few minor dents, the advance lever is a bit loose but still, works flawlessly. Even the spaces between frames are still consistent. Love it so much I bought a black one in one of our local flea market around 2014, back then when film camera prices are relatively affordable ????
Thanks very much Naza! It sounds like you’ve got a lot of good use out of your FM2! It’s great to know your experience with it, and that it was so good you bought another one in black haha! Sounds like a great setup, thanks for the comment.
I‘m a Nikon addict and started with a F601, followed by a F90x. Last year I treated myself a FM2n and a F4. The F4 is a beast and I love it. The FM2 is much more convenient to use in terms of size and always performs well. My wife bought all the Agfa APX 100 rolls at our local dealer for it. They sold for the old price of 5.99€.
A stormy day on the sea? Definitely a job for the FM2. I killed one of my digital Nikon doing that.
I’d love to get a FM3 but the prices for this one are over top.
Enjoy your FM2. Get a 55mm Micro AiS for it. You’ll love it and of course the famous 105, f/2.5 AiS.
Thanks for your comment Dirk – I’ll definitely add the 55mm Micro AiS to the list, along with a portrait lens, thanks for the tip! Haha you’re welcome here as a Nikon addict my friend! It sounds like you’ve had lots of experience with a range of different cameras, and it’s good to hear that the FM2 is up to the job of difficult weather. Watch this space for an upcoming article I wrote about using the Nikon in the rain, it’s an absolute trooper!
Great story and pics Ted. Exactly the same reasons why I quickly snatched up a February 1983 Nikon FM when I saw it advertised at a secondhand camera shop a couple of days ago. The first digit of the SN is the month ( as well as some letters for November/ December) and the second digit is the year of the decade, 3 in my case is 1983. I haven’t seen it yet. The shop is closed until after New Year. It comes with THE Nikkor 28mm f2.8. I was looking for Pentax but they are not as robust as Nikon, after a few decades of use.
I loved my 2 Nikon F Photomic cameras that earned my living for a decade in the 1970s. Nikon F cameras command ridiculous prices nowadays and are highly likely to have been used professionally. But the FM or the FM 2 have practically the same essential features. I like to think that FM means “Fully Mechanical” which is a good way to go with with a secondhand camera. Electronic cameras can die in a flash and nobody knows how to fix them anymore.
Thanks very much Graham! That sounds like a nice recent purchase, and with the 28mm should be a lovely compact setup. Great to hear your story of using the Nikon F back in the 70’s, it’s a real workhorse of a camera and definitely on my list for the future. Yes I wanted to go down the fully manual route as I’m learning film photography as a hobby, but I’ve heard the Nikon FE and FE2 are particularly good electronic cameras that are reliable and easily repairable too. Thanks for the comment!
I liked your article about your camera journey and your street photography images. I found it very interesting how you came from 90ies point-and-shoots to a top notch analog SLR.
I’m older than you and I grew up with my parent’s Minolta X-700, a quite capable SLR, but nothing to compare with a Nikon FM2. I never used analog point-and-shoots. As for you digital compacts and also crop-sensor DSLRs felt wrong to me, I never enjoyed using them. Around 2017 my now old parents passed the still perfectly working Minolta X-700 to me and I bought some Minolta Rokkor lenses, that were still very cheap then. And then I got the chance to adapt the old Rokkor lenses to a full-frame Sony A7II and this was like coming home. Everything felt right and shooting was a joy even though the EVF of the Sony is much inferior to the great viewfinders of the Minolta SLRs (the viewfinders of the classic Minoltas are on par with Nikon). So if you want to go digital some day, try a full-frame camera, no matter which one (the Nikon Z are said to have great EVFs) with manual lenses, and look if it feels right for you.
I’m still using my three Minolta SLRs (X-700, XD-7 and SRT-101 and a Yashica FR-1 and a Revue 400SE and a Rolleicord Vb) but with the crazy prices of film I do 80% of my images digital.
But if I’d start fresh with shooting film and hadn’t a desk full of Minolta gear, I’d start with a black Nikon FM2, that’s for shure. So enjoy your great choice.
Thanks Matthias – yes in some ways it might seem backward, but I think of ending up with an analog SLR as ‘coming full circle’ after much trial and error. Great to hear about your experience with Minolta, the one my Grandad gave to me was very fun to use, and helped me appreciate film photography. Good tip on getting a full-frame digital in the future, that’s definitely worth a try too. I hope you open that desk full of Minolta’s a bit more soon mate.
My FM2n is my most used camera. Right behind that is my FE, which adds an aperture-priority auto-exposure shooting mode.
Thanks JR! That sounds like a lovely pair of cameras to have, and yes I agree the FE or FE2 is certainly on my list for more casual shooting down the road.
I have owned an FM since new. I had a period when I flirted with digital ( and still use it when necessary) but had my trusty FM serviced by Nikon a few years ago to . Using the FM slows me down after the “rapid fire” of the digital. Reading your article has encouraged me to go out in any weather and really get involved again. Thanks Ted
Aww I’m glad it inspired you Ian! That sounds like a great setup man, and I didn’t know Nikon might service old cameras, so that’s good to know! Hope you are able to get out shooting soon.
I don’t have an F5, F6, FM3A or FE2 but I think I have every other Nikon model that starts with an F. I don’t have an FM10 but isn’t that technically a Cosina? Looks like I’m going to be taking my FM2N out with me next time I go out.
Sounds like a great collection Steve! I hope you get a chance to go out with the FM2n soon – thanks for reading!