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.
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
Share this post: