Aikido, Creative Work, Photography & Documentary.

Nikon FM



“In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

Thats my relationship with Nikon FM 35mm SLR.

Sadly its not mine. I spent sometime with Emilie’s FM over the last few weeks and its become one of the most immersive tools I have used.

Its not just how it looks, but look at how it looks! Gorgeous. Duralumin metal alloy mixed with classic black mottled leather. Looking down brings into view the elegant controls, simple typography on the ASA and Shutter controls and small serial number, black operations marks and red detailing set into the metal.

My favourite ‘feature’ is the film display window, whereby you tear the top from your box of film and place it in the holder at the back of the body. Informing you what film you have loaded.

The film advance handle effortlessly pulls the next number into view in the frame window and features the same black leather on the top of the handle. To select your ASA / ISO the shutter dial is lifted, allowing for the operation of the ASA dial, your ASA indicated in the window next to a little red triangle. 

Its a classic, 1970s design born out of the competition between the top five camera brands (Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax and Olympus). 

The FMs industrial design embraces two ideologies. The first being a shift during the mid seventies to late eighties away from all-metal, manual mechanical camera bodies to more compact bodies with electronic automation.

The industry was attempting to expand out from the high-end professional and advanced amateur market and appeal to the large mass of low-end amateur photographers and eventually the general public who wanted the best quality images but without the ‘hassle’ of understanding photography.

The older Nikons, such as the professional F2 and the Nikkormats before them were renown for their toughness and reliability. Nippon Kogaku (now Nikon Corporation) wanted to distill these qualities into a new smaller and lighter design, appealing to these new markets.

Thankfully Nippon Kogaku continued with their unusually high standard of workmanship for mid and amateur level SLRs. For the FM this included the use of high strength machined metal parts, hardened gears (metal again), a bearing-mounted film and shutter transport, and a camera assembled to precise tolerances. 

It even has a titanium-bladed, vertical-travel focal plane shutter. Now thats cool.

As a result, the FM is one of the most reliable 35mm SLR designs ever built - whilst using the camera it never missed a beat. The camera feels solid, moreover its difficult to put down. You want to hold it. It fits perfectly in place with all the controls falling into the perfect position for operation.

Nikon FM SLR
Expired 35mm Kodak Ektar.

Its industrial design, components and construction method lead to an addictive user experience. Metering is handled by a simple set of 3 LEDs. The metering is active by the release of the film advance handle and with a satisfying click the metering is live. 

The FM has a "full information" viewfinder. In addition to the metering LEDs; the viewfinder also displays the set shutter speed and lens aperture to give context to the LEDs. A fixed K-type focus screen makes manual focus easy and stress free. 

The world just looks better through a FM with a 50mm lens, it really does. I found myself putting it down and thinking why doesn't reality look this good. We have a the ‘standard’ kit lens , a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AI. The camera accepts all Nikon F bayonet mount lenses, with certain limitations or exceptions. Full compatibility requires lenses that support the Automatic Maximum-Aperture Indexing (AI) specification. This includes most Nikon lenses manufactured after 1977. Pre-AI lenses can be used, but only with stop-down metering engaged on the mount collar. More on that over at DP review.

Many newer Nikons and third-party F-mount lenses are also compatible. The only major exceptions are G-type Nikkor lenses, which have no aperture ring and thus no way of properly controlling exposure, oh and of course DX Nikkors, which do not resolve an image large enough to cover the frame. All other AF Nikkor lenses will mount.

My only niggle with the FM is actually related to the lens. The aperture clicks feel a bit soggy, the focus ring a little loose. Its a smooth focus ring, very fast and accurate, yet almost too smooth. I would prefer a little more resistance when pulling focus. Perhaps the signs of an ageing lens.

Being mechanical, the FM needs no batteries to operate, although for the meter we use two 1.5 volt LR44s. No complicated mercury cell replacements required although I prefer SR44s which seem to offer more stable metering results when nearing their end of life.

What really combines all these elements is something photographs don't possess. Sound. You turn the camera on with a clunky click of the film advance handle. The advance ratchet sound is a delightful purr, like a cat made from the components of a precision swiss watch. And the release of the handle results in what I would describe as a mechanical assisted woosh and crisp thud. Assertive and confidence inspiring letting you know your ready to shoot that next frame.

Shutter speed is selected with another assertive click made by the turn of the top dial. Its forceful, quick and punchy sound echoes the safety catch of a movie firearm. 

The main event is the titanium shutter. However impractical 1/8th of a second usually is, it provides enough time to engage the shutter timer and move the mechanics at a perfect ear pleasing rhythm. Ok, a little sad but every shutter press followed by a frame advanced leaves me compelled to continue working. To finish that roll or film. Then load the next one.

Its does what all the best cameras do. Provides just one more reason to keep shooting.