Nikon FM2 review

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Tough, simple, reliable (Photo courtesy of Michael Nika)

In the days when press photographers shot on film, most of them fell into one or two camps; Canon or Nikon. The Canon shooters used high end cameras like the T90 or, when autofocus arrived, the all-singing and all-dancing EOS 1. Nikon shooters used the trusty Nikon F range of cameras, ending with the pro-series F5, an autofocus beast built for warzones and anything else the world can throw at it.

But even towards the end of the pro films days, Nikon press photographers usually had something else in their bags. It was a kind of last resort, something for when all the batteries were spent but pics still had to be captured. It was the Nikon FM2, and it was one of the best film cameras ever made.

The FM2 had no autofocus or auto-winding, had only the simplest of meters, and a mechanical shutter. All this was pretty standard for a camera in the 1960s, but decidedly old hat when the FM2 was first released in 1982.

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Read this: Pentax ESII  review

The FM2 followed in a long line of classic SLRs in Nikon’s F series; the Nikon F was blooded in the Vietnam War, where a clutch of legendary photographers took history-making pics with the Nikon F. The Nikons were tough and reliable – just what you needed out in the field, sometimes for weeks at a time. Nikon lenses were rightly praised too.So why’s it so good? Partly because of its simplicity. There’s nothing on an FM2 that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. Where the FM2 stands out is its fastest speed – 1/4000th of a second- and a flash sync of 1/250th, the kind of features normally found on pro-level cameras.

The Nikon FM2 was in production until 2001; it was replaced by the FM3A, a broadly similar camera which also had aperture-priority. The FM3a’s a beautiful – and increasingly expensive camera – but requires batteries to use properly. The great thing about the FM2 is that the camera requires the batteries for nothing more than the meter. That’s why it was so useful to have at the bottom of a camera bag. And the FM2 feels anything but cheap; there’s a sharp, smooth click and effortless winding on to the next frame.

Looking for a Nikon FM2? Find one on eBay

I bought my first FM2 in 2001; a jet black model that I used for a couple of years before trading in. A few years later, I found one going very cheaply on eBay and bought it; I’m glad I did. Most of my SLR shooting is done on M42 mount cameras; mostly because it costs relatively little to build up a decent pile of lenses. But the FM2 is the perfect travel camera; if I was to spend more than a couple of weeks on the road taking pics, the FM2 is what I’d take. It’s partly because the Nikon lenses are so good, but mainly because of this camera’s unqualified toughness. I’ve had my current FM2N, a 1986 model, for around six years. During that time it’s needed absolutely no servicing at all. I’ve changed the batteries just once.

Another plus point is the meter’s sensitivity; it will meter up to ISO 6400, essential for shooting in really low light. Alongside a Nikon F100, I use the FM2 for a long-running project shooting bands at soundcheck, an environment where there’s very little light. The FM2’s been perfect for this kind of shooting.

You can get your hands on a Nikon FM2 on eBay for as little as $100 if you’re lucky, though this usually won’t include a lens. Bump the budget up to around $150 and you’re likely to get one with a lens and a few other bits and bobs aswell. For a camera that’s more than likely to outlast you, that’s a bargain.

Check out  my FM2 pics below or the hundreds to be found in my Flickr set.

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Close up of a Royal Mail letter box, looking like some kind of steampunk robot
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My friend Sam Baker, drummer extraordinaire, taken in the New York evening light on Kodak Elite Chrome 400 slide film
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Joey Burns of Calexico at Brighton Centre soundcheck, shot on Neopan pushed to 6400
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My friend Charlotte at the Chap Olympiad in 2009
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During soundcheck for The Clean’s Brixton Academy show supporting Pavement in 2010
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Walkies in Dubrovnik Old Town
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Everything Everything’s Jonathan at soundcheck at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire
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A restaurant display in the Old Town of Dubrovnik
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The golden glow of an Adriatic sunset on Ektachrome slide film
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Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom’s hat during soundcheck, somewhere on the road in Europe

16 COMMENTS

  1. Nice review thanks, and great shots! Just got an FM2 recently and have a Nikkor 50mm 1.4 with it. The lens had some fungal crap which has been cleaned but I’m a little worried it will have effected the lens. Anyway … more interested in the films you use when shooting B&W in lower light and how you “push”them. Any tips?

    • Hello Tim – thanks for reading. You can’t go past Fuji Neopan (which has just been discontinued) or Kodak Tri-X – find a good local lab that is confident with pushing film. Aim for the highlights, and let the shadows look after themselves!

  2. And let’s not forget the FE2, which is an FM2 with aperture-priority auto, in effect a “poor man’s FM3A”. You can pick up a good FE2 for less than half the cost of an FM3A. I have an FM2N, two FMs, an FE2, and an FE.

  3. The FM2 is a beautiful of which I own the black FM2N #8 model. I previously owned an FM3a along with another FM2n but sold them when I made the jump to digital. Digital has if place but I sold my DSLR to recapture my love of ‘real’ photography. I still own a Nikon DSLR for my bread and butter work but nothing beats film for the more artistic side of photography. Film photography is making a come back so grab the camera you want before prices start shooting back up.

  4. Back in the 90s, while my then girlfriend used a FM2, I was in love with my FE2. Both sturdy and reliable cameras with their own advantages and disadvantages. The mechanics of an FM2 are still very sexy!

  5. The Nikon FM2 is a great camera that is lightweight, reliable, accurate and takes incredible pictures. I have used mine for years, preferring ISO 100 Fuji slide film, and the results have been
    amazing. These cameras can also be found on eBay and well worth a look. Excellent as either
    a camera for travel or backup to other gear, the FM2 is simple to use and dependable.

    The rave over digital is about speed and convenience–it’s been said that it would take a 25 megapixel camera to equal a good image from film. Film teaches users more about exposure and lighting. Film has more tonal range and captures mood better. Good labs for developing film are still around, but you have to search for them and pay a little more for the results.

  6. Just ordered an FM2 (original, not the n) with a 50mm f/1.4 AIS to use alongside my Nikon Df digital.

    Those two cameras with a few primes (I like to travel with a 35/2 and 105/2.5) will cover just about anything. Tri-X for REAL black and white (only the Leica M Monochrom comes close in digital) and the Df for everything else.

    As much as I like the Df, there is nothing quite like the FM and its sisters (they are all good). Real metal, simple controls and nothing to get in the way.

    • Yes, totally agree with note on Nikon FM2 camera. It is an outstanding camera, simple, compact and reliable. Its exposure meter is very accurate and Nikon lenses speak for themselves. Yes, we are in the digital age, and it’s unfortunate there aren’t many film labs left, but the Nikon FM2 is
      a gem of a camera and a reliable get-it-done camera that gives very good results. If you shoot with fine grain Fuji 100 slide film–the results will leave you wanting more. Yes, it is that good.

  7. just an additional info regarding FE2, lot’s of people don’t like it because it’s not pure mechanical but they have also a mechanical mode in 1/250s and works fine. Great camera and I love it.

  8. Hi Stepehen, I’ve seen your FM2 gallery. Wonderful gallery.

    Most of photo you shoot on studio, you rate your film higher. Are you pushing it on camera and just processing normally or you push it too on processing?

  9. I don’t shot a lot of small format images, but for teaching and just sometimes I’ll use my FM2n, really love the look and reliable handling of this camera. Your review was a good one 🙂

  10. Thanks, Stephen, for another of your always informative (and well illustrated) reviews. When I committed to AF, I did so with Canon EOS. Nonetheless, being a bit wary of cameras fully dependent on batteries and electronics, I held onto my Nikon FM, for much the same reasons you enumerated in your review of the FM2. Happily, I also held on to my Nikon lenses. And as prices dropped on film cameras, it was fun acquiring more of those sturdy and reliable Nikons of the FE/FM generations. Two separate systems can get a bit awkward in planning a shoot, but a little determination makes it worthwhile. Film and manual focus = comfort food. And it keeps one honest 😉 It’s also encouraging to see more young people discovering the attractiveness of film…as well as new films arriving and on the horizon. Cheers.

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