By Ronald Hogenboom
A lot of people don’t know what to make of this camera.
It has a Nikon nameplate, but was in fact made by Cosina, who used the same basic chassis for a long line of cheap SLRs, sold under many different names. Even the well-regarded Voigtlander Bessa rangefinders are based on the same basic design.
The low price of the FM10, and the lack of Nikon heritage, makes many people dismiss this camera. Being a Nikon FM2 user, a camera for which the expression ‘tough as nails’ seems to have been invented, I never gave the FM10 much thought. Until I picked one up at a swap meet and saw the light.
Cheap and plasticky the FM10 may be, but it is a surprisingly nice camera to shoot with. It feels good in the hand and has what I would call a ‘photographer’s UI’. Everything you need is there and works the way you expect it.
The meter especially is lovely. It is centre-weighted and the readout consists of three LEDs, a green dot for correct exposure and a red ‘+’ and ‘-‘ for over and underexposure. Its simplicity is an asset, not a limitation. (Even Hollywood actress Brie Larson is a fan, apparently)
I would even go as far as to claim that the FM10 feels like an extension of me, a claim very few cameras can boast. It pairs well with Nikon ‘E’ lenses or with the excellent manual focus Cosina-Voigtlander SLII lenses. Lenses that lack an aperture ring, like Nikon’s ‘G’ lenses and later, cannot be used though.
Throughout 2018 I took my FM10 on many museum travels, paired with my favourite primes and a lightweight tripod for indoor use. I mostly shot cheap Kodak Color Plus 200, and Fomapan 400. The resulting negatives were scanned on my Nikon Coolscan V using Vuescan software.
When it was too dark for handheld photography I put the FM10 on a tripod, used the self-timer as a poor man’s mirror lock-up, and used a cable release to trip the shutter. Yes, very old school, and something that can be done much easier with a decent digital camera with image stabilisation.
Nevertheless, my success rate with this camera is very high, because I consciously have to make all the decisions. This is for me part of the appeal, because if things go wrong, I only have myself to blame.
There are of course many other cameras that can offer a similar experience, but the FM10 deserves kudos for offering this in a time when everything went electronic.
As an object of desire, the FM10 would score pitifully low on any list, maybe ranking just above a pink Holga (yes, I use one of those too). In this area it cannot compete with a quality camera from the 1960s or 70s. As a photographic tool however, it ranks near the top.
Now go out there, get one, and make the Leica snobs cry.