Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Nikon FE SLR

The old fogeys amongst us will sometimes venture into manual SLRs and being gadget freaks, will ask, what is the best manual SLR to start with? For starters, most people will say the Nikon FM2 - "it operates without batteries" they say. Some would recommend the Nikon EM - this is pretty cheap and dandy. The richer folk would say - get the FM3A - but at USD800 for a used copy, this isn't a cheap option. Not me, I would tell you to get a FE.

The Nikon FE is the forgotten cousin of the Nikon FM/FM2.

It was launched in 1978 and it is much cheaper than any version of the FM2 or FE2 that you can find in the used camera market today.

Most people snap up FM2s because of the Titanium shutter (FM2n) and the ability to work without a battery. However, they forget one thing, metering is lost without a battery. Which is where the Nikon FE comes in. This is a camera that is the equivalent of the FM2 when a battery is inserted. With the battery removed, the FE is only capable of shooting in M90 mode - which means it can be triggered with a shutter speed of 1/90s. Not perfect, but good in a pinch. The Nikon FE uses 2xLR44 batt.

I bought my 2 FEs (one black, one chrome) at a bargain basement price of 120+ US dollars each a couple of years ago.

They work perfectly even though both are around 25 yrs old and I suspect they will keep on running longer than me.

The best thing about the FE is that it is an SLR that is pocketable and the feel of using one is magical. It reminds one in this digital age what it means to BE a photographer. To slow down, compose, to meter carefully, hold your breath and squeeze the shutter release oh so gently to get the shot. Now how many DSLR owners do that nowadays? Most shoot in blazing 5FPS in full auto mode.. And the sound of that shutter... utterly mechanical in nature with a nice solid "click". Not a uninspiring "thack" that I heard while using my colleague's Canon 30D.

The bad thing about the FE is that is uses film.

Oh, not the loading part. Loading a roll of film is an incredibly satisfying experience. It feels the same as loading a gun (or a PEZ dispenser) in some ways. Popping a can of film, you get a whiff of the film chemicals which is familiar and organic in a way. You have then to pop the film back of the FE, insert the film canister and insert the film leader into a slot of the camera's takeup spool making sure the sprockets align. You then close the film back, set the film ISO using the ISO dial and you are ready to go. Fire off a few frames (make sure you choose a fast shutter speed like 1/125s) until the avail frames display shows "0".

Rather, its the fact that developing film requires you to go to the store for processing and most people would get a 4R printout (matt or glossy, ma'am?). The resulting printout reflects how that store calibrates their equipment and unfortunately, some are WAY off in their calibration. This means color casts, reds that are too red and greens that are artificial. The papers that these shops use make a difference as well. I would recommend all film users to get their store to just process the film and scan the negatives/positives through a proper film scanner. Once the photos are scanned, treat them in the same way as your digital images. Of course, all this takes time but then, whats time when you want to appreciate photos and color and light?