The Nikon FM Legend: Evolution Plus Intelligent Design
By '77 it was clear to Nikon and everyone else that the long-lived and
highly successful Nikkormat series had reached the end of its developmental
cycle. What was needed was an updated model that incorporated the Nikkormat's
sterling virtues in an updated model--a smaller, lighter, more modern SLR
based on the same basic formula. The new manual SLR Nikon brought forth in '77
was a worthy successor. Indeed, the Nikon FM was yet another enduring metal-bodied
classic that was in production in successively enhanced forms until 2006--an
unprecedented run of nearly 30 years! The FM's most notable features of
this attractive, solid little SLR include a gallium photodiode center-weighted
metering system with simple three-LED in-finder metering display, mechanical,
metal focal-plane shutter with speeds to 1/1000 sec, and motor drive compatibility.
Sire of the new generation: Smaller and lighter than the Nikkormat
Fs, the metal-bodied Nikon FM was just as solid, and if anything
even more popular. It replaced the Nikkormat's meter needle
with three LEDs.
The very popular and highly esteemed FM was succeeded in '82 by the
significantly upgraded Nikon FM2, which incorporated a new mechanical, metal
focal-plane shutter, providing speeds up to 1/4000 sec and flash sync up to
1/200 sec--all without battery power. It was tweaked two years later in
'84, evolving into the FM2N, basically the same camera with a 1/250 sec
flash sync speed.
Heavy metal? Nope, light metal! This Nikon FM2/T of 1993 was basically
an FM2N clad in titanium. Produced in limited quantities, it's
a superb user-collectible that currently fetches $300 or so in
really nice shape.
FM collectors should be on the lookout for the titanium-clad FM2/T, which
debuted in '93, and the Millennium Edition of 2000. The last and most
advanced version of the classic FM was the Nikon FM3A, introduced in 2001 and
just discontinued. This glorious user-collectible camera is the only FM camera
with a hybrid shutter providing electronically-controlled Aperture Priority
autoexposure plus battery-less manual, mechanical speeds from 1-1/4000 sec,
and also features dedicated TTL flash metering and DX auto film speed setting.
In my arrogant opinion, the Nikon FM3A is destined for collector stardom for
these simple reasons: It's the most technically advanced FM ever and a
shooter's delight, it's beautifully made and gorgeous, and it was
produced in limited quantities. Your true FM aficionado will want a brace of
FM3As, one in black, one in chrome.
The ultimate FM? Surely it's the recently discontinued Nikon
FM3A, one of the nicest manual 35mm SLRs ever made. It's
got a hybrid mechanical/electronic 1/4000 sec shutter and is the
only member of the FM series with Aperture-Priority AE and TTL
flash. Icing on the cake: Analog meter needle in finder said to
give more precise exposure settings. Warning: It's addictive,
fairly expensive now, and likely to go up.
As I mentioned, Nikon FMs hold their value remarkably well even as prices
for other worthy 35mm SLRs have plummeted. Expect to pay about $150 for a really
clean FM body, about $200-$250 for an E+ FM2 body, and somewhat more than that
for a pristine FM2N body. A near-mint FM3A body will set you back about $500,
and one major New York retailer lists a new FM3A kit with a 45mm f/2.8P lens
for $789.95 in black and $769.95 in chrome, but notes that they're "out
of stock" on this item. Why am I not surprised?