The Savvy Consumer’s Guide To Pre-Owned, Collectible, And Vintage Cameras; Gather Ye Nikons While Ye May: Best Bets In Nikon Film SLRs Page 2

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?