Nikon FM and Old Film

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by craigd, Sep 7, 2011.

  1. So, I haven't posted, aside from comments, in a little while. It's not that I haven't been shooting, just that I haven't been scanning what I shoot. And things have been busy in other areas as well.
    My father-in-law continues to give me old cameras. I think I've finally figured out what he's up to. He has a couple of Olympus Micro Four Thirds digital cameras, and he gets a kick out of using old manual focus lenses on them. So he's been scanning Craigslist looking for interesting old lenses, and more often than not they come attached to cameras. Since he only wants the lenses, I get the cameras. It's a decent little ecosystem he's got going. I certainly can't complain.
    The other day he called up to ask if I had a Nikon FM. I allowed that I did not, though I do have a black FE, which was actually the camera that got me back into shooting film after chasing bigger and better digital cameras for a few years. (Blame Ken Rockwell and his claim that the FE has every camera feature you really need and none that you don't -- which is pretty much true.) So he came over a couple of days later with a couple of cameras for me: the FM, which you see below, and a Minolta X-700. He also gave me a couple of old, probably long-expired rolls of color print film that he'd found in his garage, which I decided to use to test the new old cameras, though normally I never shoot color print film (I prefer slides for color work).
    1. Nikon FM with Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S
    The FM turns out to be a really, really nice camera. This one, as you can see, is in lovely shape, and mechanically it's just peachy. The shutter speeds and the meter seem accurate, and all the parts move just the way they should. There's no sign of wear anywhere; you'd think it was brand new. Compared to the FE, the most significant difference aside from the mechanical shutter and the lack of aperture priority mode is the different meter display in the viewfinder. The FE has a highly informative double-needle display (actually one black needle and one translucent green bar) that tells you what shutter speed the meter recommends as well as which one you have selected. You adjust the shutter speed and/or aperture until the two coincide, and then you're ready to shoot. It's very easy to use and very easy to see just how far off you are on those occasions when you intend to apply some manual exposure compensation. The one downside is that it's invisible in poor light. The FM, by contrast (much better contrast, in fact), has three LEDs in the common plus, dot, minus arrangement -- much easier to see in the dark, but, like other two- or three-LED meter displays, somewhat less convenient for exposure compensation.
    The film I used for testing was labeled Kodak Gold Select 100. I'm not sure what the word "Select" is doing in there, but there it is. I shot it with an intentional lack of a critical eye (that is, shooting whatever told me to shoot it, rather than thinking about what I was doing) over the last couple of days, and took it to CVS this afternoon for cheap one-hour developing and printing, and I bought the optional photo CD as well to save myself some trouble. I wasn't sure what to expect of the possibly long-expired film, but it came out okay. The photo CD images, as expected, are less than 2 MP, but aside from that the scan quality isn't bad.
    All of these images were shot with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S you see above. No filters were used; I figured (apparently correctly, to judge from the results) that the CVS minilab would "correct" my colors and exposure when scanning and printing, rendering any attempt at fine in-camera adjustments fruitless.
    2. Somebody's tree
    3. Hill
    4. Hillside house
    5. Bark
    6. After lunch, Castro St.
    7. Ripples
    That's it for now. Hope you enjoyed it!
  2. That's one fine looking FM and high speed AI-S 50mm Nikkor, Craig. I like the tree detail and the Castro St shot. There is a lot to like about shooting neg films and the time saving of getting scans made at the time of processing is considerable. It's appears they did a fine job of it. Perhaps you can get your father-in-law interested in Leica gear next!
  3. I love the Hill shot Craig, very nice. As far as the cameras, the FE/FM series, are some of the nicest Nikons I have ever used. I like them quite a bit. I am told they still command relatively high prices on the bay. Yours looks pristine.
  4. Yes, very nice looking camera. Though I use my FMs and FEs so much that I don't think of them as classic yet... otherwise, that would make me a classic too.
  5. I really must buy a Nikon, one day...fine post, Craig, and a great-looking camera. I like the juxtaposition of angles in "Hillside House". You certainly have a father-in-law worth humouring!
  6. Gorgeous body, Craig, and some fine sample images.
    It's interesting how well some long-expired film does. I inadvertently loaded an old roll of Kodak Gold 400 into one of my 1V's a couple of months ago, thinking it was a newer roll of Portra 400 VC. I didn't realize my mistake till I removed the roll from the camera, but, after an anxious wait for it to be developed, the pictures turned out fine. Although I had had the roll in my fridge for a number of years (perhaps as many as seven), I believe that it had been unrefrigerated for some time before that. And faster film is supposed to degrade more quickly than slower film.
  7. "Select" was a tag that Kodak applied for a while to the slow-selling color films, implying that they were for discriminating users. For instance, in their last incarnation, Kodachrome 25 and 64 were "Select". So when Gold 100 stopped selling well (because it was too slow for point-and-shoot zooms), they must have put the "select" moniker on it.
    Or maybe this was the last variation on Royal Gold 100, and they called it "Select" instead.
    Let us know what the edge markings on the film are, that will say what it really is.
    Kodak's marketing people put lots of effort into the labeling on the box, they don't really understand that many people care more about how the film works than the pretty graphics and words on the box. These marketeers probably came to Kodak from Kraft, where there really aren't any product improvements in Velveeta from year to year.
  8. Beautiful FM and equally beautiful shots Craig. The Hill shot gets my vote.
  9. I really think that you have been given a lovely performer here. Really liked the pictures and the FM seems to be in rather wonderful condition.
  10. Very nice on both camera and pictures fronts.
    Thanks for sharing.
  11. Great acquisition Craig. The FM is a real classic, as is that lens. When they first came out I thought them to be flimsy compared to the Nikkormat FT3 that it replaced, but after using a FM2 for a few years I realised that the quality was still there, without all the weight as well!
    Find yourself a Nikkor 28mm 2.8 and the 105mm 2.5 and you will have a really top outfit.
  12. Thanks to everyone for their kind remarks.
    John, the film edge says "KODAK FILM ROYAL 100-2 RA", so I suppose your guess about Kodak Royal Gold is correct.
    Louis, nice idea about getting my father-in-law into Leica... unfortunately he's been there and done that back in the day, and he's aware of current prices.
  13. I think I am a better person for the victory I just scored versus myself in the internal struggle over fully expressing how I feel about those digisnapping lens vultures... And the micro 4/3 system is the biggest blight yet.
    I have two FM's, an older one (on off collar) and a newer one, both meters are shot. I am inclined to believe that either that is a weak spot of these or I just have horrible luck wit Nikons, which pisses me off, because I LOVE the FM's, I think that they are basically the definitive SLR - they are just like newer spotmatic (except all my spotmatics, being decades older, still have working and very accurate meters).
  14. I recently got an FM2 and even with the brassing and the dimple in the pentaprism area, it works great, and is nearly as smooth winding as my Minolta XE-7. I should try an FE, which is so similar to my XE-7 in features I'd swear Nikon appropriated the features wholesale.
    Nikon lenses at least are left alone, and I don't mind digital users finding use for some very good lenses that won't be used otherwise. But you should see what "lens hackers" do to some high-end (also rare) orphaned mount lenses. They're not remotely professional quality. I've seen metal chips on rear elements in modding progress photos too often, and I have an image of the mount side of a pretty rare Minolta fast telephoto adapted to EOS (what, there aren't enough Canon EF fast telephotos around?). To say it's ugly isn't the half of it. The most galling thing is how some hackers say their mods are reversible even when it's plainly obvious they are not. For some reason, I think milling 4mm off a lens to change mounts isn't reversible. It also leaves the rear element seriously exposed after modding on many fast lenses.
  15. I think I am a better person for the victory I just scored versus myself in the internal struggle over fully expressing how I feel about those digisnapping lens vultures... And the micro 4/3 system is the biggest blight yet.​
    Peter, would you mind spelling out exactly what your internal struggle and victory in it are, or are these things too personal?
    I'm with Mark in his opinion that it's a good thing that many manual focus lenses are being given extended lives through their use on digital bodies. For me, there is nothing sacrosanct about film gear. Having said that, I also agree with Mark that it's a travesty what some people do to manual focus lenses. I have several fast Canon FD primes, and would never consider compromising their integrity by having their mounts changed. For example, a couple of years ago I decided that I wanted an EF-mount 85/1.2, but rather than butcher one of my FD 85/1.2's, I just picked up an EF 85/1.2 .
  16. I have to agree with the two Marks: I don't have any problem at all with using old lenses on digital cameras (no more so than, say, putting a digital back on a 1960s Hasselblad 500C), but it does bug me when people butcher perfectly good lenses to change their mounts, even if it's just "AI-converting" an old pre-AI Nikkor. And then there's the web page that shows how to "cure" the yellow tint on an old thoriated Pentax lens... by smashing it with a large hammer. (No, JDM, please don't post the link again.) At least putting an old lens on an E-P1 with an adapter doesn't damage it.
    Using old lenses on digital cameras, aside from being fun, is also useful as a demonstration of just how good those old lenses are. It's a nice counter-demonstration to people who think new lenses are always better, or that focusing manually is too hard. And once you get someone interested in old lenses, sooner or later he'll start wondering what it would be like to use these lenses on the manual film cameras they were originally designed for...
  17. About 10 years ago I bought a used FM in perfect condition. My FM can be described as nearly identical to yours, being a chrome version, and sporting the 50mm f/1.4 lens. My FM spends a fair amount of time resting, but it does certain things very well. The FM is my go-to camera for film-based star trails. Since the battery only operates the meter, the shutter can remain open all night using a cable release. For star trails, I usually use my 24mm f/2.8 ais. A Really Right Stuff Universal L-bracket mounts perfectly to the FM for tripod use.
    A good print film records a nice array of colors in the night sky, although any film can be subject to color shift in long exposures.
    One thing about star trails -- it can be difficult to wait through a roll of 24 or 36 frames to see your results. With print film, it's ok to burn through the rest of the roll. With the FM manual rewind, I have also noted my frame number and re-wound the roll leaving the tail out, then switching film (not risky if you pay attention). These cameras are so small and light, I should just buy a second FM!
    I also keep the FM as a backpacking camera, a back-up camera, and a camera that performs perfectly in Rocky Mountain sub-zero temperatures. The FM has nice bright viewfinder, and my FM meter is very accurate.
    Thanks for the post Craig. It's hiking and star trail season in the Rockies, and you have inspired me to break out my FM.
  18. The FM was my first SLR, bought brand-new. Don't use it anymore. The best things are butter-smooth film advance (eat your heart out Leica M6!) and compact size. The worst are the mirror slap and the dark finder/focusing screen whose split-image centre is rendered almost useless at f/3.5 indoors.
    The meter on mine was out of whack once. It was changed but dunno if it still works now.
  19. The FM was my first SLR, bought brand-new. Don't use it anymore.​
    Hey Fred, I wasn't kidding: today I picked up a a roll of Ektar 100 for my FM, and took a few shots this evening. It was fun, and I expect some good results from this fine camera. The mirror slap is noticeable when shooting hand-held, but I often use a tripod. I have never had a problem focusing my FM, but then I rarely use it indoors.
    C'mon man, fix your meter, or give your FM to a student, but keep up the spirit of film photography :) If not your FM, what are you using?
  20. Christopher, I also have an FE2 which I like a lot better. Its mirror doesn't make the entire camera jump and the focusing screen is brighter - Nikon's deliberate improvement AFAIK.) But then again I have stopped shooting film. Hard to find a lab that doesn't just print from bad scans these days.
  21. I used to have an FM. One of my all-time favorite cameras, although I think the ultimate camera of that type was the FM3a. One problem that even pristine-looking old FM's can have is the "string" that controls the shutter speed shown in the viewfinder. It stretches over time, and it ends up not showing the right speed. It doesn't affect the actual exposure, though. Eventually, the string can break, fall into the shutter mechanicals and ruin them. Unfortunately, on consumer level cameras like the FM's et al, even Nikon had to meet the price points and features lists somehow.
    I've never understood why people on old camera forums everywhere seem to want to "test" a new old camera with old expired film. I mean, a roll of film costs the price of a coffee and donut. You're not testing the camera when you can't control for the film.
  22. Pierre, I don't usually shoot old expired film. I was given these two rolls, and given the uncertain condition of old film that probably wasn't stored in a freezer, I certainly wasn't going to use them for anything serious. I figured I could either use them as test rolls or just throw them away. The fact that the images came out pretty well seems to indicate that the camera is working fine -- no light leaks, reasonably accurate shutter speeds, etc.
  23. Nice camera and good to excellent results for dated films
  24. Even though I have most of my work now with the D700 and a D300 before that, every time I get out my manual Nikons and AIs lenses I can't stop wishing that they made cameras and lenses like that today. I have an F4s, FM2n and FE2. I have the correct diopters installed for my sight and Brightscreens on both smaller bodies. The finders are remarkable, but still not quite so huge and bright as the one on the F4s that I used for 10 years of work.
    There are a lot of people here now going back and revisiting film. Our local Nikon repair guru has so much work on CLAing film Nikons, he has put another technician on. All good stuff. Film sales are up at our big city camera store as well. Is it perhaps that digital is so darned technical now...and very expensive. I think the only advantage it has over film is in the speed of post processing...but even that is burdensome...I won't go near something like PS. ViewNX2 is a far as I'm prepared to go.
    For me personally, nothing beats going back to the lab and looking at your contact prints...then getting a handful of the keepers printed....just like the old days. Working with film for a newspaper was just burned your way through roll after roll and every so often you gave your canisters to the copy boy who did a runner back to the film editors to process. When the event was over, you just went home. The next morning or earlier all you did was ask: "any keepers?" If you were good, the answers came back..."yeah, quite a few", then you made time to go and have a look.
    People say that digital is immediate...but it isn't. I do most of my professional work with my D700 and after I have fiddled with the settings in ViewNX2 and preset them, I just shoot raw, upload, one pass process, output as jpegs of tiffs and email or FTP. All this business of staring at a computer screen for hours is not me.

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