Nikon FM vs. FM2(n) for use in extremely cold weather

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by epp_b, Dec 7, 2008.

  1. I'm looking to buy a fully-mechanical film camera (metering reliance on battery power is fine) to use in extemely cold weather. By "extremely cold weather", I mean as low as -40 degrees Celsius.
    According to Wikipedia , the FM2 is rated to operate properly from -40C to +50C (wow!) due to it's "close tolerance assembly and minimal space lubrication". Since the FM can be found for a reasonably lower cost, I'd rather look for an FM before I would an FM2.
    Does the FM share these same construction features to operate as reliably as the FM2 in cold weather?
  2. I would be reluctant to rely on a much older camera like the FM in such an extreme environment without having the camera inspected and, if necessary, serviced. Even the minimal lubricants used might have changed in consistency just enough after decades to perform below optimum specs in an extreme environment.
    IOW, no.
    If the adventure and photos are important enough, spend a little more and get a more recent model, the FM2 or FM2N, both of which are available for around $200.
  3. Having lived, worked and shot photos in those temps, the camera may operate when it is at -40C, but odds are if the film is that cold it will break when you advance it. You really want to keep the internal temp of the camera around -20C or higher, you and it will be much happier. :) Changing bags are totally useless at those temps if your film breaks. :(
    Google and nikon for a huge resource on Nikon cameras.
  4. Thanks for the responses, guys.
    Lex, it's not an "adventure" per se, it just gets that cold where I live.
    Bob, I'm aware that film will get brittle when it's very cold. I guess the idea is to have a manual film advance (and reliable mechanical operation) so that I can advance it slowly, as opposed to using a motorized film advance.
    If being so extremely cold means that I can go out to get just one picture and advance it only after I've gone back home and let the camera warmed up, I guess one picture is better than none at all. And it'll force me to make sure that it's a darn good one ;)
  5. I used the FM2 in Moscow at -25°C without problems. Had to operate it with gloves, it was impossible to touch the metal with hands. The camera did the job fine, as usual. I took only caution to move the film forward slowly with the lever and to use silver oxide batteries and not the alkalines for the meter (SR44 instead of LR44). If you buy one used, I would recommend that you have it cleaned, lubricated and the seals replaced before you go in harsh climate. Any decent camera repair service knows how to refurbish a FM2, it is not a rocket science camera.
  6. Michael, wouldn't keeping the inside of the bag warm cause condensation on the camera when it is placed into the bag? Or is the winter air usually dry enoughfor that not to happen?
  7. Epp,
    since I come from Sweden & used my first Nikon FM in the snow & cold in Sweden. So I can vouch for the FM to -20 degrees C & lower when I went to see my grandparents in the mountains up north there.
    I just walked around with normally with no extra stuff - - but that was from not knowing anything differently...
    Lil ;-)
  8. Whilst cold may make the film more brittle, I would be surprised if winding on caused it to break. There's not much friction and force involved in pulling film out of a can.
  9. Steve, in a manual everything camera it's all under your control, including film advance. When I am using the FM2 below minus ten Celsius, I just pull the lever with some care and advance the film slowly.
  10. Epp:
    I have an FM2 that I us exactly for this purpose. I have shot in Colorado at 15-20 degrees below zero F. without. The only precaution I have taken is to keep the camera between my jacket and my sweater when not shooting. I have never had film break. I have also never had a problem with condensation.
  11. Would it be adequate to keep it my shoulder bag when I'm not using it? It's not insulated, but it would keep out wind and spindrift.
  12. "Michael, wouldn't keeping the inside of the bag warm cause condensation on the camera when it is placed into the bag? Or is the winter air usually dry enoughfor that not to happen?"

    Epp, the thermal mass of the camera means it'll take some time to cool to ambient temperature. So if it's -40C outdoor and the camera is at room temperature, it may still take tens of minutes to reach thermal equilibrium. This is why, for the most part, people are able to successfully use cameras not rated for extreme cold by tucking it under their coat between use.
    Using chemical hand warmers as a heat source will prevent the camera from freezing and no condensation will occur unless your bag is gas-tight, sufficiently large, and holds high relative humidity in its micro climate.
    The only precaution is contact temperature because hand warmers rely on chemical reaction to generate heat spanning a wide temperature range - you don't want to over heat the camera. Wrapping the warmer in a small towel.
    The attachment image is a quick scan of the package with instructions. Hope this helps.
  13. I’ve used an FM since 1980 after Galen Rowell recommended it for both durability and battery-free operation. I’ve also used it on several occasions between -20 and -30F (-29 to -35C) while alpine climbing. I’ve never had it serviced specifically for such temps, though age and dust can affect the lube. (I have heard of some cameras having normal lube removed and replaced with a lubricant designed for arctic temps.) Between frigid temps and hard-knocks, the FM performed admirably. If given the choice I'd rather pay a few extra bucks for a more recent and lightly used FM2n than a potentially much older FM as the difference in cost could easily be one service bill...not to mention lost images.

    A few thoughts. Slow film advance will minimize the risk of 1) cracking film and 2) creating static electricity on the film, potentially ruining images. Slow rewind as well.

    If metering is critical (as it is w/ slide film), consider acquiring a Nikon DB-2. It consists of a battery holder (two AA’s) and a cord that attaches to the battery compartment on the FM. The batteries can be kept inside your parka. Get lithium batteries.

    I wouldn’t worry much about spindrift. Moisture poses a threat in a liquid state…not much melting at these temps. The larger threat would be introducing snow in the mirror box when changing lenses. If I had a nickel for every time my FM has ended-up fully immersed (buried) in the snow… What is helpful is to use a bulb-blower to remove snow from nooks and crannies in camera before thawing. My worst-case scenario saw my camera/lenses in the oven (100F or so, door open) to ensure full evaporation as I didn’t want moisture to linger.

    Often overlooked and very critical is a proper glove system that allows in/out of FAT insulating mitts while always wearing a thinner liner-type of glove for dexterity. Store the fat mitts inside your parka, not on the ground or in pack, when fiddling. There’s more to shooting in the cold than meets the eye as you will soon learn. Godspeed.
  14. If you plan to use the camera in that kind of climate for more than a short time, it would be worth it to have it serviced for that kind of rough duty. A good camera technician can prepare the camera with a different grease that is specific to ultra cold weather operation.
  15. "Whilst cold may make the film more brittle, I would be surprised if winding on caused it to break. There's not much friction and force involved in pulling film out of a can."
    It's not the friction, it's the flexing when unrolling in the can and reverse spooling onto the takeup spool. In general most plastics are at their no-flex temp at -25C. The only plastic I know of that is rated for flexing at -40C / -40F is the crosslinked high density polyethylene insulation on the power lines that run from a utility pole to a house.
    If you are out all day in -40 temps, and windchill doesn't count :) your camera will be very happy in a shoulder bag for a couple of hours, and a handwarmer will keep it warm enough for most of the day. An everready case will help it and your hands as well. Now for you, hope you have some real warm and windproof clothing.
    I found that when shooting with my F body in the cold, that when the focus ring on the lens gets real stiff, the camera is too cold and the film is going to break on you. Also hit the dof preview button once in a while to make sure the aperture blades aren't hanging up on you, that's another indication of the cmera getting too cold. Besides, overexposing by 4-5 stops doesn't help the photo quality.
  16. Stupid new text editor, too late to remove the bold now.
  17. I heard some guy used to do hour-long exposures of aurora borealis in Finnish Lapland in the 80's and used some Olympus OM. I guess a decent manual Nikon would be just as good :)

    -20 C is pretty easy, I used to do that with my Nikon F100. For each five degrees colder, things get progressively more difficult, so it's good to have a properly serviced camera with the right lubricants. Keeping the camera in a reasoanbly insulated and windproof bag will help a lot, especially if the sun happens to shine. Don't worry about the camera; when it really gets to -40 C or lower, a good camera should outlast the photographer...
  18. A bit off topic but something to think about:
    I've always been amazed that even cheap car radios & CD players fire up immediately with near 100% reliability even at -40C. You would think the extreme temperatures and harshness + vibration would call for Mil. Spec. mechanics and electronics, but no, it seems any reasonably well made (and cared for) piece of gear will perform well beyond its design target, albeit not guaranteed.
    So it would seem that "reasonable" care with proper lubrication should do just fine.
  19. I had an FM and had some shutter-stick troubles in the cold, 20's maybe... It had seen some use and had not been given a tune-up - untill that happened......
  20. Thank-you all for the helpful tips.
    I should probably clarify that -40C is not the typical temperature I'll be using it in, but -40C is definitely possible and usually happens at least a few days each winter. The typical temperature range will be from -15C to -30C.
  21. I've been on glaciers with FM2N & F3T. Both functioned perfectly. The fragile element is the film itself as mentioned. Keep your film as warm as possible in a down jacket pocket maybe.
    The only thing you may notice is the meter in the camera may freeze up, but if your cameras are warm when you start shooting you can trust your initial reading as long as the light is similar. It's good to understand how your camera will expose in all light so you don't have to rely on a meter. Then you should be fine in almost any weather with the older manual Nikons. They are great cameras.
  22. I own an FM and an FM2n, both purchased new, 21 years apart. They're both pretty similar, fully manual, solidly constructed, and I'd expect either of them to stand up to cold weather well, though the coldest either one of mine has actually seen is probably single digits below zero Fahrenheit.
    In equal condition, I'd definitely vote for the FM over the FM2n. The FM2n has many more plastic pieces, and I'd expect them to be affected by the cold more than the metal construction on the FM.
    I came up with a detailed list of all the differences I could spot just by doing a visible inspection without disassembling anything. It's posted here.
    But a good condition FM2n might perform better than a beaten up FM.
  23. All the requirements for staying warm: large pack, uphill in deep snow.
  24. Rich, that's a great comparison, thanks for that.
    I do like some tough metal construction, that's for sure, though it appears that the few parts on the FM2 that are plastic are mostly pretty irrelevant.
  25. Of course, wind chill doesn't concern things, only human skin. Towards the end of the film (34,35,36th. exposure...) you want to be extra cautious advancing the film because what might break also is the little sticker tape joining the end of the film to the original spool. If it does break, now you've got all your film on the receiving spool, with no way to rewind it back in the canister and to open the camera, except in a changing bag. I know, because it happened to me the other day. Not because of the cold, mind you, but because of an older roll I had handrolled myself with a loader, and I guess the piece of masking tape had gotten dry. Not funny. I suppose cold could do the same thing. I live in Canada, with some pretty cold temperatures during the winter months, and the only problem I ever had because of the cold was indeed static electricity with automatic cameras (F5, F6, F100, N90...) advancing and rewinding. Flashes all over the negs. Took me some time before figuring out what it was. But F3, FM2n, FM3A... never gave me any problems in the cold. Granted, I seldom had to be out shooting more than 3 to 4 hours at a time.
  26. Actually many of the mechanical nikons do just fine in those conditions. the fm2 is just the most logical choice because of the size and convenience of it.
  27. HI Epp,
    I have used the FM2 in cold weather, out here in the prairies of Western Canada you get used to -15 to -40 C in the winter. Before the FM2 I had my old F2 and Nikkormat FT in all kinds of winter weather, out hiking and ice fishing. Do not use the motor drive to advance film, make sure your have good gloves on and hand warmers.
    If it really gets cold you would likely give up shooting out doors way before the camera does. The FM 2 will do a fine job for you.
  28. I read somewhere, National Geographic's article about climbing K2 I think (probably 25 years ago), that they had the lubrication *removed* from their FMs (which they used because of their light weight and all mechanical construction) lest it freeze and stop up the works. I think the FM's gallium arsenide phosphide meter is supposed to be much better in the cold than the silicon photodiode (SPD) material that's used now and always has been in most cameras since CdS went out of style in the mid-late 70s; SPDs slow down appreciably in the cold. My impression is that the GaAsPh was just a better material, but too expensive to justify.
  29. Frank, by "FM", do you refer specifically to the original FM, or are you including it's successors (FM2, FM3, etc.) with that term?
  30. I've done three Sydney to Hobart yacht in 60-80kt winds. My FM2n and FE2 worked perfectly, still do and no camera, bar a Leica M, or maybe an Olympus OM1, handles as well.
    The actual issue you will have in very cold climate is the lube in the lens. Stick with solid metal AI/AIs classic lenses.
  31. I live in North Dakota, where it gets REALLLY cold. Never a problem with my FM2(n). This camea was one of the mainstays of photojournalism for years. Besides, it remains the poor man's Leica. Get one now while you still can.
  32. OK, then, I'm open to either the FM or FM2/FM2n. It sounds like either one is solidly built and will function well in extreme conditions where most other models wouldn't. The FM3 is much more than I want to spend right now.
    The main differences for me are:
    1) FM2 has two stops of extra shutter speed (can be worked around with ND filters)
    2) FM2 has an extra stop of flash sync (can be worked around with ND filters)
    3) FM accepts pre-AI lenses without modification. I don't have any pre-AI lenses, but this leavesthe possibility open of buying some great old lenses for real cheap.
    Decisions, decisions...
  33. You have plenty of AI cheap but good lenses to choose among, no need to worry. The extra shutter speed migt come useful when you want little DOF and you are shooting in bright light and the extra stop of flash sync is useful when you want fill in flash. Last but not least, the FM2 has a brighter wiewfinder and many spare parts are still available, including the focusing screen. Spare parts for the FM are no longer officially available.
  34. Oh, right! Something I should have asked about: the viewfinder. I have an n8008 and the viewfinder is magnificent next to that of my D40 (or any crop frame DSLR, for that matter).
    If I am very happy with the n8008's viewfinder (which I am), what can I expect from the FM or FM2?
  35. Epp, just to add a bit of empirical experience, this shot was taken during an outing of several hours at -30C with a Nikon FM. The camrea is original from the early 80s, never serviced nor special precautions taken. It speaks to its ruggedness and reliability given my lack of diligence in taking anything beyond normal care.
  36. I guess more or less the same, even if the last time I used an 8008 was 1997. The FM2 viewfinder is about half stop brighter than the FM. The FM3A wiefinder is as bright.
  37. Michael, - 30C and no gloves on metal? That's one tough photographer. Wish all cameras were that tough in the cold, right? :) But what about the Oly, which apparently was used in the same extreme conditions? How did it cope? I loved my OM2 and the Zuiko lenses, and regretted to have to part from it.
  38. Michel, we definitely had gloves, but too thick to handle the camera with so they were removed just for the short duration of a shot. Dressing in layers, tucking the camera in the coat when not in use, and frequent trips back to the car (to warm up) was also necessary.
    As far as I know the Oly survived just fine. Like my comment about car radios above, I think some cameras might not be ruggedized, but will surely survive a great deal of neglect and abuse if used with common sense.
    As you know, -30C is not particularly extreme if you live in (certain parts of) Canada. It's cold, but also a part of our psyche that it doesn't stop us from the outdoors like skating, photography etc. Just don't lick lamp posts and we'll be fine. :)
  39. In answer to your question about my post, I think at the time of the K2 expedition in question only the original FM was around. Only the original FM had the GaAsPh meter, so put that in the FM advantage column. Certainly FM2/FM2n are fine too; who knows, maybe they've fixed the SPD issue in the meantime. But I'd look into the lube thing; I seem to recall something specifically about the shutter needing to be de-lubed, but it's a long time ago.
  40. Thanks, Frank.
    Is lacking 1/2k and 1/4k shutter speeds a real problem? Like I said, I can always pile on ND filters if need be, but am I going to ending up doing that a lot? Is 1/1k enough to freeze any action?
  41. If you are doing high altitude stuff, where the air is so clear and thin and the sun is so bright and everything is white with clean snow, the faster shutter speeds could really come in handy. But those guys did real fine with original FMs; they surely show slow film, which should allow a good range of shutterspeed/fstop combinations even in those conditions.

    I predict that either camera model will not be the cause of a single compromised opportunity, and if your camera fails, it won't be becasue you picked one flabor of FM over another. Recommend to prioritize camera condition, then maybe price. If the situation is mission critical, you'd be real well off to buy a backup body rather than split hairs on distinguishing between the FM flavors.

    Quoting Mork: "Fly! be free!"
  42. Thanks a lot, Frank. I'm so accustomed to a lower limit of ISO 200 with my D40 (which makes very high shutter speeds necessary at times) that I'd forgotten about film speed! Most of these types of pictures will be done in winter during sunlight or overcast, and I plan to use ISO 50 or 100 film. Considering that, I guess a 1/1k maximum will be fine.
    I'll keep my eyes peeled for both of them and jump on whichever one is in good condition at a good price first.
    Thanks again!
  43. I have and still on ocassion use FM/FM2/FM2N. Though not much in extreme conditions anymore.
    If i remember correctly (this is hazy memory for the 80's) the durability of the advance level was improved on the the FM2-etc. over the FM.
    I do though distinctly remember wanting, but never getting around to getting, a cool little battery holder they made for the FM-Series. One end on a cord screwed into the little battery compartment (held an AA i think) that you could cozy under your close to keep the body warm.
  44. Thanks for all the help everyone.
    I got an FM in good shape (cosemetically and functionally) on eBay for a good price. It even included a Nikkor 50/1.8 lens, a bag and a few rolls of film.

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