Nikon FM3a vs FM2n Shutter Reliability

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by christian_fox, Aug 31, 2014.

  1. I am curious to know if there is enough user history with the unusual dual mechanical/electronic FM3a shutter for a consensus on the reliability of the FM3a after extensive field use.
    From a multitude of user reports and fans over time, it is safe to say that the aluminum FM2n shutter is legendary in reliability, but I have not been able to find reports of the more complex FM3a shutter reliability after extensive use. It is a more modern but limited production run with less users than the FM2n, and the advent of the DSLR didn't give it a chance. Has anyone given the FM3a a physical or environmental beating over an extended period of time?
    If you are a fan of the FM3a, the situation below is intended to challenge you:
    Suppose you are out on a career dependent assignment in remote outdoor locations for one year in which the temperature will become very hot/dry and very wet/cold in season, and you are offered a clean lightly used FM2n or a FM3a for the task, given lenses of your choice, tripod, unlimited film, but only one battery in the chamber, and expected to use the selected camera in mechanical unmetered mode when the battery eventually dies without replacement. Unless I stand corrected about the FM3a, you will be able to create automatic exposures lasting several minutes as long as the battery works. At the end of the year, failure to succeed with interesting images will let you down in a personal way.
    Which camera would you select, and why?
  2. I wouldn't say the FM2 shutters were legendary for reliability. I've read a few reports of shutter failures from some longtime Nikon users. And I've read several more reports of glitches that affected winder reliability - particularly from users who tried to force the winder against the end of a roll of film. Not to imply it was unreliable, far from it. But it was never marketed as one of Nikon's professional level cameras. The original FM was introduced in response to Canon's more economical encroachments into the serious amateur and pro markets. Out of necessity it was built to a price point, while professional cameras were built to a standard, with only secondary consideration to price. Nikon changed materials and design in an effort to improve reliability of the FM2/n, and the FM3a may have benefited from those improvements.
    I'm satisfied with my FM2N but I bought it right about the same time the FM3a was introduced, for less than half the price of the FM3a. If I wanted to replace both my FM2N and F3HP, I'd probably get just the FM3a for its more sophisticated design and versatility.
  3. Agree with Lex here, the FM series always felt a little fragile compared to the extant Nikkormat. Shouldn't be overstated though, as my FM2 has been thoroughly reliable, albeit with relatively light use, and the lightmeters are far better than any Nikkormat.
    Never used the FM3A, but I can't see any reason why it wouldn't be reliable. I have often been tempted, but the price has continued to stay high unfortunately.
  4. I still have my FM, bought just after the FE came out. Not using it so much after I started using a D70s, it seems not to work quite as well. Sometimes the mirror doesn't go back down right away, though I believe that the shutter does close. Also, sometimes the winding knob turns too many times, though I believe not wasting film.
    Recently, I bought a used Nikkormat FT3, I believe pretty much the direct predecessor to the FM. It seems to still work fine, and conveniently uses AI lenses, unlike earlier Nikkormats. Somewhat more solid and heavier than the FM.
  5. For a few years I did a brisk eBay business and bought and sold a LOT of FM/FE/FA series cameras with varying degrees
    of use (which usually came to me in "I don't know how to test this" condition). The only ones I ever found with failed
    shutters either were in the small percentage of electronic cameras that had complete electrical system failures or shutters
    that had had their blades physically damaged, probably by careless poking. My interpretation is that none of these
    shutters present much risk of failure.
  6. Obviously any mechanical device has the potential to fail. What would I take? Three of them.
    Kent in SD
  7. i have a pair of FM3A's. i have put one through 100% humidity (West Africa) numerous times, sported one across Chad into Darfur, towed one through the civil war in Syria, clutched one while bouncing about in a trawler in the Atlantic and covered numerous G20 events/clashes/riots with one. neither have skipped a beat.
    i know a fellow journalist who has sported two fm2n's since the late 80's. still in use today with zero service required.
    i am not going to say either camera will be 100% reliable for you... just that the 4 cameras of this series i know of have been subjected to extensive environmental challenges and continue to purr along.
  8. As for reliability I have a FM, FM2n and a FM3a. I love the FM series and none of them have ever given me a problem. I no longer use them as my daily camera but when I did I shot a lot of film and never a glitch.
  9. You're correct about minutes-long auto exposures with a battery in the 3a. I can't recall just how long. A nice feature.
    I wouldn't question one camera's reliability - shutter or otherwise - more than the other, with one caveat - recent service. Whatever FM2n I might buy from an unknown source with an unknown history, I'd have it serviced immediately and then take it for much field-testing before going remote. If a 3a looked real good and performed flawlessly through several rolls, I'd skip the service.
    But which body? The newer of the two. I'd take advantage of advances and sophistication afforded by the 3a, incl Exposure Lock. If shooting much chrome, definitely the 3a as exposure adjustments are easier to discern on the needle meter vs LED meter of the 2n. Fill flash and flash comp are also easier on the 3a.
    Use 3v lithium cells, esp for frigid temps. No reason to ever run out of juice.
    Been shooting and beating many of these bodies for years (2 FM, 3 2n and 3 3a) - happy to have any for rough 'n tumble ventures.
    PS - If you're on a career-dependent assignment and it goes south, the let-down will be more than personal. 'Career-dependent' connotes mandatory success, back-up, etc.
  10. In my next life, I want to come back as Jon Butterwick.
  11. well i assure you your mind may change after a few days in
  12. Hi Christian
    I'm surprised a certain Mr Bayer hasn't piped up concerning this issue as he uses his FM3a to earn money I believe. As for me, having been an owner of an FM3a since 2002, all I can say is that I've not had a problem with it at all. I am of course a hobbyist, not a pro. I also have an FE and an FM2N.
    I prefer the FM3a because its (1) newer,(2) very fast in actual use (like the FE), (3) has a very bright focussing screen, (4) has no silly fiddly lock on the film back unlike the FM2N and FE so you can get a fresh roll in very quickly. The FE is slower because the focussing screen is murky compared to newer cameras and my eyesight is not improving with age.
    The FM2N is a much slower camera than the murky FE to use IMHO, you need to manually adjust the controls (shutter & aperture).
    So, for me, on a do or die photographic mission, I would take the FM3a where I was photographing on the street, amongst people etc., but any of them would do for landscape or architectural work.
    So it is a question of context for me - what is the mission? I have found all these cameras very reliable and robust. I just wish that the FM series had a 100% viewfinder that is all.
    Do not forget that the FM3a does not need batteries to use all of its shutter speeds - it can become an FM2N without a meter if the batteries run out.
    Mark Crown
    United Kingdom
  13. I bought my FM3a in 2003, and have never had a problem with it. I just ran a dozen rolls through it last week in the Carribbean, loading it in humid, sandy conditions. Last spring it was in Yellowstone, reloading in winter conditions that ranged from cold to wet, blowing snow. Over the past decade it's trucked through Europe, Hawaii, Chile, the glaciers of Glacier NP, and countless other locations. I'm not the most prolific shooter, but have probably run >500 rolls through it. It's never been serviced, but I do change the battery every 2-3 years.
    The camera is fast to operate, and I believe has a very very accurate meter. I almost exclusively shoot chromes these days, mostly in A mode, and rarely have a poorly exposed frame. Paired with a little SB30 flash and a couple of primes, it's a very versatile, compact camera. I often use it with a MD12, but if hiking I'll ditch that to save the weight and bulk.

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