New Toys: Nikon FE

After dealing with what I thought was something broken in the FG for two months, and after finally paying off some debts that had been hovering over us for awhile, and after doing a bunch of research, I bit the bullet and picked up another film SLR.

Initially, I wanted to get a Nikon FM3a, perhaps the best small SLR Nikon ever made. Used, they run between $600 and $700, and so I really thought long and hard about it, and after reading multiple reviews, decided on an $80 FE instead.The biggest selling point for me, aside from the ~$500 price difference—was that the film advance lever acts as an off switch… With the FG and most of Nikon’s other film cameras, the meter stays on for 12 or 16 seconds, then shuts off, and you have to half-press the shutter release to wake it back up again. But with the FE, the meter is on as long as the film advance lever is pulled out, and it’s off—and the shutter release is locked—when the lever is pushed in. GoGo.

Another big selling point is the match needle for settings in the finder. The little LED lights in the FG and most other Nikon Film cameras are good, but needles are easier for me to read and interpret.

If you’re interested, here are some quick tech-specs:

  • Shutter Speeds from 1/1000th to 8 seconds, plus Bulb mode; battery-free operation at 1/90th; flash sync at 1/90th. I’d like to see a T mode on some of these cameras (press once to open and once to close), but I bet that would introduce some shake.
  • Aperture-Preferred auto mode (my personal favorite), with the full range of shutter speeds, just step-less (so it could choose, for example, 1/187th or 1/873rd, etc.), plus some additional time beyond 8 seconds and maybe even beyond 1/1000th (Ken Rockwell claims 1 hour down to 1/4000th).
  • ISO 12-3200: hello pushing some films to crazy levels!
  • Exposure Compensation +2, +1, 0, -1, -2. I never use that on film, but handy… and between that and 1/3 stops in the ISO, you could do some nice fine-tuning of the exposure.
  • Little lever next to the lens: pull out for a ~12 second timer; push in to lock exposure: GoGo set exposure and then recompose!
  • Little lever on the lens mount to preview depth of field.
  • Little switch on the film advance arm allows double exposure: just hold it in when levering the film advance, and the shutter will cock, but the film won’t advance.
  • Takes Alkaline batteries (life saver, as the S76s are readily available numerous places, and there’s no fooling around with Wein cells or incorrect voltages).

For more, you can check out other reviewers.

The FE has a couple of things that are different from the FG, and that initially confused me a bit. First, there’s a lock for the rewind lever that prevents opening the film door unless you really want to. And second, you have to push a little button to change the ISO and Exposure Compensation is operates via that lift the ring and spin it method (this is exactly backwards from the FG.

Both of those gave me a bit of trouble, but give me a few more rolls through it, and I’ll get used to it.

If you look closely at the front, you may notice a little window on the pentaprism hump just above the lens mount.

I wondered what that was for and googled around… It shows the selected aperture in the finder, direct from the barrel of the lens!

I shot the finder view with my phone, and with the meter off, so the needle is buried down in the B.

Up at the top is the Aperture, and down the left hand side is the shutter speed. In manual mode, the green needle shows the chosen shutter speed, while the black needle shows the meter-suggested speed. And in Auto mode, the green needle hangs out in the A at the top of the list, and the black shows the camera-chosen shutter speed.

I’m really looking forward to spending some more time with the FE. I think it’s a great camera.

Here are some pictures from the first roll.

The pictures probably have more to do with the lens and the film than the camera, but there camera has something to do with it… More on that later.

If you’re in the market for a Nikon film camera, and you want something with good automatic functions, grab an FE for $80 or $100 and don’t look back! It’s a great camera.

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