This Old Camera: Nikon FE (What a beaut)

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After keeping to my newly self established load one camera at a time rule I got around to loading the new camera to me, this old camera Nikon FE today.

No secret here. I love analog 35mm SLRs. Perhaps even more than medium format analog, which I also enjoy a great deal. Why?

  • They are at once built like tanks and quite beautiful.
  • Film. A blog topic for another day, but I love film for aesthetic, emotionally and physically therapeutic reasons.
  • These wonderfully overly engineered beasts are unbelievably affordable. So much so that some kind souls have gifted me cameras and the balance cost a fractional sliver of what a comparable digital camera would cost.
  • They are much more portable than even the smallest medium format counterparts.
  • Rangefinders are cool, but I am more at home focusing and framing through the lens. Plus there is no risk of me happily snapping pics with the lens cap in place. Only happened to me once on a rangefinder and the thought still irritates me. May have to do with it occurring on an only 8 shots to a roll GW690 maximizing the cost of the wasted frame… but I will move on.
  • Though outmatched when it comes to light gathering, sharpness, detail, colors and depth of field compared to medium format owing to the physics of surface area they are no slouches either, especially when you consider their physical size. 
  • They work. They simply work. How is it that I have owned quite a few film cameras over the years, some for decades now, and I have had exactly no film camera utter failures. I have owned fewer digital cameras, but have experienced more failures. Even the one time my father’s Pentax ME Super finally packed it in on a trip my parent’s took to the Grand Canyon after decades of service I was able to replace his and get myself one for next to nothing. Exactly two issues personally:
    • A  light leak on a gifted Minolta X-700 that was handily fixed by SE Camera with a replacement back for peanuts.
    • An ebay Pentax ME Super that had a screw loosen and go astray that was also handled by Alex at SE Camera.
  • Lenses. Wonderful lenses. Found 2 this time out. A must for me in the form of the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 and I splurged a bit this time and picked up an 85mm f/1.8 Ai converted lens. 85mm lenses (or equivalents) are my weakness next in line after 50mm. (Admittedly I do have grander digital related plans for these lenses, but more on that in the coming weeks.)
  • Familiarity. Though they may have their idiosyncrasies 35mm film SLRs all pretty much load, focus, shoot, advance and unload the same.

On a whim I recently stopped by SE Camera hoping to find one of 2 analog brands I had in mind and it was a success. Having scored an Olympus SLR this day I was only left with Nikon on my current analog brand shopping list. To the webs and KEH! Which Nikon? Was not sure. While I like and appreciate all SLRs I tend to prefer early automation. My shorthand for cameras that have metering on board, but not autofocus. That led me to early F cameras and finally the Nikon FE. Plenty of great options like the very similar mechanical shutter FM, the newer increased shutter speed FE2 and so on, but here is the combination of features that led me to the FE:

  • Style:
    • I usually like the all black Darth Vader editions of most cameras, but with it’s two tone landau vinyl top era prism treatment I was hooked.
    • No name. Unlike most of my other cameras Nikon did not feel the need to plaster the model name and number on the front which is a bit of minimalist design ethos I can get behind.
  • Operational touches that I like.
    • In another nod to design elegance the on/off switch is incorporated in to the film advance lever. And unlike many other cameras I have off means off. Shutter off. Light meter off. Proper no “don’t wind until I am ready to prevent accidental shot” necessary, no light meter blithely metering away, batteries will not run down off. Simple. Red dot, ready to go. 
    • Simple and elegant battery check. Push the little lever and see red and you are good to go. 
    • Though I have never had it happen I do appreciate that to prevent accidentally opening the back with the usual lift the crank on the left on the top there is a little locking lever you have to move over. But mark this down in the glad I read about this or I would have likely broken the mess out of this assembly if I did not know about it column.
    • Another no way that I would have figured it out since there were no markings item is the double exposure lever just left of the winder. Pull this little would have hardly noticed it lever back while winding and it re-cocks the shutter without advancing the film. I know right? Has to be the most simple and elegant double exposure mechanism I have ever seen.
    • And lastly on the “lever does what now?” list is that what usually serves as the self timer lever not only does just that when pulled to the right, but also serves as the exposure lock when moved to the left. Aim it where you want to meter, push and hold the lever left, compose the shot where you want to and take the shot (ignoring the fact that the needle still swings) and you are good to go.
    • Needles. Those wonderful needles. I have dealt with needles indicators and many an LED and electronic display, but this is my new favorite. In all manual line the needles up. In aperture priority control the needle (shutter speed) with the aperture. And that little window at the top shows you the current aperture setting on the actual lens so you need not take your eye away from the viewfinder. So simple. So elegant.

I will stop myself here. Technically I have only today gotten around to loading film in to it so this may all be for naught…, but I doubt it. Such is my confidence in these 35mm SLRs. I will report back when I get my mitts on the first developed roll. Will be adding photos here also. Happy shooting.


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