Nikon FM- No Static At All…

Buying anything from your favorite auction site can be an adventure, or, torture. Cameras certainly are no exception. Some of the tag lines sellers use when posting vintage film bodies  usually include some of the following-

“Minty fresh!”

“I don’t have access to film, so I cannot test it.”

“I know nothing about cameras.”

“Shutter fires, but I don’t know if it works.”

“It was my grandfather’s. I never saw him use it, but I’m sure it works. No Returns Accepted”

Common sense should prevail here- when you see these taglines, either run, or do not hesitate to challenge the seller. You can, and should, email the seller through eBay, and ask questions. This is what I did recently when I bought my beautiful Nikon FM. You should be able to summarize pretty quickly if the seller is trying to make a fast buck, or genuinely knows nothing about cameras. Bargaining time.

You paid HOW much for that beautiful Nikon FM?

You paid HOW much for that beautiful Nikon FM?

For the body? $35.99, including shipping. The seller said that the light meter apparently was not working. I guided him how to test it. He did not listen. “It doesn’t work!” More bargaining. When the camera arrived, there was one battery in the chamber, and it was in the wrong way. Two fresh silver oxide batteries, and the light meter booted right up. Yes, as noted everywhere, the camera itself does not require batteries to fire the shutter. Regardless, it is very nice to have a functioning coupled light meter.

I asked about the light seals. He had no idea what they ever were. Before the camera was even shipped, I ordered a new light seal kit from John Hawley at I have done business with John before, he is a true gentleman, and his prices are very reasonable for his services and light seal kits. Easy. Yes, it is a messy job, but well worth doing. Sure enough, the original seals were gooey and gummy. This was a no-brainer.

I tricked the camera out with one of my extra MD-12 motor drives, an extra Nikon strap, a new flash cable cover, and the great screw-in eyepiece with the rubber gasket, that makes using the camera with eyeglasses or sunglasses a breeze. These bits and pieces total are probably valued more than what was paid for the body.

What lenses WON'T this camera take?

What lenses WON’T this camera take?

The FM was introduced at the tail end of the Nikkormat FT-3 run, the camera I previously blogged about. It takes pre-Ai, Ai, and Ai-S lenses. Pre-Ai lenses are used by first moving the little meter coupling tab inward. Also a fully mechanical body, the FM is a significantly smaller form factor, one that would enjoy popularity in many different variations, for decades. It is indeed all metal, but much lighter and more compact. Like its older brother, the FT-3, it is a tank. And, like it’s older ancestor, the Nikon F2, it allows the choice of intermittent shutter speeds. In other words, a speed between 1/500th, and 1/1000th, can be used if the light meter thinks that is the speed necessary for proper exposure.

I did some research on the FM, and how to buy one, before scooping this one up. One of the innovative features of the camera was an internal mirror dampening system. In typical Nikon spin, they claimed this was why the camera did not offer mirror lock-up. In reality, I am sure it was to either keep cost, or size, down. Whatever it is, it works. This shot was taken in Worcester’s Cromptive Collective, a curated boutique with lots of cool old things, hand held at 1/15th of a second!


1/15th of a sec exposure, Nikkor 35mm Ai, Crompton Collective, Worcester.

Otherwise, and maybe it was due to 400 speed film outdoors, or, to semi-stand developing with Rodinal, but the light meter seems to me to shoot a bit “hot”. I have done rudimentary tests since, with my F2, D300, and Luna Pro F, that seem to indicate that it is indeed accurate.

The white door is a bit

The white door is a bit “hot”.

This might be even more evident here, the outside portal at the entrance to the collective-

Slightly hot- I seem to recall photographing this same scene with the F3, or the Hasselblad, a few years ago, with not as hot an exposure.

Slightly hot- I seem to recall photographing this same scene with the F3, or the Hasselblad, a few years ago, with not as hot an exposure. Maybe the lighting conditions were different, but the sun did eventually come out here, at about 11AM.

A fun camera, a great form factor, at a bargain basement price. Speaking of bargain basement prices? I will be writing soon about a classic vintage Zoom Nikkor that feels as though I stole, based on the prices. There truly are deals out there- keep haggling! Once again, great times to be a photographer.


More From The Nikkormat

From Last November, Elm Park, Kodak 400 BW CN film (now extinct).

From Last November, Elm Park, Kodak 400 BW CN film (now extinct).

A couple of rolls into the Nikkormat FT3, and I truly believe there is some kind of magic to the way it exposes. Yes, it is a tried and true 60/40 (60% weighted to the center of the frame)  classic Nikon metering system. But what I shot, at midday, was metered with such accuracy and precision. Much more so than I expected. It was indeed a very pleasant surprise.

Leaves in water, starting to ice over, before this year's historic winter.

Leaves in water, starting to ice over, before this year’s historic winter.

I shot this roll with Kodak BW400 CN, their truly gorgeous C-41 chromogenic black and white film, which is no longer made. Not sure how missed this film is, but for sharpness, fineness of grain, contrast, and tonal range, I really loved this stuff.


The humble beginnings of the 2014-2015 ice age.

As for the Nikkormat FT-3, it has a home, and a fondness in my collection, right up there with the very best of the manual focus Nikons. Even if the Nikon name is indeed in small print on the back.

FT3- The Last Of The Nikkormats

I have always been curious about owning a Nikkormat. Always, since I can remember. To me, they represented a great “entry point” into the line of Nikkor lenses, and like the professional F-series, built like tanks, and all metal. One can only assume that “Nikkor”, and “Automatic” were the inspiration for the line, even though there is little to nothing that is automatic about them. In the dawn of SLR photography, “Automatic” meant an automatic diaphragm, and/or automatic mirror return. Otherwise, the camera is completely mechanical, manual exposure, manual focus, manual everything.

The earlier models (FT, FTN, etc) used mercury batteries for the light meter. Yes, of course there are workarounds and options, but I wanted something “easier”, without having to become another science project. The FT3 takes easily purchased silver oxide cells. And, the last of the line, the FT3 offer Automatic Indexing (Ai) coupling to the light meter. Very cool!

The first FT3 I received from KEH, a chrome model, had a few issues with it. The camera looked gorgeous. But, the back would not stay closed. And, the protective eyepiece, which keeps dust out of the prism optics, and makes photographing with glasses or sunglasses easier, was missing. Back to KEH it went for exchange. They replaced it with the less common black model.

FT-3, with accompanying everready case.

FT-3, with accompanying everready case, and mounted with an Ai 50 f/4. No rabbit ears necessary! 

From what I have read, this body had a rather brief run, and while not “rare” by any means, is a lot less common than the beautiful FM which quickly replaced it. A few quirks. The highly accurate, and easy to use light meter, is “upside down”. When you think you are over exposing, you are under exposing. and vice versa. it takes getting used to. The frame counter is gorgeous, and encased in a glass window which magnifies it, and makes it very easy to read. My guess is that Nikon took some cues from companies such as Leica, and used smaller, lighter torque, and less expensive gears for the counter, and gave it this to add a touch of class, while keeping costs down. The camera is indeed a lot of fun. and may have one of the most accurate 35mm light meters I have used, behind maybe only the F3 and FE2.

Here are a few results, Kodak Tri-X, developed in Rodinal 1:35. I love the exposures this camera can produce. Getting the needle to center, at what the camera calculates or guesses to be an accurate exposure, uses the tried and true center-weighted system. It still works, quite nicely. Amazingly, the Nikkormat line was designed for advanced amateurs who could not spring for the large upfront premium to purchase an F, or F2, and as a “backup” body to those two cameras. It was considered a “less expensive” entry to use Nikkor glass. Trust me, there is nothing “cheap” to this camera.

Taken last November in Melrose, MA, across from Hunt's Photo.

Taken last November in Melrose, MA, across from Hunt’s Photo.


Ensign Thomas Lynde plaque, at the entrance to the park. 


Old Water Fountain

I recently had surgery on my right hand, so left handed typing and working the mouse is indeed a challenge. But really want to start blogging again, and sharing more of what I love to do. I will.

New Year, More Gear- 1st Roll with The Nikon N55

Now with the holidays out of the way, a New Year’s resolution is to publish more of what I have shot, and keep the blog more updated. Reading some of what is posted online, there are many excuses as to why a blog suddenly becomes dormant or orphaned. I have no excuses.

Nikon N55

Nikon N55, Zoom Nikkor 28-105 Macro

I spent the fall shooting with, and loving, the Nikkormat FT3 that I purchased from KEH. The camera they originally shipped was the chrome model, which was missing the battery door for the light meter, as well as the clear viewfinder diopter. After receiving parts from KEH, the next issue was a film compartment door that stubbornly refused to stay closed. KEH then replaced the whole camera with the slightly rarer and more exotic black model. It is a stunning piece of true Nikon 1970’s technology, with an amazingly accurate meter.

Which brings me to this neat little N55 one of my managers at work gave me. It was an entry level SLR with a surprising group of features. Complete in the box with the factory strap, manuals, and kit 28-80 zoom, it really is a film version of the Nikon D40. With all of the limited Vari Program scenic modes, as well as the more useful Aperture Priority, Program, Shutter Priority, and Manual choices. I shot this roll in Aperture Priority. It features automatic DX coding and film rewind. Well, not quite a rewind, Upon loading film, like many Canon Rebels of the day, this camera, extracts all 24 or 36 frames right off the bat, and pulls them back into the cassette as you shoot. It sounds odd, but actually becomes kind of neat to use. Just remember, Frame 1 will actually be the last frame of the roll that you shot!

What doesn’t the N55 have? Depth of Field Preview (which I hardly ever use). Nor can it meter with N-AI, AI, or Ai-S manual focus lenses. Nor will it autofocus with AF-S or VR lenses. Have a lens like the 50mm f/1.8 D, the 28-105, or the 28-80, and you are good to go. I do believe that D-style Nikkors were in their heyday circa 2002, when the N55 was introduced. It is mostly plastic- so, be gentle. but it is undoubtedly a very sturdy polycarbonate that is used. The handgrip is a dream, and I have large hands.

As for the light meter, well, I love it. It is advanced matrix metering most of the time, switching to partial center weighted metering when using full manual exposure. It just nails exposure. Accurately and consistently. And makes shooting with a film SLR almost like shooting digitally. With its hard plastic modern-day construction and LCD panel display on the top, it even looks like a digital SLR, without the back panel.

I decided to use a different lens other than the 28-80 kit, and mount my beloved 28-105 Macro. A highly esteemed zoom known for its rounded aperture blades, sharpness, and beautiful out of focus areas (I no longer am going to call it bokeh), the lens seems to be a perfect companion for the N55. I shot this first roll with Ilford Delta 100 which I developed at home in Rodinal, using semi-stand development. Here are a few favorites-

Bible Billboard

Bible Billboard

Amazingly, the 28-105 has beautiful wide-angle performance, blowing away any of the DX digital zooms I have ever used. It’s OOFA (out of focus area), is also quite good, especially with the Macro switch on-

Cassette of a shot and developed roll of Tri-X.

Cassette of a shot and developed roll of Tri-X.

The camera has a simple pop-up Speedlight that can be useful in a pinch. It syncs at 1/90th of a second. And came in real handy for the above shot, given the reduced aperture speed when using a zoom.



The above shot of a bus sign and traffic light helps to show the beautiful exposure accuracy of the camera. No blown out highlights. Digitally, there likely would be little to no detail in the sky. Maybe using 100 speed film helped. But It really does well in high contrast scenes.

Window Buoys

Window Buoys

The shadow detail was likely a benefit of semi-stand Rodinal development, but I’d like to think the light meter also helped.

Hopefully, winter will serve as a great opportunity to update the blog with the backlog of film I have shot over these last 6 months or so. No excuses!

Extended Break

From blogging, that is. I’ve been photographing like a maniac, mostly 35mm film, and even some digital. Even managed to add this gorgeous Nikon Nikkormat FT3 to the collection-

IMG_2552-1.JPG Plan on dedicating several articles to this amazing instrument, soon. Until then, back to shooting.

Fitchburg Rides, 2014

In what promises to be the first of many years of this event, I recently attended Fitchburg Rides on June 21st. It featured a vintage bicycle exhibit at the Fitchburg Historical Society, which hosted a similar event last year. There was a bike swap, a display of BMX stunts, even a competition up Fitchburg’s steepest hill, near the old Fitchburg High. This was indeed a very packed day. I packed the Hasselblad, Nikon F3, and Nikon D300. Here are some Hasselblad shots taken with the 150mm, and Ilford Delta 100. Semi-stand developed in 1:100 Rodinal for one hour.

Fully restored Mini-Twinn Schwinn.

Fully restored Mini-Twinn Schwinn.

Another restored classic, the Schwinn Lime-Picker.

Another restored classic, the Schwinn Lime-Picker.

Schwinns were everywhere!

Schwinns were everywhere!

Other bikes really did have that vintage look.

Other bikes really did have that vintage look.

Sharing stories.

Sharing stories.

Colon Cycles

Colon Cycles

Master Schwinn bicycle restorer, Pedro, is interviewed by Fitchburg Access TV.

Master Schwinn bicycle restorer, Pedro, is interviewed by Fitchburg Access TV.

I plan to post more about Pedro when I get up my 35mm negatives He truly is a craftsman.

St. Spyridion- Another Roll, Another Developer

Inside the cathedral, at a much higher speed! ISO400, instead of 100.

Inside the cathedral, at a much higher speed! ISO400, instead of 100.

Ok, now it was time to load up a second roll into another magazine. While I was somewhat confident of good frames with Delta 100, it was simply too slow for the light I was reading. A roll of yellow wrapped Kodak legend was in the bag. Tri-X to the rescue!


Stained Glass

This roll captures the interior shadowing and textures in a way that I remember from the day. There was such a gray overcast outside that there is no way that any decent light could have helped being able to use 100 speed film inside the cathedral. I decided to develop this roll with good old standby D-76. Yes, I could have used a different dilution of Rodinal, and done traditional developing. But I had no experience with the developer other than semi-stand, and with Tri-X, semi-stand is likely best saved for shooting Tri-X at one or two stops faster. If I had used Rodinal and developed traditionally, I’d encounter different grain structure. So, I went with what I know.



By the time I had got back outdoors, the sky was clearing. Tri-X at ISO400, with now bright skies? Stop down, stop all the way down! Not a bad thing to do with a Hasselblad…


The beautiful dome of St. Spyridion.


This roll represented somewhat of a first.

Of note- this represents the first time I have developed any film in a stainless steel developing tank. While I liked cleaning the tank after development, I will admit, loading the tank takes a lot of getting used to. After several practice runs with a dummy roll, it was into the darkroom. Getting the film under the spring-loaded clip is tricky. And, as you can see in the lower left of this last frame, I ran into some uneven development due to a loading issue. It may call for going back to the Paterson tanks, with some changes. But shooting, developing, and scanning these rolls represented pure joy.