My Nikon FE One Year Later
Shortly after completing one of my vlogs last year I mentioned I had a Nikon FE that I couldn’t get to work. It was extremely frustrating because it looked mint, and I bought it at a premium price for a good cause, and one day before testing it the shutter locked up.
This is where it really helps to read the manual, and it shows no matter how many cameras you play with, sometimes you miss things and in this case the Nikon FE has a manual override, where it will fire at a predetermined shutter speed. If you switch to it to M90 after the battery dies, not only does the mirror reset but you can keep shooting.
When I did my first impressions on this camera shortly after, I had basically tossed aside the SLR I had just pledged my allegiance to a few weeks previous, the Pentax ME Super. Even though I had a full line of Pentax lenses waiting for me, with a nice set of primes ranging from a 28 to 200mm, the Nikon and its nifty 50mm 1.8 felt so much more natural, and the build quality was next level.
One year later and this is still my favourite 35mm SLR. There are a couple annoying things about it which I’ll mention, in addition to everything I love.
For the uninitiated the Nikon FE is a 35mm compact auto exposure camera released in 1978 and sold until it was replaced by the FE2 in 1983. It was known as being Nikon’s first stab at the auto compact camera.
Talking about my experiences today, most of it involves this sharp little wonder, the Nikon 50mm f1.8. Part of the series E lens line up by Nikon in the early 1980s.
Straight from the first impressions video I did in May 2019, I noticed the light meter was accurate, and so was the shutter, giving me, more often than not, spot on exposures and combine that with a sharp 50mm prime and I was in heaven.
I always talk about how a camera feels in your hands is priority one. The Nikon FE feels good and natural to carry. The self timer in the front provides a little anchor for my finger to add stability while walking around.
The advance lever is smooth and buttery. I advance immediately after I shoot, and it feels really natural and effortless.
The light meter is simple. On auto it will tell you what shutter speed it will use and all you need to do for most situations is make sure the needle isn’t in the red areas on the top and bottom.
The Nikon FE is everything you want in a film camera from the late 1970s with not a single frivolous thing added. The exposure compensation is super handy for those times I want to bracket my photos. The viewfinder is easy to read and understand, and the lens compatibility is off the charts.
Nikon does hold onto your hand a little bit too much though. There’s a safety lever to prevent you from accidentally opening the back, and the shutter and meter won’t work unless the advance lever is sticking out. That is the biggest one for me. I am still, time and time again, forgetting to pull that lever out before hitting the shutter and have missed a bunch of shots because of it.
I’m going to give you a few tips if you’re looking for one or just bought one and then I’ll list some personal pros and cons, but first here are a few of my favourite photos taken with the FE.
Okay, I hope you enjoyed those. Now here are some things I wish I knew before shooting with this camera.
Tip number one. Don’t shy away or feel embarrassed if you just have a 50mm 1.8, and not a 1.4. It’s tac sharp and small. Some might say it’s a pancake lens. This combo makes for a super compact experience, and is almost as small as my mirrorless setup.
Tip number two and this is probably the biggest one here, and one I need to say to myself constantly. Remember to pull that lever out over the red dot.
Basically what I try to do now is advance right after I shoot, then leave the lever sticking out and my thumb wedged in between. That way I should only have to lift the camera, focus, fire and repeat.
Tip number three I think we know by now is don’t panic if the mirror locks up, just set the dial to m90 and calculate sunny 16 for the rest of your roll.
Tip number four, and this is a new one for me. When possible, zoom in and use the exposure lock to spot meter when you’re concerned about back lit situations. Pushing the self timer the other way, towards the lens and holding it there will lock your exposure. The meter will continue to change readings even though it’s locked and you’ll have to trust it’s working.
Okay, let’s talk about some pros and cons, first the pros.
The Nikon FE uses a popular compact design that was utilized in multiple camera bodies over decades. If the features of the FE are not appealing to you, I would look into the FM, FE2, FG or others that share the same design.
Fans of the Canon AE-1 know that dreaded moment when the battery dies and they can’t shoot anymore. The manual override on the FE ensures a reliable backup when the battery dies. And unlike the AE-1, as these cameras age, people will still be able to shoot with them when the electronics fail.
Unlike the FE2, this model can accept, with certain limitations, non AI Nikon lenses. In fact, with a few exceptions, the Nikon FE is one of the most lens compatible Nikon cameras backwards and forwards. Earlier this year I picked up a zoom lens much newer than the FE that was meant for auto focusing cameras, and it works just fine.
And now the cons
The first thing I think of is the advance lever. It’s a thorn in my side and the only unnatural feeling aspect. I’m a right eye shooter, but if you’re a left eye shooter, the lever is going to possibly poke you in the eye. Remembering to have it out has been a chore, except the time I left it out too long and drained the batteries.
There’s also no diopter. If you need glasses, you’ll need to keep them on or buy one of nine correction pieces ranging from a negative five to a plus three, if you can find one.
If it sounds like splitting hairs, I am. This is an amazing camera, and if you don’t care about having a shutter speed of 1/4000 or a flash sync of 1/250 this is just as good as the more popular FE2.
I’m not looking at this camera through rose coloured glasses, I know Nikon has made better cameras, and I plan to start exploring that. Be sure and let me know your favourite Nikon, in the comments section of my video.
And that’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed me revisiting this camera a year later. It really is an amazing SLR and this model in particular was in fantastic shape when I bought it.
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