Sooooo… A long time ago, when I first got my professional film camera, the Nikon F2S, what I really was after was the FM2 (for a reasonable price). Since then, my Nikon collection has really took off. First was a pristine FE that was too pretty to use. Then I got a used FM2n that became my daily with the pancake 50mm. Despite considering the FM2n to be the best daily carry film camera, part of me always wanted to try the automation of the FE. Recently, the Kijiji god finally answered my wish.
With the plastic pancake 50mm, this is the most compact all manual setup I have. The only smaller camera I have is the Olympus XA and that has aperture priority only.
When I first held this camera, it was almost too light to believe. Being so used to my older cameras, the Minolta SRT303b, the Fujica St801, and now the even heavier Nikon F2S, I was amazed that Nikon could build a metal body with the same airiness as my plastic Minolta X-700. I could immediately relate to the professional photographers back in the 70s, whose first thought must have been “this is not going to last”. Well, I know them to be wrong. This particular FE was in excellent shape, and I know with proper care, it will outlast me.
Weight aside, the size was slightly smaller than the average SLR of its era. If you are looking for the smallest SLR of the same vintage, I think you will be grabbing the Pentax ME Super (a great camera that I regrettably sold to simplify my collection).
Ergonomics wise, the FE is your standard fare. The shutter speed knob and film advance lever are where you would expect them to be. I do like the size of the knob though, it is fairly substantial and easy to turn.
Everything I want in a camera. The analog match needle in the viewfinder is a dream to use. When shooting in all manual mode, the needle quickly shows you how much you are away from a correct exposure. This is something that all my other Nikons cannot do with their LED lightmeters. Compared to the F2S, the only thing it lacks is mirror lockup (MLU). If I need mirror lockup, then I’m using a tripod. And if I’m using a tripod, I am obviously carrying a lot of gear, so I would just bring the F2S.
I am getting really good at replacing foam. I am losing count of the number of cameras that I have worked on. I actually look forwards to the zen of the cleaning process. Aside from taking the camera apart, it is only time where you get to really appreciate the innards. The FE is very well sealed, there is a combination of foam and felt fabric light seals for the film door. I probably could have left the felt stuff alone, but it was so hard to tell its condition that I just scrapped it all off. Thankfully, I purchased a ton of different foams and felts for these situations.
A fresh roll of Kodak Tri-X is in the camera as I type this. Rated to ISO800, I will be shooting this on my trip to Grande Prairie. I will update with a follow up post when I get the negatives.