A year with the Nikon FM2n

Nikon FM2n and lenses
Nikon FM2n and the lenses Dean gave it to me with, as well as the Nikkor AI 50mm f/2.0 I snagged for a few bucks at Englewood Camera (right). The 105mm f/2.5 is standing behind with the integral lens hood extended. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I’ve been carrying the Nikon FM2n around for just over a year since Dean Krakel plopped it on my desk and I started shooting. It’s been nothing short of awesome.

Dean is an award-winning photographer (Marlboro man, anyone?) who works as a photo editor at The Denver Post with me. I’m not the least bit shy about my admiration for the photo staff at The Post, and at the Rocky Mountain News where Dean oversaw a team that won three Pulitzers for their work. Colorado is blessed with a host of incredible photographers.

So when Dean walked by my desk early one morning last summer and set a battered, green bag on my desk, I was taken aback when he showed me what was inside. He said he was just cleaning out some old stuff and came across some beat up gear, but it was a gift that meant a lot. It’s fast become one of my favorite cameras and is my go-to 35mm SLR at this point.

What was in the bag?

Nikon FM2 front view
Looking down the barrel of the Nikon FM2n and Nikkor AI 20mm f/4.0. (Daniel J. Schneider)
  • A Nikon FM2n body with a working shutter, a dead battery and a weirdly non-locking advance lever.
  • A Nikkor 20mm f/4.0 AI-s lens with the wear marks of a well-traveled lens and a few scratches on the front element.
  • A Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AF lens that looks pretty new.
  • A Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI-s lens in good, used condition, with a little dust inside.
  • ANOTHER Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI-s lens in good, used condition, with a little more dust inside.

Could a film nerd ask for a better random gift? Okay, maybe one of the f/2.8 Rolleis… But that’s never going to happen. Yeah, fantastic gift. Thanks again (for what, the eighth time?), Dean.

What I did next

Cleaning. The FM2n was clearly a hard-used photojournalist’s camera. It was grungy and had plenty of scrapes and scratches. But I don’t mind character on my cameras; it’s a tool, and form follows function.

When handing it off, Dean told me of an FM2 he’d had that took a tumble 30 feet or so down a cliff. He said after he retrieved it, he was able to dust it off and keep on shooting. Craig F. Walker, too, told me the FM2n was his favorite second body for years next to his F2 and F3 bodies. Strong endorsements for this rock-solid semi-pro camera body.

So I cleaned it. I had to scrub. I cleaned all the lenses. I took off most of the easy to remove pieces to clean under and around them. I cleaned it inside and out. I cleaned the pentaprism and the focusing screen.

Nikon FM2n repair
iPhone shot of the underside of the Nikon FM2n. The lever (A) needs to be bent at a right angle to lock the bar (B) in place after film is advanced and the shutter is cocked. With time, the level end bends further and further from the right angle and the bar is able to slip past, allowing the film advance to be wound repeatedly without exposing the frames. Removing the lever and restoring the right angle is a simple process, and restores proper function to the film advance lever. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I checked the function of all the controls and the timer. I checked for the function of the apertures and focus rings on the lenses. And everything checked out. I tested the shutter a couple hundred times. Then I located the only problem I could find. The film advance moved smoothly and cocked the shutter correctly. But then it would advance again. And again.

So it turns out the “double advance prevention lever” or “double wind lever lock” (A in photo at left) locks against the “shutter charge lever” (B) when you advance the film and the shutter is charged. Functioning correctly, this prevents the film advance from moving again until the shutter has fired.

Thanks to the Google, I discovered this happens a lot on old FM2 and FM2n bodies. Fortunately, the solution is simple: remove the “double wind lever lock” and bend it back to the right angle it should be (carefully! I used two pairs of tiny jeweler’s pliers). This was my first attempt to repair the complex mechanical inner workings of a film SLR camera, and it was totally successful.

The lenses

After a careful cleaning, I inspected the lenses Dean gave me. They’ve obviously seen their fair share of action, but they didn’t look too bad.

The barrels are worn, but nothing is bent or too badly dented. The rubber grips on the focus rings have a lot of smoothing — but how many rolls of film have they each illuminated? The rear elements all look clean and clear. The filter threads are all straight and functional.

The 105mm f/2.5 lenses both have some dust inside, and a few specs on the inner elements. There are a few minor scratches on the front lens elements, but they barely rate above cleaning marks. The apertures operate smoothly and the blades appear clean and oil-free. The focusing rings are a little tight, but operate smoothly.

First Baptist Church in Denver
The First Baptist Church on 14th Avenue at Grant Street, across the street from the East Lawn of the Colorado State Capitol. One of the oldest congregations in Denver, they first began meeting on the banks of Cherry Creek in 1864. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The 28mm f/2.8 is nearly new. There’s some wear around the barrel, but I’m betting that’s just from bouncing around in a bag a lot. The glass is clear and scratch-free. The aperture moves freely and shows no oil or residue. The focusing ring is smooth and easy to operate.

The 20mm f/4.0 has only a tiny bit of dust inside, but has some pretty noticeable scratches on the front element. They don’t appear to affect image quality at f/11 and wider, though. Honestly, I haven’t tried it below f/11 yet, so I don’t know how much they affect image quality stopped down further. The aperture operates freely and the blades are free of oil and residue. The focusing ring is smooth and relatively easy to operate.

The 50mm f/2 has no dust or marks at all and appears to be in near-mint condition. The finish is even nearly perfect. The aperture blades are clean and move easily, and the focus ring moves smoothly and freely as well.

But wait — Dean didn’t give me a 50mm lens.

Tuning a banjo
This young musician was tuning his banjo on a table outside of Sub-Culture on 13th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on a chilly autumn evening. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The need for 50mm

Well, that’s because I’ve been a 50mm addict for a long time. I have a 50mm lens, or close, for nearly every SLR and rangefinder camera I own. As soon as I knew the FM2n worked well, I snapped this lens up at my favorite local camera shop when I saw it for a reasonable price.

You see, it’s not that I haven’t used other focal lengths. In fact, when I first started to get serious about photography I discovered quickly that I loved shooting at 200mm. I liked having a way to get in the middle of the action without having to really be there.

When I bought my Canon 30d, I let myself be talked into buying a Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 wide-angle lens, but was never really happy with it and never felt like I needed anything that wide with an adequate 18-55mm kit lens in my bag. So I sold it. I got a good price — in fact, everything I had paid for it, as this lens has held its value pretty well — but oh, if only I’d known then what I know now: I really like shooting ultra-wide.

One of the most thoughtful birthday presents I’ve ever gotten: a handmade stuffed Hobbes. It was the first stuffed animal I slept with in nearly 30 years, and it was quite satisfying. (Daniel J. Schneider)

So I did what a lot of young photographers do: I bought a 50mm prime lens and an Henri Cartier Bresson book. I got comfortable quickly and stayed comfortable for a long time. In fact, for about a year I don’t think I used another focal length. I don’t regret it, either. It really taught me to see in that focal length.

My Canon 135mm f/2L gave me the opportunity to learn that focal length well, too. The lessons I learned with the 135mm apply quite closely to the Nikkor 105mm, a 50mm is a 50mm is a 50mm… so the real opportunity for me here was to get more comfortable with the 20mm, one of the widest lenses I own. More on that later.

Tech Specs

  • Vertical-travel, metal focal plane shutter
  • Shutter speeds from 1-1/4,000 sec., and (B)ulb
  • 1/250th flash sync maximum speed
  • Self-timer (I’ve never used one of these, but it appears to work)
  • Pentaprism-type eye-level viewfinder
  • Viewfinder display with shutter and aperture displays, and three-LED metering indicator
  • Split-image/microprism ring focusing screen (mine still has the original type K2)
  • Coupling for automatic film advance with motor drives MD-12 or MD-11
  • Multiple exposure lever that corrects for frame count
  • Hot shoe with X-sync contact only, as well as sync-cable socket
  • Requires two PX76-type silver-oxide 1.55V batteries
  • Light meter switch — depressing shutter button halfway activates meter
  • Shutter release threaded to accept standard release cables
  • Power switch — camera power turns on when the film-advance lever is opened about 10°

Info from the owner’s manual and Photography in Malaysia.


I love it.

Aurora theater shooting makeshift memorial
A couple weeks after a gunman claimed 12 lived and wounded 58 others in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, I visited the makeshift memorial that cropped up across the street. Dozens of people were coming and going, contemplating, commiserating and crying. 12 white crosses represent the 12 victims. (Daniel J. Schneider)

In fact, I like it so much it’s finally made a bit of a Nikon man out of me. I’ve purchased an F2 and an F3 (since they can all share lenses). The F3/FM2n combination has fast become my daily setup; two bodies lets me have two different lenses and/or two different films at the ready.

The FM2n has been with me to a couple wildfires in Colorado, a couple zombie events, a couple concerts, the National Western Stock Show, Denver Comic Con, some family events and a whole host of side trips around Colorado. The second roll of film I put through it was for the Roll in a Day group on Flickr.

Hopefully you’ve seen some of the pictures I’ve made with it:

The 1/4000 sec. shutter speed is supremely useful when you’ve got Tri-X 400 loaded and it’s sunny out; without it you’d be stuck shooting around f/22, which a couple of my lenses don’t even have (like the 20mm f/4.0, which only stops down to f/16).

The hot shoe has been useful for experimenting with my cheap, unbranded Vivitar knockoff, $3 thrift-store flash. The F2 and F3 have non-standard hot shoes that I have not yet acquired adapters or flashguns for.

Other things I love about the Nikon FM2n:

  • It’s lightweight — about half the weight of the F2 — so it’s great to carry around on the shoulder all day.
  • It’s bullet-proof (maybe not literally, but I bet it’s close!). It’s forever. Eternal. It’s a lifetime companion.
  • It’s versatile — you can load it with thousands of kinds of film and get just the look you want, in almost any environment, at any time.
  • It’s accurate — I don’t know how many actuations my shutter has, but it still gets me the exposure I expect nearly every time.
  • It’s a conversation starter — I’m the guy with gaffer tape over the brand on my digital cameras, but with this I love the conversations it starts.

In conclusion

If you’re looking for a film SLR, you really can’t go wrong with the Nikon FM2n. It’s everything you need in a 35mm camera. I really can’t speak highly enough of this little piece of the great era of film photography and Japanese cameras.

Oh — and I gave one of the cleaned-up 105mm f/2.5 lenses to Anya Semenoff, who recently moved into a new job as a photographer for The Post’s hyperlocal section, YourHub.com.

Zombie Run ambulance
An runner with a broken ankle is transported from the course of the zombie-themed Run for Your Lives in Denver on July 14, 2012. (Daniel J. Schneider)

UPDATE: I’ve posted a follow-up with the next year’s worth of shooting with the Nikon FM2n, creatively titled Another year with the Nikon FM2n.

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Nikon FM2n SLR camera
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