My Ode to the Humble Nikon FM2n

© 2010 Stephanie Lee |

It doesn’t look very interesting with the external gears of an Argus C3 or clusters of finely milled knobs on a Barnack Leica.  There are no fun, quirky controls like the bottom-mounted film advance of an early Canonet or the Kombi-plunger of a Voigtländer Vitessa.  It’s not particularly weighty or feels very authoritative in the hand like an F2 Photomic or even a cheap Nikkormat.  You know, the shutter doesn’t even sound particularly pleasing and it’s a SEQUEL for chrissake!  I would really HATE this camera if it hadn’t turned out to be everything I needed!

Image from FM2 manual
Images from Nikon FM2 Instruction Manual |

I have been shooting on various vintage 35mm cameras for almost 15 years.  Rangefinders, view cameras, SLR’s, German, Japanese, American, Russian; 35mm cameras made in the 1930’s to ones made in the 21st century.  And of all of them, I have found the Nikon FM2n to be arguably the most useful and practical for everyone from the student to the serious amateur to maybe even professionals, despite the fact that the FM2n is merely an upper tier consumer grade 35mm SLR.


The Perfectionist's Nikon
The Perfectionist’s Nikon

I was born in 1981.  The following year, Nikon released the FM2, a seemingly modest upgrade to 1977’s Nikon FM.  The FM was a fully manual 35mm SLR that was slicker, easier to use, just less fidgety and dare I say, less clunky than the earlier Nikkormat models (no offense to Nikkormats, I love them too!).  The FM was my first Nikon (purchased circa 2005 and still clicking along perfectly) and turned me onto the world class lens system and rugged yet precise build quality that I came to depend on in later years.  The FM2 discreetly conceals its evolutionary yet substantial upgrades inside a body that looks nearly identical to the original FM.  Unfortunately, the Leica-like mystique of the FM with its lack of model name emblazoned obviously across the front of the body and need to decipher the model from the serial number was obliterated by the ugly advertisey “FM2” inscription that became the standard Nikon identifier for years to come, even on DSLR’s.  But then, maybe a photographer needed to let all the FM shooters know that he was packing something quite a deal more serious than their student cameras.


Time-Stopping 1/4000th of a Second Top Shutter

The FM, as with many mechanical cameras had a top speed of 1/1000th of a second.  The FM2 obliterated this boundary, not by 1 stop but by TWO whole stops, giving the shooter the ability to quicken his shutter to an inconceivable 1/4000th of a second.  That’s actually 1 stop faster than the F2 and F3, the professional Nikon bodies on the market in the early 1980’s.  Cue bokeh shooters; now you can shoot at wide apertures in daylight or keep that high speed film burning through in the bright morning after a critical low light night time shoot.



Simple, Elegant ” + 0 -” Meter Display

Speaking of low light, let’s talk about the FM2n’s meter.  The original FM featured three red LED’s as its meter display.  If you got disoriented, it could be confusing as to which one represented over, under or correctly exposed since all three were just red dots.  The FM2 brought the now standard LED display system of “+ 0 -“.  The only improvement I’ve seen on this, that makes meter reading slightly more effortless is the display of Cosina’s 1995 take on Nikon’s FM, the FM10.  This camera features a green “0” correct exposure indicator with red “+” and “-” symbols that really split hairs on what defines “at a glance” exposure readings.



Photo by Stephanie Lee
© 2010 Stephanie Lee |

I prefer these simple, uncluttered LED displays to swing needles because while they aren’t as comprehensive, as a Print Film-Shooting Documentarian, I need a built-in meter more for exposure confirmation than to measure quarter stop increments of my shadow detail.  Get a handheld if you’re shooting slides in contrasty light!  Some swing needle advocates claim LEDs aren’t as visible in daylight but I’ve had no such problems and happily shoot my FM2n’s night and day. So onto the meter itself.

TTL center-weighted averaging meter, standard, right?  Fine.  But the FM2 takes the FM’s top 3200 ISO and goes a stop more to a super grainy, super sensitive 6400 ISO.  The standard of professional camera bodies and good light meters.  Only a few film cameras ever featured built-in meters that went to 12800 and personally, I spend a lot of time at 6400 because it seems that after 1600, you may as well just push it all the way till your negatives are too thin to use, and for me 12800 is JUST beyond that.


Super Bright View Screen
Super Bright View Screen

Now, you’re going to need a nice bright focusing screen to see your subjects in 6400 lighting conditions.  The ever-popular and strongly defended F3 fails badly in this regard so far as I’m concerned.  The F3’s meter goes to 6400 but good luck trying to see the tiny, ugly, battery-saving LCD meter display and focusing, even with that 100% finder, is a dull, eye-straining affair.  Yet the consumer grade FM2 brings a series of focusing screens that are 1/3 of a stop brighter than the FM screens (and maybe even more than a 1/3 stop brighter than the F3 Red Dot screens).  FM/FE series screens are very compatible though so it’s possible to install these series 2 and even series 3 (for the FM3a) screens in earlier FM’s and FE’s.  Nikon still sells the series 3 screens new actually.  I have yet to try a series 3 screen but I’ve read that these are so bright that there is a lack of contrast in them that actually makes focusing more difficult rather than easier.  So the series 2 screens, I use common K2 screens, seem to be a good balance for the available light shooter.

So you might have noticed that this article is about the FM2n but I’ve been talking about the FM2.  That’s because these bodies are totally identical up to this point (though there may be some FM2’s sporting series 1 focusing screens).  The difference comes in with the shutter, but even that is not so clear a divider between these cameras.

Nikon achieved the triumphant 4000 top shutter speed by employing ultra thin and light weight shutter curtains made of titanium with a compelling honeycomb pattern stamped into them.  Previous consumer grade shutters by Nikon were made of thicker aluminum.  So the groundbreaking FM2 features these legendary titanium shutter curtains while only early FM2n’s sport them.  Later and most FM2n’s returned to smooth aluminum shutter curtains.  I’ll let the hardcore collectors discuss what serial numbers these changes were made during.

Now, here’s a point of contention.  Most people will go on and on about the robustness of the Nikon titanium shutter.  Afterall, the F2’s shutter is titanium and many have yet to be replaced or even calibrated 40 years later yet still slam out shots all day without flinching.  But my experience has differed.  Long story short, I currently own 3 FM2n’s and have gone through 5 to get to these 3.  Why?  Because the titanium shutter curtains have failed on me several times.  In two cases I returned the camera, in one I had the shutter replaced with aluminum (titanium replacements are no longer available anyway) and in the last case I will be doing the same when I get around to it.  So personally, I don’t recommend anyone buy an FM2 for regular use unless the shutter has been replaced with an aluminum one. And I recommend buying a newer FM2n that came out of the factory fitted with an aluminum shutter.  It’s easy to see the difference, titanium shutters have the distinct honeycomb pattern and aluminum curtains are just “normal” looking, flat, smooth metal.

So that is a sort of engineering difference between the FM2 and FM2n so here’s the only difference in practice, the flash sync speed on the FM2 is 1/200 and this was increased to 1/250 on the FM2n.  This, of course, requires a cosmetic change to the shutter speed dial and an FM2n can be identified by this and its serial number (found on the back of the top plate just below the film advance lever) which starts with a capital letter “N”.  “N” apparently stands for “new”.

Intuitive, Multi-function Advance Lever

If you’re not a Nikon shooter or you’re used to their earlier models, there are a few points about late model FM’s and subsequent FM series cameras that I really enjoy.  Aiding in the simplicity of operation while adding functionality, Nikon employs three combined functions.  In the FM series, we no longer have to do the “Nikon Shuffle” when mounting a lens.  Nikkor lens aperture is automatically indexed by the body to facilitate more rapid lens changing like a modern SLR.  Battery check is integrated into the meter read-out.  If you don’t see LED’s firing and your shutter is not set to bulb, the battery is drained.  Similar model cameras have separate buttons for the battery check but with the FM2, it’s inclusive and intuitive.  Speaking of which, here’s my favourite feature of the FM series.  Early FM’s and other models featured a separate shutter release lock around the collar of the shutter release.  In late model FM’s and the FM2, this shutter release lock, as well as meter toggle switch, are incorporated into the film advance lever.  To both activate your meter AND unlock your shutter, simply pull the advance lever out to its first stopping position at 30 degrees.  To shut the meter off and lock the shutter, just return the advance lever to the home position.  This greatly helps prevent accidental exposures and unnecessary battery drain as well as ensures that the camera is ready to fully serve you as soon as the film has been advanced.  I don’t know why this design wasn’t incorporated by other camera-makers; it would be an elegant addition to the Leica MP but, in my opinion, should have been on board since the M6 and I have no clue as to why Voigtländer doesn’t do this with their Bessa line as it would be another practicality point against Leica (à la conventional film door).  At any rate, these features strongly contribute to the ease of use of the FM2n, putting it above something like an F2 for speed, intuitiveness and general gestalt.

© 2010 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n

So that’s the basic lo-down on the FM2n.  Why is it so great though?  I think it’s great because of all the things it’s not!  It’s not a very fun classic camera compared to the thousands of other interesting classic cameras available.  But it does everything I need it to do, and often more, without any glitz or glam, just smart utilitarianism.  It just sits well in my hands not claiming to be anything more or less than it really is.  There is no automation or fine German design that might over-promise capability or enjoyment of use and then under-deliver in the streets when I’m under the gun.  The FM2n is invisible.  It’s not remarkable.  It’s the camera that disappears and allows me to shoot by pure reflex.  My only affection for the FM2n is that I have very little affection for it and therefore it allows me to get the job done without clouding my decision to use it with the hope or magic that a more funky, quirky or exotic classic camera brings to the table.  The FM2n is a no-nonsense film camera.  But unlike other no-nonsense film cameras like the much more popular Pentax K1000 or even more discreet Olympus OM-1, the FM2n does not stop at the boundaries that most similar cameras do.  It’s the go anywhere, do anything all manual 35mm SLR at a reasonable price that’s not too big, not too loud and won’t let you down.

© 2010 Stephanie Lee |

I rely on a small fleet of 3 FM2n’s on which to shoot weddings.  If you’re not familiar, wedding photography requires stamina and laser fast reflexes in order to get each crucial shot that unfolds nearly continuously through an 8-12 hour shoot.  During weddings, personally historical moments are happening constantly around the photographer and he/she has to be ever prepared to release the shutter with perfect exposure and focus every time.  The ergonomics, pleasing strain-free viewfinder and extensive exposure controls ensure that, even as a 100% manual shooter, I’m always ready to make art out of the moment.  Discreetness of camera is also critical to the candid wedding shooter or any photojournalist.  The FM2n, shrinks into your hands, not as well as an OM-1 but more than an F2.  The metal shutter is certainly not going to win any quiet contests against a Leica but it doesn’t have that Tha-Klunk sound of an FM10 or Voigtländer Bessa.  The ratcheting sound of the advance will be missed by most people if you work it fast, as you can, and should, be doing with this little camera.  The rewind crank is of ample size, clearance and toughness to spin it as fast as you can without worry of slamming your fingertips into the oversized head of many professional F bodies or snapping off the crank as I often see on Mamiya 35mm SLR’s.  If quietness and size are not a concern, a motordrive can also be installed and removed mid-roll, unlike the F2 and F3 which require you to install and remove drives between rolls.  Though very light in weight for an all metal camera, the FM2 was designed to operate in extreme temperatures and mine certainly don’t seem to mind being thrown into a camera bag, slamming into lenses during a rapid body change.  I don’t have to baby these cameras as I feel I have to with my Leica M6 TTL.  The FM2n just does exactly what I ask of it and doesn’t ask for anything in return.

Long story short, I really love my FM2n’s and highly recommend them to students who have a higher than average but not not super crazy budget (expect to pay around $250 at for a good FM2n body only) and want a camera for life or skilled film photographers who want a solid available light SLR that can handle abuse when necessary.

Please enjoy a few of my favourite photos that I’ve produced using an FM2n throughout the past 4 years.  And thanks for reading!

© 2014 Johnny Martyr
© 2013 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2014 Johnny Martyr
© 2013 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2014 Johnny Martyr
© 2014 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2014 Johnny Martyr
© 2011 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2011 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2012 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2013 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2013 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2012 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2012 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n
© 2010 Johnny Martyr | Nikon FM2n


Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

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39 thoughts on “My Ode to the Humble Nikon FM2n

    1. Thanks for your interest! For Nikon, I primarily use a 50/1.4 SC (pre-AI), 50/1.8 AIS, 55/2.8 Micro, 28/2.8 Series E, 85/1.8 K (pre-AI), 105/1.8 AIS, and 135/2.8 AI. I would like to add a 180/2.8 ED to the mix. I prefer and recommend the 28/2.8 AIS but my copy was damaged and Nikon’s authorized repair service ruined it during “repair” which cost me the value of the lens + repairs so I cut my losses and am fine with the crappy E Series. Sore spot in my lens arsenal!


      1. Great article for a classic camera! I have two of them and they’re completely reliable. Used to shoot with a Nikkor 50/1.8 AIS and changed over to a Voigtlander 40mm/F2 on my FM2N. I used to think the 50/1.8 was the sharpest normal lens. However the Voigt is an unbelievable sharp piece of glass with a slightly wider field of view (which is just right). I’m amazed by the pics (slides) that come back from the lab. Try it Johnny. You’ll love it . Promise. They make a Nikon mount…………….

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hey Larry, glad you’re enjoying your FM2n and 40/2 Voigt Yes, I’ve been shooting Cosina Voigtlander since the early 2000’s but I use LTM and M mount on my Leica and Voigt bodies. The glass is fantastic for the price, certainly rivals Leitz and Zeiss. I have yet to buy an F mount CV lens as I can’t justify replacing my Nikkors, which I’m convinced are more suitable for hard professional use. Two out of four of my CV lenses have broken twice under circumstances that Nikkors definitely haven’t. But for more casual use, they are really excellent, and sharp as you say!


  1. Nice article Johnny. However, what you see as an improvement in the Nikon FM2 over the FM I see as
    a move backwards. As a left-eye shooter I *hate* the fact that the film wind lever must be pulled away from the body in order to unlock the shutter. On my FM I can meter with a hand-held incident meter, and only pull the film lever out as I wind the film. I can’t do this on the FM2. I get ‘poked’ in face by the wind lever on every frame. This is, to my thinking, a serious design flaw.


    1. Mr. Byrd, thanks for reading and commenting! Sorry to hear that all the benefits that I see of the FM2n become lost on you due to your left eye positioning.

      From a user of vintage camera perspectives, maybe you’d be totally fine with a standard FM then? Nothing bad about using a previous model version. I prefer the F2 over the F3 for example. And of course, the FM2 over the FMa! I verge on seeing the meter display of the F3 a “design flaw” also. And I just have no use for the remarkable hybrid mechanical/ electronic shutter of the FM3a. Do the FM10 or F4 even count as “upgrades”?!

      The reason I said “from a vintage camera user perspective” is that the wonderful thing about using cameras of yesterday is that it doesn’t matter if you use the next model up or are happy with the previous one! We have no concern for having the newest model, only the one that best suits us personally. And it sounds like you know exactly what camera you need to make the best photographs you’re capable of!

      Thanks for offering an alternative perspective. Happy shooting!


      1. Johnny, I too prefer the F2 over the F3. Although I have both, I really like the DE-1 prism on the F2. Sleek and not weighty. I prefer using a handheld Gossen meter when using the F2. God, I love Nikons!!!! I must. Been shooting them since the late 60’s (EM camera the first).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Very nice article you shared with… us!
    Would you recommend to buy a Olympus OM-4 Ti in 2020 (i.e. more than 30 years old)? Regarding the (on-board) electronic? Is it a big risk? I am undecided in buying Nikon FM2n (full mechanical) over a OM-4 Ti.
    Kind regards,
    PS: I noticed that you also use(d) a OM-1 for work…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s a nice article squire (and some great photos too – you should have mentioned your lenses!) – very unusual to find a review with regard to how something handles. I still love my 1970 F Photomic (and it still works beautifully) but I’ve been thinking about something smaller – often looked at an FM2n and then walked away, but it sounds like the ideal holiday camera for me.
    I’ve got a M2 too, but tbh, I almost feel Leica’s make you a target in Europe these days . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sad to hear about the M2. Most people in the US, I don’t think, have any clue what a Leica is. Though sometimes I am stopped on the street etc to ask about my M6 TTL. People largely ignore my LTM bodies.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  4. I just earned a FM2n and like Your essay very much. But there is 1 point I disagree: You like the never-ready-function incorporated by the advance lever. Walking on street it is not necessary to messure for each shot the light, als long as it does not change. So I can carry the camera and take a picture at once – but not with the FM-series. You first have to unlock the shutter release. With my FM I let the cameraworkshop disable this function and so will I with the FM2n. Unfortunatelly this is not possible with the FE-series. So I will never get the benefits of automatic exposure – as long as I don’t shoot with my F80 or D750.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jochen, thanks so much for reading and commenting. Glad you’re enjoying your new FM2n. I believe you’re the second or third person who’s made a similar comment to me regarding the light meter power switch being built into the advance. It’s cool you had your repair shop disable this; it seems like an easy enough modification and great to do if you feel it helps.

      I’m a bit surprised that it would bother people though, or that you’d think of it as “never-ready.” What I do is, when actively shooting, I keep the advance lever out from the camera, in the meter “on” position. This way, not only is the shutter release not locked but, the moment that I press the release button half way, I have my meter (if I need it.) The light meter goes off automatically within about 30 seconds and does not activate by moving the advance lever, but rather by pressing the shutter release half way.

      So to me, pushing the advance lever against the body and disabling both the meter and shutter release, is more of an “in the bag” or “storage” mode. Not to be done whilst actively shooting.

      For me, I find the system clever and intuitive, though admittedly, I have not found it a significant problem with meters draining batteries or non-locking releases wasting shots. So maybe it is addressing a problem that wasn’t really a problem to begin with!


  5. When I carry the camera with the neckstrap or a slingstrap and the lever is standing out, it always tangles up with my shirt or coat, the bag on my shoulder or anything else, that comes near to me.

    How do You carry the camera? May be there is a method that prevents it.

    Befor my worksman altered this, I furthermore very often pushed the shutter release in vain, because none of my other cameras has this feature including my Nikons. Of course he altered only the shutterlock. To measure light, I have still to use the lever, but very seldom. And with none of my other cameras I had a problem with accidentally shots with the exeption of the extrem sensible shutter release of the Olympus XA.

    The third but minor reason is, that I use my left eye at the finder.


  6. Thanks for the great article, Johnny. I have a friend who was a war/conflict photojournalist for over 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize along the way. He and his brother (also an internationally renowned PJ) covered pretty much every war, natural disaster, and political conflict for decades. I asked him what camera(s) they used most to reliably get the work done in those challenging situations. His answer: the FM2.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Peter and David Turnley. Amazingly, twin brothers who both became internationally renowned photojournalists. Peter is the one who told me that their favored film cameras were FM2’s and Leicas. Here is a “60 Minutes” segment about them from the 90’s I believe.

        Liked by 1 person

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