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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 KEH.com 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!
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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nice website Johnny. Really detailed analysis of the Nikon FM2N with visuals.
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Apreciaria período com saber se é a fim de que continuar para disponibilizar mais Lições,
eu estou muito interessado.
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Love to hear what lenses you use for wedding shots
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!
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…………….
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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!
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.
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!
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).
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No complaints about the FM2N whatsoever. I’m using it now as a backup to my FE2…….
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NICE! The FM and FE series are perfect siblings!
Nikons are nice camera to be sure, I have a EL2, but you can’t beat Takumar glass for character
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David, I too still have my EL2. It pretty much stays in a display case along with some other old Nikons. It’s amazing how far modern cameras have come……………
Amazing how far modern cameras have come at the expense of photographers and in favor of chasing annual obsolescence. Fully mechanical cameras like the FM2, to me, are timeless instruments of art moreso than timely tools for the dogged acquisition of images at the expense of developing senses and skills. Sorry to hear that your vintage, semi-manual camera is languishing in a case!
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.
PS: I noticed that you also use(d) a OM-1 for work…
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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 . . .
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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!
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.
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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!
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.
My apologies for the late response INFO@JOCHEN-B.DE!
“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.”
The advance lever of the FM2 both unlocks the shutter release and activates the light meter. Why would you leave it in the standby position unless about to shoot?
“How do You carry the camera? May be there is a method that prevents it.”
Sure, return the film advance lever to the start position instead of leaving it sticking out!
“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.”
So you had someone modify the function of the advance lever because when you were not using it, you left the lever in the standby position and when you were using it, you left the lever in the locked position? I am not understanding your refusal to use the camera in exactly the opposite manner in which it was designed but it’s certainly up to you if you’re happy with the outcome of this modification. Personally, I am very happy to use the camera as it was designed. When I am about to shoot, I keep the lever in standby, ready to fire and advance. When I am not shooting, I close the advance lever completely. It doesn’t snag on my clothes, drain the battery or causes misfires.
“The third but minor reason is, that I use my left eye at the finder.”
It’s a jump in price but maybe, all these things considered, you should use a Leica rangefinder instead of a Nikon SLR. The advance levers on Leica’s do not activate the meter or lock the shutter and the viewfinder is not in the center of the camera (as is necessary of ALL SLR design) but to the far left, which might allow you to you use your left eye unhindered by advancing the film. You could also use a motor drive to wind any SLR whose advance lever you find conflicts with your eye positioning.
Overall, it just seems like this isn’t the right camera for your particular way of shooting. I wonder if by now you’ve found a good alternative since this post?
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.
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Oh wow, it doesn’t surprise me to hear someone would trust an FM2 in those situations. Any chance we can learn his name?
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. https://youtu.be/jIbZUdiTrzo
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Oh yeah, of course, I follow the Turnley’s work, as do I’m sure many photojournalists! Didn’t know that Peter was an FM2 fan.
Here is a very moving collection of Peter Turnley’s NYC COVID 19 photographs: https://vimeo.com/411526335
I believe Peter now shoots with a Leica Monochrom.
Absolutely adore your photos with this camera – what would you say the best lenses are to use with this for a wedding, throughout the day? From a fan in the UK 🙂
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Thanks so much – many years later I still use a pair of FM2n’s. Best lenses are really hard to say because so much comes down to personal style. On the FM2n’s, I use a 28mm 2.8 Series E, 50mm 1.8 AIS, 55mm 2.8 Micro AIS, 85mm 1.8 K AI’d, 105mm 1.8 AIS, and 180mm 2.8 AIS ED. There are certainly other great Nikkor lenses out there and I’ve used many others as well but this is what I’ve whittled things down to for myself over time. What bodies/lenses do you use over in the UK?
Hi Johnny, Thanks so much for replying to my question. I’ve shot with lots of different bodies (in the search for the perfect one!) and when I started in film photography I probably used the Minolta Dynax the most, but I sold it as I was broke, and then when I could afford it again, it promptly got stolen! I tried a Canon EOS 3 out but it felt too big in my hands, but I picked up a Nikon FM2n and fell it love with the size and the feel, and also the bright viewfinder. I picked up an 85mm 1.8 Ai’d and also a 50mm f.4 SC and I’m shooting a wedding with it in Feb. I feel I can probably manage with those too (I like natural light so I’ll need the shallow DOF especially for indoors and low light dancing). I feel I should probably get a wide angle though especially for grand interiors and smaller venues – either the 24mm f2.8 or the 28mm f2.8 but not sure which to go for. People rave about the 35mm but I’m not sure my budget will rave about it. Ultimately it will probably depend on what comes up second hand for sale. Any tips on pushing 3200 film with the FM2n – exposure wise? Should I expose for the highlights?
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I’m actually trying to wrap up some 3200 reception photos for a client right now but will get back to you soon. In the meantime, if you search something like “3200” on the main page of my blog, you should find some useful stuff. And no, you never want to expose for highlights unless you are okay with turning everything around them black! Remember, what you expose for will be your middle exposure.
Okay, hey, sorry for the delay! “85mm 1.8 Ai’d and also a 50mm f.4 SC” among my favorite lenses! Your 50/1.4 SC must have been AI’d also though, in order to work on the FM2n. I forgot to include that I also use a 35/1.4 AIS. It’s a problematic lens for me in low light though. Despite it’s beautiful performance and great specs, because the focus ring is such a fast throw, I find it more challenging than it should be to hit correct focus with a 35mm lens at full aperture if conditions are not bright. Maybe that’s just me. But I have a better hit rate with my 50/1.4 SC or 50/1.8 AI. I tend to buy faster short telephotos but I seldom use them for wedding receptions and night time dancing. I much prefer to get into the crowd with a short/normal lens and have more DoF which increases the easy with which I can hit focus also.
As far as pushing 3200, I mean, it’s not a simple topic. With film, particularly higher ISO stuff and low light, you run into practical issues that you don’t have with slower film in brighter conditions. Pushing, or over rating is a decision. What to expose for like you ask – you can expose for whatever you want but there are is a truncated range of zones in low light so if you expose for highlights, you’re going to crush your middles and blacks pretty quickly in most cases. But exposing for middles can be a little tricky as they’re hard to see/find. Exposing for shadows is what many will recommend to maintain detail, however, I find that at most wedding receptions at 6400 ISO and a fast aperture, it’s still often too dark to expose correctly for shadows without an even higher ISO or even faster lens.
Did you have a moment to search any of my other blogs about shooting at 3200? If you have specific questions, I’d be happy to help. Otherwise, it’s a complex topic that I’m working on another blog for! There are ways to process to reduce grain and to increase it. There are even issues with scanning 3200 wedding reception film because there is often no detectable difference between frames on the negatives – it’s all black!
I hope some of this is useful info though, let me know!
Hi Johnny, that’s so useful to know. I’ve ready your blog post about rating the 3200 and it’s really helped. I shot a ‘test’ wedding in November with TMax 3200 and I was really disappointed with the scans – the grain was the most prominent thing and the blacks felt weak and the whites felt… well weak as well! I think the film was actually expired as well, which probably didn’t help. I hadn’t realised the scanning could be partly to blame, which is why I was searching for posts on pushing and pulling and came up with your name – and your photos have the clear delineation but still the grain that I was after in my own photos! So I know it’s possible, I’ll need to work on it! I have another ‘test’ wedding this month (alongside a main shooter, no pay, no pressure, time to experiment and portfolio pics from an amazingly grand venue with wood panelling, high ceilings, chandeliers, enormous old windows etc and I’m doing from the ceremony until shortly after the first dance, with a some guest dancing. British guests tend to get stupidly drunk quite quickly so normally photographers leave after a few, unless no-one is dancing haha. I’m going with a main tog who’s shooting digital, so I can pretty much experiment as I want.
At the last wedding, I felt totally in the dark (pardon the pun) with my exposure in the disco dancing. In the end I used my phone lightmeter app to get a rough idea of the exposure settings, if there was some light in the shot (e.g disco lights, side light etc) and set it manually for around the middle tones (ish) and then moved around so I got light falling on a face or backlighting a guest or the couple. And hoped for the best. It felt quite stressful though and I was actually surprised to get any shots at all.
I’ve bought some Delta 3200 now as I’ve noticed that TMax 3200 seems to be a lot ‘softer’ and I might get more ‘definition’ with the Delta film.
Bizarrely I got some fantastic results in the dancing with colour film Cinestill 800T, I wouldn’t normally considered it as it’s a very defined ‘look’ but it really worked for the dancing because of the halation and dreamy effect.
My 50mm f1.4 SC is Ai’d – thanks for pointing that out for me.
I’ve seen lots of talk about ‘short throw and ‘long throw’ about the 35mm, 28mm and 24mm lenses – I imagine I want a ‘long throw’ for weddings? Is this what you mean by having trouble focusing with the 35mm lens? It sounds gorgeous but it’s pretty expensive in the UK.
I haven’t bought a wide yet – looking for a cheap one to come up on Ebay as I don’t want to spend too much at this stage… I’m planning to leave off buying any others for now as I think the 28mm to 85mm is probably all I need to start.
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“I shot a ‘test’ wedding in November with TMax 3200 and I was really disappointed with the scans – the grain was the most prominent thing and the blacks felt weak and the whites felt… well weak as well! I think the film was actually expired as well, which probably didn’t help. I hadn’t realised the scanning could be partly to blame, which is why I was searching for posts on pushing and pulling and came up with your name – and your photos have the clear delineation but still the grain that I was after in my own photos! So I know it’s possible, I’ll need to work on it!”
Starting with fresh film is really important to getting predictable and repeatable results for sure. For me, I see using expired film as a waste of time, money and effort. Imagine if you’d used fresh film on that shoot. Then you’d at lest have a baseline from which to judge your results. Now, you basically have nothing because you can’t separate what happened due to the expiration and what happened because of whatever else. Sorry if that comes off as harsh but I just see film shooters cutting corners and shooting themselves in the foot by doing so frequently. It sounds like, and looks like from your awesome website, that you are pretty serious so I’d like to see you get the results you want!
The quality of light, lens. how you expose, what developer you use and how you scan can all greatly affect high speed film results. It sounds like your negatives came out very tonal (mostly grey without rich blacks or bright highlights) which is actually normal for P3200. Remember that 3200 films have to be super tonal in order to push without getting crazy contrast. If you want more punch results like what I display, it’s about choosing the right stock for the light you’re in and editing with generous levels adjustment (crushing the blacks, pulling up the highlights). Contrast can come from the developer too. I find HC110b moderately contrasty. I recall TMAX being less. TMAX also produces finer grain. I am often criticized by grain-haters that my work is too grainy. But I chose my developer and scanning method to emphasize it. It’s all just about honing in what you want to get out of the film.
“I have another ‘test’ wedding this month (alongside a main shooter, no pay, no pressure, time to experiment and portfolio pics from an amazingly grand venue with wood panelling, high ceilings, chandeliers, enormous old windows etc and I’m doing from the ceremony until shortly after the first dance, with a some guest dancing. British guests tend to get stupidly drunk quite quickly so normally photographers leave after a few, unless no-one is dancing haha. I’m going with a main tog who’s shooting digital, so I can pretty much experiment as I want.”
Sounds great! I interned with a wedding photographer when I was in school.
Then I shot friends’ weddings for a few years on my own before trying to mount my own business with it. You need experience without pressure to get things right before you take the show on the road! Awesome that you have that, many people do not.
“At the last wedding, I felt totally in the dark (pardon the pun) with my exposure in the disco dancing. In the end I used my phone lightmeter app to get a rough idea of the exposure settings, if there was some light in the shot (e.g disco lights, side light etc) and set it manually for around the middle tones (ish) and then moved around so I got light falling on a face or backlighting a guest or the couple. And hoped for the best. It felt quite stressful though and I was actually surprised to get any shots at all.”
I hope you don’t feel that you are restricted to your built-in meter or not to use a phone. I use my phone, a clip-on meter with my meterless bodies and built-in meters all the time. Whatever I need to get the job done. Alot of film people act like you’re an idiot if you can’t figure out the light by your eye but I’ve never seen a professional photographer working 12 hour wedding shoots in numerous lighting situations without a meter. And if I did, I wouldn’t think much of their preparedness! Anyway, yeah, that method sounds perfect! I LIVE for those kind of situations! So much fun and you’ll get comfortable with them the more you do. I love them for the interesting alignments of light and moment you can catch when you get good at it. Those shots are precisely the reason not to use flash or digital in my opinion. Shooting film forces you to look at the light. Meter or no meter!
“I’ve bought some Delta 3200 now as I’ve noticed that TMax 3200 seems to be a lot ‘softer’ and I might get more ‘definition’ with the Delta film.”
It will vary with developer, light and lens but yes, that is my opinion also.
“Bizarrely I got some fantastic results in the dancing with colour film Cinestill 800T, I wouldn’t normally considered it as it’s a very defined ‘look’ but it really worked for the dancing because of the halation and dreamy effect.”
When I was working in color it was slightly before Cinestill was released and I didn’t play with it much before deciding to go all b&w, but yes, they make wonderful films for pushing in low light with really beautiful and unique results.
“I’ve seen lots of talk about ‘short throw and ‘long throw’ about the 35mm, 28mm and 24mm lenses – I imagine I want a ‘long throw’ for weddings? Is this what you mean by having trouble focusing with the 35mm lens? It sounds gorgeous but it’s pretty expensive in the UK.”
Longer and faster lenses tend to have a longer focus throw both because they are physically larger lenses with larger barrel circumferences but also because DoF can be more shallow with them so accuracy of focus is more critical. The shorter the throw, the less you can really dial in the focus, but you can also focus more quickly. So it’s a trade-off. And yeah, that’s my issue with the 35/1.4 AIS. Because it’s a 35, the throw is fairly fast but it’s also a 1.4 so focus is a bit more critical than most 35’s. Additionally, maybe because it brightens up the finder so much or what, I don’t know, I just have trouble seeing the difference btwn in and out of focus with it. Sometimes I can have it set to infinity and be focusing on something 3 feet away and think it looks in focus! I don’t have this trouble with other Nikkors and have tried two 35/1.4’s and had the same issue. It might just be me. I also need to use it more on my F2sb which has a dimmer finder than my FM2n. I find that a dimmer finder can actually help with faster SLR lenses.
“I haven’t bought a wide yet – looking for a cheap one to come up on Ebay as I don’t want to spend too much at this stage… I’m planning to leave off buying any others for now as I think the 28mm to 85mm is probably all I need to start.”
Careful with eBay! I try to buy any gear that I’m going to shoot paid work with from a reputable retailer that offers a warranty and has serviced or at least tested the gear. I get not wanting to spend a lot but sometimes you end up having to pay twice and waste time when you bargain hunt. I try not to buy until I can buy the best and not worry about if it’s going to work or not. Just my perspective but you can obviously do whatever. And sometimes we luck out on eBay – I hope you do!