Defending the Nikon FM10

The Nikon FM10 is a camera that experienced/knowledgeable film photographers take pride in dismissing.

The chorus is common: “It’s all plastic!”  “It’s not even made by Nikon!”

But look, what the vocal opponents don’t seem to get is that the Nikon FM10 is actually a highly evolved, practical camera, capable of terrific photos.  And it represents a very clever solution to keeping basic mechanical cameras alive in an automated 21st-century world.  To me, the FM10 represents the last stronghold of the affordable, all mechanical camera.

© 2017 Johnny Martyr | A somewhat unproud, painted-on plastic nameplate

It seems that the cannibalistic critics have had their way though.  On July 20th, it was announced by Freestyle Photo that on Nikon’s centennial, they are quietly doing away with this essential film camera.  This news was apparently only provided to vendors.  I couldn’t find an official announcement from Nikon and not even Wikipedia has been updated!  Does anyone care about the FM10 besides me?!

Here’s my dirge for this underappreciated camera that sold many thousands across three decades and was many peoples’ first REAL 35mm camera.

© 2017 Johnny Martyr | Plastic Fantastic!

The FM10 was released in 1995 and sold alongside the Nikon FM2n, and subsequently the FM3a.  Both of these metal, Nikon-made, all manual, higher quality bodies were phased out while the FM10 soldiered on into an increasingly automated digital world.  The only other 100% manual interchangeable lens cameras you can buy new today cost thousands of dollars.

The FM10 was clearly created to steal the market that the entry-level student camera classic, the Pentax K1000, occupied.  The K1000 was released in 1976 and became the standard body recommended for and loved by Photo 101 students.  Within 2 years of its release, the FM10 did what it set out to do and Pentax discontinued their famous juggernaut in 1997.

The FM10 was probably comparably priced to the K1000 but it had a numerous small additional features and more modern styling. It’s distinctive champaign finish probably appealed to new, young photographers.

As you may know, the FM10 was actually made by the camera company behind the curtain, Japan’s Cosina.  The FM10 is really just a rebadged Cosina CT-1 with DNA starting as far back as the 1970’s.  Criticize it all you want but the FM10 is the result of decades of small refinements to a timeless 35mm camera design that was good enough to wear the badges of Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Vivitar, Zeiss, Voigtlander and others.

Yes, the FM10 consists of a cheap, lightweight plastic shell and pot metal magnesium alloy internal parts.  I’ve read numerous reports of short lives and even complete D.O.A.’s.  But I’ve never had a single issue with my late 90’s copy and I am willing to bet that I use it a lot harder than most FM10 owners.

You have to understand that Cosina did everything that they could to build a good, cheap, simple camera that, for years, could be sustainably built in a manufacturing environment that shuns building mechanical devices.  And yet, the FM10 aspires for more by featuring simple but really smart refinements.

I’ve always enjoyed the three LED meter display which is in symbols and two colors; red +, red – and green 0.  Such a smart, simple, color-coded display!

© 2017 Johnny Martyr | The elegant, uncluttered viewfinder of the FM10

A few features that I find endlessly charming and endearing are the shutter release lock and the focal plane mark.  In the 1970’s, only higher end cameras had these features.  The K1000 didn’t even have them!  But Cosina spent a bit more time and money to include them, ingeniously, while still keeping costs low.

Notice that the shutter release lock consists only of a little tab that protrudes from the film advance lever base.  When the film advance is in the “off” position, the tab just slides under the shutter release button, preventing it from going down.  This is the ONLY camera I’ve seen this mechanism built on the exterior of the camera.  It’s got to be the most simple way it’s ever been done!  Bravo Cosina!

© 2017 Johnny Martyr | Gobs of plastic and a tiny metal tab to slide under the shutter release button

And the focal plane mark.  Well, it’s just molded into the plastic top plate!  Could they have just printed it on there?  Sure.  But they did the right thing and molded it into the plastic.  Not even “Nikon” is molded into the plastic (so that names like Vivitar and Phoenix can also be applied)!  If Cosina did not care about this camera, such a basic detail easily could have been left out and not a single person would have criticized it, not a single sale would have been lost.  But here it is!

© 2017 Johnny Martyr | Focal plane mark; the mark of excellence!

And while Cosina was getting creative with their plastic molds, they even added four little “feet” to the FM10’s bottom plate to elevate this cheap but proud camera and keep it scratch-free and presentable even from below!

Say what you will about the Nikon FM10 and its Cosina-made brethren, but this camera was a clever mechanical David more or less single-handedly, battling the bloated automated Goliath.  And for that, the Nikon FM10 will always command my respect… and gratitude.

Thanks for reading!


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21 thoughts on “Defending the Nikon FM10

  1. I have to agree with you about the FM-10… Photographers always make a big deal about spending money on good glass and the FM-10 can use some of the best glass in the world! As much as I love my F3 I know that results from an FM-10 wouldn’t be any worse than from that Nikon legend!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 100% agree. My brother bought this camera in the late 90s on my advice to get not too expensive, 35mm 100% manual camera that can operate without battery before he left to spend 2 years in Africa. It went back perfectly OK. The Nikon service shop here in Paris told him not to bother with a CLA, because it didn’t worth it… I did a couple of shots with it when coming back to film in 2011. The kit lens that came with it, the usual 35-70 zoom is nothing special yet OK, and I’m glad we have a Nikon body in the family – just in case 😉

    In 2010 and 2011, I was please to see this camera sold (as new) on some Oyobashi Camera or Bic camera store in Japan at the time, alongside enlargers and tons of rolls of fresh film. This is indeed a modern perfect camera for students, a bit like a K1000 or a Minolta X300 in their times.

    I missed the news that it had been discontinued. I’ll tell my brother that he’s now in charge of, well, another collectible.

    (Side note: why don’t you update the wikipedia page yourself? You don’t need an account nor anything to do so.)


    1. Jean, thanks for your accounts and comments! Such a disrespected camera! Glad you have a good, working one with some great memories tied to it though. Good point about Wikipedia, it’s still not updated…


  3. 15 years ago I bought an FM10 for my son who was taking a photography class in high school. He completed the course, placed the camera in a closet and there it sat until I pulled it out a few weeks ago.

    I’ve been thinking about shooting film and here was this beautiful gift sitting right under my nose. Have only shot a few rolls so far but am very happy with this camera. I keep thinking I should get a used F3 or FE, but what will I get from those that I don’t already have other than some “gear status “. Sticking with the FM10 for now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michael, thanks for reading and commenting! It’s always awesome to hear about someone dusting off a forgotten classic camera and putting it back in service! Personally, I think the F3’s meter display falls short and the clarity of the finder just isn’t there compared to other models, despite it being 100% coverage. The FE is great but personally I just don’t need the automation and eventually sold/gifted away each of the FE’s I’ve owned. The FM10, as you say may not have much “gear status” but a working, fully manual camera and a 50mm is all any shooter needs to get amazing photos.

      Enjoy your camera and when you get some images, please don’t hesitate to share! Thanks again!


  4. You are spot on bro! I just smile and keep shooting when anybody snickers at me and my FM10 when I’m out not using my heavier DSLR.

    I love the fact that the FM10 works and works way longer than all the other “higher-end” but battery driven film cameras. I also love its split-focus screen which rarely fails me even in the lowest light possible.

    Oh yeah, you can just keep it in your drybox and forget about it, and when you need it, just chuck in a roll of film and you are ready to go. Mine is a hand-me-down from my brother almost 3 decades ago and it still works like a charm to this day.

    Your FM10 is better looking than mine though, mine has its scratches and dings of honor I call it..


  5. Hi Johnny, I was just trying to work out today what has made this one of my favorite cameras and I found your review. I bought mine months ago, mostly for the lens that was on it, and it has wound up in my bag more than any other camera this year. I think all the things you mentioned, and especially that it doesn’t weigh a ton. Everything you need, and nothing you don’t. The fact that it fits in a Bessa case doesn’t hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

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