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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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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