Nathan Griffin Photographs

nikon fe2

Dragonfly Macro Picture

The camera that I have chosen for all of the pictures shown in the gallery were taken with my trusty Nikon FE2. In this Nikon FE2 review, I hope to discuss the broad selling points of some of the older generation of 35mm SLR cameras. The FE2 is a manual focus camera system that began selling in 1983. It offers one automatic exposure mode with aperture priority. It is wonderfully durable and easy to understand. Being a system that is over 20 years old, there are certainly more capable cameras today, but a few characteristics drew me to this system:

picture of a nikon fe2

  • Cost - a used manual camera can be found at a much lower cost than the comparable modern equivalent. I purchased mine on ebay for around $150.

  • Simplicity - there is a much more direct interface of aperture, shutter speed, and focus on the older manual cameras. Functions are not hidden behind 3 layers of electronic menus. The simplicity does limit the capability of the camera in some situations, but for someone who is simply learning about photography it allows the user to confidently set the exposure and concentrate on composition, the most challenging aspect of photography for most beginners.

  • Durability - all metal construction offers confidence that the body will withstand a few bumps and dings. Weatherproofing is also adequate as I have shot in light rain showers without problems.

  • Cheap Prime Lenses - Inexpensive prime focus lenses are readily available at low cost. The optical performance of prime lenses is certainly comparable, if not better, than modern zoom lenses. Prime lenses often offer a larger maximum aperture than the modern zoom which will allow you to shoot in lower lighting conditions.

  • Low (or no) battery consumption - the only battery required in the Nikon FE2 is a small button type battery - I have to replace mine once every 1-1/2 years - the battery is easily located at any drugstore. The Nikon FM2 does not require any batteries for operation as every shutter speed is a fully mechanical operation - a battery is only needed to operate the camera's internal light meter.

  • Lack of Autofocus - This is the only feature that I find is a handicap in some situations. No matter how quick you think you are at focusing, a lower percentage of shots will be in focus when you encounter certain shooting situations. Moving subjects, especially ones that are close to the camera, are difficult if not impossible to capture with manual focus. One method used is to pre-focus on a plane where you predict your subject will cross and press the shutter when it comes into focus. Success with this method depends on the speed of the subject and your reflexes.

  • Classic Zoom Lenses are Inferior - If you have to have a zoom lens to meet your needs, you are much better off getting a modern lens. Zoom lenses made in the era of the manual operation SLR are much lacking in image quality and speed.

front view image of a nikon fe2

There are many great classic cameras available and easy to find through ebay. Canon's very popular AE-1 is one example. Pentax makes many great lines of beginner cameras including the K-100 - a staple for many photography courses. From Nikon, I was choosing between the FE2, F3, FM2, FE, as well as a few others. After much research, a few of the features of the FE2 stood out and helped me to a decision.

  • "Needle" type light meter - My main choice was between the FE2 and the FM2. I had used a classic Pentax prior to my purchase that featured a light meter where all shutter speeds are clearly indicated at the side of the viewfinder and offered a needle that pointed at the shutter speed for correct exposure. The alternative to this type of meter can be found in the FM2, where a (+) or (-) sign indicates if your current shutter speed and aperture combination is over or under correct exposure. The problem that I have with the (+) and (-) type indicators is that it does not tell me how far above or below I am. Finding the correct exposure turns into a quick guessing game where I turn the aperture until it indicates correct exposure. With a needle type light meter, I can clearly see how many stops over or under I am with my current aperture setting and quickly make adjustments to capture the shot.
  • The Nikon FE2 offers a precision quartz timed shutter speed. When set in aperture priority mode, the camera is able to select intermediate shutter speeds to exactly match what the light meter is calling for. Normal offerings for shutter speed are 1/60, 1/125, 1/500, etc. If the light meter calls for 1/90s where the needle is somewhere between 1/60 and 1/125, the camera actually shoots at the exact shutter speed required.
  • Maximum 1/4000 shutter speed - this is higher than most cameras made at the time, which often only go to 1/1000 or 1/2000. Higher shutter speed is a nice feature to have but I have found that it is not as important as most beginners make it out to be. Very few shooting situations require such high shutter speeds.

My descriptions of the FE2 are very humble compared to the Malaysian website documenting the history of Nikon Cameras. Their site is a great resource for specifications on any piece of Nikon gear you can think of from any time period. Along with the specifications are good reviews of the operation of the equipment. The page on the Nikon FE2 is very informative and has served as a Nikon FE2 Manual since my camera did not come with a manual.

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