In 1994 I needed a new camera. I should mention that at that time in my life, unlike now, I generally only owned one camera at a time. My first “real” camera had been a Pentax K1000, which I used all through high school and college only to have it stolen right after graduating. I then bought a Minolta X-370 and used it for a few years, but I was never very happy with it. This may have had more to do with the cheap third party lens I bought with it than the body, but still I was ready to get something sturdier and more professional. I was, after all, working as an assistant and printer as well as doing my own gigs.
I bought my Nikon FM2n at a camera show from the table of a mom and pop camera shop. It came with a beat up but serviceable 50mm Series E lens. I also bought a Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI lens, which I promptly stuck in a box and forgot about. More on this lens later.
I was immediately struck by FM2n’s beautiful simplicity. No screens or menus like my boss’s Nikon F4 or N90s. Three LEDs in the viewfinder for the light meter. Extra features included a self-timer, depth of field preview button, and a multiple exposure switch. Nothing else. I was also impressed by the compactness and durability of the FM2n. Everything on the camera felt sturdy and well made. I wouldn’t appreciate this until later after I’d used other SLRs, but the shutter on the FM2n sounded softer and the shake from the mirror flipping out of the way seemed minimal. Shortly after I bought it I realized that the light meter was off by 2 or 3 stops, so I had the camera serviced. It’s worked like a charm ever since.
I used the FM2n constantly for the next 5 years. The only other camera I bought was an Olympus Stylus Epic, which I carried with me when bike riding. When I lived in Portland, Oregon during the 90’s this was not an insignificant amount of time. In 1999 I saved enough money to buy a Nikon N90s, which I used for the next few years. Then I started using digital cameras. I eventually returned to analogue cameras, first by getting into the Lomo LC-A and other Lomography cameras and then 1960’s and1970s compact rangefinders and zone focusers. Many of these cameras were inexpensive so I accumulated a lot of them. With so many cameras to choose from, my FM2n sat unused on the shelf for a long time.
The thing that made me pick my FM2n again was the 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor lens that I had bought with it. I had inherited some photo gear from a relative including a Nikon F and a different version of the 105mm Nikkor lens. The gear hadn’t been taken care of well and was battered up but I realized that some of my favorite family photos had been taken with that lens.
The Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI or AIS has a reputation as being Nikon’s classic portrait lens. As I discovered from looking at my family photos and the rolls I shot with it, this reputation is well deserved. It’s unbelievably sharp and relatively fast. When paired with the FM2n, which has a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second, it’s possible to shoot with the lens wide open with almost any film and in bright light, guaranteeing a tack sharp subject and out of focus background. I started using the 105mm for portraits as well as shooting things like signs, carvings and frescoes on buildings that were a flight or two up.
I then became curious about other manual focus Nikkor lenses, the wider ones in particular. I’d shot with a 21mm lens before and I knew that this was a little too wide for my taste, but I’d read good things about the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AI or AIS lens. I found an AIS version at B&H for $200. It was well worn but had perfect glass. It turned out that for me 24mm is a sweet spot, wide enough to capture a lot in a frame, but not so wide as to look wildly distorted. The fact that the Nikkor lens is tack sharp didn’t hurt either. Suddenly all these shots I’d been unable to get before because my lens wasn’t wide enough and/or I couldn’t back up far enough to get everything in the frame were within my grasp. The Nikkor 24mm became the lens I use the most on my FM2n.
So that’s how I rediscovered my FM2n. Keep in mind that it’s just one of a series of cameras Nikon released starting in the late 70’s, many of which have overlapping features and are all capable of using the same Nikon lenses. While the FM2n is completely manual, the FM3a and the FE series have an aperture priority auto exposure mode. For more information on this series of cameras I direct the reader to this article by Ken Rockwell.
Below are some of my favorite shots I've taken recently with my FM2n.