My first fully mechanical SLR was a chrome Nikon FM2. I was attracted to the FM2 because of its all-mechanical construction and operation. In the late 80’s when I started taking photographs seriously, the rage was newer electronic models including autofocus. Silicon chips, personal computers and LCD readouts were getting popular. The age of the all mechanical cameras like the Pentax Spotmatics, Minolta SRTs, Canon FTbs, and Olympus OM-1s was now over. I had a Yashica FX-103 Program which was a gift from my mother. It was a fully electronic camera with an electronic shutter. It was idiot proof for a novice like me. Just set it in Program or Program-Hi (for “fast” moving subjects) mode, the camera sets the aperture and shutter speed automatically for a “correct” exposure. Soon I learnt that there was more to capturing light than Program or Program-Hi modes. I became fascinated by those mechanical SLRs of years past.
I decided to buy a Nikon FM2. After all they were the perfectionist’s Nikon. How could I resist a sales pitch like that? In those days in the 80’s, there was no eBay or even the internet! I scoured the camera shops in Sydney looking for a used FM2. Eventually in March 1989, I saw a chrome one sitting in the window of a shop with a price tag of A$695. I bought it.
Back home, I started tinkering with it. It was light about 540g (without lens). The serial number on the back of the top-plate started with an N (N7634115) making it a Nikon FM2n. Interestingly, the shutter-blades had a honey-comb pattern. I found out decades later that these shutters were made of titanium and because they were thin, the honey-comb pattern was to give the titanium blades a greater degree of rigidity.
These shutters were able to achieve a shutter speed of 1/4000 seconds – very high for the mechanical cameras of the day. Early shutters were made from titanium; however, from 1989, for the FM2n, manufacturing technology had advanced sufficiently to allow for aluminum to be used.
The Nikon FM2 is a delight to take photos with. The viewfinder has red LED lights indicating exposure with +/0/- as you adjusted the aperture and shutter speed. It is very intuitive without you having to take your eyes away from the viewfinder. The mechanical mechanism makes a nice whirling sound especially at low shutter speeds and when using the mechanical self timer. You don’t get this with fully electronic cameras.
In 2002, I bought a black FM2n (serial number N7711819). By that serial number, more than 77,000 production units later, the titanium honey-comb shutter blades had been replaced by aluminium ones without the honey-comb pattern. I sold the chrome FM2n 4 months later.