Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Nikon FE first impressions

Seems odd that I should be writing my first impressions of a camera that was launched to the world thirty years ago. In fact my real first impressions as a 14 year old in 1978 were probably "Wow... that's expensive!" but as I bought my FE last month for £40, it's not exactly relevant any more. 30 years ago it was a top spec semipro camera. The EOS 5D or F700 of its day. So what's it like 30 years on?

Spec wise it ticks all the boxes. It's easier to list what it doesn't do. Obviously, it's not digital and there's no AF. There's no matrix metering, spot metering or 'Program' exposure mode. If you want TTL flash and speeds to 1/4000 you'll need to get the FE2. Oh and even if you add the MD12 motordrive, you still need to rewind the film manually. 

30 years on, it all still works. Mine does anyway. The first thing I noticed was how smoothly all the controls work. The shutter dial turns with one finger. In '78 they were making a big thing about the 'constant torque' wind on lever mechanism. Still feels smooth today. As does the film rewind crank. 

But I'm not so thrilled by the viewfinder. It's smaller and darker than a Pentax MX, but then, not many cameras have a finder as nice as the MX. On the other hand it's bigger and brighter than a £1500 EOS 5D, and easy enough to focus. Like any camera with meter needles in the viewfinder, in low light, or even if there's something dark on the edge of you subject, you can't see what the meter's telling you. The FE's not alone here. Such classics as the Pentax Spotmatic and K1000, and the Olympus OM1 / OM2 suffer the same problem. Leave it set to auto in low light and trust it'll get it right!

Image quality was never going to be an issue. The Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AIS is as sharp as they come and after 2 rolls I can confirm that the metering is good enough to be left on auto for black & white. 

Perfect camera? Probably not, but it you looking for manual focus SLR, it's pretty close!

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