Welcome to the first of I hope many, Film Friday reviews
As I talked about in a previous post, I have been looking for ways to slow down and go analog once in awhile. I stumbled back into film photography about a month ago when I picked up some film cameras for my daughter. After checking out the cameras and feeling the action of advancing the film winder and listening to the mirror slap when opening the shutter, just stirred something inside of me. I thought I should check it out for myself. So rather than just using one of the two cameras she got, I went out and picked up one of my own from Craigslist.
That camera was a very nice condition Pentax ME. It even came with the receipt from its original purchase in March 1978. That’s a year and month before I was even born. There is something that touches your soul a little when you handle something that predates yourself. For me, it’s a connection to a simpler time. Before our digital selves started overrunning our analog brains.
So that camera sent me off on a shopping spree of sorts. I started looking on eBay for other examples of the Pentax ME. I found one for $.99, and bought it. Now I had two. Then I read some more reviews about the Pentax ME and I found out about the black one, mine is chrome, so I had to find one of those. I was able to get it as part of a lot of three cameras, the black ME, a Pentax P30t and a Pentax MV1.
One day after work I checked a local thrift shop, the Downtown Rescue Mission here in Huntsville. In the case, they had a Pentax ME Super, which is the next model after the ME I was currently using. It was complete with a lens, which honestly is worth more than the camera body, but was in rough shape. They wanted $49 for it, which was way more than I was willing to pay for a camera in the condition it was in. While chatting with the manager about a lower price he mentioned he had an old Nikon FE in the back. I didn’t know much about the Nikon’s at the time, but I knew it’s a great name, and always has been. The manager brought it out and mentioned he thought it was broken since it wouldn’t wind and the back wouldn’t open. It also was lacking a lens.
I told him how I was getting into film and was interested in both cameras. He let me have them both for $24. Pretty good deal. So take make short story long, I ended up with a great black Nikon FE. I had purchased a Nikon EM a few days before so I had a lens for it at the house.
From Wikipedia: “The Nikon FE is an advanced semi-professional level, interchangeable lens, 35 mm film, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. It was manufactured by Nikon in Japan from 1978 to 1983 and was available new from dealer stock until c. 1984. The FE uses a metal-bladed, vertical-travel focal plane shutter with a speed range of 8 to 1/1000 second, plus Bulb, and flash X-sync of 1/125th second. It had dimensions of 89.5 millimeters (3.52 in) height, 142 mm (5.6 in) width, 57.5 mm (2.26 in) depth and 590 grams (21 oz) weight. It was available in two colors: black with chrome trim and all black. As on the FM, its model designation did not appear on the front of the camera, but was engraved as a small “FE” preceding the serial number on the rear of the housing.”
In the hand, this is a hefty camera. It’s heavy by today’s DSLR (Digital) standards but not uncomfortable to hold. Really the weight and heft is reassuring to a novice photographer like me. I don’t think the occasional bump is going to break anything on this camera. The weight is a throwback to a bygone era of things being overbuilt in a way. The more lightweight materials and processes were not available to the engineers of the mid 70’s. The fact this camera still works 30+ years later is a testament to their abilities.
The camera is comfortable to hold and operate. Speaking of operation, this camera will not work without the batteries installed. The batteries really only run the light meter, but the lack of power does prevent the winder from operating, hence the problem in the store. This camera takes 2 “357” style batteries, or LR44 these should last about a year unless you leave the light meter on. There is an on-off switch on the left side of the camera, also the light meter stays off if the winder is pushed all the way into the body of the camera. If you want the meter to work, you have to put the winder in the “ready” position. Which is just off the back of the camera. I found this to be a little annoying since the winder handle hits you in the forehead while looking through the viewfinder.
Loading the film is easy, it works like every other 35mm SLR of the time, open the back by pulling up on the rewind knob. The trick with this camera is you have to push in the lock button in order to pull the rewinder all the way up to release the back. This is the other thing I couldn’t get to work in the store. Put the film in the left side, pull out on the leader, feed into the spool on the right side, work the winder, waste a frame, repeat one more time and your off and running. The manual does state to repeat this process until the film counter shows 0. I did this and got exactly 36 frames from my roll.
Here is a great intro to shooting 35mm film, it shows the loading process and gives you a couple of great tips to get started, if you are new to this hobby also.
The Nikon FE does allow for automatic or manual operation. If you put into an automatic mode, the camera will select the correct shutter speed for you based on the light available. This system is called aperture-priority autoexposure. Basically, the camera knows what aperture (the opening in the lens) you have selected, the amount of light coming in, and then when you press the shutter release, the camera uses the correct speed to expose the picture. Sounds complicated I know. But it takes some of the guess work out of the picture taking experience.
If you want to go manual, then both needles in the viewfinder work together. You select your aperture on the lens and the shutter time on the knob above your right index finger. When the green and black needles line up, you should have a perfectly exposed picture. If you want to experiment or get a different look, you can over or under expose by a stop with either shutter speed or aperture. This is beyond my skills right now. I am still working to get pictures that are well exposed and framed correctly. One thing I found with the viewfinder is that is only illuminated by the ambient light, so if you are shooting in low light or in a shadow, it’s hard to see the needles.
You can also set the camera to do a double exposure, that is, exposing the same frame of film twice. How you do that is, take a picture, then before you wind for the next shot, hold the button under the winder while you advance the winder. This resets the shutter without advancing the frame. You can get some cool effects with this.
The FE is also setup for flash photography, but I am not quite there yet. I found it handled low light indoor shots well, but did let some shadows creep in. Again, I am still learning the photography process, so most of the picture taking issues are mine, not the camera.
To try out the camera I took it to downtown Montgomery, AL to take pictures around the Alabama State capital. It was a bright and sunny afternoon, so I felt the light would be good to not challenge my feeble skills to much. Here are a couple of the shots I captured:
The Nikon FE is a great camera if you are looking to get back into, or start with film photography, it is a camera that will grow with your skills for sure. It is easy enough to be approached by a beginner and advanced enough to offer the features you need to take more control over your pictures in the future. You can usually find them on eBay for under $100. I will also be starting to sell them also via a new page I will be setting up in the near future. I have taken to film photography and I am excited to get others involved also. So grab a camera and some film and get shooting.
The Nikon FE also can use almost any lens Nikon ever made in their F mount connection. So you could even take the lens off a brand new Nikon Digital SLR and put it on this camera, and shoot it in manual. It’s really kinda amazing. Try and find that kind of compatablity anywhere else.
One tip, you can still buy film at Walmart, I recommend 400 ISO to start, it’s a good all purpose film. You can also have Walmart develop, but I would recommend trying to find a local film lab or use a couple of the mail order ones instead. Just personal experience.
Good luck and good shooting! Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you.
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