Comparing features of Nikon 35mm film cameras: FE, FM & F3.

Nikon has been making high quality 35mm film cameras for more than a century. As a result, they’ve made dozens of models over the last 103 years. If you’re looking to add a film camera to your stable, and want a manual camera with a built-in meter then this post is ready-made just for you.

Camera Selection

I purposefully left out the big guns, F4, F5, F100 and F6.Those 4 particular cameras do so much for the user I generally leave them out of the discussion when I’m talking about manual shooting. Which brings me to the chosen few. In this batch the F3 is the shinning beacon of badassdom. Then you have the F(Electric) and F(Mechanical) lines. There are some features that can eclipse some others. For instance, the F6 has the same 3D color matrix metering as the F5, and it works with all older manual lenses.

Electric or Mechanical shutter

There isn’t a glaring quality difference between the two camera lines, it’s the basis of how they function that sets them apart. The FM came first and the shutter mechanism is entirely mechanical. Meaning, you can operate the camera at all shutter speeds even with no batteries. Unlike the FE camera line. There is also a relatively new mechanical model, the FM3a. This camera boasts a more modern metering system, and since they were made from 2001 to 2006. Unlike its predecessor, which was made from 1982 to 2001.

The FE line features an all electronic shutter system. Which makes them totally reliant on the batteries to function properly. They do, however, have a mechanical back-up shutter speed, but one speed out of all of the variety.

About the F3

The F3 is a fantastic camera combining the best parts of the FM and FE lines into one camera and then goes another step further. If you’re leaning towards the F3 get the F3 HP (High Eye-point) model. It isn’t the newest camera of the batch. it is the most versatile. Check out my post on the F3 film camera for more details.

After staring at this for several days, I have come to the conclusion that I want something more versatile than the F3 that I carry around. Don’t get me wrong here, the F3 is my go-to camera right now, But I would like a camera with a better meter, both in style and in function. The F6 is pretty much the perfect film camera at this point. It uses Nikon’s amazing 3D Matrix Metering, and it uses that meter on all lenses attached to the body. It’s a chunk of change however, costing a hefty $2,000 new.

Compare features

Everything you need to be informed about which camera has what features, is in the table below. I would, however, recommend looking through the finder on all of them before you buy one. The way the meter works can make or break the camera for you.


FeaturesFMFM 2FM 2nFM 3aFEFE 2F 3
Manufacture Dates1977
1982
1982
2001
1989
2001
2001
2006
1978
1983
1982
1989
1982
2001
Min Shutter Speed1s1s1s1s8s8s8s
Max Shutter Speed1/10001/40001/40001/40001/10001/40001/2000
Camera ModesMan.Man., AutoMan., AutoMan., AutoMan.Man., AutoMan., Auto
AI Aperture Tab *FAdjAdjAdjFAdjAdj
Motor DriveMD-11
MD-12
MD-11
MD-12
MD-11
MD-12
MD-11
MD-12
MD-11
MD-12
MD-11
MD-12
MD-4
Exposure Comp.NNYYNNY
Double exposureNNYYNYY
exp. per roll36+36+36+36+36+3636+
Removable Film DoorYYYYYYY
Changeable screensNYYYYYY
Changeable finderNNNNNNY
Battery type/count2-A762-A762-A762-A762-A762-A762-A76
FeaturesFMFM 2FM 2nFM 3aFEFE 2F 3
Shutterall-metal Copal Square S focal-planeHoriz.
focal plane,
titanium
Horiz.
focal plane,
Aluminum
Horiz.
focal plane,
Aluminum
Vert. metal focal plane shutterHoriz.
focal plane,
titanium
Horiz.
focal plane,
titanium
Shutter typeMech.Mech.Mech.Mech.Elect.Elect.Elect.
HotshoeYYYYYYN
TTL FlashNNNYNYN
Sync Speed1/1251/2001/2501/2501/1251/2501/80
Mechanical speedsB, 1,
1/1,000
B, 1,
1/4,000
B, 1,
1/4,000
B, 1,
1/4,000
B, 1/90B, 1/250B,T, 1/2000
AE LockNNNYYYY
Mirror Lock UpNNNNNNY
*** Notes:
MODESM = Manual : A = Automatic
AI Tab F = Fixed : Adj. = Adjustable
This allow use of Non-AI lenses w/o damaging the camera.
***Ken Rockwells site was helpful in the creation of this resource: https://www.kenrockwell.com
As was Camera Wiki:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera
Huge thank you to the creators of the Nikon 100th Anniversary Resource

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