I will admit right from the start, I am biased toward the Nikon FM. My first SLR was (and still is) a Nikon FM2n. I love that camera. I loved it from the beginning and that admiration grew at the same pace I did as a photographer. Personal bias aside for a moment, the Nikon FM is similar to all the other suggestions listed here for student cameras. The FM is simple, easy to learn and easy to use; the controls are manual by nature – focus, shutter and aperture all need to be set by hand – as required for learning students. The Nikon FM stands apart from these other four cameras though in the fact that it was designed to be used by professionals as well as amateur photographers. The camera was meant to back up the venerable Nikon F2 and F3 carried by photojournalists. As such it needed to be rugged. It needed to be modular. And it needed a certain degree of additional functionality to satisfy the demands of the professional world. Because of this, the Nikon FM (and by extension the FE, FM2 and FE2) are incredibly reliable. They allow the attachment of motor drives and replacement of focusing screens. The camera’s functions include a depth of field preview, a self-timer, a mirror lock up and a multiple exposure lever. Another additionally nice feature is the film advance lever serves as an on/off switch, allowing the camera to easily be switched off conserving battery power, which in the FM is used solely for the light meter – the rest of the camera is purely mechanical like the K1000, OM-1 and SRT 101.
There are four popular cameras in the FE/FM series. The Nikon FE and FM are nearly identical, the big difference being that the FE is an electronically governed camera (hence the E) where the FM is mechanical (hence the M). The FE allows an aperture-priority automatic exposure mode as well as an extended range of slow shutter speeds beyond 1 second on the shutter dial. The FE2 and FM2 have additional top speeds up to 1/4000 of a second. In truth, any of these four cameras will make an excellent starting choice.
- Incredibly well built and designed. A reliable camera that will last for years and is easy to have maintained and refurbished.
- Simple and easy to learn, but leaves plenty of room to grow into.
- Incorporates many additional features such as self-timer, depth of field preview, mirror lock up and multiple exposure switch.
- Nikon lens mount has remained consistent over the decades, allowing the use of most manual and auto focus lenses.
- The Nikon line of lenses has become more expensive in the last few years due to the interchangeability amongst manual focus, auto focus and digital bodies.
- Not much else.
Also consider: Nikon FE, Nikon FE2, Nikon FM2, Nikon FA
Images from the Nikon FM: www.flickr.com/groups/fmseries