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When it comes to old 35mm SLR cameras, there are really no shortage of options. But if you’re looking for an SLR with a classic look, lots of lens options, and that makes taking double exposures a breeze, here are a few reasons to consider the Nikon FE.
As far as features, it really has everything you need for a simple everyday camera with all the benefits of a fully manual system. It features interchangeable lenses, shutter speeds ranging from 8 seconds to 1/1000 of a second (plus Bulb), and a 10 second self timer for those family portraits you want to include yourself in. It’s relatively lightweight and takes up less space than most modern day DSLR cameras (though new mirrorless digital options might be more compact).
The Light Meter
The Nikon FE also features an in-camera reflected light meter, which makes calculating exposures convenient, as you don’t need a handheld meter. The meter reading itself is visible on the left side of the viewfinder as a black needle moving up and down along a scale of the camera’s shutter speeds. A green bar shows the shutter speed the camera is currently set to, and the black needle will move relative to your chosen aperture. I have tried other SLR’s that are roughly equivalent to the Nikon FE (the Canon AE-1 for example), and personally found the light meter system in these less intuitive.
It should be noted that the in-camera light meter measures the “reflected light” of a scene and calculates the exposure by averaging the light reflected in the scene. This means that if your scene contains an average range of tones from dark to light, the meter should be relatively accurate. However, if your scene is not balanced (like say a winter scene where most tones are bright white), you may need to compensate by 1 or 2 stops.
One of my favorite things about the Nikon FE is how simple it makes doing double exposures. It features a small lever beside the film advance crank for just this purpose. To take a double exposure, simply take your first exposure, hold down the lever and advance the film as normal. The lever prevents the film from actually advancing to the next frame, but still resets the shutter, allowing you to take another exposure over the first.
When I was first looking to buy an SLR camera, one of the reasons I went with the Nikon over other brands was the compatibility of its lenses. The Nikon FE features the classic Nikon F mount system, which is still used on many of Nikon’s modern DSLR cameras. That means the SLR lenses can be used on a lot of Nikon DSLR’s as well. You will only be able to manual focus and will lose the in camera light metering, but it’s great to have the option if you shoot digital as well!
In addition to compatibility, the Nikon
FE has a variety of lens options. The popularity of the brand and
camera itself also makes lenses easier to find than other more
obscure camera types. My set up includes a 24mm f1.4 wide angle, a
50mm f1.8, and a 105mm f4, which is a good variety for most types of
Price of the Nikon FE
Like any used film camera, prices range depending on where you buy it, condition of the camera, etc. I bought mine from my local camera shop in great shape, with a clean 50mm lens for about $75. But no doubt there are better bargains out there, especially if you’re willing to clean it up a bit.