This Old Camera: Nikon FG/Nikon Series E 50mm f/1.8 AI-S

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Had a Nikon FE. Great camera.

Nikon FE

Even did a little DIY to fix the name that turned out better than I expected.

Why had? A pristine Nikon F3 (link to KEH blog review I wrote for it) showed up at my local camera shop and I became smitten with this beautiful camera. It made no sense to have both so I sold the FE.

Nikon F3

Better? Yes. Higher shutter speed at 1/2000s. Better built? Yes. Better looking for sure. But if I am honest I got it mainly because of the optional waist-level viewfinder… and maybe the red stripe also. Ok, definitely the red stripe also.

Nikon F3

The red viewfinder shutter was a neat feature also.

Nikon F3 Viewfinder Red Shutters

But ultimately it was not a camera for me. Why? F3 adherents look away.

  • A waist-level viewfinder on a 35mm camera is a feature wasted on me. Unlike medium format cameras, with their larger surface area, I find a 35mm waist-level finder too small to focus without peering into it so closely that I may as well use the regular viewfinder. “But what about zone focus hip shots?” some might ask. Have had pretty good luck with guessed framing zone focus hip shots, like the shot taken with the OM-10 below,  so I did not use the F3’s optional finder. Nice. But not for me.

Olympus OM-10

  • A bit larger than I would like for a 35mm SLR. Two of my favorite SLRs are the small Olympus OM-10 and the ridiculously small Olympus PEN FT and a main draw is their size. While the FE and the F3 are not overly huge or heavy my personal preference for mid-size and up SLRs is to have more automation like the, admittedly much less prestigious, Canon T70 or Contax 137 MA Quartz that I really like.
  • Price. Good looks and pedigree do not mean better pictures. While attractive if I have a moment to think I will usually go for the least expensive capable option that will hold the same lenses the necessary distance from the film plane. G1 over G2. OM-10 over OM-1. CL over M3. Personal preference.

So after I had my fun I traded the F3 some time ago. But I recently missed having a Nikon F camera so I looked for a smaller, lighter option. Truth be told I went to KEH, did a price ascending Bargain Grade and up film camera search, and stumbled upon an FG in EX condition.

Nikon FG

What I was looking for was a smaller FE. But once the camera arrived I saw that the FG made an excellent case for itself in the flesh. And it had one hat trick that neither the FE or F3 could match.

  • Size: For starters, this thing is downright tiny compared to the FE and F3.
  • Build: Had expected a flimsier camera. While not as robust as the F3 I would put it in the same ballpark as the FE, which is a fine ballpark to be in. Some may scoff at the FG’s plastic pleather skin, but it was in fine condition unlike the dried out and slightly crinkled skin on the FE I had. Have no idea what the top and bottom are made of but they feel more than sturdy enough.
  • Lens Size: The 50mm Series E is the smallest SLR 50mm I have used. Pulls close to pancake size and looks more like an f/2.8 28mm than an f/1.8 50mm. I would not trade the size for a better spec or wider aperture. A perfect fit for the FG.

Nikon FG

  • Price: It is far less expensive than the FE and F3. Where they will cost you over a $100 to hundreds this FG was far less than $100.
  • Matches Features: Unlike the OM-10 the FG does not give up any features to its more storied siblings. The OM-10 needs a plug in adapter to set the shutter speed and loses internal metering in the process. The FG has Aperture Priority and internal metering for Manual shooting like the FE and F3. While the 1/1000s shutter speed loses out to the much more expensive F3 it matches the also more expensive FE. It also has exposure compensation which the similarly sized OM-10 lacks.

Nikon FG

Nikon FG

Bonus Round

  • Hat Trick: Program mode. Call me a Nikon neophyte, but I did not even know that Program mode was possible on an F mount camera with an Ai lens. I especially did not expect it on the least expensive F camera I have owned. Saw the P but I was hesitant to believe that it actually meant set it and forget it Program mode since the lens does not have an A aperture setting like I am used to seeing. But it does. There it is right in the manual. Put the dial on P, set the lens to its smallest aperture, and shoot. I was this years old when I learned that this was a thing. One note is that it will only open the f/1.8 as wide as f/2.8 when more light is neeeded if I gather correctly, and a quick test seemed to confirm this, but that is just fine for outside daylight shooting if I choose to employ it. Glad to have it as I occasionally forget to close down the aperture when using aperture priority outside on a bright day.

Nikon FG

  • It has a proper self timer lever.

Nikon FG

  • Has a very legible film counter window. Seems a small issue but a lot of cameras do not get this right.

Nikon FG

  • Has a grip dealie that actually works. Much less slippery than the small SLRs I use that lack one.

Nikon FG

  • Another up on the OM-10 is a film note holder.

Nikon FG

  • Has a button. I am told it adjusts the exposure for brightly backlit scenes like with snow and sun. Glad it is there. Looks good. I will never remember to use it.

Nikon FG

Two small demerits.

  • Missed exposure alarm is annoying but it has a switch to turn it off.

Nikon FG

  • You can’t see the aperture setting in the viewfinder… which I always forget is a thing anyway.

Summary

Matches or near matches the most important features as its bigger, costlier siblings. Has a Program feature they do not have. While not as swanky as the F3 it looks the business in its own right in my opinion, especially with the aesthetically matched pancake 50mm. Smaller. Less expensive.

I believe I have found the F camera that will stick around for awhile.

Nikon FG

Sample shots below and here is an ongoing gallery.

Nikon FG

Nikon FG

Nikon FG

Nikon FG

Nikon FG

Nikon FG

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