The Nikon FE is a damned satisfying 35mm SLR to use. That’s my review in a nutshell. TL;DR, as the young’uns say. Naturally, I have more to say than that about this well-known and -loved classic camera.
Introduced in 1978 (and replaced by the FE2 in 1983), the FE was an advanced-amateur 35mm SLR. Smaller and lighter than the pro F2 that was its contemporary, the FE offers an electronic shutter that operates from 1/1000 to 8 seconds. If you leave out the two SR44 batteries that power it, you can shoot it mechanically at 1/90 second. It offers center-weighted metering, activated by pulling out the wind lever partway as is the Nikon idiom.
You can set exposure manually on the FE, but it also offers aperture-priority mode. Just set the shutter-speed dial atop the camera to AUTO and off you go. You can shoot films from ISO 12 to 4000, which you set using the dial around the rewind crank.
An advantage of the FE is that it can take almost every manual-focus Nikkor lens ever made. Later Nikon SLRs aren’t always compatible with older lenses, especially those made without automatic indexing (AI).
The Nikon FE competed with other small, light aperture-priority cameras. Check out my reviews of the Pentax ME (here) and ME Super (here), and the Olympus OM-2n (here). I also reviewed another small, light Nikon, the FA (here). Or see all of my camera reviews here.
I first loaded a roll of Kodak T-Max 100, mounted my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens, and went a-walkin’, looking for things to photograph. I developed this film in Clayton F-76 1+9 and scanned the negatives on my Plustek 8200i.
My son lives in Bloomington, Indiana, and we made plans to meet for lunch one hot summer day. We walked all around downtown and the Indiana University campus, sweating considerably. The heat was a problem; the FE’s weight slung over my shoulder was not. When I wasn’t using it, it was easy to carry along.
I brought the FE along on a long drive out in the country, following an old state highway. Here’s where the FE really shined: it was a great documentary tool, getting right out of the way and letting me make the images I wanted. No fuss.
Later Nikon manual-focus SLRs offered faster shutters than the FE’s 1/1000 second, but even that is plenty fast enough to freeze motion.
The FE’s meter nailed exposure every time. For Nikon newbies, pulling out the wind lever to meter takes a little getting used to. But once used to it, doing it becomes automatic. This is downtown Waynetown, Indiana.
I kept going with a roll of Fujifilm 400, which I had Brooktree Film Lab process and scan. This is an abandoned stub of that old highway I was exploring.
I paused in Delphi, Indiana, on this road trip and visited Canal Park there. This old bridge was rebuilt here several years ago after being brought here from its original location in Putnam County. I photographed it in its original location in 2010; see it here.
Whether you set the FE for aperture-priority or manual expsoure, the needle system in the viewfinder is super simple to use. The aperture set on the lens barrel appears in the viewfinder as well.
This photo is a testament to the FE’s center-weighted meter — it made a good exposure of this mixed lighting. The interior isn’t too dark, and the outside isn’t blown out. I’m sure the color film’s good exposure latitude helped, too.
I stopped in downtown Delphi to photograph this, the old opera house. It apparently also served as city hall for a time. The controls on the FE work smoothly and have an amount of resistance that gives confidence under use without pulling your focus away from the photograph you’re making.
I was having so much fun that I put a third roll through the FE, Kentmere 400, which I developed in Clayton F76 Plus. This time I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens, which made the FE a small and light kit.
I find it interesting how the Kentmere rendered my car’s gray color so light, when in “real life” it’s a much darker, duller gray.
In late afternoon in late summer, the sun creates this pillar of light on the ground in front of my house. I like to photograph my shadow in it.
To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon FE gallery.
The Nikon FE disappears in your hands when you use it. There’s nothing about it that ever gets in your way of making an image. Yet paradoxically it also feels good to use every time you lift it to your eye. If you want to own just one manual-focus 35mm SLR, a Nikon FE would be a terrific choice.