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.

Nikon FE

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.

Nikon FE

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.

Nikon FE

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.

Tables and chairs

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 photographed this

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.

32 25

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.

Waynetown Pizza King

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.

Old SR 25

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.

Houck Iron Bridge repurposed in Delphi

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.

Little church

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.

The view from the pulpit

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.

Opera House in Delphi

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.

Hydrangea I think

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.

Shadowy me

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.


15 responses to “Nikon FE”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    My 35mm pro friends, shooting annual report, event photography, and the like, adopted the FE and FM in droves as a cheaper alternative to the F series, altho hard core photojournalists still used the F series, especially if furnished by their employers, like newspapers. The “dirty little secret” of these cameras was that a pro user could shoot the hell out of it for a year, and then trade it in for a new one, and the money owed after trade in was less than a full CLA from Nikon, so that was a pretty common occurrence. One had to take a hard look at used FE’s and FM’s to make sure you didn’t get a good looking one that needed a full overhaul!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m no poet, but I feel that there’s verse in there somewhere about pro photographers leaving spent FEs in their wake.

  2. Robert Selders Avatar
    Robert Selders


    Love the FM & FE but it is a camera for unimpaired vision. The eye relief required me to use the eye glasses-friendly F3HP. Still miss the compact form.

    Thank you for reminding me of the carefree-FE days.


    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      My local pro shop always stocked the screw in eye piece correction for these as well as the big boys like the F and F2, and also has the tool that helped you pick out the correction, so yeah, I did have the correction filters so I just moved my glasses up to my forehead, but it was rough to see the whole screen with glasses, you are correct! I also have to say, the one bad point about these, and all the smaller format bodies, was that they were tough to use on a tripod as well, as most professional tripods had a larger plate that would jam the focus ring and f stop ring into the plate so they wouldn’t turn; not enough space, the lens focus and f stop ring extended below the bottoms of these smaller cameras. Perfect hand held cameras, tho!

  3. -N- Avatar

    I own a number of Nikon series cameras, with my favorites my beat up FM2n and FM3A. Never liked the F3HP and I wear glasses…. Nice review!

  4. Warren W Jenkins Avatar
    Warren W Jenkins

    I used 2 of these over a 15 year period; 1993-2007.
    I ran many rolls of slide and print film through them.
    While I always had one equipped with a 1.8 50mm, later the other body would see a Nikkor 70x210mm, a Quantaray 135mm, and a Nikkor 35x70mm.
    Only problem area was the shutter release arm eventually locking up. Both FEs and their successor, a FM10 had to have this rebuilt in their service lives.
    Another thing was making sure the film leader had seated properly when loading, nothing like getting 36 exposures of nothing…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fortunately there are still techs who can service these FEs. I guess no camera is bulletproof!

  5. Theron Avatar

    This is my last surviving manual focus 35mm. It scratches all my film itches.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I could see it being the one 35mm I kept if I could keep only one.

  6. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    Interesting how Nikon put the textured surface on the top of the camera, that’s a little different. Since I’ve been using my dad’s old Minolta SRT101, I’ve been pondering getting a more modern SLR film camera for fun, so these essays and your tests are extra fun to read. Particularly appreciated other readers’ notes on this one. Nice looking pictures out of this camera.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You could do a lot worse than an FE! Or an FM, or an FA. Any of these Fx cameras are a good choice.

  7. JR Smith Avatar
    JR Smith

    Really hard not to love the Nikon FE.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Its charm is immediately obvious.

  8. Sam Avatar

    Great review and pics Jim! I’ve been eyeing the FE because I’ve had my eyes on the FE2 for years but their prices became over inflated. I think the FE would be fine for my purposes as confirmed by your review. Sorry for the disappearance I’m making up for lost time! Thanks.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Glad you’re back, Sam!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: