Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Little SLR That Could... The Nikon EM

Nikon EM with MD-E winder
The late 1970s and early 1980s were  an interesting time for photographers. Not yet into the auto-focus era, but micro-electronics were becoming more abundant in cameras.  Nikon's cameras have many accessories that can be used with a number of their camera bodies from the F2 through the Nikkormat and FM and FE models.  But what about the person that wanted the benefits of using an SLR without the hassle of knowing about setting exposure, and that that stuff?  Nikon came up with a small and yet elegant SLR that fit that requirement to a "T."  Not only that, Nikon introduced a line of cheaper Series E lenses that were optically very good, but used some plastic instead of metal where it made sense. The Nikon EM was introduced in 1979 as a camera for what we today would call the "soccer mom" market.  That is, a relatively inexpensive SLR with automatic features for someone that wanted to photograph events, etc. without having to figure out settings, but still get better results via the lenses that Nikon made.  Of course, by today's standards, the EM is quite limited for a P&S SLR.    However, at the time, and in comparison to its peers, the EM was quite capable.  It features:
  • Vertical-travelling metal shutter with electronically-controlled stepless shutter speeds from 1- 1/1000 sec.  
  • A metering range of EV 2 to EV 18 (meaning very capable in most situations).  
  • ISO film speed setting of 25 to 1600
  • backlight exposure compensation button
  • M90 and B setting (the M90 works with or without batteries)
  • contacts for using an auto-winder (the MD-E as shown)
  • rugged metal chassis
  • compact size, weighs about 1 lb.
In short, pretty much what anyone needs without manual control.  The typical lens that came with the EM is the 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens.  Not a bad lens at all, and the later models with the silvery metal ring are supposedly better made than the more plasticky earlier model.  Of course, any Nikon F-mount lens that is AI or AIS or even AF-D (manually focused) can be used with this camera, so you can plop a 500mm mirror lens on it if you wished.  

A few things to know about the EM

  1. When you load film into the camera, you may think that the meter is not working, as the needle in the viewfinder will be in the red zone over 1/1000 sec.  Once you advance the film to frame 1, the meter kicks in.  This makes sense for an AE camera, as if the meter worked as soon as you loaded the film, it would fire the shutter at whatever speed the meter indicated.  So you load it with the lenscap on, and it takes 1 second for each time you wound and fired the shutter to advance the film.  So it is a good feature, not a bug.  However, if your batteries are bad or something else is wrong with the camera, you will know when the meter doesn't activate at frame 1.  Also, this is why you can't test shutter speeds with the back open.
  2. If you want to compensate your exposure, such as shooting on snow or a bright beach, or maybe a black cat in a coal mine, you can do so by re-setting your ISO dial.  So, for shooting on bright snow using ISO 400 film, you would set your ISO to 200 (you want MORE light to compensate for the bright reflectance reading, not less).  Remember to reset your ISO when you are done.
  3. The meter will activate as soon as you press on the shutter release, and you do not need to back off the advance lever away from the camera body to do so, like many Nikons such as the FE.
  4. Find the SB-E matching flash unit for easy flash shooting.  
  5. Adding the MD-E motor drive makes this camera really quick to use.
A used EM in good shape should cost you anywhere from free to less than $50.  I paid $6 for mine, and the winder was $10.   As a small SLR, it is one that can be easily carried with that 50mm series E lens.  So long as you have fresh batteries (2 LR-44) the camera will be ready to shoot when called upon.  Perhaps it might not be considered to be the pro-powerhouse of the F3 or the FM2N, but like any camera, it will do as well as the person that wields it.  Besides, it's all-black, so that must mean it's "pro-grade" right? :)

Some recent examples from my EM:
Inside the bakehouse

Transit Center at the Museum

Liberty Lofts

where to?

under the Library

filthy habits

Bell Tower Hotel

The big P

At the Small Plates reception, using the SB-E flash.

1 comment:

Jim Grey said...

Thanks for this great writeup of this camera. Now I'll put it on my radar and hope to find one in good nick for a good price.