Nikon EM: Just cute, simple and friendly

Nikon EM: Just cute, simple and friendly

The last place I ever expected to find a used camera for sale was a used bookstore. So, you could imagine my surprise when I found this beauty during one such visit to a local bookstore. At the time of this visit, I was exclusively hunting for SLRs and, just as you would expect, I picked it up without thinking. At around 25 bucks, it was a little pricey, for what I was used to, but it was not too much to break the bank.

My experience with professional photography gear was not much at the time I bought this camera, and since it had somehow been ingrained in me that Nikon cameras were for professionals, I was very happy with this find. Interestingly, contrary to what I thought, this camera was actually aimed at amateur photographers. With that said, I have always had the feeling that this camera cemented my love for analog photography. It presented me with the first opportunity to shoot with a 50mm/f1.8 lens (a nifty fifty as they call it), and the quality of the images I made with it were some of the prettiest I had captured at the time. As it turned out, through the influence of this camera, the 50mm became one of my favorite focal lengths. I shot many rolls through this camera, and got a lot of practice with it. I really love it!

According to Wikipedia, the Nikon EM was introduced in 1979, and I have no other reason to think it came from any other time period — it looks 1979. It's a very compact SLR, with a very sturdy metal build which gives it some good heft. Although, to me, the EM appears to be of a high quality, it was actually built as a consumer grade camera for beginners, and was considered to be of a lower quality (due to several cost cutting measures in its manufacture) when compared to its professional Nikon contemporaries. Even when compared to modern consumer grade cameras, it still feels better built than most. Regardless of its build quality, this camera was intended for beginners, and it shows in the simplicity of its operation. To make it easy for beginners to shoot, it shoots in an aperture priority mode, where you get to select the aperture on the lens and the camera selects the right shutter speed. The selected shutter speed is displayed in the viewfinder with an analog needle that swings over a scale of shutter speeds from 1s to 1/1000s. Red boundaries at the extreme ends of the shutter speed scale indicate over and under exposure. Apart from the aperture priority mode, you can shoot the camera at a manual 1/90 flash sync shutter speed (for flash photography) or a bulb mode (for longer exposures). The widgets and buttons on this camera are the standard stuff you will expect from an SLR: a film advance lever, a film speed selector, a battery check battery, a self timer lever and some sort of mode dial for selecting the exposure mechanism. There is also a special exposure compensation button that drops the shutter speed about two stops when pressed.

The F-Mount bayonet lens mount from Nikon — a very interesting mount with a six decade legacy — is featured on this camera. This mount makes it possible to shoot this camera with a large library of quality lenses. My unit came mated with a Series E 50mm f1.8 Nikon lens. This lens is small and flat, but it performs really well. It has a clicky aperture ring that allows the selection of apertures between f1.8 and f22, and a very smooth focus ring. I'm still trying to improve my knowledge in basic optical engineering, but I now understand what it means to say that this lens has 6 elements in 5 groups (more on those in a later post). Images out of this lens have a dreamy look in the out of focus elements and sufficient sharpness in the in-focus areas. Colours are beautifully reproduced with very nice contrast and a pleasant warmth.

For a while, this camera was always in my backpack wherever I went, and I shot dozens of rolls through it in about two months. I dropped it to the ground a couple of times, picked it up, dusted it off and continued shooting with it.

I found the shooting experience with this camera to be very pleasant. Although its small size makes it very comfortable to hold, lugging it around your neck for extended periods however could cause you some neck strain. On the down sides, the lack of shutter speed control on this camera can get painful sometimes. But I've learned that with a little creativity, you can always achieve the exposure you want. Another thing about this camera that may bother some is the loudness of the shutter. Although I'm personally not bothered by it, this shutter really clickity-clacks. It appears some of the cost cutting affected the damping mechanism that silences shutter.

The Nikon EM is a great camera and given its limitations, some may not show interest in it. However, given how cheap they are these days on auction sites, if shooting film is your thing, the fun you can have from it may be worth the investment.