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     REVIEW  2003-03-23


After having used my FM3a for almost a year now I think I have gained enough experience with it to write a review.

The FM3a is an improved version of the older manual focus Nikon cameras such as the FE2 and FM2n. Actually I think it's almost identical to the FE2 but with the mechanical shutter speeds of the FM2n and with TTL flash. The reason I went back to a manual camera was that I bought a cheap SLR that I was not entirely satisfied with, I had a manual camera before that I liked more, so I went back. The FM3a only has centre weighted light metering and at first I was afraid that this would not be accurate enough. Now when I have learned more about exposure, learnt the zone system, I make better exposures than with my cheap auto-focus SLR. I do whish that the camera had a spot metering mode though.

Main Features

  • Manual focusing taking all Nikon AI/AIS/AF lenses (not G though).
  • Center weighted light meter (60/40).
  • Shutter speeds from 1 to 1/4000s and a bulb mode.
  • Aperture priority exposure mode including lock button.
  • Manual exposure mode.
  • Self timer with mirror lock up.
  • Depth of field preview.
  • Possible to do multiple exposures on the same frame.
  • Exposure compensation in 1/3 EV steps with AE mode.
  • Film speed specified from ISO 12 to 6400 or read by DX code.
  • TTL flash capability with 1/250s flash sync.
  • 1 stop TTL flash compensation button.

Truly Great

1) The metering indicator, every camera should have a light meeter like this. It uses the match needle principle. To the left in the view finder you have a scale with all possible shutter speeds, 1 to 4000. Two needles, a fat blue one indicating your selected shutter speed and a thin black one showing the cameras light meeter reading. At one glance you know how to adjust your shutter speed or aperture to get proper exposure. Excellent!
2) Excellent film advance lever, almost no resistance. You can probably shoot away at 1-2 frames per second all manual.
3) Big fat and wonderfull shutter speed dial.
4) Battery seems to last forever since it's only used by the light meter.
5) Bright view finder.
6) Circle in the view finder indicating the 60% light meter area.
7) The mirror and shutter sound


Most of these remarks comes from the fact that I look through the view finder with my left eye because of a sight problem. The camera is obviously designed to be used by right eyed people.

1) AE lock button is very hard to reach if you look through the finder with your left eye, not a problem for most people I guess. I mostly use manual mode because of the excellent match needle system any way.
2) Flash compensation button is truly in a bad spot, very hard to reach even with my small fingers.
3) View finder glass easily gets dirty by eye lashes because the small rubber ring round it is not much of protection.
4) Since the film advance lever has to be 30 degrees of the body for the shutter to work there is a possibility for some people looking with their left getting it in the eye. Personally I don't have a problem with it, although it is very near my right eye.
5) It is not specified in detail how the TTL flash works. Does it use 60/40 metering as well? Or just one whole-frame sensor?

Wish List

Only one thing, spot meter mode.


Since this camera only has an old school center weighted light meeter you have to learn how a camera measures light. I think your images will improve more by knowing that than by using a modern matrix based light meeter. If you do black and white you will see on the negatives if the exposure is correct.

Have you ever noticed the light meter reading flutter around amazingly much, although you are in the same scene just pointing the camera around some? If you are outdoors you only have one light source, the sun, so there should only be one correct exposure for all sun lit objects for example.

Read some about Adam Ansel's Zone system and your exposures will definitely improve.

Learn about the sunny 16 rule. Use it as a lower limit for exposure outdoors.

Consider prime lenses, personally I think the extra two stops are worth more than the zoom capability. Primes are also still of higher quality than zooms. If I had to chose two lenses I would pick one 35mm lens and maybe one 85mm lens. My sharpest lens is probably the 50mm 1.8 AIS lens, it's also among the cheapest Nikon lenses.

If you don't want to spend a fortune on a flash unit I suggest the SB-22s, I'm very happy with mine. The SB-22s is still pricy but what do you expect for a Nikon thingy?