Nikon FM3a – The Most Perfect, Manual Focus, Film SLR Ever Built?

In my previous posts on the FM and FM2, I mentioned how I wished they had analog metering needles instead of red LEDs in the viewfinder. While I wanted a mix of the best of both the FE/FE2 and the FM/FM2 models, I neglected to consider that Nikon (and probably many people) had thought the same thing. It turns out the FM3a is precisely that – a mix of the best of the electronic FE/FE2 and the mechanical FM/FM2. It will function in aperture priority auto mode with batteries, and in full manual mode as a mechanical SLR, with no need for batteries. The metering works like the FE/FE2 (just the way I like it) with an analog match needle display, and the shutter is capable of completely mechanical operation even without batteries (of course the meter won’t function without batteries).

Now, with modern DSLR bodies, the electronics are much better and batteries have much greater capacity than older SLRs. I’ve experienced times when my SLR batteries have died, and it really is a pain when the camera just dies. With my newer bodies, I continuously monitor battery strength, and it’s a simple task to pop in a new battery. With the older bodies, you have to unscrew the battery cover and replace the batteries. In the case of the Nikon FE, or my Olympus OM-4 (which I also use a lot), they generally take 2 A76 batteries, and I don’t always have spares with me. The last time I took my OM-4 to Pennsylvania (this winter) it was cold, and when I tried to take some pictures, to my surprise the batteries were dead! I did have spares, but it was still a pain to replace them, and the camera just dies without warning. Since I always carry my trusty Sekonic Studio Deluxe meter (which doesn’t require batteries), if my camera still functioned (like the FM/FM2/FM3a) without batteries, I could shoot without the pain of replacing batteries (or even worse, trying to find batteries if I didn’t have spares on me).

I’ve been saving up for a while now because the FM3a tends to be a little pricey. Used bodies in good shape tend to sell at nearly the same price as they sold for brand new, which makes it one of the best cameras of all time at retaining its value, or so they say. I just received my FM3a and quickly shot my first roll of film. It’s very nice. I would say the FE is the closest to this camera, as far as normal use and feel (except that it always requires batteries).

If you’re interested in a great FM3a review, I’d recommend Ken Rockwell’s.

Like always, I’m interested in images, and the technical aspects of the camera itself, and not a lot of talk. Below are some of my images so you can see how this camera performs for yourself. I’m not 100% satisfied with many of these images. The rose photos seem overly grainy, but maybe that’s just an exposure issue. I chose a bad day to shoot these since it has been raining quite a bit in Austin. I didn’t want to wait, so this is what I have.

So, do you think the FM3a is the most perfect, manual focus, film SLR, ever made? Or are those claims just ridiculous?