The FE & FE2 are two of my favorite Nikon film cameras – from 1978 and 1983, respectively. I have written posts previously comparing the FM and FE, as well as the FM2 and FE2 – but I’ve never compared the FE with the FE2, and I was thinking that someone might find this comparison interesting.
The evolution of Nikon’s 35mm cameras during the 1970s and 80s is interesting. The F2 was introduced by Nikon as a professional 35mm camera in 1971, and the FE and FE2 (as well as the FM and FM2) used features of the F2, but were designed to appeal to both professionals (mainly as backups to the F2) and to semi-professional, or serious hobbyist photographers – those that wanted something of better quality, and with more features, than some of the “point and shoot” style cameras of the time.
Between the FE and FE2, there are many similarities and some differences, or enhancements that went into the FE2 intended to upgrade it from the FE. First, and what I think is probably the biggest difference, is the shutter. The first FE2 bodies utilized a honeycombed titanium shutter, and higher tension springs to achieve an amazing 1/4000 of a second shutter speed. It’s still an amazing feature of this camera from almost 40 years ago. I’ve read that some people reported problems with the titanium shutters, and others say that’s a bunch of nonsense. I’ve never had an issue with my FE2 and it’s titanium shutter. It looks cool too. Here’s a link to an article about this shutter: Nikon’s Honeycomb-pattern Titanium Shutter – Index Page (mir.com.my)
The next biggest difference – and I’m not sure of the specifics here – is the electronics. This was a huge time for change, not only in cameras, but in the field of electronics, and the electronics in the FE2 was no exception. The use of more advanced integrated circuits was a big deal, and I think will actually help the FE2 to be a bit more maintenance free way into the future. The FE, although it’s electronics helped it perform well, was not as advanced as in the FE2. So, for electronics, I suppose the better camera is the FE2.
As far as other differences, there are some, but they’re pretty minor. One of things I like about the FE is it’s ability to easily use Nikon’s older, non-AI lenses. There’s a little tab on the side of the lens mount, on the camera body. If the tab is pushed upward (using a small button release next to the tab) the small tab is moved out of the way, so old lenses will fit and work, although metering would be done in stopped down mode. I have some older, non-AI lenses, and it is nice to be able to use them this way if I want to. If you try to mount an older, non-AI lens on an FE2 it will bind with the mounting ring – and if you do get it to mount, it will be tight and not work properly. It’s best not to even try to mount non-AI lenses on an FE2.
Because of the new shutter, and new electronics of the FE2, they decided to turn the meter on and off differently. With the FE it’s very simple (which I like). When the film advance lever of the FE is open (pulled back with the thumb) the meter’s on. When you push the lever back to be flush with the body, the meter is off. On the FE2, the film advance lever has to be pulled open (to unlock the shutter release), but the meter is actually activated by touching the shutter release half way – then it automatically shuts off in 6 or 10 seconds, or whatever the timing is, but the point is that it’s automatic. Presumably because the electronics consume quite a bit more power, and if you forget to manually turn the meter off, it will drain your batteries faster. So, it’s a way to conserve battery power. Other camera makers of the period implemented similar features – to prevent drain when a photographer forgot to turn the meter off. Although necessary, it’s a bit annoying to me to have the meter turning off all the time while I’m shooting – maybe not a big deal if you’re used to how it works, and are ok with it. One reason I like the FE – simple, not complex.
Both the FE and FE2 feature the match needle metering system that I love. Simple, yet informative when shooting in different conditions. I love having an aperture priority mode when I want it, but I mostly use manual metering when I’m shooting with either of these cameras.
Another slightly annoying feature of the FE2 is that the meter won’t engage until the counter on the film advance gets to 1. Before 1, the shutter always fires at 1/250th of a second (the single manually operated shutter speed). This prevents long exposures in auto mode with the lens cap on – but I like to shoot a frame or 2 before 1, if I can… so, this is a bit annoying to me. If you don’t advance all the way to #1, and you try to use your meter, it won’t function. You may think something is wrong with the meter, because tapping the shutter release, to turn it on, does nothing. Frustrating until I remember that this is how it works, wind ahead to frame 1 and then all is well. With the FE, it’s up to you to know when you can take your first shot. Sometimes you just get half a frame, or some light leaking messes up an early shot – and if you’re shooting a wedding that probably wouldn’t be good. I mostly just shoot for fun, so messing up a frame to get an extra shot is worth it to me. When in auto exposure mode with the FE, if you press the shutter with the lens cap on, you will get a very, very long exposure. Naturally, if you move the shutter speed dial away from “A”, the shutter will close. With the FE2, while you are advancing to frame 1, even with the lens cap on, this is never an issue because the shutter is fixed at 1/250th of a second. So, I understand the reason(s) for implementing such a feature – but I’m old school, and a bit frugal (in my mind at least) so I feel good being able to squeeze an extra shot out on a roll of film.
The FE2 meter (and the FE, for that matter) works well. Simple, center weighted averaging, but it works well in most lighting conditions. Here’s a few photos of a recent ice and snow storm we had in the Texas Hill Country (very rare occurrence). These photos are taken with my FE2 on Kodak Portra 400 film.
Now, another point I should mention, and I only realized this after I dropped my FE and the meter broke. The electronics of the FE2 are a bit more advanced, utilizing newer circuitry and some (although very little by today’s standards) integrated circuits (chips on a circuit board), instead of as many wires, resisters and other “in-line” components throughout the camera. The electronics of the FE work, but over the years, wires and soldered connections can grow weak. That’s what I figure happened when I dropped my FE, one of the soldered connections broke loose, and then the meter no longer worked.
Here’s a few photos from a year or so ago taken with my FE. I like the colors, and the exposures. These are taken with Kodak Portra 160 film.
Cosmetically, the cameras are very similar. I have black models, but the both come in either all black or silver/black finishes. I’m not sure which I like better – but mine are both very clean, except for one small dent on the shutter speed dial of my FE2. Not a big deal, and it doesn’t impact performance or function at all. You can see the dent below – barely noticeable, on my FE2 (left). My FE is fitted with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, and the FE2 has a 28mm f/3.5 lens mounted.
From the front, they are very similar too. Both very nice looking cameras, the FE2 has it’s name label on the front, the FE has no name (but the serial number on the back starts with “FE”). FE2 serial numbers are all numeric.
Naturally, the FE will cost less – it is older, and the FE2 is probably prone to less malfunctions. The FE I dropped is one of two FE bodies I own. It was a silver one, and that’s the only problem I have ever had, and I’ve been using the FE and FE2 for several years. My lesson was that I should have zipped my camera bag before lifting it – unless you want your camera to fall out… so, I will be more careful from now on.
A large part of your results will be dependent upon the lens you choose to use with your FE or FE2. Thankfully, so many Nikon cameras and lenses were sold during the 1970’s and 1980’s, there’s plenty of hardware available to choose from.
I like the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI or AI-S lenses. If you look online, try to find one with good glass; no scratches or other marks, no haze, and no fungus. The glass is a critical part of taking good photos – if you don’t have good, clean glass, you will have a hard time getting crisp, sharp photos. Camera bodies, shutters and other moving parts, have limited lifespans. Lenses, unlike camera bodies, can last a very long time if taken care of. That’s why I like to buy lenses that have been owned by pros (because they generally take care of their glass), but bodies are used heavily by pros and they wear them out. I would much rather buy a body that was owned by someone who used it once a month, and kept it in a padded case to protect it at all times. That camera would have very few (relatively speaking) shutter actuations, and very little other physical wear. Humidity is one of the things that can destroy a lens. When a lens is stored for a long time in tropical climates, moisture can get in between the glass elements, and mold, fungus and other bad stuff can form. I try to find lenses that have not been in that kind of environment, but it’s hard to tell sometimes. Fungi can be cleaned from between the lens elements, but this is a tricky process. Damage can be done to the glass by the process of trying to remove a fungus. If you have the opportunity, shine a bright light into both sides of a lens, and even look at the glass with a magnifier, moving forward and backward to focus at different depths within the lens – to inspect the surface of all elements.
I get a lot of my camera equipment through eBay. I don’t necessarily like to bid on items, but I am picky and prefer to buy from sellers that have 100% satisfaction rating – and allow free returns. I’ve only returned an item twice in all the years I’ve been buying on eBay – one was advertised as used (which, by eBay’s definition, means it works) and it didn’t work. The second was returned because I didn’t believe the meter was accurate. Both were accepted without questions. One was advertised as “No Returns” but since the camera didn’t work, they allowed a return (which is in accordance with eBay policy). So, I feel fortunate that I haven’t had more issues. If you buy from people that have 100% satisfaction ratings, or very, very close to it, you are reasonably safe – but it’s always good to send messages to people before assuming something about a product. If they don’t respond, you probably shouldn’t buy from them.
If you have any specific questions about the FE and FE2 cameras, leave me a comment, and I’ll try to answer you if I can. If I don’t know the answer, I may be able to direct you to a website with and answer.
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