Nikon EM


This is my sixth Nikon camera – I already have two ‘modern’ Nikons: the F301 and the even newer F601, two Nikkormats: the FTn and the later EL and the magnificent F2 Photomic. Historically, this Nikon EM sits between the Nikkormats and the F301 and F601.

This is a fairly small camera, reminiscent of the Pentax ME range. It is certainly a lot smaller and lighter than my F2 or either of my Nikkormats. It was intended for women’s use hence the small size and lack of manual controls. All the photographs of people using the camera in the manual are of a pretty blonde to underline this idea. Back when this camera was introduced, it was good marketing to assume that women are useless, apparently.

  • lens: Kiron sold as Vivitar
  • focal length: 70-150 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.8 – ƒ/22
  • focus range: 0.9 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Seiko MFC-E metal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/1000 s
  • flash: Hot shoe
  • film size: 35 mm

The camera was brought to market in 1979 and was made until 1982 (and offered for sale new until 1984). So, my camera is now (2021) forty years old, give or take a single year. Early camera electronics are notorious for not lasting for decades, not that they were intended to. The automatic exposure system is still working even if I have yet to ascertain how accurately. I can tell this by pointing the camera at different parts of the room and firing the shutter. Listening to the significant differences in the time the shutter takes to open and close indicates the varying shutter speeds.

There are a couple of things that do not work on my camera. One is the battery check system. I press the check button and the LED should light. I do know that the batteries are good because they are new and are controlling the shutter. The other failed system is the meter needle in the viewfinder which does not move regardless of the light, ASA setting or aperture setting. This clearly does not affect the metering system (I suspect that the meter needle has become mechanically jammed through extended unuse) but that does mean that the photographer has no idea as to the shutter speed being used.

A third fault is the AI ring on the lens mount which is supposed to return to its designated rest position when the lens is removed. If you set the lens aperture to ƒ/22, the AI ring moves accordingly. If you then set the lens aperture to ƒ/3.5, the AI ring stays at the ƒ/22 position. I am hoping that this is a spring becoming unattached which might be an easy fix. Or it might be a broken spring which will not be fixable – spare parts for this camera have not been available for decades.

The body is made from a die-cast aluminium alloy and so is quite heavy. The top and bottom plates are made from some sort of plastic and the back is made from pressed steel. The camera body measures 135 by 86 by 52 mm and weighs 460 g. Most of the body is covered in black leatherette and the rest is painted satin black. As an automatic exposure camera with no manual options, there are few controls. In fact, there are only two controls on the camera body. Starting on the top on the right: first is the window to the frame counter. Only even numbers are shown, odd frames being represented by dots. The highest number is 36 – the camera will keep advancing the film but the frame counter will not move beyond 36. The frame counter is reset by opening the back in time-honoured manner. The frame counter resets to S which is actually -3.

Next to the frame counter is the film advance lever. This has a design that I have never seen before – the lever has a hinge halfway along. I am not sure what this achieves that more usual lever designs do not. The lever moves through 144º to advance the film one frame. This is on a ratchet so a frame can be advanced with one stroke or several short ones. Around this lever is a rotating switch – this offers the options of Auto, M90 and B.

The camera is intended to be used on Auto but this relies on good batteries so M90 is provided as the sole mechanical speed which is 1/90 seconds. M90 is also used with flash as this is the sync speed for this shutter. There is a rumour on the Interweb that the shutter will fire at 1/1000 seconds if you remove the batteries and fire on Auto. I cannot verify this but when I tried it, the shutter speed appeared to be much faster than 1/90 seconds. I shall try this with my test film. B is the Bulb setting where the shutter remains open while the shutter release is pressed.

Inside the fulcrum of the advance lever is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Partially pressing this switches on the camera electronics and starts the automatic exposure system working. On the left of the film advance lever is a soft blue button and a small red LED. This is the battery check – press the blue button and the red LED should light.

In the middle of the top is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is the accessory shoe which is an ISO standard hot shoe with two additional contacts for use with Nikon’s Speedlite flash guns. On the back of the hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 12 by 8 mm. The image is plenty bright enough. In the centre of the focus screen is a circle of micro-prisms as a focus aid and in the centre of these is a split-image focus aid. Both of these are clear and easy to use. Around the micro-prism circle is a second, larger, circle. At first glance, this has no function but it delineates the area that the centre-weighted exposure system uses.

On the left of the focus screen is a vertical list of shutter speeds – these range from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds. There is an indication at 1/90 seconds as this is both the only available mechanical sped and also the flash sync speed. My camera has a fault as the needle that should point to the shutter speed in use is stuck above 1/1000 seconds and will not move at all. However, it is clear that the exposure system is changing the shutter speed by listening to the length of the noise by the shutter.

The front of the pentaprism hump has the legends “EM” and “Nikon” on it in off-white.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. Pulling up on this crank unlatches the camera back. Around the crank is the film speed scale which is in ASA only (ASA is functionally the same as ISO film speeds). The film speed is set by lifting and turning the outer ring – there is a white index mark to indicate the selected film speed. Available film speeds are from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. 25 ASA (or 25 ISO) seems ridiculously slow today but in 1980 25 ASA film was still commonly available.

As always, the front of the camera is dominated by the lens mount. This is the AI version of the F mount introduced in 1959 – AI means that the lenses do not need the “rabbit ears” indexing prong. Instead, there is an indexing tab on the lens’ aperture ring which pushes a spring loaded index ring around as the set aperture is changed. This is basically what the “rabbit ears” did but the real difference is what happens inside the camera – by changing the linkage, Nikon prevented people mixing and matching the new system and the old system and getting spurious results. This index ring is faulty on my camera, as mentioned earlier. The ring needs to be spring loaded to return to its rest position when the aperture is set to its maximum but either this spring has become detached or the spring is broken so now the lens is incapable of communicating the set aperture to the automatic exposure system. At this date, there is no “screwdriver” autofocus linkage nor any electrical contacts on the mount.

On the right side of the mount (right as when looking at the mount) near the top of the body, is a small blue button. Pressing this and holding it in gives +2 times exposure compensation which is the only user input into the exposure system.

On the left side of the lens mount is the self-timer. This works by being would up (it is clockwork) by turning the lever anti-clockwise through 90º. It is activated by pressing the shutter release button. The delay is eight seconds with my camera.

On either top corner of the front of the camera there is a strap lug for a neck strap.

The base of the camera is designed to take a motor drive. This consists of a locating hole, a metal clutch connected to the film advance mechanism and two electrical contacts. In addition to the motor drive elements, there are three more usual items, There is a battery compartment which holds two off LR44 batteries to power the exposure system and electronic shutter. In line with the lens there is a tripod socket. This will be an ISO socket – 1/4 inch UNC thread – which was established in 1977. The final item is the button to disengage the film advance system to allow the film to be rewound.

The back is unlatched by pulling up on the rewind crank. The back itself is plain inside with just a pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. The edges of the back form a flange which fits into a groove on the camera body. This groove has a foam light seal in it which has degraded over the last 40 years and needs replacing. On the outside of the back is a black painted brass memo holder to take the end of the film carton as a reminder as to the type of film in use.

Inside the back of the camera, there is a chamber on the left for the film cassette. At this age (1980ish)there are no contacts for a DX system – it would be a few years until Kodak designed the DX system (introduced in 1983). The film gate is in the centre giving onto the vertical travel focal lane shutter. This was made by Seiko and is electronically controlled. This shutter is a Seiko MFC-E shutter – M=Metal, F=focal plane, C=compact and E=electronic – needed to help reduce both size and weight of the camera. This is the shutter that Pentax used on the slightly earlier Pentax ME camera and aan improved version on the Pentax ME super and Pentax Program A cameras. This shutter, being electronic, needs battery power to work, apart from the 1/90 second speed which is entirely mechanical.

2 comments

  1. Hi John
    The meter needle may be stuck because a little piece of degraded foam from the mirror bumper may have found its’ way under it (I’ve seen this happen before), as the mirror bumper foam will have broken down in the same manner as the light seals.
    It’s also quite common on these cameras for the aperture follower ring to become sticky, rather than the spring coming adrift. This can usually be released with a couple of drops of lighter fluid without disassembly.
    I believe the wind on lever is hinged as there is insufficient space on the top plate for a normal sized lever and this reduces the throw of the lever when in the parked position.
    My first proper camera was an EM back in the early ’90’s Great little cameras. I recall the backlight compensation button (that the increases exposure by 2 stops) is very useful.
    Cheers,
    Jonathan

    Like

  2. Hi John
    The meter needle may be stuck because a little piece of degraded foam from the mirror bumper may have found its’ way under it (I’ve seen this happen before), as the mirror bumper foam will have broken down in the same manner as the light seals.
    It’s also quite common on these cameras for the aperture follower ring to become sticky, rather than the spring coming adrift. This can usually be released with a couple of drops of lighter fluid without disassembly.
    I believe the wind on lever is hinged as there is insufficient space on the top plate for a normal sized lever and this reduces the throw of the lever when in the parked position.
    My first proper camera was an EM back in the early ’90’s Great little cameras. I recall the backlight compensation button (that the increases exposure by 2 stops) is very useful.
    Cheers,
    Jonathan

    Like

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