In 1993, Nikon released a special version of its most respected compact SLR. They wrapped the bones of the FM2n in titanium, called the camera the FM2/T, and decorated it with a price tag of $1,120 ($375 more than the camera on which it was based). It was a fantastic camera and an instant classic, and it remains so today.
But we could argue that the FM2/T is not a unique camera – it is, after all, a special variant of the Nikon FM2n. It’s also true that anything I say about the FM2/T can be rightly said about the earlier FM2n. This makes it tricky to talk about the FM2/T on its own terms, but I’ll try.
What is a Nikon FM2/T?
The Nikon FM2/T is a single lens reflex, 35mm film camera. It’s a fully manual machine (lacking semi-auto or auto-exposure modes), uses manual focus F mount lenses, and features a through-the-lens light meter coupled to both shutter speed and aperture settings to calculate for exposure.
Controls are minimal, and essential. On the top of the body we find a massive shutter speed dial with integrated ISO sensitivity control, a shutter release button, a film rewind knob, film advance lever, and (the only superfluous control present) a multiple exposure switch. The front of the camera houses a depth-of-field preview lever, self-timer lever, and lens release button. The bottom hides a tripod socket, a film rewind button, the battery compartment (necessary only to power the light meter), and connections for motor drives.
The camera’s relative sparsity of controls hints at its mission statement. It was made for semi-professional and enthusiast photographers. It purposefully ignored the trend of automation and electronic assistance, and targeted a specific type of customer – photographers who wanted a reliable, mechanical, manual camera (what some people might call a “serious camera”). This it was. Many professional photographers of the era who were using Nikon’s pro-spec F3, F4, or F5 would use an FM series camera as a backup body.
The FM2/T’s Ancestral DNA
The beating heart of the FM2/T is a shutter transplanted from the FM2n, and like it did in that earlier camera, this shutter distinguishes the FM2/T from much of its contemporaries. The all-mechanical vertically-traveling focal plane shutter is capable of a maximum (blistering) speed of 1/4000th of a second. That’s a faster mechanical shutter than could be found in any other camera on the market at the time of its release, and it brings some real advantages.
To start, it’s fast enough to allow wide-open shooting in bright light. That’s good for portrait shooters in particular, and for anyone looking to get shallow depth-of-field in daylight or with sensitive film. Second, the shutter’s all-mechanical design means it requires no batteries to fire at any and all shutter speeds. Lastly, its construction (which employs self-lubricating bearings) is incredibly durable.
The camera’s mirror assembly is a design adapted from the professional grade Nikon F2. This already-magnificent mirror assembly was further refined to minimize vibration and mirror-shake, and it does so with aplomb.
The viewfinder is excellent. Big and incredibly bright, it shows the photographer everything needed to make a photo. Selected shutter speed is displayed on the left hand side of the frame, while the selected aperture is shown on the top. The right side houses the light meter display, which shows a plus or minus sign for over- and under-exposure and a central circle to signify a properly exposed shot. This silicon photodiode light meter is informed through a center-weighted 60/40 metering patch denoted in the viewfinder by a circular etching surrounding the micro-prism focusing aid. In the center of the frame is a split-prism focusing patch.
Differences Between the Nikon FM2/T and FM2
The biggest and most obvious difference between the FM2/T and the camera on which it iterated, is hinted at in its nomenclature; the “T” stands for titanium. In fact, the FM2/T’s camera back and its top and bottom body plates are made of titanium, where the earlier camera’s plates were made of a copper-silumin alloy (a blend of copper, silicon, and aluminum). While the original alloy was certainly strong and light, the FM2/T’s titanium is even stronger and lighter.
But these improvements are nearly negligible. The original FM2 weighs 540 grams (body only) while the FM2/T weighs 515 grams. That’s a savings of twenty-five grams, or 4.6%. It’s also the equivalent weight of two average-sized acorns, or five U.S. quarters, or a pair of socks. Twenty-five grams also happens to be one-tenth of the total weight of the Nikon Nikkor 50mm F/1.4 fast prime lens (which weighs 249 grams).
Let’s suppose we’re fitting the FM2 and the FM2/T with the mentioned lens. Each combined camera and lens package would weigh in at 789 grams, and 764 grams respectively. That means that with a 50mm F/1.4 lens attached, the weight savings of the FM2/T over the FM2n is a difference of just 3.16%.
Will the average shooter ever notice or appreciate this weight savings? No; no one will.
I headed this section of the article with the pluralized word “differences,” but I need to admit something – the pluralization is a lie. There is only one difference between the FM2/T and the FM2n, and I’ve just talked about it.
We’re done here.
Photographers who have shot a Nikon FM, Nikon FE, Nikon FM2, Nikon FE2, Nikon FM2n (which is a microscopically altered version of the FM2), or an FM3a will know what it’s like to shoot a Nikon FM2/T. For everyone else, hold on to your butts.
As with every single one of the cameras mentioned in that last paragraph, shooting the FM2/T is pure bliss. All of its controls rest exactly where they should, and actuating any single one of them feels great. I’ll try not to exaggerate the way shooting an FM2/T feels in this next paragraph.
The FM2/T’s shutter speed selector clicks into place like the gear shifter of a finely tuned, 1976 Moto Guzzi Le Mans. To stroke the film advance lever is to pet the water-slicked down of a sleeping swan. Releasing the shutter is like biting down on a slightly-chilled marshmallow Peep. The feel of its cold titanium against the skin is the kiss of an angel who is made out of platinum. The Nikon FM2/T is a device gifted to mortals by cosmic beings of unfathomable wisdom and craft.
But the memo holder and film door release are made of junky plastic. Gross.
Way to ruin it, Nikon.
What else can I complain about? Let’s see.
The in-viewfinder meter display works well, though I know some camera-liking people won’t like it. That’s because the light meter display uses LEDs, and while this is advantageous in low light situations where a needle might be obscured by darkness, some people prefer the swinging needle system of other compact F series cameras like the FM3a or FE2.
I understand the thought behind this qualm; these needle-equipped cameras show at a glance just how far off of a proper exposure we are. The FM2/T, on the contrary, will illuminate the same LED light whether our exposure is off by two stops, or ten. Only by ratcheting through the shutter speed or aperture settings until the light changes do we know how far off we are.
I wish the film take-up spool and sprocket were made of metal. I’ve never seen one break, admittedly, but I want them to be metal.
One last (and obvious) objection, the FM2/T is not a good camera for shooters who are looking for aperture-priority, shutter-priority, or program auto-exposure. It simply doesn’t have these. For those who want auto-exposure, there’s the FE2 or the FM3a.
Beyond these, I legitimately cannot think of any other complaints.
In much the same way that I think Nikon’s FM, FM2, and FM3a are nearly perfect SLR cameras, naturally the FM2/T is equally near to perfect. The metering system is accurate, the lens mount allows fitment of an astounding assortment of amazing Nikon Nikkor lenses, it’s the right size, it’s unencumbered by unnecessary controls, and these controls are placed exactly where they should be.
The FM2/T is (kind of) the Leica M6 of SLRs. It’s full manual, basic, incredibly well-made, offers a light meter, works without a battery, and has stood the test of time. If you’re an SLR shooter looking for a perfect SLR, try the FM2/T.
Oh wait, what I meant to say was try the FM2n. The FM2/T is only for weirdos and collectors.
The Nikon FM2/T in 2019
That’s right, the FM2/T is not the Nikon for everyone. Buyers in 2019 will be buying second-hand, and in today’s market an FM2/T often costs double, triple, and even four times as much as comparable examples of the FM2 and FM2n. And these cameras do literally everything that the FM2/T does.
So, why should anyone buy an FM2/T? There are a few reasons, some practical, some silly.
First, though the difference is negligible as mentioned, the FM2/T is objectively the lightest and strongest of all the cameras in Nikon’s compact F SLR series, even beating the magnificent Nikon FM3a. While it’s true that most people will never notice the weight savings, there’s something to be said for shaving ounces.
Second, and I’m really reaching here, titanium is more resistant to corrosion than aluminum. In theory, the body panels of the FM2/T will remain in better condition for longer than those of the FM2 or FM2n. They may even withstand use in hazardous environments better than would the other compact F cameras. Though I wonder what percentage of shooters are actually subjecting their classic Nikons to rigorous use in 2019.
But if I’m being honest, the most likely buyer of the FM2/T is a buyer who’s enticed by the unusual, attracted by the uncommon. Sure, we can buy an FM2 or an FM2n, cameras that were manufactured in quantity for almost two decades. We can buy a silver one if we like, or a black one if we prefer that. Or instead, we could buy a special camera – an FM2 made of titanium, one that’s the lightest and strongest of them all, one we rarely (if ever) see in the hands of some other photo geek.
Yeah, I know. That’s a bit self-indulgent and silly. But the primitive brain of the collector type is incapable of objective analysis. I know this. I have such a brain. And it wants to collect shiny things. All the better if they’re rare. All the better if they’re the best.
Oh, and there’s one other real, honest reason to buy a Nikon FM2/T; it’s a fantastic camera. It’s certainly one of the best film SLRs that Nikon ever made, and it easily sits among the greatest 35mm film SLRs made by anyone, ever. That’s not hyperbole or gushing or overselling. The FM2/T is just really good.