In 1979, only one year after the introduction of the aperture-priority FE, Nikon introduced its first “affordable” SLR system. I use the word “system” instead of just the camera because the EM has its own set of dedicated accessories plus a new sub-group of “economical” Nikon lenses (named Nikon Series E).
Like the FE, EM also provides aprerture-priority automatic exposure. However, the similarity of the two stops here. Unlike the semi-pro FE, the EM does not have manual override and there is no depth of field preview, no double exposure lever, no interchangeable focusing screen, no 3fps motor-drive and no data back. The capability of using older non-AI lenses with stop-down metering is also removed from the EM. Indeed, mounting a non-AI lens on the EM will damage the AI coupling lever! The EM is also the first Nikon with a plastic body. However, because of the strong metal skeleton under the plastic shell, it is still much stronger and durable than many of the entry-level DSLR today!
According to specification, shutter speeds of the EM ranges from 1/1000 seconds to 1 second plus a B mode. Some sources point out that in dark situation, the EM will open the shutter much longer than 1 second and it will time the exposure according to the ambient light. I am not sure how accurate will that be, not because of the EM metering but because almost all films suffer from reciprocal failure in long exposures. The only two other settings of the shutter speed dial are M90 and B, both speeds are mechanical which means they will operate without batteries. The M90 (1/90 seconds) also serves as the flash sync setting for non-dedicated flash. When using the dedicated SB-E flash, leave the shutter in AUTO and 1/90 seconds is automatically chosen. Unknown to many, when there is no battery and shutter speed dial is set at AUTO, the camera will operate at its fastest shutter speed, 1/1000 seconds. The 3 mechanical shutter speeds, 1/1000 seconds, 1/90 seconds and B make the EM a usable, though limited, camera without battery. Another advantage is a mechanically controlled B shutter means that there is no battery drain in long exposure, making it suitable for uses like astronomical photography.
While the EM is an aperture-priority only camera, Nikon provides a”quick/press and hold” compensation button ( at the front of the camera below the rewind knob) for backlit situations which raises the exposure by 2 stops. Beside that, you can also use the ASA film speed dial to do exposure compensation up to a 1/3 stop precision. People familiar with the FE will also notice two more differences between the EM and the FE from the above picture. First of all, the “safety switch lever” beside the rewind knob that prevents accidental opennings of the camera back is gone. Second, there is one more electronic contact on hotshoe. This extra contact makes the EM, when mounted with the dedicated flash SB-E, one of the most advanced ( in terms of automation) camera in the world at the time of its introduction.
Another great feature of the EM, possibly inherited from other semi-pro Nikons, is automatic mirror lockup when self-timer is engaged. This feature will even work with the B mode. In other words, you press down the shutter (or more likely a cable release) with the self-timer engaged, the camera will then lock up the mirror, count down the time than open the shutter! What a great feature, missing in many of today’s DSLR (even for mid-range models!).
Well, here is a sample photos taken with the EM and its “kit lens”, Series E 50mm f1.8:
ASA400 color negative, taken with f/4 on a foggy morning.
Story behind my Nikon EM…
This Nikon EM, with the Series 50mm f1.8 was advertised on an Internet classifieds website. It was my original intention to buy a Series E 50mm f1.8 but not an EM. However, the seller offered a very good price for both (only about $10 above what the lens itself should worth). Moreover, although I would prefer a FG or a FG20 (both with manual exposure override) over the EM, I do like the body design of the EM especially its winding lever. Indeed, the EM is another masterpiece from the famous Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, the same designer who styled the F3,F4,F5,F6 and most recently, the D3!.
The EM is an often under-rated camera but on the right hand, this “little Nikon” can certainly produce great pictures that worth hanging on the walls of many famous art galleries around the world!