Nikon FE

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Classic SLRs:
Nikon FE

by Karen Nakamura



Overview and Personal Comments

The Nikon FE was the first of the compact, electronic Nikon SLRs. It is much considerably smaller than the original F series both in size and weight, weighing only a demure 735g (25.9 oz.) with its companion Series E 50mm f/1.8 lens. That's about half of what an F2 would weigh. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

Despite that, the FE has all of the features that advanced users would want: TTL center-weighted metering, aperture-priority mode, full manual mode, exposure compensation, depth of field preview, multiple-exposure lever, interchangeable focusing screens, and optional motor drive. In fact, the FE and its kin (FM, FE2) are now perhaps the most popular Nikon manual SLRs in use. They are fantastic for use by photography students as well as very light backup bodies for pros.

I picked this up at an estate sale as part of a larger lot. Of the 11 cameras (including mint condition Canon AE-1s and a Spotmatic), I decided to keep this FE and sell the rest. Why the FE? Because its buttery smooth wind lever and shutter have to be felt to be believed. I also have a lot of Canon EOS gear but don't have intention in getting into Canon FD lenses, so the Nikon made more sense in the sense of starting a new series to base things around. The FE is tough enough to lend to my students without fears they will break it, while light enough to bang around in my backpack as I commute by bike to work.

So why does this camera say "Pakon?" It's a little sticker that I put over the manufacturer's label on all my working cameras. I travel in a lot of areas where having a name brand camera is a serious liability. So I made up little Pakon stickers. For a look at my other Pakon cameras, take a gander at my "Pakon EOS 3" and " Butakon M7."


So I ended up selling this camera, mostly to fund a new camera. Now, of course I totally regret it. Sigh...






Interesting quirks

I would have never figured this out without the website, but the self-timer lever has two functions. The first is as your run of the mill self-timer, but if you push the lever towards the body (with your middle finger as you grip it), it serves as an auto-exposure lock. Most contemporary electronic cameras have a two-level shutter button (push lightly to meter and lock the exposure), but the FE's shutter button is standard. So instead, to lock exposure, push the self-timer lever in with your middle finger, recompose and shoot.

Also that strange looking tiny lever on the top left side of the camera back is the battery check function. Rotate it slightly and if the LED inside it lights, your batteries are good. This camera sips its two SR44 batteries, which should last over a year. They are only used for metering and electronically timing the shutter. If your batteries should fail, the camera does not lock up like its Canon brethren, but allows you to shoot manually at 1/90 sec (the M90 setting on the shutter speed dial).

By the way, one of the reasons I like the FE is that it's much smaller than my EOS-3. Look at the difference below between the two. The Nikon is actually pocketable in my jacket.

Technical Details

Camera Name
Place of Manufacture


Date of Manufacture
Focusing System

Single-lens reflex with pentaprism eye-level viewfinder
Lens use helicoid focusing

Lens Mount

Nikon AI mount (bayonet)


Focal plane shutter (vertical travel sectional blade)
2 sec ~ 1/1000 + B + M90 (batteryless mode 1/90 sec)
X-sync = 1/125

Metering System

CdS TTL metering
60/40 center weighted


Hotshoe, PC connection
Hotshoe features 3rd pin for Nikon speedlights

Film type / speeds

135 type (35mm standard film)
ASA 12 - 3200

Battery type

One 3V CR-1/3N lithium battery or
Two 1.55V SR44 silver-oxide batteries or
Two 1.5V LR44 alkaline batteries

Dimensions and weight

Without lens: ~400 grams, 140 X 90 X 55 mm

Note: Using the text or images on this site in an ebay auction without permission is a violation of your ebay Terms of Service. I will report you to ebay if I discover such a violation taking place.


50mm f/1.8 Series E version 2  
Place of Manufacture
Date of Manufacture
Lens Construction
6 elements in 5 groups (all single coated)  
Lens Mount

Nikon AI mount (bayonet)

Nikon AI mount (bayonet)

Focusing range

0.6m - infinity (2 feet - infinity)
(left focusing - infinity on left)


f/1.8, f/2.0 ~ f/22 (1 stop steps)

Filter Mount

52mm threaded mount
or Nikon HR-4 folding rubber hood

Dimensions and weight
63.3mm (2.5") diameter x 33mm (1.3") height
135g (4.75 oz)
Copyright © 2005 Karen Nakamura / Use of this chart, text, or any photographs in an eBay auction without permission will result in an immediate IP violation claim with eBay VeRO. Violators may have their eBay account cancelled.



About Nikon / Nippon Kogaku

Nippon Kogaku K.K. (Japan Optics Corporation) started out in 1917 as the optics affiliate of the Mitsubishi conglomerate (who also made the Zero fighter plane). Nippon Kogaku originally made military optics such as gun sights and rangefinders; as well as scientific microscopes and telescope optics. In the 1930s, they made various optics for view cameras and also were an OEM supplier to Seiki Kogaku (now Canon Camera), making lenses for the early Canon rangefinder cameras. Nippon Kogaku actually produced all of the lenses for Canon (Seiki Kogaku) until 1947.

After the war, Nippon Kogaku needed a non-military market and they started making Leica and Contax-compatible lenses. They realized that they needed to produce a camera system of their own to meet the post-War demand, both commercial as well as for the U.S. military. After waffling on a TLR system (tentatively called the Nikoflex), they made the big jump of making their own rangefinder system, the Nikon I in 1948, which was loosely based around the horizontal shutter design of a Leica and the lens/rangefinder/body of a Zeiss Contax. American photojournalists covering the Korean and then Vietnam War discovered Nikon's Leica/Contax compatible lenses as being the equal or better of their Leica/Zeiss lenses; and the Nikon camera bodies proved themselves in the Korean conflict. Life magazine was instrumental in promoting the new camera system and lenses "back home." Nikon S, S2, S3, and SP cameras are now in hot-demand as both collectibles and great user-cameras.

The Nikon F camera series, released in 1959 (well after all of the other Japanese manufacturers had released their own SLRs), launched a new era in Nikon's history. The F was acclaimed as an extremely rugged camera and for four decades through its various iterations (F, F2, F3, F4, F5), ruled supreme as the photojournalist's camera of choice for photography in harsh conditions - from the Antartic to the Sahara.

In terms of body construction, Nikon uses the same simple-strong philosophy of Leica. Nikon cameras are not crammed with features, but because of this, they are simple to use and very reliable. Nikon is also a conservative company, staying a generation behind in terms of technological innovation in cameras (auto-focus; ultrasonic lenses; vibration reduction; and currently, full-frame digital). However, pros who prefer reliability over feature-cramming prefer Leica and Nikons, while people who want the latest tend to buy Canon. This has proven to be Nikon's achilles heel in the digital photography revolution and it has limped behind Canon.

Optically Nikon also follows the Leica philosophy of resolution over contrast. Canon and Contax have traditionally valued contrast over resolution, which makes for sharp and crisp photographs. Leica/Nikon photos are more muted, but there is more fine detail in the shadows and highlights. For more information, see Dante Stella's write-up.




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