Nikon FM3A is a manual-focusing SLR (single-lens reflex) film-based camera released in July 2001, offering aperture-priority auto and manual exposure controls.
Nikon's first SLR camera to incorporate an aperture-priority auto-exposure (AE) mode is Nikkormat (Nikomat in Japan) EL introduced in 1972. The aperture-priority auto-exposure (AE) mode allows the user to easily obtain the correct exposure by selecting a desired aperture, since the camera automatically determines the optimum shutter speed for the selected aperture. This mode was incorporated in Nikon F3, FE and other various models. It was the most common automatic exposure control system before the emergence of the programmed auto-exposure in the 1980s, which automatically selects an optimum combination of aperture and shutter speed.
Cameras have been equipped with automatic functions primarily by adopting electrical controls to take on the operations and settings in place of the users. In order to implement the automatic exposure control, cameras have been equipped with electronic circuits for electronic control of shutter speeds in synchronization with metering system and exposure meter. Then, in the cameras with the aperture-priority AE mode, the timing of shutter operation was controlled by an electronic timer in most models even in the manual exposure mode, in which any desired shutter speed may be selected at the users' discretion.
On the other hand, before the electronically controlled automatic exposure (AE) control became available, users used to manually select the appropriate aperture and shutter speed combination to take photographs by referring to the readings on the exposure meter and/or based on their experience. It was exactly a manual exposure mode. Nikon's SLR cameras were based on the manual exposure except some models until the Nikkormat EL was introduced. In response to the user's selection of shutter speed, the timing of shutter operation was set on the mechanically operated governor. The governor required some energy to operate, though the operation of a lever for film advancing acted as clockwork to charge the energy to the governor, obviating the need for a battery. In those days, when batteries were hard to obtain unlike recent years, or in frigid regions where batteries do not work, the manual exposure control cameras came in very handy.
Many users were demanding both features, the convenience of aperture-priority AE and the reliability of mechanically controlled shutter operation without any battery (some models with an electronically controlled shutter were designed to allow mechanical shutter control at only one speed such as 1/90 sec. for emergency use in the event of battery depletion).
The FM3A successfully implemented both features in conjunction. It was equipped with a shutter to allowed electronic control in the aperture-priority AE mode, and a mechanical control in the manual exposure mode. Because it adopted both control systems, electronic and mechanical, the shutter was called hybrid shutter. It was the first shutter system for Nikon and was also a very valuable system around the world.
The FM3A was also equipped with TTL (through-the-lens) flash control of Speedlight, automatic setting of film sensitivity and other features in addition to the exposure meter with an indicator needle which had an established reputation among the users.
The FM3A was placed on the market in July 2001 at 96,000 yen (tax not included) for the silver finish body and 99,000 yen (tax not included) for the black finish body.
|Type of camera||Electronically-controlled and mechanically-controlled 35 mm single-lens reflex (SLR) focal-plane shutter camera|
|Film format||35 mm (135) format|
|Exposure control||Aperture-priority auto (A) and manual (M) exposure control|
|Picture size||24×36 mm|
|Lens mount||Nikon F mount|
|Viewfinder||Eye-level pentaprism type|
|Eye point||14 mm at -1.0 -1(dpt.)|
|Focusing screen||K3 type (splitprism-image microprism type, Cear matte Screen II) standard, B3 type and E3 type optional|
|Finder coverage||Approx. 93% (objective screen)|
|Magnification of finder||Approx. 0.83X (with 50 mm set to infinity)|
|Viewfinder information||Shutter speed, exposure meter indication, shutter indication, direct aperture value, exposure compensation mark, ready light|
|Reflex mirror||Quick-return type|
|Metering system||TTL center-weighted, full-aperture exposure metering system, approx. 60% of the meter's sensitivity concentrated on a 12 mm diameter circle|
|Exposure meter sync.||AI type|
|Metering range||EV 1 to 20 (ISO 100) (with use of 50 mm f/1.4 lens)|
|Film-sensitivity setting||DX system or manual. With DX: ISO25 to 5000 Manual: ISO 12 to 6400|
|Exposure compensation||Exposure compensated to ±2EV in units of 1/3|
|AE lock||Enabled by pressing the AE lock button|
|Shutter||Vertical-travel metal focal-plane shutter|
|Shutter speed settings||A (Aperture-priority auto): 8 to 1/4000 s. electronic stepless control (indications are 1 to 1/4000) M (Manual): Bulb,1 to 1/4000 s. mechanical control|
|Self-timer||Mechanically controlled, countdown time of approx. 4 to 10 seconds, cancellation possible|
|Lens aperture||Instant-return system, with aperture lever|
|Sync contact||X-contact only; synchronized with the flash at a low speed of less than 1/250s|
|Speedlight control||TTL flash|
|Sync. terminal||JIS sync terminal provided as standard, with lock screws|
|Flash ready light||Lights up when SB-27, SB-28 and others have been fully charged; Blinks to warn of insufficient light output, and shutter speed setting at 1/500 to 1/4000 sec.|
|Accessory shoe||Standard ISO518-compliant shoe: Provided with flash sync. contact, ready-light signal contact, monitor signal contact, TTL auto flash stop signal contact, and safety lock hole|
|Film advance||Lever provided, 30-degree standoff angle and 135-degree winding angle, automatic film advance enabled with MD-12 motor Drive (Sold separately)|
|Frame counter||Aditive type (S, 1 to 36), automatic reset|
|Film rewinding||film reset button and rewind crank provided|
|Camera back||Detachable hinged back; MF-16 Data Back can be attached in place.|
|Camera back opening||Achieved with the film-rewind lever|
|Multiple exposure||Activated with multiple exposure lever|
|Power source||Choice of one (1) 3V CR-1/3N lithium battery, two (2) 1.55V One 3V CR1/3N lithium battery, two 1.55V SR44 silver-oxide batteries, or two 1.5V LR44 alkaline batteries|
|Meter-on timer||ON when the shutter button is half-pressed and automatically OFF 16 seconds after the shutter button is released. ON when the shutter button is half-pressed and automatically OFF approx. 66 seconds after the shutter button is released when the motor drive unit MD-12 is used.|
|Battery power check||Displayed for 16 seconds with the meter-on timer. The exposure meter does not work if the batteries are exhausted.|
|Total number of film rolls (in the aperture-priority AE mode)||Approx. 100 <Approx. 50> with use of 3V CR-1/3N lithium battery
Approx. 100 <Approx. 50> with use of 1.55V SR44 silver oxide batteries
Approx. 45 <Approx. 10> with use of 1.5V LR44 alkaline batteries
*At ordinary temperature (20°C): The values in <> refer to the numbers at a low temperature (-10°C). The above listed values assume the use of 36-exposure film, aperture-priority AE mode and shutter speed of 1/250 sec. Measurement was conducted by repeating a cycle composed of half-pressing of 10-second duration followed by releasing and then leaving the shutter until the half-press timer expired.
|Tripod socket||1/4 (ISO 1222)|
|Dimensions & Weight (Approx.)||142.5 (W) ×90 (H) ×58 (D) mm, 570 g (including batteries)|
In July 2001, the single focal-length manual-focusing lens went on sale simultaneously with FM3A. It features a thin and lightweight design with a distance of 17 mm from the mount surface, and a weight of approx. 120 g. It is commonly called pancake lens for the external view. Due to the newly designed Tessar-type optical system (configuration of 4 elements in 3 groups) and the 7-blade circular diaphragm, it provides excellent imaging characteristics. In consideration of the proper matching to the FM3A, it was finished with a quality metallic appearance. The filter, hood, and cap were also designed specifically for this lens system, and particularly the hood was equipped with a specific function to allow installing a cap over the hood and a novel conical-dome design. A CPU was integrated in the system to allow all exposure control modes, programmed, aperture-priority, shutter-speed priority, and manual. In addition to the silver finish, the black finish system was released in November 2001 at 48,000 yen (tax not included).
|Type of lens||Nikon F mount CPU-integrated P type manual focus lens|
|Focal length||45 mm|
|Max. aperture ratio||1:2.8|
|Lens configuration||4 elements in 3 groups|
|Angle of view||50°when mounted on 35 mm (135) format camera: 41°50' when mounted on an IX240 format camera: 34°50' when mounted on a Nikon digital camera D1 series|
|Object distance information||Unavailable output of object distance information into the camera body|
|Focus adjustment||Rotating system with range ring|
|Shortest object distance||0.45 m|
|Aperture control||Automatic aperture control|
|Diaphragm||7 blades (circular diaphragm)|
|Attachment size||52 mm|
|Dimensions & Weight (Approx.)||63 (Max. diameter) ×17 mm (Length: measured from the bayonet reference surface to the tip of the lens), 120 g|
|Accessories||Dedicated 52 mm spring-loaded front cap, dedicated rear cap (camera back), dedicated 52 mm NC filter, dedicated hood HN-35, and dedicated soft case|
Nikon FM3A went on sale in July 2001. At that time, digitization was proceeding in full swing. The camera industry was no exception and Nikon released the digital SLR camera D1 in 1999 for professional use. In 2001, Nikon put the D1X and D1H on the market in May and July, respectively. Just at the time when digital cameras were going to the mainstream, Nikon made the conscious choice of placing the FM3A on the market as a manual SLR camera.
In those days, some users were moving over to digital cameras while others were using auto-focus SLR cameras. In addition, there were those who loved the traditional manual Nikkor lenses. It was a period of transition to digital cameras and diversified needs crossed with each other. Can you imagine selecting the appropriate exposure manually and adjusting the lens focus each time you take a photograph? In this camera, Nikon should have placed a message about going back to the basics of camera and photography.
The camera was initially scheduled to go on sale in April 2001, but it was released in July, three months behind schedule. The delayed date of sale was forced by the rush of orders for the product after the announcement of introduction and the failure to secure an adequate supply due to a great deal of manual operations involved for assembly and adjustment.
The development of FM3A was launched in December 1998. Unlike the conventional approaches for product development, the engineering staff from Mito Nikon, an group company, joined the engineers in the Ohi Plant from the very beginning of development to form a project team. Mito Nikon had been primarily involved in the manufacturing of the Nikkormat series and other mechanical cameras. The Mito Nikon staff, assigned to mass production, joined the development team from the start in order to prepare for many required manual operations for assembly and adjustment in the fabrication process and ensure a high level of quality control throughout the entire process, from development to mass production.
The team was first formed with seven members. Though later was increased to twelve, the select few worked for development in a room in the Ohi Plant.
Around April of 1999, when a rough product concept of FM3A was established after about four months of discussion, the project went into full swing.
The manual exposure and mechanically controlled New FM2 had long been a best-seller since its first introduction in 1984, enjoying a persistent popularity. It was favorably used by experienced amateur photographers, students of photography fundamentals, and other users deeply interested in the operations and processes for taking photographs. In addition, it offered the major benefit of shooting being possible even when the battery was exhausted. On the other hand, however, there was an increasing demand to provide the New FM2 with the aperture-priority AE and automatic flash control of Speedlight.
The project team studied over and over how to meet the demand. Eventually, in order to address the primary concern of users, that is, the simultaneous availability of aperture-priority AE and battery-free shutter operation, the project team decided to adopt the mechanism called hybrid shutter.
The hybrid shutter electronically controls the shutter in the aperture-priority AE mode, while it provides mechanical control of the shutter in the manual exposure mode. This means the shutter can be operated in the manual exposure mode even without a battery.
This design means that one shutter must properly operate with two control systems, resulting in a complicated shutter mechanism. Furthermore, the number of required component parts and also the size of the shutter unit had to be increased accordingly. To install the shutter unit, it was essential to increase the space for mounting. In practice, however, since the FM3A was considered as a successor to the New FM2, the upsizing of the camera was not permitted. A method for mounting the unit in a limited space had to be devised.
In addition, the fabrication of shutter units had been assigned to subcontractors, although the development of the shutter unit operating on special mechanical and electrical combined designs was limited to some experienced expert engineers. The experienced engineers repeatedly offered advice to younger engineers.
In general, it is difficult to ensure the accuracy of mechanical shutters as they are designed to offer higher operating speeds. In addition, it was extremely difficult to develop a shutter unit with a complicated mechanism for hybrid operation, and in the early stages, it was thought that the highest speed of 1/4000 second would be impossible to realize. However, finally, after careful adjustment, the demanding criteria were successfully cleared.
The hybrid shutter was an innovation for the FM3A. On the other hand, FM3A adopted the traditional exposure meter with indicator needle, which had been continuously applied from the Nikkormat EL released in 1972. Looking at the viewfinder, several pieces of exposure-related information are indicated on the left side of the screen. For the analog meter, a rough estimate of needle position helps to intuitively understand the shutter speed in the aperture-priority AE mode. Thus this model was highly regarded especially by experienced users.
The meter with needle indicator is an ultra-compact ammeter similar to those used in level meters for audio equipment. However, there was no Japanese manufacturer in those days that could fabricate an ammeter that was small enough to install in the camera and satisfy the specified precision. The request for fabrication was rejected because, "We are not competent to fabricate such a small and high-precision product." After a long search, a manufacturer specializing in the production of ammeters was discovered in a foreign country. However, satisfactory accuracy was not achieved, then, after repeated consultations with the on-site engineers, and with patience, finally a satisfactory level of product accuracy was attained.
A used FE2 was procured from a second-hand camera shop and it was dismantled and the ammeter was removed. It was found that the compact-sized and high-precision ammeter that Nikon was seeking to design was built largely based on hand work. The real ammeter removed from FE2 was shown to the engineers in the subcontractor and specific instructions were repeatedly provided.
The indication of exposure-related information within the viewfinder was based on Nikon's longstanding practices, though the visibility of information was enhanced due to improvements. The enhancements would be clearly understood by comparison, though the numeric characters vertically arranged to show that the shutter speeds are considerably larger compared to those adopted in FE2. The size of the numeric characters was increased to improve the visibility for experienced elderly users. However, that caused the misalignment between the needle on the shutter (blue frame showing the selected shutter speed) and the numeric characters to be more conspicuous. Smaller size numeric characters are easy to fit in the blue frame, though larger numerical characters are not. Then, improvements were made including a wider blue frame, and adjustment by manual operation was added in the fabrication process.
In addition, special consideration was given to ensuring the smooth motion of the pointer on the ammeter without any interference from static electricity, and a balancer was incorporated to keep the pointer in balance without any effect even if the ammeter becomes slanted due to the tilted camera.
The shutter dial in the FM3A has the numeric characters of a series of multiple numbers from 1 through to 1000, 2000 and 4000 and the alphabet letters A and B inscribed. When the individual characters are aligned with the indicator, the shutter is set at aperture-priority AE for A, 1/4000 sec. for 4000, one second for 1, and bulb for B (shutter kept at full open), respectively. The mechanism to transmit the shutter dial settings to the shutter unit was called control section.
The control sections for FM3A, FM2 and FE2 are shown below. The control section for FM3A is much more complicated. The control section for FE2 is the simplest, and in terms of mechanical operation, it activates the needle within the viewfinder and electrically controls the shutter. The control section for FM2 is designed to provide mechanical linkage between the shutter dial and the shutter unit, and the linkage is configured with three gears. The control section for FM3A incorporates the mechanism of both control sections for FE2 and FM2 for the hybrid shutter.
The shutter unit had to be provided with a mechanism to allow switching between electronic control and mechanical control in response to shutter dial settings such as aperture-priority AE and 1/4000 sec. in the manual exposure, transmitted to the shutter unit from the control section.
A focal-plane shutter is composed of front curtain and rear curtain. The time difference from the start of traveling of front curtain to the start of traveling of rear curtain corresponds to exposure time. In the FM3A, in the aperture-priority AE mode, electronic control becomes active, and when the timer expires the predetermined time setting, the rear curtain stop shoe is released and the rear curtain travels, completing the exposure. In the manual exposure, the mechanical governor instead of the timer reaches a predetermined time, the rear curtain stop shoe is removed and the rear curtain travels.
Typical shutter units contain a single rear curtain stop shoe, though the hybrid shutter in FM3A has two shoes for electronic control and mechanical control for proper use based on the settings on the control section. In practice, in the manual exposure mode other than A mode, the shoe for electronic control is retracted and the mechanical control becomes active, while in the aperture-priority AE mode available by selection of A, the shoe for electronic control pops out for activation.
The operational principle may seem simple when described, but it was hard work to mount the complicated mechanism in a confined area, and a part of camera body was depressed as a desperate measure.
In the FM3A, the shutter becomes mechanically controlled in the manual exposure mode and the entire shutter unit is also set under the mechanical control of control section.
From the simple external view of camera, it may be postulated that a shaft is located directly below the shutter dial and it extends to the shutter unit to allow direct transmission of shutter speed settings. In practice, however, extremely complicated mechanical linkages were required. As the ammeter lies just in the middle between shutter dial and shutter unit, the mechanical linkages must be configured getting around the ammeter to ensure the interlocking between shutter dial and shutter unit. The FM2 does not contain any ammeter, therefore there is adequate space. The FE2 contains an ammeter in a similar position, though the interlocking is achievable simply by electrical wiring. However, the FM3A had to incorporate the mechanisms of both FM2 and FE2 in the same area of space.
In the initial design, there was no space left below the ammeter, and an attempt was made to install a wire for interlocking. The interlocking through wire was once adopted in the FM. In actuality, when a wire is installed as threading the way through several rollers to change the direction in a confined area, the wire is too long and as a result, due to the slack or looseness in wire caused by its extended length, smooth clicking and interlocking could not be obtained.
There was no choice other than gear-combined linkages. Radical reassessment was made regarding the size of the ammeter and related peripheral component parts as well, and a U-shaped bypass linkage mechanism was found to allow successful interlocking. However, the increasing number of gears meant a new challenge for the developers to deal with backlashes. Gears fail to move without any play. Play, however, causes backlash. A considerable amount of time was spent on tightening the dimensions and tolerances of gear component parts to the allowable limits and minimizing possible play.
The functions spot metering and mirror-up have not been realized despite a great deal of effort.
The spot metering takes an exposure reading based on the measurement of light intensity on a limited range of the central part of the frame, and thus it is useful for precise determination of exposure level. The currently available cameras incorporate photocells composed of many separate light-receiving faces, and spot metering is available by using the output obtained from the central part of individual photocells.
After about one year of the development phase, volume production of FM3A was launched in April 2000 in Mito Nikon. The interlocking between control section and shutter unit required a great deal of labor. Fine adjustment of individual units was persistently performed on the production line.
After clearing many obstacles, the FM3A reached completion and went on the market in July 2001.
One day in January 2006, immediately before Nikon formally announced the discontinuance of production of FM3A, an e-mail was received at Nikon from Mito Nikon. The subject stated "Reporting on the last shipment of FM3A." The e-mail message reads: "We would like to inform you that FM3A entered the volume production in April 2001 and its production is discontinued with the last shipment in January 2006. We would like to acknowledge the continued guidance and cooperation."
The staff in charge of design of FM3A is still keeping the e-mail message. The FM3A was a camera to which everyone involved in the production is deeply attached.