Camera Confidential: Nikon EM SLR

Nikon EM 50mm f/1.8

January 20th 2021. Wednesday. 2:35pm. Beau Photo Supplies – Meghan: Recently we got in some new black and white film from Rollei that we had not seen before so Nicole, Mustafa and I set out to all shoot a roll. I also decided it was about time I tried out the only Nikon camera I currently own, a Nikon EM. For honestly mostly unknown reasons, I have never been drawn to Nikon film cameras. In the past I have owned a FM2 that I personally found cumbersome and overall it was just not a camera I enjoyed using so I sold it. Since then I have always reverted back to my Pentax K1000 for my manual SLR desires, or my Canon Elan 7 NE if I’m feeling in an autofocus mood and just “need my photos to work”, as it never lets me down. The Elan is always a trusty wedding go-to for me and I already had a whole host of lenses from my Canon DSLR days. With both of those film cameras in my roster and having already invested in lenses for both systems I have never bothered to investigate Nikon beyond my less than impressed introduction with the FM2.

That all being said, I have come to the point where the photography I do is mainly street photography and I was generally never carrying around either the K1000 or the Elan because they were just too big and heavy. So I have since been captivated more by various styles of rangefinder cameras, mainly due to their portability and compact, light-weight size. On summer bike trips, opting for a small Konica C35 or Canon QL17II over any large SLR and more recently falling in love with the Canon P rangefinder if I want something a bit sharper on a photowalk.

Then all of a sudden it seemed we had a whole flight of Nikon EM’s in store and I took note of their small, slick looking little bodies. I loved that they were all black as well and was drawn to how compact they were. I didn’t bother me that they are aperture priority only cameras, as I have plenty of fully manual cameras and liked the idea of shooting with a little less thinking necessary so I could concentrate more on the scene. The idea of a small SLR that I could throw a nice lens on and that I could port around like I do my rangefinders was very appealing. All of the above made it sound like a great street photography camera.

1979. Nippon Kogaku (now Nikon). Japan – Meghan: The Nikon EM was introduced in 1979 as a intro level SLR and of course marketed towards women because of its ‘simple controls and small size.’ For some reason camera manufacturers of the 1960-80’s thought women were far too dumb to figure out manual camera controls and couldn’t possibly wrap their head around figuring out both shutter speeds and aperture settings. Perhaps I fell right into that trap, being attracted to both of those aspects immediately – but for entirely different reasons. (Or so I like to think…) In 1979 when the EM was introduced however, that marketing technique failed miserably and new age women were (rightfully so) not impressed by the suggestion they could not handle a fully manual camera. So they went out and bought fully manual cameras instead. Obviously the pros of the era didn’t want to have much to do with it either, as it was also made with lighter weight “cheaper” materials and did not have the well known high-quality titanium shutter. However, it seems despite that the EM has held up well over the years. We see many of them come through the store and honestly they are generally in better condition than most vintage cameras and the majority still work well. One may argue it is because they didn’t see as much original use as most of the other models, but even other such models that may equal the EM don’t tend to come in in as good as condition. And while they do require a battery to operate their shutter and often in the older cameras it is those electronics that tend to go, for the most part that doesn’t seem to be a problem with these cameras. Thanks also to Nikon’s standard fall back for most (if not all) their slr cameras, they included a “M90” shutter speed that if the battery does die in your camera then it will still function on that one shutter speed only. Curiously enough the EM will actually fire anyway in auto mode even without a battery at what is around 1/1000th.

January 9th 2021. Saturday. 12:30pm. Rocky Point Park – Meghan: As for actually using the camera – I really enjoyed it. I took it for several outdoor walks and definitely appreciated how compact it was and even more so – how quick to shoot with it was. Only having to adjust the aperture on the lens to make sure the shutter speed it was telling me inside was at an acceptable speed was a nice change and generally I liked the focus of the 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens I was using. To me it doesn’t feel like a ‘cheaply’ made camera – though of course it doesn’t have the weight of the fully metal bodies. Perhaps the one turn off I found is the beep. The camera will emit a beep at you if it thinks you are in too low of lighting conditions. As naturally, I do not like being told what to do, I didn’t appreciate this warning beep and I could see no way to disable it. But as it doesn’t happen very often, it wasn’t too big of a deal.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be getting rid of any of my other cameras because of this little EM. But I did really enjoy carrying it around and will continue to shoot with it more now after quite enjoying our first test run together. The photos turned out quite well, but I will admit to not being that fast with Nikon focusing and both me and the camera did get tricked in a couple mixed lighting situations where the meter definitely read the bright sky instead of the shady field. Overall though I was happy how the photos turned out! To see more shots from this test run and examples of the new film I shot in it, the Rollei Paul & Reinhold black and white, see our other blog post here:


If you are like me and would like just a small, easy to use SLR to carry around everyday and shoot with or if you are indeed an entry level photographer who would like to start shooting film with a SLR but aren’t quite ready for fully manual functions then I would definitely suggest this great little camera. There is no point in a camera you won’t take with you any where! So a small, easy to use camera is sometimes the best option! We have a couple in the store right now on consignment:

Nikon EM with 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens – $150.00

Nikon EM with Zoom-Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.5-4.8 lens – $150.00

Here are a couple shots from my first roll with both the Nikon EM and Rollei P&R film. Developed and scanned at Rocket Repro!


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Beau Photo Supplies Inc.
Beau Photo Supplies Inc.