3other Nikon cameras in my collection:


JapanNikon EM [1979 - 1982]



Nikon EM advertThe Nikon EM (sometimes called the M90 ... by idiots!) was manufactured from 1979 to 1982 (available new from dealer stock until circa 1984).

The EM uses a Seiko focal plane shutter with a step-less speed range of 1 to 1/1000th second, plus Bulb, and flash X-sync of 1/90th second. Exposure is aperture priority only, governed by a centre weighted, silicon photodiode light meter. A viewfinder needle pointer indicates the exposure on a shutter speed scale. The EM has almost no manual exposure mode capability, save for a +2 EV exposure compensation button, and a single selectable mechanical flash sync shutter speed of 1/90th. This is marked as M90 (representing manual 1/90th) on the selector dial, and is often mistaken for the model name of the camera! The camera is also fitted with a low-light exposure warning in the form of an audible beep.

The Giorgetto Giugiaro styled Nikon EM was the smallest and cheapest 35mm SLR ever made by Nikon. It features a lightweight and compact hybrid copper aluminium alloy body and fibreglass reinforced polycarbonate plastic top and bottom covers. Unlike most Nikons of the time, it was available only in black.

Nikon's Camera Chronicle - Part 11: Nikon EM states: The Nikon EM was developed as a small, cute, easy-to-use SLR Camera for Women, appealing to a market whose needs were not being met sufficiently by conventional heavy, uncute SLR cameras on the market at the time.

It wasn't originally intended that the EM would have black leatherette covers, but plans to use colours designed to appeal to women got dropped as the model progressed through development.

The first versions of the Nikon EM have blue battery check and exposure compensation buttons, along with a black lens release button. Later versions (from serial number 6,500,000 onwards) have chrome buttons (which come to look white). The leatherette covering is also slightly different; the blue has a less crinkly texture. A further design change is to be found on the rewind crank handle. The early models had hooped groves around the crank arm handle, which was changed to straight knurling - grooves along the length of the handle (my description may not be technically accurate, I'm not sure how else to describe it). This change appears to have been made earlier than the buttons, as my EM - number 6,379,187 - has the later design. Serial numbers of this camera start at 6,100,000 and end at 7,780,000.

At the outset, EMs were expensive at about £180, but by 1981 a Nikon EM body typically sold for about £80.00 (thanks to camera supermarkets, and shops like Dixons), which was equivalent to half a weeks average UK wages. At the end of its production run in 1982, the EM could be bought with a 50mm f1.8 Nikon E series lens for just under £90.00.




Lens mount: Nikon F bayonet.

Diagram of Nikon EM viewfinderFocus: Matte Fresnel field with central split-image rangefinder spot surrounded by a micro-prism ring, an outer circle denotes the area of the centre-weighted metering.

Shutter: Electronically controlled, vertical travel, metal focal plane shutter. Step less speeds from 1 sec to 1/1000th + B. Mechanical shutter speed of 1/90th.

Meter: Silicon photo-diode, centre-weighted TTL full aperture metering.

Exposure: Fully automatic. Needle shows shutter speed in viewfinder. Beep under/over warning. +2 EV exposure compensation button.

Film Speed: 25 to 1600 ASA.

Flash: Standard X-synch hot shoe at 1/90.

Film Advance: Ratchet type rapid wind lever. 144° advance angle.

Frame Counter: Automatic count-up and reset.

Rewind: Via crank and bottom release button.

Size: 135 x 86 x 54mm (W x H x D).

Weight: 460g.

Battery: Two 1.5V silver-oxide batteries (LR44 type).



My Camera

I paid £5.00 for this camera in June 2013 (without a lens). I've replaced the light seals and mirror damper (ProSeal Nikon EM light seal replacement instructions). The EM is a camera I once almost owned from new, but I opted for the very similarly specified Pentax MG. With the benefit of hindsight, I think the EM was the nicer camera.

correctionMy camera is in good condition, save for a little Nick-on the EM logo on front of the penta-prism housing. It's in FWO, although the meter needle is temperamental. This is a common problem with EMs, and if you search the Internet for information on the cause, you will likely come across an explanation that claims the EM's meter does not operate until the frame counter is set to 1. This is true for the FG, but in the case of the EM the claim appears to be based on a very literal interpretation of the instruction manual, which instructs how to insert a film and wind to frame one before describing pre-shot metering. The real cause is corrosion of electrical contacts. Fixing this is fairly easy, and the procedure is explained at Koen Delvaux's blog.

This camera has been twinned with a Nikon Zoom-Nikkor 43-86mm f3.5 Ai lens (11 elements in 8 groups), which cost a massive £23.40, but this is about half the price of an E series (plastic) 50mm pancake: the lens originally supplied with the camera (and I don't understand why they are so sought after ... like a Nikon lens just has to have those rabbit's ears). My zoom slightly pre-dates the EM, but it was produced over a similar time frame: 1977 to about 1981. At the end of its production, this lens still cost £113.95 (source: Amateur Photographer - July 1982).

There were two versions of this lens. The first was produced between 1963 and 1976. There are several differences between the two lenses, but the easiest to spot is the first has the lettering inside the filter ring, while the later version has its lettering outside the filter ring. According to Ken Rockwell, the first version is the worst lens Nikon have ever produced, due to its levels of distortion, flare and ghosts. The second version is just fine.

In the first picture, the EM is also wearing a Nikon MD-E power winder.

Overall, this is a very nice little camera; compact, easy to use (even by a man), and produces good results. The EM is not Nikon Royalty, and it tends to be looked-down upon by snooty Nikon fans, along with its other family members; the Nikon FG and Nikon FG-20.



Nikon EM

Nikon EM

Nikon EM

Nikon EM


A 43-86mm lens might appear to be a bit of an oddity, but it's actually a very logical focal length. I'll try to explain briefly.

The focal length of a lens is a measure of how strongly it converges or diverges light. Short (wide angle) focal length lenses bend light rays strongly to bring them to focus over a shorter distance. Conversely long focal length lenses (telephotos) are weaker, and bend light rays more feebly to bring them to a focus over a greater distance. In other words, these two types of lens produce an expanded or contracted field of view that distorts perspective.

The most optically normal lens is one that reproduces a field of view that matches that of the human eye, and so generally looks natural. While humans have a peripheral field of view of about 180° on the horizontal, and something less on the vertical, the area we focus on is about 55° on the diagonal.

In 35mm based film photography, a focal length that would produce a 55° diagonal field of view is 41.6mm (field of view calculator).

The diagonal dimension of 35mm film (√[242+362]) is coincidentally 43 mm - hence a 43mm lens, which doubles to 86mm, is both a very logical focal length and provides a highly natural field of view.

45mm lenses were once the standard focal length, but it was apparently easier to make faster lenses (with larger apertures) at slightly longer focal lengths, and for this reason 50/55mm lenses became standard. With the increase in popularity of SLRs, larger apertures were desirable since they offered improved viewfinder brightness.