Nikon EM (compact plastic early auto mode from the 80's)

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Paul Furman, Oct 16, 2009.

  1. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    Here's a cool little camera I got off craigslist for $40:
    The camera does aperture priority, meaning you turn the aperture ring &
    it picks a shutter speed. There is a limited exposure compensation
    button that adds two stops for backlit conditions. It also has M90 mode
    which just uses 1/90 second shutter speed if the battery is dead. It
    makes a little beeping sound when the shutter speed is dangerously slow.
    The viewfinder is huge, much bigger than the D700 it's shown beside. You
    do have to take your glasses off or move around to see the whole thing
    though. I'd like to see one beside a D5000 or whatever is smallest these

    The lens is a compact 'pancake' form of supposedly the same optics in
    the current 50/1.8 AF with a lesser coating and no AF. It's a Series-E
    considered a cheapo at the time but in fact a nearly flawless lens and
    darn fast. It doesn't focus very close though, about 2 feet.

    I gave it to a kid to use with a few rolls of whatever Kodak 400 color
    film from walgreens. The rewind arm is broken off so I fashioned a
    little metal chuck on a string for that <g>.

    This is partly a response to the comments on this image that I've
    received over the years:
    That's the kid who is now in possession of the EM, holding my old broken
    Canon AE-1. He is very creative & clever with a camera, I'm hoping it's
    not too complicated and he actually learns the craft of photography with
    it. Just turn the aperture ring & watch the shutter speed. Split screen
    focus aid.

    Paul Furman

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    Paul Furman, Oct 16, 2009
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  2. Paul Furman

    Bruce Guest

    The EM is a delight to use. It was supposedly aimed at women, being
    very small, light and simple to use. Whatever, it is a seriously good

    It's a pity that the winder broke off, because the EM has the
    silkiest, smoothest film transport of any Nikon 35mm SLR. It shares
    the ball-bearing system from the Nikon F3.

    The EM only has one exposure mode, aperture priority, and there is no
    exposure compensation other than by adjusting the film speed dial. But
    it has an extremely useful backlight button on the back which
    increases exposure by 1.5 stops by lengthening the exposure time.

    The outside may be plastic but the chassis is sturdy, made from the
    same die cast magnesium alloy as Nikon's professional SLRs.

    The lens pictured is one of the last Series E 50mm f/1.8 optics. The
    earlier versions had an inferior coating, but the later versions had
    the same full multi-coating that was given to Nikkors. In fact the
    50mm f/1.8 "pancake" Nikkor was optically identical - the Series E was
    such a good design that it was also adopted as a Nikkor. As you say,
    it carried over into the AF line and has been given even better
    multi-coating. It is one of the sharpest lenses ever made, of any
    brand, but it has very harsh bokeh.

    The Series E lenses include some real gems, and no bad performers.
    They were made under contract by Cosina and Kiron, and included such
    gems as the 75-150mm f/3.5, which (like all Series E zooms) has a
    constant maximum aperture and one of the very best combinations of
    sharpness and smooth bokeh of any zoom lens ever made. Many
    professional Nikon users kept one in their bag, and many of them
    pleaded with Nikon to make a full AIS Nikkor version. Alas, Nikon
    never did.

    The 28mm and 35mm Series E lenses were competent but unexceptional,
    with the 28mm going forward to become the optical design for the 28mm
    f/2.8 AF Nikkor. The 100mm f/2.8 is one of Nikon's best portrait
    lenses, almost the equal of the legendary 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor, with a
    strong combination of sharpness and smooth bokeh.

    The 70-200mm f/4 was a very good, sharp lens. Its optics were used
    for the 70-200mm f/4 AF Nikkor, which was later replaced by a far
    inferior f/4-5.6 version. The later variable aperture lens sold like
    hot cakes on the basis of one good review (Pop Photo?) but anyone who
    tested it themselves, rather than taking a magazine review on trust,
    found it to be a mediocre performer.

    Keep looking for Series E lenses. They sell for next to nothing and,
    with the EM body, will make a very good outfit for that kid. ;-)
    Bruce, Oct 16, 2009
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  3. Paul Furman

    Al Dykes Guest

    Mom never used a camera in her life until she went on a trip of a
    lifetime to China circa 1980. Pop and I set her up with an EM and the
    little flash that goes with it and we made her burn through a few
    rolls of film before she left.

    She came back with a hundred great shots.

    It got sold on eBay 25 years later.
    Al Dykes, Oct 16, 2009
  4. You sure hit a lot of "nails on the heads" with your lens info (being
    an inveterate lens checker, I came up with the same conclusions
    in my Nikkor lens evaluations list, at -- BTW, there were
    a few good samples of the 35mm f2.5 around, and I found one good
    one of the 28mm f2.8 E and the one good early AF version of the
    same, but generally these were so-so at best, as you say. The E 50,
    100, 135, and 75-150 were exceptionally good, and the 70-210 was
    very good, as you also say - and I agree with your assessment of the
    variable-aperture version of the last (WHY did Nikon do that???).
    As far as bodies, I still have a Nikon FG (based on the EM, but it
    looks and feels nicer, and has M-AP-SP-P exposure modes and TTL
    flash control. BTW, I have it and some E/AF-version lenses for sale...
    David Ruether, Oct 16, 2009
  5. I forgot to mention the very good 36-72mm f3.5 (constant). BTW, I
    have (mint) FG, 28mm AF (a rare sharp one), 36-72mm, 100mm,
    and 70-210mm for sale (not cheap, but given their condition and
    their having been thoroughly tested/selected, reasonable....;-).
    David Ruether, Oct 16, 2009
  6. Paul Furman

    Bruce Guest

    Thanks for the kind words, David. We rarely disagree on things Nikon,
    and I am always happy to refer to your lens evaluations for lenses I
    am not familiar with. For the avoidance of doubt, that's praise
    indeed. ;-)

    The reason Nikon replaced the AF Nikkor 70-210mm f/4 (E Series optics)
    with the very inferior f/4-f/5.6 version was that Kiron withdrew from
    making the lenses. It was already due for a refresh from AF to AF-N,
    mainly to change the hard, thin focusing ring to something wider and
    rubberised. The contract for the new lens went to Tokina, whose staff
    complemented included several ex-Nikon designers and production
    engineers. Whether Kiron bid for the contract I do not know.

    The 36-72mm f/3.5 Nikon Series E was indeed a very good lens. The
    focal length was actually 35-70mm but the lens would have been
    confused with the larger, heavier and far more expensive AIS Nikkor
    35-70mm f/3.5. The AIS was a superlative lens, as is its AF(-D)
    Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8 successor, which is still one of my favourites,
    and this tended to overshadow the Series E lens, which was more than
    good enough for photojournalist work and would have put less stress on
    PJs' shoulders. ;-)

    The Series E lens had the virtue of being compact, light and decently
    sharp, but suffered from light fall-off when used wide open or stopped
    down to f/5.6. At f/8 the illumination was more or less even. Flare
    resistance was poor without a hood because the front element was not
    recessed, but the delightful clamp-on dedicated lens hood (the only
    accessory metal hood in the whole Series E range) gave excellent

    I used one on my Nikon FA body and was pleased with the results, but I
    also had an AIS Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 whose handling I preferred on
    account of its two touch zoom/focusing. That was a good lens, but not
    quite as sharp as the Series E.

    Cosina also made a so-called "AIS Nikkor" for the FE-10/FM-10 that
    looked much the same but it gave atrocious results. It could be
    identified by the f/3.5-4.8 maximum aperture. It was probably the
    worst optic ever to carry the Nikon brand. :-(
    Bruce, Oct 16, 2009
  7. Thanks! ;-)
    It's at - (a "plug"...;-).
    Thanks for the plethora of info! The AIS 35-70 f3.3-4.5 was for me
    one of the easiest wide angle zooms to focus, but I found it (and others
    of the same range) not wide-range enough to be satisfactory. The later
    28-70mm f3.5-4.5 AF was very good, small, and light (and now FS...;-),
    but I have since replaced it with the excellent 24-85mm f3.5-4.5
    (although at that point, I stopped shooting much of anything - and I also
    have a mint FA body FS...).
    It could not have been worse than the early version of the 43-86mm
    f3.5 (the later version was MUCH, MUCH better!) - the early one was a
    true "pop-bottle bottom"! ;-)
    David Ruether, Oct 17, 2009
  8. Paul Furman

    Bruce Guest

    You're welcome.

    Well, I was comparing it with the 36-72mm Series E, which despite the
    engraving, ad the same focal length range.

    Indeed, a surprisingly good lens for its low price. It was designed
    for use with the F601 (N6006) SLR, which had a built-in flash. The
    compact dimensions of the lens were chosen to avoid obscuring the
    flash at closer focusing distances. This compromise meant that there
    was a little more light fall-off when the lens was used wide open, but
    it was otherwise quite a sparkling performer.

    That's a lens I haven't tried. The previous 24-85mm f/2.8-4 was
    optically something of a disappointment, but the verdict seems to be
    that the later f/3.5-4.5 version is very much better.

    Once again, the early 43-86mm isn't a lens I have used, although I
    have bench test results for one that are very poor indeed. It is
    often said to be the zoom lens that gave all zoom lenses a bad name.


    But the Cosina 35-70mm f/3.5-4.8 was pitiful. Its optical problems
    were too many to list here, and mechanically it was atrocious too.
    Sometimes with Cosina lenses of that era, they are so inconsistent
    that it is possible to get a good one, but not with this design.
    Bruce, Oct 18, 2009
  9. I once compared the Nikkor 28-70mm f3.5-4.5 at f5.6 with the
    Nikkor 28mm f2.8 AIS, the Nikkor 28mm f1.4 AF, and the Nikkor
    28mm f4 PC shooting trees and city-scape with the same back-lit
    framing, taken aimed toward a hazy-bright sky. For various reasons,
    I would have expected the f2.8 to have "won" for sharpness and
    brilliance, but the "winners" were the 28-70mm zoom and the 28mm
    PC(!). I was surprised...
    It is quite remarkable, being sharp to the corners full-frame at all
    FLs and focus distances (DIFFICULT to get in a zoom!). In addition,
    it is as good as the excellent 24mm f2.8 Nikkor at the same stops, and
    its performance continues evenly through the rest of its range (which
    means that as the FLs get longer, performance falls ever more behind
    the ever better non-zooms in its range). Compared with the 35mm f2
    AF, the 35mm is somewhat better, the 50mm f1.4 is noticeably better,
    and the superb 85mm f1.8 AF is quite noticeably better. BUT, none
    of those are zooms, and the zoom really is a very good one. Its only
    major flaw is rather severe linear distortion...
    Yes. It was a very early compact zoom that was popular with
    photojournalists (who[m ;-] I often accused of caring little about
    image quality...;-), but its performance was truly disgusting. I don't
    remember what the first Nikkor (or other) WA zoom was that had
    good performance (maybe the 35-70mm f3.5? Or 28-45mm f4.5?).
    I just looked up the URL on my own web site that lists URLs for other
    sites (at, which
    includes one that lists introduction dates for the various Nikkors (at It looks like the
    earliest good Nikkor zoom was the 28-45mm f4.5, introduced in
    Sept. of 1975. It wasn't a great zoom (or very wide range or fast),
    but it was good, and FAR better than the earlier-version 43-86mm.
    David Ruether, Oct 19, 2009
  10. I'd rank the 60-180mm f/4.5~5.6 IX-Nikkor in between the Cosina 35-70
    and the 1st generation 43-86mm in the race to the bottom.

    Deciphering keiretsu agreements is well beyond my ability. Nikon
    has consistently denied that any AF lenses were manufactured
    "out of house," but the 70-210mm f/4 -E and -AF lenses are both
    very close cousins of the 80-200mm f/4 AI-S, and Nikon could have
    easily continued production in house. The decision to downsize
    the 70-210mm was also made with the knowledge that a new 80-200mm
    f/2.8 AF was "in the pipeline."

    So I believe the decision to downsize the 70-210mm was marketing-
    based rather than contractual and based on the same "AF is for
    amateurs" mentality that nearly doomed Nikon.
    Mike Benveniste, Oct 19, 2009
  11. Hmmm...8^) (I have never tried any of the Nikkor "Icks" lenses...;-)
    Yes. And look how popular the excellent Canon f4 lens in the same
    range now is...! Sometimes one wonders about Nikon marketing... :-(
    Likely true, I guess, even if at the long end the lens had a ridiculously
    slow maximum aperture for a relatively short tele of f5.6...
    David Ruether, Oct 19, 2009
  12. Paul Furman

    Paul Furman Guest

    I almost put a 28mm f/2 on the EM.

    Or the 24/2.8 but little chance to experiment with DOF.

    Paul Furman

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    Paul Furman, Oct 20, 2009
  13. Paul Furman

    Bruce Guest

    The 28mm PC lenses have long been known as the best 28mm Nikkors and
    among the best performing 28mm lenses of any brand. The pre-set
    aperture is a pain in the a**, though.

    You can't have it all, unless you buy Leica glass. And I don't think
    even Leica could make a perfect zoom lens.
    Bruce, Oct 20, 2009
  14. In other checks with these, at f5.6 (with my usual infinity target),
    the Nikkor 28mm f2 was a tad sharper than the f2.8 - but at
    f2.8, the results reversed (with multiple samples).
    Oh, so you did not take the risky EM/FG20/FG DOF-checking
    move of partially unbayonetting the lens until the aperture stopped
    down, huh? 8^)
    David Ruether, Oct 20, 2009
  15. In other comparisons with multiple samples, the Nikkor 28mm f2 at
    f5.6 was a tad sharper overall than the MF 28mm f2.8, but at wider
    stops the results moved toward reversal...
    I found it rather easy/intuitive on the F3 body, which was the only
    one that didn't require the lens to be centered (with an "E" screen)
    for metering unless an extreme shift was made with vertical framing.
    Just select the most reasonable shutter speed for conditions, place in
    the large VF circle a good representative distribution of subject tones,
    and then center the meter with the diaphragm (without setting the
    preset mechanism). Easy! ;-)
    The 80-200mm f2.8 comes close to being a perfect zoom, and by
    reputation, so do the 35/28/24-70mm f2.8s (but I have not tried
    these). The 17-35mm f2.8 is one heck of a lens, and by reputation
    and photos I've seen, the Nikkor 14-24mm is an "impossibly" good
    zoom...;-) If it weren't for the prices/sizes/weights of these, one really
    could replace many non-zooms in their ranges.
    David Ruether, Oct 20, 2009
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