Imagine, if you will, a 19 year old Chemical Engineering student called Helen who heads to Scotland in the mid 1990s, for an industrial placement. There she meets an industrial chemist, who had a camera, a Fujica STX-1N, which he showed Helen how to use. And that, dear Readers, is how I met my lovey husband, The Delightful Mr F, and learned photography.
Being a student I didn't have much in the way of ready cash, and so it wasn't until I had my first pay packet from my first proper job that I could buy a camera of my own. The Delightful Mr F and I hotfooted it to a camera shop in Guildford where I bought a Nikon FM2 with a 50mm lens. For about 20 years, this was all I used.
For those of you who are too young to remember much before the internet, and all things digital, this is a film camera, totally manual, no autofocus, limited centre-weighted metering and a battery that lasted me about 15 years before I had to change it.* For many years I only had one lens, a 50mm f1.8, which is still my favourite lens. I later bought a 28mm f2, but didn't use it a great deal. I shot hundreds of rolls of film, and still, even now naturally gravitate to a 50mm field of view.
The top plate is very simple. on one side you have the shutter speed/ISO dial, film wind on (with multiple exposure), a little window which tells you which frame you are on, and the shutter release button. On the other, the film rewind handle. That's your lot.
The FM2 is built like a tank, no flimsy plastic casing here. I have dropped it multiple times, taken it out in the rain and wind, and it has quite a bad dent on one side from a nasty collision with a patio, but it marches on, image quality unimpaired. It is a joy to use. There is a very satisfying shutter release sound and the manual focus lens is smooth and accurate. If you are used to the multipoint metering of modern digital cameras, then the simple metering of an old film camera like the FM2 will be a little bit of a learning curve, but it really teaches you about light. In addition, the battery only powers the light meter, so if your battery runs out, the camera is still useable.
These cameras were made between 1982 and 2001, so there are loads of them around. They are known for being really hard wearing, so even if you find one that looks a bit beaten up, it is quite likely it will still work. The range of lenses available is massive, and they are all high quality and dirt cheap, so if you fancy a try with a film SLR, this would be a great camera to start with.
This camera still comes out with me, and I shoot mainly Ilford HP5 on it, and the odd roll of colour film. I'll scan some shots soon and share them here. I love all the tech of my Fuji cameras, but this one taught me photography. I learned how to compose, to understand light and exposure and how to develop film. Most importantly though, with my FM2 in hand, I discovered my passion for making photographs. My Fuji cameras will be upgraded as and when, but this one, my beloved FM2 will always be in my camera bag.
Do you have a nostalgia for your first camera? What was it?
*No carrying multiple spare batteries in those days, but you did have to carry film...