Nikon FG - Good Value for a Entry Level 35mm Film SLR

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: June 29, 2019
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Nikon FG Camera Review

The Nikon FG was released in 1982 and manufactured until 1986. It builds upon the Nikon EM, with new features added, such as manual control over shutter speed.

What makes the camera notable is that it is the first Nikon SLR with Programmed Auto-Exposure (AE).

There were two different versions of the Nikon FG produced. One was all black and the other had chrome trim.

In 1985 the Nikon N2000 (F-301 in Europe) was introduced to replace the FG. Featuring a built in motor drive for film advancement, the shooting experience is vastly different.

Original Pricing

FG with Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Lens

The Nikon FG had an original list price of $149.95 (w/ a $25 rebate applied), as seen in my Competitive Camera Corp Catalogue No. 24 from 1985. For $209.95 you could get the camera bundled with the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens.

Adjusting for inflation, $149.95 is the equivalent of $407.22 today. $209.95 would be $570.16. At that price, it would be like buying a Nikon D5600 today.

Inflation was calculated using the BLS Inflation Calculator. The dates used were January 1982 to May 2019.

Price & Where to Buy

FG Camera Front View

eBay generally has the largest selection of vintage cameras for sale. You'll be able to have your choice of body only or the camera bundled with a lens.

eBay prices sit around $50 for a Nikon FG bundled with a lens. If you want to get the a FG paired with a 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens, expect to pay $50-$70.

If you don't like buying from eBay, the camera can also be found on Amazon and other large used photography gear sites.

Buy a Nikon FG eBay or Buy a Nikon FG Amazon

Camera Battery - 2x LR44

Nikon FG Camera Batteries

The Nikon FG uses two LR44 batteries. These are a common 35mm film camera battery. They are easy to find in stores or online.

Without batteries the camera can still function. You will be limited to the bulb and the M90 mode.

M90 meaning a mechanical 1/90 of a second shutter speed. Also keep in mind that the light meter will not function without batteries.

With practice, I'm sure it is possible to learn to meter based on the sunny 16 rule. If the mechanical backup is something you want, just buy a fully mechanical camera where you'll have access to the full range of shutter speeds.

Even with fresh batteries, you should still carry a extra set with you. Once you're looking at needed 4 LR44 batteries, buying online will save enough money for a roll of film.

Build Quality

FG Camera Build Quality

The build quality of the Nikon FG is on par with the Canon AE-1, or any of the variants of that body style.

A copper silumin aluminum alloy was used for the camera chassis. While the exterior of the camera is polycarbonate.

I'm always impressed at the cool names plastics get. The polycarbonate does feel better than cheap ABS plastic.

The quality difference compared to my Nikon FM2 is immediately noticeable. That is to be expected as the FM2 has a metal body and costs more money.

Considering the price of the camera compared to the build quality, the overall value is acceptable. If copies of the FG were selling for over $100, I would have a bigger issue with the build quality.

Shutter Speed & Shooting Modes

FG Top Showing Camera Controls

The Nikon FG has a electronically controlled focal plane shutter. Shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/1000 of a second in full stop steps.

Flash sync is 1/90 of a second. There is a hot shoe, but no PC sync port. More details on this are in the flash section below.

Also, there is a bulb mode. A cable release can be threaded into the shutter button to control the bulb mode or to just trigger the shutter.

With the shutter speed range topping out at 1/1000 of a second, you're going to need to be careful when choosing film. You might run into problems shooting in direct sunlight with ISO 400 or faster film.

I also am a bit disappointed that the shutter speed range bottoms out at 1 second. Having 2 or 4 seconds makes long exposures easier.

I don't trust myself enough to accurately do 2 second exposures with a cable release. I am not worried about exposures longer than 2 seconds.

As a backup in case of dead batteries, there is a mechanical shutter with a 1/90 second shutter speed.

Overall, I would consider the shutter speed range a weakness of the camera. A higher end Nikon camera body is not that much more expensive, and will have a larger shutter speed range.

Using Flash

The Nikon FG does not have a PC sync port. This makes using off camera flash with vintage speedlites impractical.

I unfortunately do not have a Nikon SC-14 TTL sync cable to test and see if it will work with the FG.

The Nikon SC-14 was released to be used with the Nikon F3. The manual does not say if the SC-14 will work or has any mention of off camera flash with the FG.

Even if a TTL sync cable would work, the cables are expensive. You also still have the limitation of cords running all over the place.

I did test using my Yongnuo YN560-TX wireless trigger with a YN560 IV speedlite. That combination worked without any issues.

Aperture Priority - Green "A"

Aperture priority mode leaves you in control over the aperture. When the shutter button is pressed the camera will decide on a shutter speed that it calculates to be correct for the scene.

There is a switch next to shutter speed dial that can turn on an audio warning. If there is a problem a beep will sound when the shutter is depressed half way. A beep means the shutter speed is too slow for the camera to be hand held.

Switching to a wider aperture or using a tripod can reduce softness in images caused by camera shake.

Program Auto - Red "P"

To turn P mode on, the shutter speed dial to the red "P". Then the lens on the camera needs to be set to the smallest aperture (Largest f number). The final step is to turn on the audio warning with the small switch next to the shutter speed dial.

The audio warning will give a beep if there is a problem with the exposure. Otherwise, the camera will handle calculating the exposure for the image.

ASA/ISO Settings

Film ASA (same as ISO) can be set by pulling up on the outer ring of the exposure compensation dial. 35mm film speeds can be set from 12 - 3200 ASA in 1/3 stop increments.

Just like the shutter speed range, other cameras are capable of metering film a stop faster or a couple stops slower.

I don't see that ASA range of the camera as a weakness. Anyone looking to shoot film outside of the range available on the FG will have other cameras or a light meter.

Loading Film

Loading 35mm Film onto the Sprocket

Loading film requires the film leader to be slotted into the Nikon FG's take up spool. The film advance lever will turn the clockwise, if you are looking down on it from the rear of the camera.

The process of loading film isn't great compared to Canon FD/EOS or later Nikon models.

You should not expect your first few attempts at loading film to be quick. Once you get used to the process, loading film becomes much easier.

Make sure you load film in shade or indoors. Direct sunlight can be bright enough to get through the light seal. This will cause light piping which will fog the first few frames of a roll of film.

Film to Use

If you're unsure of what film to use, I would suggest picking a 400 ISO speed film. With 400 ISO, you won't run into difficult situations during sunrise, sunset, or in shadows during the day.

Shooting with a fast lens in direct sunlight is going to be a problem with the 1/1000 of a second max shutter speed. If you are planning to spend time in direct sunlight, use a 100 ISO film.

ColorBlack & White
Kodak UltraMax 400Ilford HP5 Plus 400
Lomography Color 400Kodak Tri-X 400
Kodak Portra 400

Viewfinder

Camera back showing the viewfinder

The camera uses the standard K focusing screen, found in many Nikon SLRs. It has a split prism surrounded by microprisms.

This is my personal favorite type of focusing screen for manual focusing.

The pentaprism has a magnification of 0.84X. With a 50mm lens mounted on the camera, the viewfinder covers approximately 92% of the frame.

I don't have any complaints about that, but obviously a higher end camera is going to have a larger viewfinder.

Metering

Through The Lens (TTL) center-weighted metering is used. The sensor for the light meter is a sensitive silicon photodiode (SPD).

This type of metering is what is to be expected from any single lens reflex camera made around the same time as the FG.

There is an audio warning you can turn on to alert you to when a photo will be over or under exposed. I never turned this feature on because I don't like when camera make beeping noises.

The Nikon FG was Nikon's first consumer level SLR camera with through-the-lens (TTL) off-the-film (OTF) electronic flash automation. This technology was first used on the Nikon F3.

Exposure Compensation (+2 to -2 EV)

Exposure compensation for program auto and aperture priority can be set with the inner dial that controls the ASA.

Compensation can be set from +2 to -2 EV in half stop increments.

Nikon F-Mount Lenses

Nikon F Mount for Lenses

The Nikon FG uses the Nikon F-mount. Most F-mount lenses will work with the camera. For a detailed explanation see Nikon F-Mount Lens & Camera Compatibility.

Lenses that are not compatible are Non-Ai and G Series lenses that rely on electronic control of the aperture. Non-Ai lenses will have meter coupling prongs sticking out and do not have tabs sticking back from the aperture ring.

Lenses that have the Nikkor branding are higher quality than those without. They also cost more money.

An alternative to the Nikkor lenses are the budget focused Nikon Series E lenses. They are small and compact, but suffer from chromatic aberrations unless stopped down. However, that's not an issue if you plan to use black & white film.

Camera Accessories

FG Camera Accessories With Grip

Nikon MD-14 Motor Drive

The MD-14 is the motor drive that is compatible with the Nikon FG. It is powered by 4 AA batteries, so will add a noticeable amount of weight to the camera. The motor drive can sustain a maximum of 3.2 frames per second.

Nikon SB-16A or SB-16B Speetlight Flash

The Nikon SB-16A/B was the top of the line flash when the FG camera was released. The base is removable and a AS-9 coupler is needed to use the flash in the Nikon FG's hot shoe.

In order to use the SB-16A or B off camera, you'll need to track down a SC-14 TTL sync cable. I'm also not even sure it will work with the camera. This really removes the value of using a vintage flash with the FG.

Older and newer flashes will also work with the camera. Speedlights such as the SB-24 or SB-28DX are going to have faster flash recycle times. Also, any center fire pin flash will work in manual mode.

As already stated in the flash section, a modern wireless trigger will work with the camera. That will completely remove the need to have cables coming off of the camera's hot shoe.

Camera Manual

You may be able to find an original manual for sale on eBay.

Your other option is to download a PDF copy of the manual. You can find a scan of the Nikon FG manual on Butkus.org.

Comparable Cameras

FG vs FG-20

Based on the same design, the Nikon FG-20 was meant to be a less expensive alternative to the FG.

The FG-20 is the camera that is most similar to the Nikon FG. The body is similar, but it is 50 grams (1.8oz) lighter and does not have programmed auto exposure.

The FG-20 retains manual and aperture priority modes.

eBay prices are in the same range as the FG. If you don't intend to use the auto mode, the FG-20 will offer the same shooting experience as the FG.

FG vs FE

The FE was released in 1978, so it is older, as well as being 100 grams heavier. With aperture priority and manual mode, it is similar in shooting features to the FG-20.

However, the FE was a targeted at what we refer today as the prosumer market. Build quality is superior to the FG. There are also 3 different focusing screens that can be used in the camera. (K, B, and E)

FG vs Canon AE-1

The Canon AE-1 is more expensive on the used market, and has a slightly lower quality build. What's notable is that the AE-1 was the first automatic exposure camera to be released.

Many Canon FD mount lenses are quite nice. Unfortunately the mound is no longer supported and there is no way to natively use the lenses on a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Yes, adapters can be used, but that means automatic aperture stop down does not work. This makes the lenses a pain to use with flash and long exposures.

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