Nikon FG - A Solid 35mm Film SLR Camera
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 Nikon FG notable is that it is the first Nikon SLR with Programmed Auto-Exposure mode (AE).
There are two versions of the Nikon FG, one all black and the other has 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.
Price & Where to Buy
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.
Even if you want the Nikon FG paired with a 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens, you won’t have to spend very much.
Camera Battery - 2x LR44
The Nikon FG uses two LR44 batteries. These are a common 35mm film camera battery. They are easy to find in stores or online.
If you notice any corrosion or salts from batteries that leaked in the battery compartment, you can clean it up with a cotton swab and a small amount of distilled white vinegar.
Without batteries, the camera can still function. You will be limited to the bulb and the M90 mode. None of the other speed settings will work.
The built-in exposure meter will also not work without power. That is because a micro computer is used to control those features.
M90 meaning a manual shutter with a 1/90 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 an extra set with you. Once you’re looking at needed 4 LR44 batteries, buying online will save enough money for a roll of film.
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. Other kit lenses were available for purchase such the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4.
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.
The build quality of the Nikon FG is on par or slightly better than the Canon AE-1, or any of the later camera bodies that use similar designs.
A copper 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. Though, 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, metal chassis, costed more when new, and still is more expensive.
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
The Nikon FG has an electronically controlled focal-plane shutter. Shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/1000 of a second in full stop steps.
The Nikon FG has two automatic exposure modes:
- P - Programmed exposure mode
- A - Automatic exposure mode
Program auto exposure (P) allows the FG to select a combination of stepless shutter speed and stepless f/stop in a pre-arranged program for “perfect image exposure.”
Aperture priority (A) allows you to select the lens aperture on the FG, giving control over the depth of field. The FG’s microprocessor will then select the correct stepless shutter speed to give the best exposure possible.
The Nikon FG has a flash sync is 1/90 of a second. There is a hot shoe and flash ready light, but no PC sync port. More details on this can be found in the flash section below.
Also, there is a bulb mode and self timer with a 10-second delay. A cable release can be threaded into the shutter release 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.
There is also no depth of field preview or mirror lock up.
The Nikon FG shows the film frame through a small window located to the right of the shutter speed dial.
Exposure Control Using Flash
The Nikon FG does not have a PC sync port, only a flash hot shoe. The FG supports TTL flash metering. This makes using off-camera flash with vintage speedlights impractical.
The Nikon SC-14 flash sync cable was released to be used with the Nikon F3. The manual does not say if the SC-14 will work with the FG.
Unfortunately, I do not have a Nikon SC-14 TTL sync cable to test with the FG. Even if a TTL sync cable would work, the cables are expensive.
I did a test the Nikon FG with a Yongnuo YN560-TX wireless trigger and YN560 IV speedlite, both of which worked.
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 the shutter speed dial that can turn on an audio warning. If there is a problem a beep will sound when the shutter is depressed halfway. A beep means the shutter speed is too slow for the camera to be handheld.
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 Exposure 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. The frame counter is to the right of the shutter release.
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 requires the film leader to be slotted into the Nikon FG’s take up spool. The film advance lever will turn 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.
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.
To rewind film, the film rewind button on the bottom of the camera needs to be pressed, before the rewind knob will be allowed to turn.
Film to Use
I would suggest you shoot with a roll of 400 ISO speed film to start with. With 400 ISO, you’ll be less likely to end up in lighting situations that can be difficult to get good shots in.
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.
More 35mm film recommendations can be found on the best Nikon FG film page.
The camera uses the standard K focusing screen, found in many Nikon SLRs. The FG uses a split image rangefinder surrounded by microprisms.
This is my favorite type of focusing screen for manual focusing lenses. Manual metering is easy as the frame coverage is good with plenty of room to display light readings.
The pentaprism has a magnification of 0.84X. With a 50mm lens mounted on the camera, the viewfinder covers approximately 92% of the frame.
Metering & Exposure Control
Through The Lens (TTL) center-weighted metering is used. The sensor for the light meter is a sensitive silicon photodiode (SPD).
The outer edge of the center weighted metering area is shown in the viewfinder with a thin black circle.
The exact method used in the FG and FG-20 is called instant stop down metering. This method was lasted used on the N2020 (Nikon F-501).
The disadvantage of instant stop down metering is that the lens is fully stopped down before light readings are taken, and then the mirror flips up and the exposure can begin. This causes a relatively long delay from when the shutter released is pressed and when the exposure is taken.
There is an audio warning you can turn on to alert you to when a photo will be over or underexposed. I never turned this feature on because I don’t like the loud beeping noise.
There is also a button for AE backlight compensation. This button will overexpose an image by two stops. Doing this is helpful when your subject is backlit by a window or the sun.
The Nikon FG was the first consumer-level SLR camera with through-the-lens (TTL) off-the-film (OTF) electronic flash automation made by Nikon. The exposure metering technology in the FG was first used on the Nikon F3, which was a professional camera model.
Exposure Compensation (+2 to -2 EV)
Exposure compensation for program auto and aperture priority modes 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 Lens Selection
The Nikon FG uses the Nikon F-mount. Most F-mount lenses will work with the camera. If you want advice on a lens, check out the 5 Best Nikon FG Lenses.
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 Nikon Nikkor branding are of higher quality than those without. They also cost more money. Be careful when buying vintage zoom Nikkor lenses as they are more likely to suffer from problems such as fungus or haze.
An alternative to 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.
For a detailed explanation see Nikon F-Mount Lens & Camera Compatibility.
Nikon MD-14 Motor Drive
The MD-14 is the motor drive that is compatible with the Nikon FG. The motor drive can sustain a maximum of 3.2 frames per second.
It is powered by 4 AA batteries, so will add a noticeable amount of weight to the FG.
Nikon SB-16A or SB-16B Speetlight Flash
The Nikon SB-16A/B was the top of the line flash when the FG was released. The base is removable and an AS-9 coupler is needed to use the flash in the Nikon FG’s hot shoe.
Another vintage option would be the Nikon SB-19 or SB-15 Speedlight. Keep in mind that any modern centerfire pin flash will work in manual mode, and that even includes wireless triggers.
For TTL flash control a compatible flash needs to be used with the Nikon FG.
Original FG camera manuals are for sale on eBay.
A scanned PDF copy of the Nikon FG manual can on found on Butkus.org.
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 exposure control 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 Nikon FE was released in 1978, so it is older, as well as being 100 grams heavier. With aperture priority AE and manual mode, it is similar in shooting features to the FG-20.
However, the FE was targeted at what we refer to 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.
Due to design improvements, the Canon AE-1 Program is a better option because it is a more durable camera.