Nikon’s final manual camera. Built incorporating Nikon’s 50 years of manual camera manufacture and thus the ultimate all-manual reflex camera. The Nikon FM3A is an interchangeable lens, focal plane shutter, 35 mm film, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. It was manufactured by Nikon Corporation in Japan, on small-volume assembly lines, from 2001 to 2006. The camera was available in two colours: all black, and satin chrome. The FM3A was the successor to the renowned Nikon FM2N camera of 1984 and was the last member of the successful, semi-professional line of Nikon compact 35 mm SLRs. The other members were the Nikon FM (released 1977), FE (1978), FM2 (1982) and FE2 (1983). They (and the Nikon FA) all used the superficially similar (but not identical) rugged copper aluminium alloy chassis and high-quality Nikon vertical bearing-mounted metal shutter and ball-bearing mounted film advance, but with improved feature levels, minor external controls and cosmetic differences. The major improvements in the FM3A compared to the FM2n are the hybrid electro-mechanically controlled aluminium-bladed focal plane shutter, the aperture priority auto-exposure mode, the match-needle exposure control system and provision for through-the-lens (TTL) off-the-film (OTF) electronic flash automation. In other words, the FM3A merged the robust mechanical systems of the FM2n with the proven, reliable electronic exposure controls of the FE2. The FM3A is built to a high level of workmanship and material quality. It shares the advantages of the FM and the FM2n, both generally regarded as two of the most reliable cameras ever built (both in terms of operation under extreme conditions and in day-to-day reliability reports from repair shops and magazine surveys). It has an extremely strong body of copper silumin alloy. The electronics are well protected within the body and of extremely high quality, including the flexible circuits. The FM3A’s film transport consists of high-strength hardened metal gears and moving parts, mounted on clusters of ball bearings. The vertical metal shutter utilises precision tapered high-strength aluminium alloy blades and oil-less self-lubricating bearings. The guide rails are made of stainless steel. The mirror is made of titanium. It is large to reduce chances of vignetting with super-telephotos of up to 800 mm, and uses the same mechanism found on Nikon’s pro F2, with some improvements designed to further reduce effects of vibration and mirror bounce.
The FM3A accepts all of the Nikkor lenses with the Nikon F bayonet mount that support the Automatic Indexing (AI) feature (AI, AIS), first introduced in 1977. The chrome FM3A was often sold in a kit that includes a colour coordinated chrome finished Nikkor 45mm f/2.8P lens. This special flat “pancake” lens was manually focused on the FM3A, but contained a CPU which could communicate focal distance to Nikon’s later autofocus (AF) camera bodies. Other accessories for the FM3A include the Nikon MD-12 motor drive (automatic film advance up to 3.2 frames per second), as well as the Nikon MF-16 databack (sequential numbering, time or date stamping on the film), and the various compatible Nikon TTL flashes (SB-15, SB-16B, SB-20, etc.)
In manual mode, the camera is completely mechanical in operation, and only requires batteries for the light metering information system. In aperture priority mode, the batteries continue to power the meter, but are also utilized for shutter timing and the exposure control electronics. The FM3A’s metering information system consists of a match-needle system using two needles pointing along a vertical shutter speed scale on the left side of the viewfinder to indicate the readings of the built-in 60/40% centre-weighted silicon photo diode light meter versus the actual camera settings. This system can be traced back to the Nikkormat EL (Nikomat EL in Japan) of 1972. The viewfinder also has Nikon’s fully-interchangeable bright focus screen with various options for focus. During the mid-1990s, a demand arose among some photographers for a quality manual-focus alternative to the 35mm autofocus SLR camera. These cameras required complex computer and processing mechanisms, and especially in their amateur and consumer versions, were known for neither their ruggedness nor a long service life. Nikon owners began to demand a durable, precision-made camera with the AE electronic features and prized construction of the discontinued Nikon FE2, which had begun to skyrocket in value on the second-hand market. Nikon responded to this phenomenon with a revival of their classic FM/FE series design.