In 1984 I had just entered my 20s and my pockets were not very deep. Up to that point I had been using a Rolleiflex SL35M, my second SLR, but it had stopped working. I felt that this was my opportunity to move up to a brand that was my heart’s desire, NIKON!
Entering a store in my home town that was of a type that was pretty common in the US back then, I walked past the stereo equipment, the large and small appliances on the showroom floor and headed over to the counter that sold cameras. They had a number of SLRs and lenses for sale from multiple manufacturers, including a handful of Nikons. Most were out of my price range, but one, the FG-20, fit my budget and was just what I was looking for, a fully manual camera body with just a hint of automation.
After about a month of using it, I was so pleased with it that I decided to buy another. I went back to the same store and I still remember the sneer the salesman gave me when I told him this was my second FG-20. He asked why I would want two of the same camera? I informed him that it would allow me to have two different lenses ready to go in an instant, or shoot two different types of film and be able to move between the two cameras seamlessly. The contempt he had for the young man in front of him buying the cheapest Nikon for a second time is still palpable to this day.
I didn’t care because these Nikons were exactly the camera that I wanted, and over time they served me well. I ran many hundreds of rolls of film through them both and as long as I put fresh batteries in them, they just kept going.
The FG-20 was designed as an entry level SLR for the express purpose to entice people to the Nikon ecosystem. It accepted any Nikon F mount lens, could be fitted with a motor drive that allowed a blazing 3.2 frames per second, and it could be paired with a small sized flash. Finally, it had that exciting new way to meter the scene through the lens, center-weighted Metering!
One of the most intriguing features it did have was that when set to aperture priority mode, the shutter speed was stepless. In other words, if the proper exposure for the chosen aperture happened to be 1/75th of a second, or 1/840th of a second, the shutter would work at that speed. You could, of course, set any speed manually from 1 second to 1/1000th of a second in full stop steps, too.
When I gave up analog photography before the year 2000 I just couldn’t bring myself to getting rid of the cameras I had spent so much time with and used to record so many of my life’s adventures. I stored them away, every so often thinking that I should sell them or give them to someone who could use them, but I never could bring myself to that. They always got put away.
20 years after I put them into a box in my closet and 34 years after I had originally purchased them, these small, plastic, light weight bodied SLRs once again came out of storage. This time it was different. This time they got a general cleaning, fresh batteries, new light seals, and fresh rolls of film. Much to my pleasure, they didn’t miss a beat! They’re still working as well today as they did back in the 1980s, and boy am I happy I didn’t get rid of them!
Today, one is at my wife’s side for whenever she gets the urge to shoot some film again. The other I take with me most of the time I’m out of the house, even when my primary cameras, a Canon 80D and a Canon EOS3 remain back at home. I find that the compact size and light weight are great for shooting around town or when I simply want to be free of the size, heft and complexity of those more sophisticated SLR and DSLRs.
I can wield the FG-20 one-handed as it hangs from a hand strap without it becoming a bother or getting in the way. The size isn’t intimidating to potential subjects either. I can leave it in a cup holder in my car’s console for easy access when driving, and it neatly fits into the console’s compartment when I need to hide it when I go into a store or some other place I can’t or don’t want to bring it. I’ve even found that the body is opaque to infrared light, so they are great cameras if you’d like to try your hand at IR photography without the expense of getting or converting a digital camera!
As a plastic beginner’s camera, it was never very popular. It was often looked down on by many photographers when it was new because they lacked many of the latest and greatest features that were just becoming available at the time.
Sadly even today they continue to be overlooked and ignored. That is a shame because I have found them to be excellent cameras that are more than worthy of consideration by today’s analog photographers. If you’re looking for an inexpensive 35mm camera that will be light and efficient, without all the bells and whistles that can eventually fail, a camera that is a solid performer that can last for decades, consider picking up an FG-20.
After three and a half decades, I’ve never regretted buying mine!
Share your knowledge, story or project
At the heart of EMULSIVE is the concept of helping promote the transfer of knowledge across the film photography community. You can support this goal by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this personal passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and giving as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.