To build a new tech product it takes several factors. First, to define a need or use, thereafter technical capabilities, then cost constraints and design limitation. Need or use are defined by how the maker sees the market today and in the future. Technical capabilities are both external – what current technology is available and internal – what the specific maker is able to do. Costs are affected by the target market, how much it can bear, and what is the value perception. Within a given product group, with manufacturers packing a similar muscle, operating in the same market, products would tend to be similar.
The difference between an outstanding product and an ordinary one is manifested in two aspects. The need or use, where it takes a vision to be ahead of the pack or even create an all-new need or use. This is what makes a product type desirable. Design and feel are what make the specific product stand out and so the user would prefer this product to others. In many cases, the cost would not be an issue if the desire factor is elevated.
Admittingly, advertising could play a role by creating a halo, but this falls back to the need or use bracket. There were many cases where a single product pioneered a new trend or sprung over other established market players. An extreme example of that is the iPod, which set the way to the iPhone and the iPad. There were portable music players available before the iPod’s arrival, but due to the above four factors, it entered the market as a non-disputable leader. Tesla makes electric cars, but so do all major carmakers. Again, much due to design and vision, it leads the pack. Closer to home – a previously humble camera maker, Fuji, leads the market with a line of digital cameras, ahead of all other larger and long-established camera makers. I might be biased. I own a Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony, all relatively current models, but the Fuji runs circles around them. I am a poor photographer, so I judge all by ease and simplicity of use.
Sometimes products that deserve such glamour and glory fail to make a splash. The camera on my desk is an example of a product that subscribes to all attributes but has drawn no attention.
The Nikon EM is amongst my favourite cameras. By design, it stands together with the Olympus Pen F and the Zeiss Werra, all are splendid examples of flawless and functional design. The EM is a pleasure to look at, to hold and to use. Too bad it was conceived at the wrong time.
It is a casual photographer’s camera. Far from being a choice for a pro. It was made to be so and should be appreciated as such.
The camera is light, made of cast aluminium body, top, and bottom polycarbonate. The choice of materials is carried over to today’s camera bodies. Controls are easy to reach and understand. The finder is large and bright and the internal meter reading is just there, no need to hunt for it. Compared to other SLR cameras of the time, the body is tiny, with the lens and viewer offset to the left for easy viewing.
There is just what the casual photographer needs, no fancy features, with a few extra features to assist the user. It is compact enough to carry around all day long and smart enough to produce quality images. It is lighter and smaller than the rangefinders of the time, simple to use as a point and shoot camera, and with the Nikon logo prominently posted at the front, a pride to haul around.
Introduced in 1979, auto SLRs were made by all Japanese camera makers, leaving dust to the old world makers. There were still European high-end camera makers, but the rest of the market was left to the Soviet and the East German, selling cheap rebrands. The Japanese makers covered all market segments. A typical SLR was bulky, heavy, sometimes complex, and hardly attractive. Here is where the Nikon EM excelled.
The camera has two operating modes, aperture priority, and manual. In AP the user selects the opening and the coupled meter fixes the shutter speed, clearly displayed in the clear and wide viewer window. If the aperture value yields a low speed, prone to shaking, the camera will graciously beep. The acceptable shutter speeds are marked in black, and the slower are marked red. Cannot be any simpler.
If TTL meter picks up a partly lit object, you can correct it by compensating it with two stops, simply by pressing a button conveniently placed in front of the rewind lever. The new speed will show on the in-viewer meter scale, so if the new setting falls within the red, shaking prone area, you may adjust the aperture.
A large and easy-to-access film speed dial is around the rewind lever, settings of which will apply to the camera’s program.
Around the shutter trigger, there is a ring, dentilled for easy finger purchase. Three settings: Auto, N90, and B. Default is auto. The M90 is a neat thought by the designer. The camera brain is battery-operated. Batteries tend to die at a most inconvenient time, so in such a case just set the dial to M90, meaning setting a manual speed of 90/100 of a second, and you have a perfectly easy-to-use manual camera. The designer didn’t stop here. At the left of the film winding lever, there are a button and a red light. Press the button, and if the red light comes on you are good to go, the battery is alive and well. Note that the meter needle is off until the trigger button is pressed halfway, and stays on for a few seconds after that.
The only peeve I have with the camera is the winding lever. The body is small, and the lever is relatively large, on par with larger camera bodies. As such it is on the way when looking at the viewer. It takes folding back into the body and pulling it out again for each shot. A mechanical self-timer completes the camera features.
The Nikon EM takes all the Nikon F bayonet lenses, and in my trials was happy with any of them. The camera is ready for power grip,
Last, another example of a minor issue that did not escape from the designer’s eye. Older cameras are heavy, so even with a hefty lens they stay put. Lighter cameras ten to fall on their nose even with a short lens. Here the body and the bottom of the lens are on the same level, so the camera does not tip or over once set on a straight surface.
|Body material||Metal / plastic|
|Mode||Auto / manual / AP|
|Weight||445 gr, Body only|
|Class average weight||624 gr, Body only|
|Filter size||52 mm|
|Aperture||1,8 – 22|
|shutter||Focal plane vertical metal|
|Light meter||TTL, manual override|
|Speeds||B, 1 – 1000|
|Exposure compensation||Yes, set to +2EV|
|Battery||LR 44 2ae|
|Other||Power handle ready|