It’s a rumble in the electric jungle! Last month I pitted Olympus and Nikon against each other with their small-format mechanical options, the Olympus OM-1n and the Nikon FM. This month I decided to test the automatic versions of these compact cameras, the Olympus OM-2n and Nikon FE. Like their mechanical cousins, both cameras were built during the rise in the use of electronics in cameras that came in the late 1970s. Now here we have a significant difference in metering as both use a different system, and in this case, both cameras have functioning meters. Again this isn’t to tell you which camera is better; it’s more to help you choose what camera system you might be interested in choosing. For this review, each camera is equipped with a 50mm f/1.4 lens both the Olympus and Nikon lenses have the same optical build (7 Elements, 6 Groups) the only difference in the actual construction is the aperture blades; the Nikon has 7, the Olympus has 6. Both cameras were loaded with Eastman Double-X film, exposed at ASA-250 and developed in Kodak D-76 (1+1) for ten minutes. In the example images, the photo on the left was shot with the FE and the right with the OM-2n.
Ergonomics – Camera Feel
Like the FM and OM-1n, the FE and OM-2n follow almost the same patterns in their strengths. Both cameras are small, lightweight and easily carried for long periods. I’m glad I got my OM-2n repaired, so I no longer have to always cart the Winder 2 around on the camera. One of the things done during the repair is replacing the drive interface port. Again the OM-2n is a smaller and lighter camera than the FE, and despite the near identical specifications, there is a noticeable difference between the two. While some might dislike the half-pull to power on the FE, I don’t mind it, but I do like the on/off/mode switch on the OM-2n and the change in the viewfinder display for manual and semi-automatic mode. But having your apertures displayed in the viewfinder is a nice touch thanks to the exposure control configuration. But in semi-automatic mode, the location of the shutter dial is a non-issue, although I am getting more used to having the lens mount shutter dial and find it somewhat useful. The biggest beef I have with both cameras is setting the film speed. It’s a pain in the button on both. With the OM-2n having to reset the EV adjustment and the FE is just rather fiddly.
Experience – Out and About
Both these cameras are asking to be used in the field, and both offer an enjoyable experience. Each provides excellent feedback in the viewfinder, which both are equally bright, in my opinion. However, the FE does have more feedback with the aperture also being displayed. However, there is plenty more in the way of shutter speed and EV adjustment in the OM-2n plus having the dual viewfinder display depending on the mode. Although when you go manual, you do lose your shutter speed display, whereas on the FE is goes to a match needle along with your shutter speed display. Again you have great smooth shutter advances and satisfying shutter sounds, although yet the FE has a shorter stroke than the OM-2n. And while carrying both cameras at the same time can be hard, on their own, both cameras are easily transported for any length of time. For these shots, I left the motor drives at home, but they don’t add too much weight to either camera and might be useful for event work.
Image Quality – Exposure
Okay, so I have to admit I’m glad I shot some ‘control’ images because without those I could not tell the difference between each camera. Despite both cameras using radically different metering methods, the exposures are almost equal. Both cameras using Silicon Blue Cells (SBC) to get the light reading the differences is that the FE using a standard TTL method with a 60/40 centre weighted. At the same time, the OM-2n takes the meter reading off a digital pattern (like a QR code or CADPAT disruptive camo pattern) on the shutter curtain and adjusts the shutter speed the split second before the shutter opens based on that reading. In a twist, the OM-2n also using a pair of CdS cells to get a needle reading to display in the viewfinder. The one thing I did notice is that the OM-2n produced images had better shadow detail. Optically I found both cameras about equal in overall image sharpness.
The Final Verdict
Given everything about these cameras, I cannot find any significant difference between the two to choose one above the other. But then again, I never set out to pick a clear winner. It all comes down to what you have on hand and what you prefer. If space is an issue, the OM-System offers amazing optics and camera bodies that are smaller than their Nikon counterparts. And a three-lens kit and an OM-2n for a compact travel camera will take up less space than an equal Nikon kit. When it comes to cost you can put together an Olympus kit for less money than a Nikon kit. Honestly, if I had stuck to an Olympus kit, it probably would have been the system I took with me to Europe in 2015 alongside the digital body, and I would have been able to bring along several lenses at the same time. The Nikon does offer a far more industrial look and feel about it and offers up a simple and accurate camera system that will probably outlast you in the end. I’ll keep both systems hands down and will choose each depending on how I feel and the conditions outside.