A Look Back: The Nikon FG-20

I received an unusual gift recently from my friends at People’s Electric Cooperative: a Nikon FG-20 film camera, with three lenses, a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, a Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, and a Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5.

The Nikon FG-20 is shown with a Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 "kit lens" mounted on it.
The Nikon FG-20 is shown with a Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 “kit lens” mounted on it.

The camera had been used by PEC during the film era, often by a good friend of mine, Karen Hudson.

The aperture ring of the FG-20 has a green A and a green "beep" symbol, which makes the camera beep if the shutter speed is slower than 1/30th or faster than 1/1000th. The silver button on the upper left is the push-to-unlock button for the A setting.
The aperture ring of the FG-20 has a green A and a green “beep” symbol, which makes the camera beep if the shutter speed is slower than 1/30th or faster than 1/1000th. The silver button on the upper left is the push-to-unlock button for the A setting.
Unlike modern digital cameras that allow you to change the ISO one frame to the next, this ISO dial is set to match the film you put in the camera. Since the FG-20 doesn't have an exposure compensation dial, one way to change automatic exposure is to intentionally mis-set the ISO dial to fool the camera into over- or under- exposing a frame.
Unlike modern digital cameras that allow you to change the ISO one frame to the next, this ISO dial is set to match the film you put in the camera. Since the FG-20 doesn’t have an exposure compensation dial, one way to change automatic exposure is to intentionally mis-set the ISO dial to fool the camera into over- or under- exposing a frame.

This camera was stored in a cool, dry environment, and is in excellent condition. I happened to have the right batteries for it, and all of its functions work perfectly.

It’s very flattering that people in our community think of me in these situations. The person who gave it to me asked if I would like to have it as a teaching tool, which was right on the money.

The Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 sit face-to-face. These lenses were regarded as affordable in their day, but are built to mechanical standards almost unheard of in 2021.
The Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 sit face-to-face. These lenses were regarded as affordable in their day, but are built to mechanical standards almost unheard of in 2021.
This Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5 is surprisingly compact, and feels quite heavy for its size. The push-pull zoom is smooth, and the focus throw is very short.
This Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5 is surprisingly compact, and feels quite heavy for its size. The push-pull zoom is smooth, and the focus throw is very short.

The FG-20 was introduced in 1984 during the crest of the film era. At the time, it was meant to be a cheap, lightweight alternative to Nikon’s heavier, higher-end cameras, but as photography evolved, cameras in general got cheaper and, especially, more-plasticky as manufacturers discovered they could charge photographers more for less as they accepted plastic into their lives.

I took the Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5 to an assignment recently, and while f/8 at 1/1000 doesn't exactly challenge a lens, it did deliver workable images.
I took the Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5 to an assignment recently, and while f/8 at 1/1000 doesn’t exactly challenge a lens, it did deliver workable images.

Thus, the FG-20 is built to fairly high standards when compared to many of today’s digital cameras targeting the same market.

Since I bought film in bulk through my newspaper, I never saw this: Fuji color print film that specifically mentions returning to Wal-Mart for processing.
Since I bought film in bulk through my newspaper, I never saw this: Fuji color print film that specifically mentions returning to Wal-Mart for processing.

I don’t have any intention of shooting film, since I don’t have a darkroom any more, but I will be able to bring this camera to my students and talk about the history of photography with a working example of the kind of camera I used in the early years of my career.

Watch this space for reviews of these lenses coming soon!

The Nikon FG-20 is shown with the 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor, the 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Nikkor, and the Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5.
The Nikon FG-20 is shown with the 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor, the 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Nikkor, and the Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5.

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