Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Nikon FA

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Nobody could alienate photographers as well as Nikon could in the 1980s. The company did it by leading the way with automation and electronic control. We take all of this for granted today, but then serious photographers were a traditional lot who shied away from anything not mechanical and manual in their cameras.

1983’s Nikon FA was, and is, the most technologically advanced manual-focus camera Nikon ever introduced. Yet it didn’t sell all that well compared to Nikons more-mechanical, more-manual cameras. Perhaps its high price (within spitting distance of the pro-level F3) helped push buyers away. But certainly its high advancement did.

Nikon FA

The FA offers both programmed autoexposure and Automatic Multi-Pattern (matrix) metering controlled by a computer chip. Its vertical titanium-bladed, honeycomb-patterned shutter operated from 1 to 1/4000 second. It synchs with flash at 1/250 sec., which was pretty fast for the time. Two LR44 or SR44 batteries power the camera. Without those batteries the Nikon FA can’t do very much.

IMG_4407 rawproc.jpg

The FA also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure. And it hedges against your poor judgment with Cybernetic Override — if the FA can’t find accurate exposure at your chosen aperture or shutter speed, it changes that aperture/shutter speed to the closest one at which accurate exposure is possible.

IMG_4408 rawproc.jpg

Also, if you don’t want to use matrix metering, you can switch to center-weighted by pressing and holding a button on the lens housing, near the self-timer lever.

Typical of Nikons of this era, it was extremely well built of high-strength alloys, hardened gears, ball-bearing joints, and gold-plated switches. It was mostly assembled by hand.

This FA was a gift from John Smith to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. John has my tastes pretty well pegged at this point! I was in a black-and-white mood when I tested this FA, so I dropped in some Fomapan 200. Given the FA’s compact size, I figured the 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens would look balanced on it, and I was right.

I like this little clock. I got it at Target for my office at work four jobs ago. But I don’t have an office anymore, so it announces the time to nobody in my seldom-used living room. I keep thinking there’s a good photograph to be made of it on my bookshelf. I’m not sure this is that good photo. I’ll keep trying.

Clock on the bookshelf

The FA’s winder glides on silk, and when you fire the shutter the mirror slap is surprisingly gentle. My finger always hunted to find the shutter button when the camera was at my eye, though. That surprised me, as I’m used to everything falling right to hand on Nikon SLRs.

Vertical blinds

You have to pull out the winder to turn on the camera and make it possible to press the shutter button. I wasn’t crazy about this, especially when I turned the camera to shoot portrait, as the winder would poke me in the eyebrow. Because I’m right-handed I tend to rotate my camera so the shutter button is up top, where it’s easy for my right finger to reach. When I rotated it so the shutter button was on the bottom, the winder stopped poking me, but the button became awkward to reach.

Shutter

An LCD in the viewfinder reads out your shutter speed. When it reads C250, you know you just loaded film and haven’t would to the first official frame yet. Every shot until then gets a 1/250-sec. shutter, like it or not. I have other Nikons from the same era that do some version of this and it frustrates me every time. I hate wasting those first few frames! And while I’m talking about the LCD panel, it reads FEE when you’re in program or shutter-priority mode but the lens isn’t set at maximum aperture, which is necessary for those modes to work.

P30 Alpha

The matrix metering on my FA was accurate enough, but I suppose there are just some challenging light circumstances it just couldn’t navigate. A little flash would have helped a lot when I photographed my No. 3A Autographic Kodak.

Folding camera in the shadows

I shot most of my test roll around the house, but also took it to work a few times and made lunchtime photo walks around Fishers. Someone in my building drives this lovely Fiat 500c.

500c

The Nickel Plate tracks run alongside the building I work in, and I often walk along them on my strolls. This platform and awning are fairly new, and are largely for show as trains don’t travel this track anymore.

Fishers Station

I wrapped up the roll in my garden after a rain.

Wet hosta leaf

It was here that I discovered a fault in my FA: you can wind it as many times as you want after a shot. I wonder how that gets broken on a camera.

Hosta

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon FA gallery.

The Nikon FA is a delightful little 35mm SLR. Its compact size, light weight, high capability, and smooth operation make it a fine choice to take along wherever you go. And my quick eBay research reveals that working bodies go for far less than other contemporary Nikon bodies such as the better-known FM2. But that camera lacks the FA’s matrix metering. So why pay more for an FM2, especially now that we’ve all come to embrace the electronics in our cameras?

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24 thoughts on “Nikon FA

  1. Dan Cluley says:

    I like the picture of the clock, but part of my brain kept waiting for the second hand to move. Not sure if that is a bug, or a feature?

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    • The FA is so light and compact compared to the F3 that I’ll bet you’d come to shoot it more often! And the Series E lenses are Nikon’s budget line. I have only this Series E lens but it’s optically plenty good. My only beef with it is that the focusing ring is very skinny. It’s far easier to focus my 50/2 AI Nikkor because it has a fatter focusing ring. But this 50/1.8 Series E does nice work, and it’s compact.

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  2. The FM3a I used to have also needed the winder to be out in order to press the shutter button. I’m left-eyed so this was very inconvenient for me. A lot of photos from that camera never had a straight horizon, probaby because I was constantly shifting the body to avoid poking my eye out.
    But the FM3a was a beautiful camera and I regret selling it a number of years ago. The FA looks like it’s lovely to use as well.

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  3. Hey Jim, great review, great pics! It seems today, the FA is indeed pushed aside in favor of other Nikons. I think the FE2 is the one that’s keep folks away from the FA these days, but the FA is an awesome camera no doubt!

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  4. Hey Jim,
    Nice review of the FA. I personally am against the electronics in an old camera, so not much of a fan for the “lower-end” SLRs, as these cameras are called above. But the matrix metering was new tech at that time and I have to give it credit for that.
    Personally I like the FM2N that I have because the only battery that it uses goes only to the metering, it doesn’t affect the camera, so I can keep shooting without the meter. That is the main reason that I sold the FG-20 and bought the FM2N. I think it is better built and more sturdy, tougher, and you can use it as a weapon :D.

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    • For the kind of shooting I do, requiring a battery isn’t a problem. If I were going out on some major shoot where camera failure was not an option, being able to use the camera if the battery died would be a big deal. But that’s what my Nikon F2 is for! :-)

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  5. Andy Umbo says:

    When the Nikon’s started to get smaller, they lost me! The FM, FE series couldn’t be put on a professional tripod, because the barrel of the lens hung down lower than the bottom of the camera body, so it would just jam the f/stop ring or focus ring on the tripod plate when you were trying to put it on. Very Disappointing, but really not made for guys like me, made for the “hand-holding” p-journalist types, so what did they care?

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