Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon FA

Necklace

I own more Nikon SLR bodies than I can possibly use, but each one of them offers its own wonderful characteristics. Also, many of them were gifts to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, and remembering the gift-giver makes it hard to want to say to goodbye.

Nikon FA

This Nikon FA is the body I received most recently, and I’d shot just one roll through it. I liked it for its compact size and excellent capability. Here’s a photo from that roll, which was Fomapan 200, through my 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens.

Wet hosta leaf

The FA is part of the FE/FM/FA family of semi-pro 35mm SLRs that Nikon introduced to replace its Nikkormat line. The FA was last to the party, introduced in 1983 as a technological tour-de-force. It is the world’s first camera with matrix metering, which Nikon called automatic multi-pattern (AMP) metering. I believe it is also the first Nikon SLR to offer programmed autoexposure, setting both aperture and shutter speed. It also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure and manual exposure.

The FA is also small and lightweight compared to Nikon’s flagship cameras like the F2 and F3. That makes it great for a long weekend of shooting, as when my wife and I recently visited bourbon country in Kentucky. I started with Arista EDU 200 on board, which is rebranded Fomapan 200.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

My 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens was mounted. Ken Rockwell calls this one of Nikon’s 10 worst lenses ever, but except for noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end I like it. I use it like three primes: 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm, all of which are marked on the barrel so I can dial them right in. For that convenience I’m happy to spend a little time correcting distortion in Photoshop. The photos above and below are from the Maker’s Mark Distillery near Loretto, KY.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

I shot in program mode at first, but the in-viewfinder display kept telling me 1/250 sec. and I wondered whether something was amiss. I switched to aperture-priority mode after that. But every photo I made came back properly exposed. Perhaps the FA’s program mode just biases toward midrange shutter speeds. This photo is of the spring house at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home

I blew through the Arista EDU in a day and switched to Agfa Vista 200 for the rest of the trip. In challenging late-afternoon light the FA did a good job of exposing so the Talbott Inn in Bardstown wasn’t lost in the shadows. This tavern and hotel has been operating since 1779.

Talbott Inn

Bardstown is charming, especially for people like Margaret and me who like old houses. We walked around town a lot just photographing homes and buildings.

Old Talbott tavern

I have one peeve with the FA, and I became more and more annoyed with it as the weekend rolled on. To meter, you have to pull the winding lever out to its first stop. With the camera at my eye, that lever poked right into my forehead. I wished for a different way to activate the meter. Also, my FA has a strange fault: the mechanism that prevents you from winding past an unexposed frame is broken. Otherwise, the FA performed well. Its size, weight, and feature set make it a great everyday manual-focus SLR.

Pointy signs

The 35-70 zoom also includes a macro mode. What a versatile lens this is.

Spring blooms, macro

It’s taken me most of the last 10+ years of collecting and using old cameras to internalize that the lens is the critical component of any camera. But I do believe the FA’s matrix metering made a real difference in mixed and challenging light. My beloved Pentax ME would likely not have done as nuanced a job exposing this mid-evening light.

Bardstown street

We drove out to Bernheim Forest on our trip to see the giants, these wooden sculptures just completed by artist Thomas Dambo. I’m sure I’ll do a whole post about them soon. Light reflecting off the smooth wooden surfaces made for a challenging exposure situation, with lots of bright and dark areas. I had to tone down highlights in Photoshop.

The giants at Bernheim Forest

The FA’s 1/4000 sec. top shutter speed lets me blur the background in dimmer light, compared to my 1/1000 sec. Pentax ME.

Smoking bear

Want to see more? Check out my Nikon FA gallery.

Let’s take an inventory of my manual-focus Nikon SLR bodies.

I’m not getting rid of my two Nikon F2s or my Nikon F3, no sir, nuh uh. I own two Nikkormats, an FTn that’s big and heavy like the F2, and an EL which is smaller and lighter like this FA. I also own an N2000.

The Nikkormats will have their turns in Operation Thin the Herd soon. But I don’t see me keeping either of them over my F2s and F3.

When the N2000 had its turn in Operation Thin the Herd (here) I decided to keep it. I travel with it, as if it is damaged, lost, or stolen, replacements can be had for as little as $20. And I just plain like it.

A working FA costs at least $100, but it’s a far more capable and sensitive performer than the N2000.

On this Kentucky trip either camera would have been fine, though the FA nailed exposure in some of these shots where the N2000 would probably have only done okay.

It comes down to this: The Nikon FA’s wind lever pokes me in the forehead. It’s really annoying.

Verdict: Goodbye

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36 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon FA

    • Oh thank god it’s not just me. I was discussing this with some other film-photo-shooters the other day and they all said, “Love my FA, no poking in the forehead for me! Are you left-eye dominant?” Turns out no, right eye, but I’m still getting poked.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Can’t agree with you more! I wanted to love the FM/FA/FE line, but just can’t get past the stupid wind leaver.

    My Nikon F3 solves my need do a well performing Nikon.

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  2. I thought it would be a “goodbye” but as I read the good stuff you wrote about the FA I began to second guess! Great results with the 35-70mm. If this is one of Nikon’s worst, it could easily be another manufacturer’s best! 😎👍🏻

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent images, I am very impressed by that meter! Especially considering its age.

    What does Ken Rockwell know 😄 I have heard other people saying that the lens isn’t that bad too. If only I liked zooms, I would probably get one.

    Shame about the wind lever, that would frustrate me too. Still tempted to get an FA one day to give it a go.

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  4. -N- says:

    I have an FM2n, and it has the same stick-you-in-the-eye problems that the FA has. Still, it is by far my favorite Nikon SLR and though it looks like crap, it always performs. The purpose of the one stop lever was to prevent the battery from running down and prevent double exposure – at least, that is what I read somewhere on the internet, so it must be true.

    Nice series – I always enjoy reading your reviews and seeing the pictures, too.

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    • I’m happy you enjoy this series! Oh sure, it’s good there’s a way to shut the meter off. The Pentax K1000 has no way to do that, other than covering the lens. But what would have been wrong with activating the meter by tapping the shutter button? I have other cameras that do that.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. DougD says:

    Should have shown us the offending lever. I did a quick image search and there’s no photos of the back of this camera :)

    And old houses. I so like them, so don’t want to maintain them… I should send you a photo of the first Hamilton house my mom lived in, it’s an interesting anomaly.

    Bye, don’t let the wind lever hit you on the way out…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Keith Milsark says:

    Jim, if/when you go back to Kentucky, try to visit Georgetown, about 20 miles north of Lexington. It’s a beautiful old town, with gorgeous houses. Founded in 1790. My daughter used to live there, and we visited a couple of times. Well worth a stop.

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  7. Heide says:

    As I scrolled through your images, my internal cheerleader was yelling “Keep, keep, keep!” But that forehead-poking lever? That would be a deal-breaker for me too. I hope someone with (a) no forehead or (b) really thick, cushy hair will be able to make better use of this otherwise great little camera.

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  8. Marcus Peddle says:

    The FM3a I once owned was also a pain in the forehead for a left-eyed person like me.
    My Fujifilm X-T3 also goes for higher shutter speeds in progamme mode at the expense of aperture. That’s why I stick to aperture priority or shutter priority modes. I think my Nikon D810 also decided on higher shutter speeds when in P mode. Maybe manufacturers think that anyone using P mode probably doesn’t know how to hold a camera properly still . . . . . :(

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    • I prefer aperture priority to program or shutter anyway. I don’t know why I even bothered with program mode on the FA. Probably because I felt I ought to because it was there.

      However, when I shoot my N90s I almost always use P mode and shoot it like a point-and-shoot. It’s great fun. I don’t understand my inconsistency here.

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    • Martin, I’m not opposed to sending my FA along to you, but here is some food for thought. I cycled through three Pentax ME bodies, each breaking from age, before I invested in having one repaired and CLAd. It came back looking, working, and even smelling like new. I do believe that it should be the last ME body I ever need to buy.

      This FA is currently in good working order (despite a winder fault — it will let you wind indefinitely, not stopping at each frame as it should — it’s not a giant problem because winding once = one frame) but it’s an old, un-CLA’d camera and could well break on the very next roll.

      A buddy of mine just got a camera back from Garry’s Camera Repair and he said the camera works beautifully now. Garry’s is very reasonably priced. You might consider sending both your FE and FM in. garryscamera.com.

      If that doesn’t float your boat, reach out to me on my contact form on my About page and we can talk about the FA.

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      • Good suggestion, Jim. I was going to ask who you recommended, as the shop I sent the FE to for a CLA on purchase seemed pricey (100.00). I think I will try Garry’s instead, and appreciate your honesty re:FA. Marty

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  9. Interesting to read this one! My FA was my Dad’s, he bought it new and pretty sure it was the camera used to take my college graduation pics in 1983. My dad died 25 years ago and it’s been mine since. I actually had to get off the couch this morning to go see how it is that the rewind lever has never bothered me…but you are left eyed, correct? My forehead comes nowhere near the lever… perhaps I have a small head, haha. In any case, I have collected many cameras over the last few years and use them regularly but when I want to be positive I will get the photo, the FA is always my go-to. Also that 35-70 lens…I have one that came with a Nikon EM I bought, I have not really even used it after reading (and stupidly believing) that it wasn’t great. I should know better. Thanks for sharing info on that too, I’ll be trying it out here soon!

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    • I’m right eyed. If I hadn’t already put the FA away I’d go dig it out and double check. But on our KY trip over and over again the lever was poking me right above the edge of my right eyebrow. Maybe I have a Neanderthal forehead or something, very broad. Who knows.

      How wonderful that you have your dad’s FA!

      That 35-70 would have been a disappointment before digital workflows because the barrel distortion is so apparent at the wide end. So much so that you’d want to not use it wide, effectively rendering it a 50-70 zoom. That’s not very useful. Here’s a shot from this lens as scanned and then as corrected in Photoshop.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Jim…maybe I hold my camera oddly. LOL. As for the lens, I guess good that we CAN correct those issues though. I actually have said camera and lens literally in hand as I type this (well ok, I put it down to type this). Kind of glad to read you are rethinking getting rid of it!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. P says:

    Hey Jim!

    I always really enjoy your camera write-ups, whether they’re “operation thin the herd” posts or straight reviews. Thanks for doing them.

    I’m curious, what lab developed and scanned the roll of Arista.EDU 200 you shot in Kentucky? Looking at the images on Flickr I see that the native resolution is 6774x4492px, which is much better than what most labs supply. And the few labs that will scan at that resolution really enjoy ripping off the customer for the service in a major way (that most of us can’t even begin to afford on even a semi-regular basis). In my opinion, 6 MP scans (~3000x2000px) are the absolute minimum any lab should be supplying their customers as their base service. But sadly, that is oftentimes sold as the “premium” service at many places, which is honestly ridiculous in 2019. It’s not the year 2000 anymore. Computing power is effectively infinite today, relatively speaking, and storage space is cheaper than peanuts. The days of yesteryear when computing power was limited, storage space was always a concern, and any digital storage medium was expensive are long gone. Those bottlenecks frankly haven’t existed for a long, long time. TIFFs should also be standard these days for the same reasons. Labs supplying film scans as JPEGs is a cruel joke, and a huge disservice to the customer (not to mention a complete waste of the lab’s very capable equipment, if they care). I hope more film shooters recognize this and will start demanding better from labs, at fair prices. Sadly, it doesn’t seem anyone cares, or maybe they’re just unaware. Or they decided long ago to quit using labs altogether and bought quality film scanners back when they were actually still available from Nikon, Minolta, etc. But I digress. Sorry for the rant.

    Now, back to discussing the B&W Kentucky images… I also really like Fomapan 200. I’m with you, it’s a very nice film. While it’s certainly not of the same quality as Kodak or Ilford films in my opinion, it has its own unique qualities and is a bit more affordable, although recent price hikes have narrowed the price difference considerably. Any more and I’ll probably just revert back to other film stocks with better quality control, as I’ve run into some emulsion defects with Fomapan films and I know others have as well. Plus, it seems to scratch much easier than most other films. But I really enjoyed looking through your Fomapan 200 photos above, as well as the rest of the roll on Flickr. Good stuff! Based on close examination of a few of the scans though (and assuming based on the image structure that they’re coming out of a Noritsu scanner), I do think the lab under-developed the roll somewhat. What do your negatives look like? Are they thin? If they do look a tad thin and you’re shooting at box speed (200 ASA) you may want to consider giving the film a bit more light on future rolls. In the vast majority of developers Fomapan 200’s true film speed works out closer to 125-160 ASA. Of course, as a disclaimer, depending on what lab develops your film and how they choose to do so, you’re bound to get different results. Some labs may actually use a developer that allows Fomapan 200 to achieve the speed stated on the box, while others may have a general policy of slightly over-developing everything, resulting in a little higher contrast negative but better overall density and improved shadow detail for Fomapan 200 (in my experience at least). In those cases, shooting at 200 is likely not to pose any issue, and shooting at 125-160 may actually result in blown highlights. Every lab is different, which can be frustrating to say the least (On that note, how goes your journey to start developing your own film?). Please don’t take any of this the wrong way as I’m not trying to be critical at all. I just know that based on my own experiences with Fomapan 200, you may actually be even happier with your images if you give them a bit more light in-camera. I was. Still, your photos from this roll look great. That distillery looks like a wonderland for photographers, especially those who shoot B&W!

    Keep up the good work, Jim, and keep the posts coming! Your blog is one of few that I truly enjoy. Thanks for all the time you put into keeping it rolling.

    Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I sent my film to Fulltone Photo in Louisville, fulltonephoto.com. Their enhanced scans are that uber-generous resolution.

      They do charge more for them. Their basic scans are snapshot sized, 1818×1228. I agree that this is too small.

      The only lab I know of with standard scans of at least 3000px on the long side is Old School Photo Lab. I love those guys, but in the last two years they’ve gotten popular which has slowed their turnaround time considerably. And they’ve inched up their prices over the last few years to the point where they’re now no longer a bargain. They’re not Richard Photo Lab expensive but they’re no longer the least-expensive option among the middle-priced labs.

      This is one reason I want to get good at scanning my own. I can get whatever resolution I want. I do still wish to start processing my own but some family setbacks have pushed that out to later in the year. I need to figure out my scanner first. I had things reasonably down with my Epson V300 but we got a Canoscan 9000F MkII so I can do medium format and it’s like starting over.

      Oh: and as to why labs still do puny scans by default: it’s faster. I used to use Willow Photo Lab a lot when it was under the original owner and he and I sometimes corresponded. He said that his base scans (~1500px long side) took X minutes but the enhanced scans (~4000px long side) took 10x minutes. If he made those the default his workflow would slow dramatically and it would harm his already thin profit margins.

      As for the Fomapan, the negs are put away and it’s enough hassle to get them back out again that I won’t. But I’m thrilled, I mean just jazzed by the tonality and contrast I got back from Fulltone. I have no idea what they used to soup the stock. I also realize that, on my journey to be a better photographer, I have a lot to learn about a properly exposed and a properly processed negative.

      For most la-de-da photography I do I am okay with the risk on Fomapan. It’s still only $3.50 a roll compared to much more for Tri-X. I also love that its an ISO 200 film, but I do hear you that your experience says to overexpose it a little.

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      • P says:

        Thanks for the information, Jim.

        I’ve never used Fulltone Photo, but through a conversation I had with them a couple of years ago I do know that at that time they were using Clayton F76 Plus as their B&W developer (just in case you’re interested — I always like to know what chemistry labs are using). If they still are I can’t say for sure, but I assume so as it’s an easy to use general purpose developer that provides results at least as good as D-76 and arguably better. Plus, it comes as a liquid concentrate solution, eliminating the need to mix powders, which is very handy and much safer. If I recall correctly, Old School Photo Lab also uses F76 Plus, but as you pointed out they’ve continued to increase their prices to the point that I would personally never do business with them. In my opinion they’re way overpriced now for what you’re getting.

        In general, I feel there is major price gouging going on by nearly all the film labs out there, and I simply won’t support their behavior. I wish others would stop supporting these labs as well, so a clear message is sent that the amateur film community won’t stand for being ripped off. Perhaps then they’d lower their prices to more reasonable levels in order to survive (probably wishful thinking). For this reason, I develop my own B&W film and have basically stopped shooting color altogether as I don’t care to mess with color chemicals. But if and when I do shoot more color, it’ll probably go to Fulltone Photo as they were very friendly back when I spoke to them and they answered every question I asked. I can’t say the same for other labs I’ve reached out to in the past. Their prices are also fairly reasonable as they currently stand. And I felt they actually cared about pleasing their customers and not just squeezing every cent out of them possible, which is what most of their competition seems to care about as far as I can tell. I sincerely hope they keep their prices where they are because if they increase them I’m probably going to be done with lab processing and shooting color film for good. The expense of it has just become ridiculous, and I feel that is largely because consumers never spoke out against it so the labs started taking advantage of them more and more. Now, I think we find ourselves in a situation where the severely inflated prices have become the new normal, and as such genuinely fair prices are effectively gone because the price gouging has completely messed up the economics of the industry. I know you’ve written about how shooting film has never been cheaper, and strictly from an inflation standpoint I understand where you’re coming from, but inflation is only a small part of the equation. If it was the whole equation, then a fast food burger would cost a lot more than it does, just as an example outside of the film discussion. Basically, if inflation dictated the cost of everything in a purely linear manner nobody would be able to afford anything at all because people’s salaries have not kept up. I’m not going to get into it here because this is already too long, but there are a ton of factors that have to be considered when discussing the cost of goods and services today relative to years past. It’s not as simple as multiplying by a constant from an inflation chart.

        Regarding Richard Photo Lab, it needs to be noted that they are a pro lab, so the customer is not just paying for run of the mill standard processing and scans; they’re paying for processing and scans tailored specifically for them and that are probably held to much higher standards. My understanding is that it’s a very customized process where there’s a real relationship with the lab so that they can provide consistent results in accordance with the customer’s preferences/needs (down to specific color profiles, level of sharpness, desired contrast, etc.). Those customers are typically professional photographers who absolutely require guaranteed quality and consistency. That’s very different than the non-pro labs out there (like the ones we’re discussing, such as OSPL) who cater to your everyday amateur film shooter, where they develop and scan your film just like everyone else’s, and you have no say in the matter. Sorry, all of that got a bit long, but I just thought it was important to point that out because if someone else is reading this who’s looking at getting film developed for the first time and sees the price difference they might think that OSPL and other non-pro labs are actually a good deal (when they’re actually severely overpriced) if they’re comparing them to pro labs who also have websites with prices listed. It’s not a fair comparison, because who they cater to and what they do are in entirely different arenas. That said, I feel most pro labs are also overpriced, but if you’re a professional photographer maybe it’s worth it since it can be included in the cost you’re charging your customers for whatever shoot you were hired for. But using pro labs is definitely not affordable for us amateurs, unless someone happens to be made of money, which I don’t think most of us are.

        Yes, I am aware that the reason labs charge more for higher resolution scans is because of the supposedly huge difference in time requirements, and I’m not denying that there is a difference. There probably is. However, I take issue with this argument for several reasons. I’m not going to get into all of them, but bear with me if you would while I discuss a few points. I hope you and others might find this information interesting and informative, and something to think about. Let’s consider the amount of time it takes a Noritsu scanner (LS-600, I believe) to scan a 36 exposure roll of film at ~3000x2000px (a tad over 6 MP, actually) and burn all the files to a CD. It’s less than ten minutes, probably way less. I know this for a fact because a local lab and camera shop I used to use does it in ten minutes or less. From the moment I would walk in the door and hand them my roll of already developed film until they walked back out with my CD of ~3000x2000px Noritsu scans and now sleeved film was typically less than ten minutes, and that’s when they’re not particularly hurrying. So the “standard” (and laughable/entirely worthless) scans by many labs in the ~1500x1000px range is just an absurdity, and a real slap in the face to the customer. If you’re right about 6 MP (3000x2000px) scans taking ten times longer than 1.5 MP (1500x1000px) scans then that would mean a 36 exposure roll of film scanned at 1.5 MP would take less than 60 seconds, in total. It seems to me that what these labs want to do is charge a ton of money for doing basically nothing. I mean, if a 36 exposure roll can be scanned at 6 MP (3000x2000px) and burned to disc in ten minutes (or likely way less), do people still think that what most labs charge for this service is fair? I certainly don’t, not by a long shot. And if they’re not burning the scans to disc (which most labs don’t anymore), the amount of time per roll drops further. If it’s a 24 exposure roll instead of a 36 exposure roll, it drops further again. And as stated, if they’re scanning at a measly 1.5 MP the time and effort they spend scanning a roll of film drops to effectively nothing. Their profit margins get even more ridiculous when you factor in processing costs as well. Most labs use dip and dunk systems where tons of film can be processed simultaneously, usually in less than twenty minutes start to finish before being hung to dry. And chemistry is extremely cheap, especially black and white. We’re talking in actuality it costs well below a dollar to process a roll of film (and I’m considering chemistry, water, etc.). Let’s say one of these consumer labs is doing 200 rolls per day (probably extremely conservative), and they’re charging $15 for processing and 6 MP scans. That works out to $3,000 per day they’re taking in. To keep up with scanning at 6 MP as each batch of film finishes drying without getting too backlogged they would obviously need multiple scanners, but if they’re consistently doing 200 rolls of film per day, or 1,000 per week, they can easily afford it, as well as the employees to operate the scanners and run the dip and dunk process. 1,000 rolls of film being processed and scanned per week at $15 per roll is $15,000 per week, and over $750,000 per year. That’s how much they’re taking in if the only thing these labs do to make money is film processing and scanning. However, most also sell film, used equipment, perform camera repairs, etc. Sure, chemistry has to be purchased, the lab equipment needs servicing, employees have to be paid, and the lights have to be kept on (so to speak), but those things certainly can’t add up to anywhere close to what these labs are raking in on an annual basis. And again, my estimation of 1,000 rolls per week is probably way low for most of these mail order labs. If I had to guess, many are probably doing at least five times that amount, easily. $750,000 x 5 = $3,500,000. That’s $3.5 Million. You get my point. So I have to ask the question again: Do people still think what the lab they’re using is charging them is at all fair or reasonable? I don’t, and I won’t support them. It’s just not right. On a final related note, I have seen it stated by individuals who actually own Noritsu scanners that there is no time difference whatsoever between scanning as TIFF versus JPEG, despite the claims of many labs. So the next time you see a lab charging $5 (or more) extra for TIFF scans, consider that fact. They shouldn’t be charging anything extra for TIFFs, period. Ironically, back when digital storage was much more expensive (e.g. CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, flash memory, etc.), TIFF scans usually didn’t cost anything extra at most labs if they were requested. The fact they do today, when digital storage media costs basically nothing, is simply wrong. Anyways, hopefully somebody got something out of all that.

        Regarding Willow Photo Lab, yes, back when Neil was running it I used him frequently as well. He was a very nice guy and genuinely cared about the film community and tried hard to make sure it was affordable for the masses. The extra amount he charged for higher resolution scans (a mere $1, if I recall) was also fair, unlike other labs. I had a lot of respect for him, and I’m sad he retired. I hope he is doing well. You mentioned his thin profit margin, and even though it may have been small, the fact that he was making a profit while offering processing and scanning and 4×6 prints (all three!) for only about $6 per roll should be pretty telling about how bad most of these other places are ripping people off. While I’m happy the guys who took over kept the prices nearly the same (maybe they’re a little more now), I have had serious issues with the quality of their work and have been less than impressed with their customer service, to put things mildly. I’m not going to get into it here. Regardless of the price, if the quality and service is bad, it’s just a complete waste of money. As such, they lost my business.

        That’s fine, don’t worry about dragging out your negatives if they’re put up safely. I completely understand. The less they’re handled, the less there’s a risk of dust accumulation and the better off they’ll be. The tonality and contrast of your images is very nice, indeed. With regards to levels and contrast, are those scans exactly as you received them from the lab? I do think if you do a test on a future roll where you shoot the same image three times (at EI 125, 160, and 200) under identical lighting you’ll find that the 125 and 160 exposures will yield better results than 200. Of course, it’s somewhat subjective so you’ll have to decide what you like best. However, evaluating the actual negatives of those three frames should be pretty telling as to which EI is technically the best fit for the lab you’re using, and the chemistry they’re using. The reason I think your negatives are probably a little thin and could use either more exposure (which is in your control) or more developing time (which is not currently) is because in my experience with Noritsu scanners thin negatives produce scans that have a kind of smeared appearance to them, with very little definition to the grain, especially in the shadows where the negatives are the thinnest. It’s a bit difficult to explain. This effects the overall amount of image detail found within the scan and decreases it substantially. In your scans, I would expect to see very well defined texture and extremely fine detail in the wood and brick, even on objects in the distance as long as they’re in focus. In addition, you can see that some of the small text on signs is somewhat blurred and not very well defined. And at the resolution of these scans, individual grains of silver should definitely be being resolved by the scanner and should be very well defined, even if a fine-grain solvent developer was used. That doesn’t mean exaggerated or big, it just means the grain structure throughout the image should be distinct and individual grains (tiny) should be clearly visible when viewed at 100%. My experience with modern Noritsu scanners is that their approach to dealing with negatives that lack density, as a whole or just thin areas within the frame, is to create this somewhat smeared/blurred effect. Again, the exact nature of it is a bit difficult to explain. I don’t like that they do this, personally. For this reason, if I know my B&W film is going to be scanned on a Noritsu, I usually somewhat over-develop it to get a higher-than-normal amount of density throughout the entire negative, and then dial back the resulting higher contrast in post if necessary. Maybe that’s not the best practice, but it produces images that I like better, without nearly as much of the smeared effect in the shadows, and better definition/detail throughout. And obviously this is entirely subjective, but I like the grain throughout my images to be nice and crisp and very well defined, not smeared. I also generally shoot with higher contrast in mind so it doesn’t really effect me that much. But it might you, depending on your personal preferences. It’s probably worth mentioning that I think Frontier scanners do a terrible job with over-exposed/developed negatives (again, based only on my own experiences), so I’m strictly speaking in terms of Noritsus here. Unless the operator really knows what they’re doing, I actually wouldn’t ever recommend Frontiers for B&W film. They are capable of very good scans, but seem to require a more knowledgeable person behind the wheel to achieve them. If anyone else has insight or comments regarding their personal experiences with how they achieve the best lab scans for B&W, I’d be interested to hear about it.

        Anyways, the length of this reply is embarrassing, so I think I better wrap it up. I look forward to seeing some of your Canon scans once you get it all figured out. I’ve seen some great results from that scanner, actually some of the best I’ve seen from any flatbed. Good luck! I also look forward to seeing your work once you start developing film yourself. Exciting stuff!

        Take care of yourself.

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        • The three rolls I sent to Fulltone, 1 BW and 2 color, with enhanced scans, cost $40, so Fulltone isn’t exactly a bargain.

          The camera store downtown in Indianapolis processes and scans c41 for $10, and the scans are 3130×2075. That’s a reasonable deal. Where I worked before it wasn’t ridiculous for me to swing by on the way to work and pick up the negs and scans on the way home two days later. Where I work now that’s not feasible.

          I’d like to find a by-mail lab that charged $10 for processing and 3000px scans, plus shipping. I’m not sure one exists anymore, at least one that does decent work.

          I dug through my correspondence with Neil of Willow and I stand corrected: the 3000px scans take only twice as long as the 1500px scans. So now I don’t get it at all why the skimpier scans make more sense.

          Neil used D76 for b/w, by the way, a tidbit I stumbled upon as I reviewed our correspondence.

          I’ve sent some film to the new Willow and have been disappointed in the results in some way each time. Last time I sent them a note detailing my disappointments and they did reply with a very nice note of apology.

          I’ve had pipedreams of opening a processing lab that offered budget pricing and 3000px scans. I’d have to actually know something about processing, though, and have the capital for the initial equipment purchase.

          Next time I shoot the Fomapan 200 I’ll try shooting each frame at 125, 160, and 200, as you suggest, and see what I get.

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        • P says:

          I agree, $40 for just three rolls of film being processed and scanned is certainly not a bargain. But, the resolution of those scans does help justify it somewhat as I imagine scanning at that size actually does take additional time. I wish their standard scans were in the 6 MP range, instead of ~2.2 MP, which is just too small to be useful for any serious amateur film shooter. Who knows, maybe most of their business is disposable cameras and not people who need scans with appreciable resolution.

          I assume you’re talking about Robert’s in Indianapolis. Yes, they’re a reasonable deal if you live nearby, but their return shipping costs are expensive if you don’t so they’re not a good deal for most people. They also recently increased their prices which I wasn’t happy to learn. And I don’t believe they process B&W, only C-41. Do you know if that’s right? It’s a bummer they’re no longer on your path.

          Yeah, 6 MP scans taking twice the time as 1.5 MP scans sounds more realistic. I was surprised when you thought it was ten times. So, yes, all these worthless puny scans really don’t make any sense, do they?

          I knew Neil used D-76 as his standard developer (you can’t go wrong there — it’s basically what all others are compared to!), but he also would use the T-MAX developer upon request, which would have been very useful for some films (P3200, Delta 3200, some 400 ASA films when pushed, etc.). He pretty much covered the basis of what someone would need by offering both. I don’t know if the new guys still offer that option. I’m glad they sent you an apology for the issues you had. I’m not going to detail it here, but in my case they basically refused to even acknowledge their very obvious (and severe) screw-ups. Maybe they’ve gotten their act together now. I hope so.

          I’ve had the same pipedream about a lab, Jim. I think running a lab like that and getting to interact with film shooters from all over the place would be incredible. And the community desperately needs a lab like that too, somewhere they can turn to for quality work at a fair price, that isn’t out to exploit them for absurd profits. If you ever decide to do it, you’ll have my business.

          Regarding the Fomapan 200 test: Great! I’m anxious to see your results. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful.

          I just wanted to make sure that nothing I said in my previous messages or this came across the wrong way. Nothing I wrote was meant to be criticism or rude in any way. But sometimes the context of written text can get lost and things can be read in a manner that wasn’t intended. Hopefully that didn’t happen here. That’s the last thing I want. My sincerest apologies if it did.

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        • Roberts will process b/w now but they send it out to some other lab. If I had to guess it would be the Ilford lab, since they’re the US Ilford distributor now. The Ilford lab is said to just be The Darkroom.

          I agree, everyone’s standard scans s/b in the 6 megapixel range. You know, Neil used to defend his 2.2 mp scans by saying they print fine up to 5×7. But I’m betting most of us film shooters these days do digital workflows and want the extra resolution.

          Early in my return to photography I didn’t pay attention to the scan resolution. When I did my Pentax ME book I had to rescan four or five images to get resolutions suitable for printing on an 8.5×11 page. I had an Epson V300 and Silverfast then and had my techniques down so I got good scans pretty quickly.

          I didn’t take anything you said as over the line.

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        • P says:

          Good deal! I’m glad nothing I said was taken wrong. My objective was to be positive and uplifting, definitely not the opposite.

          Cool, that’s nice to know about Robert’s. You’re probably right about it going to Ilford.

          I think you know this and it was just a typo, but Neil’s standard scans were (and still are with the new guys) only 1.5 MP, not 2.2 MP (like Fulltone). Making a 5×7 print from that means you’re printing at 200 DPI. Maybe he could get away with a fairly decent RA-4 process print at 200 DPI (although I’m sure they were fairly soft and lacked a lot of detail present in the negative), but I don’t think any consumer printer, whether inkjet or otherwise and no matter how expensive, can produce what I would consider acceptable prints at 200 DPI. 300 DPI really is the absolute minimum. And you’re right, when working with film scans in a digital workflow, which is kind of the point of them after all, decent resolution is a requirement. And I would say 6 MP is the absolute minimum resolution of a film scan that is even remotely worthwhile.

          If a person thinks about it, 1.5 or 2.2 MP scans are equivalent to the resolution coming out of “camera phones” circa 2003. That’s just unacceptable, and useless. Even a 6 MP scan is only equivalent in resolution to what was coming out of consumer digital cameras circa 2004/2005. Maybe that will help put it into context for some people what these labs are charging them for. Furthermore, all scans that are provided as JPEGs are severely limited in terms of what can be done with them in post (i.e. basically nothing without introducing really nasty artifacts). JPEGs are only 8-bits (per channel) and are a highly lossy format. They were never meant to be used as a file type for editing, or as anything other than a quick viewable image format (for finalized images). Frankly, they’re garbage for film scans, and these labs have to know it. And as I said in an earlier message, my understanding is that there is no time/effort difference whatsoever between generating JPEGs or TIFFs with a Noritsu (which makes perfect sense since TIFFs are effectively nothing more than a container file for the raw image samples coming from the scanner — there’s a little more to it than that, but effectively that’s what they are). So it’s just a straight-up con job that these labs charge extra for it, or won’t do it at all. TIFFs are lossless, and can be output from Noritsus at 16-bits (again, per channel). That’s what we film shooters need, and should honestly be demanding from labs at no extra cost. They’re larger files, sure, but as already stated, storage space and bandwidth are no longer a bottleneck in any way and haven’t been for many, many years. On a related note, what’s up with labs charging $5 or more to put your scans on CDs/DVDs when archival quality discs literally cost a few cents a piece today? I just don’t understand. There’s really no explanation for any of this other than they’re blatantly gouging their customers. Okay, I’m done. Sorry again for the rant — haha! I just really hope other film shooters are thinking about these things so that maybe we can see some positive changes from labs going into the future.

          I hope you’ll be able to quickly adapt to your new Canon scanner. Once you have I’m sure you’ll be very pleased and will be getting way better scans than you could achieve with the Epson V300 (apparently a very decent scanner for its time). A while back I was looking into the Canon you now have as a viable option and spent way too much time reading reviews and evaluating other people’s scans made with it. I was impressed. Personally, I just hate the idea of scanning on a flatbed using film holders.

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  11. I can’t think of another series of cameras besides the FA/FE2/FM2/FM3 that have the 1/4000 shutter speed. I don’t own one but have held one before and I think I can get over the thumb winder. Still, I hear what you’re saying and know your criteria.

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