Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Nikon FA and 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

I love a bargain. I especially love a bargain on a fully working Nikon SLR kit. $30 netted me this Nikon FA and attached 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, with an MD15 Motor Drive (not pictured).

Nikon FA with 35-70 Zoom Nikkor

This is the second Nikon FA to have fallen into my hands; read my review of the first one here. I had no sooner parted with that one in Operation Thin the Herd when I came upon this one. This one looks well used, but on quick inspection it seemed to function fine.

I’ve got a backlog of cameras I haven’t tried yet and so it took me several months to finally shoot this one. I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took it around Downtown.

Pacers Bikeshare

My previous FA was in superior cosmetic and operating condition with one exception: its winder didn’t lock after winding one frame. You could wind all the way through the roll without ever shooting a frame. This FA has dings and brassy spots, and the viewfinder/mirror are speckled with black marks. But its winder works properly.

Looking up at the Salesforce building

On a chilly day where temps were only a little above freezing, the shutter suddenly failed to fire and the winder became stuck. I was 20 frames into a 24-exposure roll — close enough to done for me — so I rewound the film and had it processed. I put the FA on the shelf for a while until I had time to investigate.

Toward the Statehouse

Even though old cameras often don’t like cold weather, I suspected battery failure. I tend to trade batteries from camera to camera, and who knows when the ones I put into this FA were fresh. So I put fresh batteries in. Still locked. I then tried putting the camera in manual mode and setting the shutter to its one mechanical speed, M250. That did it — the shutter fired and the camera wound, and when I put it back in program mode everything worked properly. I probably should have tried M250 on the street when the camera seized. If I shoot it again, I’ll know better.

Bank of Indianapolis

I passed my previous FA on to another collector because every time I used it, the wind lever poked me in the forehead. I didn’t like that. Typical of Nikon SLRs, you activate the meter by pulling the wind lever out. But on this FA, it never poked me in the head. I do not understand; these are identical cameras. Now I doubt my previous impressions.

Driveway Entrance

Do you see the dark streak in the photo below, down the middle near the monument? I’m not sure what caused that but fortunately only this image turned out this way. Another image had a foggy streak in it that I can’t account for. I think I need to put another roll through this FA to be sure of it.

The top of the monument

If it turns out this body is faulty, at least I got this nice 35-105mm lens for my money. It’s built well and operates smoothly. These colors seem muted to me, however, more muted than I get from a 35-70 Zoom Nikkor I own. However, this film expired two years ago, I haven’t always stored it cold, and it may be starting to degrade.

Coffee cup handle

The lens has a macro mode, so I made a couple shots with it. Above is my coffee cup on my desk at work. I’ve had that cup since 1987; a potter in my hometown made it by hand. Below are some flowers growing in the bed in front of Christ Church Cathedral on the Circle.

Red flowers

Just because, here’s Christ Church Cathedral.

Christ Church

I slightly prefer twist-to-zoom lenses over push/pull-to-zoom lenses like this one, but I this one worked well in my hands. I also detected very little barrel distortion at the wide end, which is the usual zoom-lens bugaboo. My 35-70 Zoom Nikkor has wicked barrel distortion at 35mm.

Federal Courthouse

I had a nice time shooting this Nikon FA. I’ll put another roll into it as soon as I can manage — I want to shoot the cameras in my to-shoot queue first. If the body truly does have issues I probably won’t repair it. I’ll pass the body on to someone who will give it the proper love, and I’ll turn to one of my other wonderful Nikon SLR bodies to get my Nikon fix.

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15 thoughts on “Nikon FA and 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

  1. Man, some people have all the luck, I was just looking at an FA camera body with motor drive in my local camera store and they want $200 for it! I’m glad that you’re rethinking your reasons for getting rid of this camera. I’ve held it and had no problem with the thumb winder’s position myself.

    As far as your “foggy streaks” in the monument photo go, how fast was your shutter speed there? I learned the hard way with my Spotmatic just recently that the two shutters can de-sync and that can cause uneven exposure on higher speeds. Considering that the FA has a vertical-traveling shutter the dark streak in the monument photo coincides with this, but I’m not an expert. However I’d suggest a roll where you’re shooting a lot at the fastest shutter speeds, and throw in a few shots where you shoot at 1/60 as well, see if you still get those streaks.

  2. Mike Eckman says:

    Nice results!! I am a big fan of the FA, but it having so many electronics for an early 80s camera, they’re more prone to failure like the shutter issue you encountered. Turning it to M250 is often the solution as it “resets” whatever the issue is. The sad thing is, it’ll likely keep doing it.

    As for the lens, I love push to zoom lenses like this as there’s only one grip for both zoom and focus, unlike twist to zoom lenses where you have to move your hand between two different grips.

    The push to zoom feature is even more of a benefit on longer zooms like the Nikkor 100-300 f/5.6 lens.

    • Good to know, I guess, that this FA likely has a gremlin. I still think I’ll put one more roll through it to be sure.

      I tend to use my zoom lenses like a bag of primes, so I’m generally looking at the lens while I set the zoom anyway, and then I frame and focus.

  3. For about twice that money I could have mailed myself some Nikon equipment last year, but I figured I’ll never go back to shooting film anyway so it’s better to go to someone who would. Someone like you. :)

    • I’m busy trying to reduce the number of cameras I own! There just isn’t room to store them all, and it’s a shame for good gear not to get used regularly.

  4. That 35-105mm seems like a really useful range. I often find I need a 35 for architectural shots and 105 is great for portraits. Of course, the Nikon glass also gives terrific resolution.

    • I’m encouraged to see how little distortion this lens has at the ends of its range. Although, I didn’t shoot subjects that would tend to show distortion well. When I shoot it again I hope I remember to shoot something like a building straight on, or something with parallel lines, to see how straight it renders.

  5. DougD says:

    Heyyy, weren’t you trying to have less cameras? I guess a bargain is a bargain, and luckily cameras take up less space than old cars and guitars…

    • Camera reviews are the cornerstone of this blog, so I’ll still buy cameras. I just won’t keep them all!!

      I would also like to collect televisions. You know, the kind with tubes. I have to draw the line there!

  6. Hi, your choice of words sums it up for me, “ I had a nice time…” Isn’t that what it’s all about? I love these Nikon’s having a manual shutter speed to fall back on.
    Thank you for fuelling my desire for an FA🤨
    Andrew

    • Increasingly for me, that is what it’s all about: just having a nice time. What’s also part of that nice time is sharing some of my work to the world and having people like you stop by and comment.

      Here’s hoping you stumble upon an FA bargain as I did!

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