Camera Reviews

Nikon FA

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. They shied away from anything not mechanical and manual in their cameras. The Nikon faithful especially looked sidelong at the Nikon FwA.

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 Nikon’s more-mechanical, more-manual cameras. Perhaps its high price, which was within spitting distance of the pro-level F3, helped push buyers away. But its high electronic advancement certainly 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 operates from 1 to 1/4000 second. It syncs 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.

Nikon FA

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

Nikon FA

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

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

By the way, if you like Nikon SLRs also check out my reviews of the F2 (here), F3 (here), N2000 (here), N90s (here), F50 (here), and N60 (here). Or just have a look at all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

This FA was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. 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 skinny 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens would look balanced on it. I was right.

Wet hosta leaf / Nikon FA

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.

500c / Nikon FA

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 forehead.

Fishers Station / Nikon FA

I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took the FA to an event at church. An LCD in the viewfinder reads out your shutter speed. When it reads C250, you know you just loaded film and haven’t wound 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!

Church event / Nikon FA

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.

Church event / Nikon FA

I brought the FA along on a trip to central Kentucky, where we toured some bourbon distilleries and saw the sights. I mounted the vesatile 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens and shot Arista.EDU 200. Here’s a view down into the Makers Mark distillery.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*  / Nikon FA

This is a scene from My Old Kentucky Home near Bardstown. The FA was mostly a good companion on this trip, handling easily the whole way. That infernal winder lever kept poking me in the forehead, however.

My Old Kentucky Home  / Nikon FA

I also shot some Agfa Vista 200 on that trip. That versatile 35-70mm lens can shoot macro.

Spring blooms, macro / Nikon FA

Here’s the Willett distillery, near Bardstown. I was growing increasingly annoyed with that infernal wind lever as it kept poking me in the forehead.

Willett Distillery / Nikon FA

I sold my Nikon FA during Operation Thin the Herd (in which I shrank my large collection to about 50 cameras). My collection had more Nikon bodies than I could use, and none of the others poked me in the forehead. Almost immediately, I came across another FA body with a 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens. It was missing the handgrip but was otherwise in good condition. I paid just $30 for the kit, which was an incredible bargain. I figured I’d sell the body and keep the lens.

Nikon FA with 35-105 Zoom Nikkor

But when I tested the kit with some Agfa Vista 200, I realized that I liked the Nikon FA after all. Curiously, I never noticed the winder poking me in the forehead as I tested this body. So I kept it.

Toward the Statehouse / Nikon FA

I guess I was simply meant to own a Nikon FA!

Federal Courthouse / Nikon FA

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. Working bodies usually 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?

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Film Photography

Five (relatively) inexpensive films you should try

Inexpensive films aren’t as inexpensive as they used to be. Not that long ago, several films could be had for under $3 a roll. Sadly, those days are over. But plenty of films cost less than $10 per roll, several cost less than $5 per roll, and one or two get close to that magic $3 per roll.

I use these five relatively inexpensive films all the time and recommend them!

Kosmo Foto Mono

This classic ISO 100 film offers rich blacks with managed contrast and fine grain. It’s similar to Foma’s Fomapan 100, which is also sold as Arista EDU 100 and Lomography Earl Grey 100. When you buy Mono you support a small business run by a pillar of the film community. Available from most online film retailers (and at the Kosmo Foto site itself) in 35mm and 120.

Flowers
Yashica-12
The old barn in the city
Nikon F2AS, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor
Macy's Chicago at Christmas
Olympus XA

Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

This might be the ultimate cheap and cheerful film. I’ve shot way more Fujicolor 200 than any other film — when you test as many old cameras as I have, you need an inexpensive film that performs well and consistently. It has a classic look with well-saturated color and fine grain. This film has great exposure latitude; it’s hard to over- or under-expose it. I often shoot it at ISO 100 on purpose because it brings out extra color richness. Available from online film retailers as well as many drug and big-box stores, in 35mm only.

Kirklin
Olympus XA
In the War Memorial
Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears
Ford F-500 fire truck
Konica Autoreflex T3, 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR
Happy student
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80

Foma Fomapan 200

Fomapan 200 is my go-to inexpensive black-and-white film. (I like shooting at ISO 200!) It’s also sold as Arista EDU 200. It offers managed grain, good tonal range, and moderate contrast. Some say that this is best shot at about ISO 125. I’ve found that to be true when I develop it myself, but when I send it out to a lab I always get great results at box speed. The labs must have some magic that I lack! Available at most online film retailers in 35mm and 120.

My Old Kentucky Home
Nikon FA, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor
Margaret
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Callery pear
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M

Kodak UltraMax 400

For some, this is the ultimate cheap color film. I still reach for Fujicolor 200 first, but I’ve never been disappointed by UltraMax 400’s warmth, managed grain, and bold color. It also offers tremendous exposure latitude, making it very hard to misexpose a shot. I like UltraMax 400 slightly more than Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, which costs about the same. I find this film to be especially long-lived — several rolls of the UltraMax 400 I’ve shot were ten years expired, and most of it behaved like new. Available at online film retailers and sometimes in drug stores, in 35mm only.

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand
Nikon F3, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor
'murica
Olympus Stylus
The house across the street
Olympus OM-2n, 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro

Ultrafine eXtreme 100

The Ultrafine eXtreme films are the least expensive black-and-white films I know of. Its ISO 100 version is a classic-grained film offering great definition and sharpness with fairly high contrast. Available at Photo Warehouse in 35mm and 120. Stock is limited as of this writing; keep checking their site for availability.

Carpentry Hall
Minolta XG-1, 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X
Dad and Sons
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK
AT&T
Olympus XA2

Other inexpensive options

I didn’t include any lower-priced ISO 400 black-and-white films here because I’ve not shot any of them (yet). But based on the performance of the Foma Fomapan and Ultrafine eXtreme films I have shot, I feel good recommending their ISO 400 offerings.

You can sometimes find a good bargain on Kodak Gold 200 (example images here) and Kodak ColorPlus (example images here). Gold offers well-saturated color and fine grain. ColorPlus is a real throwback, offering a classic Kodak look from years gone by. Some say it’s the old Kodak VR200 film formula from the 1990s.

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Film Photography

Arista EDU 200 at EI 125

Before I started developing film at home, I really liked Fomapan 200, which I usually buy from Freestyle Photo rebranded as Arista EDU 200. I shot it at box speed and the labs I used always returned scans with good contrast and dramatic dark tones. And the images always looked so smooth, with almost imperceptible grain.

But I wasn’t so thrilled with the film when I developed and scanned it myself. It just lacked the punch I was used to, with muddy middle grays and blocked up shadows. In Rodinal, sharpness was pretty good, but not in HC-110.

A couple of you mentioned in the comments that this film does better when shot at EI 125 or 160 and developed normally. So I loaded my last roll of this film into my Olympus XA2, set it to EI 125, and shot it around the neighborhood.

It would have been a better test if I had developed it in Rodinal, but I used Adox HR-DEV instead, diluted 1+35 and developed for 9:29 at 22.9° C. And so I don’t know whether it was the extra exposure or the developer that gave these results. But these are the results I was used to getting from this film when I shot it at box speed and sent it out for developing and scanning!

Retention pond
Over the retention pond
Vinyl village homes
Lots of cars
Vinyl village homes
Vinyl village homes

I used the HR-DEV because I have no idea of this developer’s shelf life and I have a lot of it left. I found a recipe for this film and developer on the Massive Dev Chart, so I went ahead and used it. I’m sure I’ll buy more of this film one day, and when I do I’ll shoot it at EI 125 and develop it in Rodinal to see if I keep getting results like these.

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Pencil cup

Pencil cup
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M
Arista EDU 200
L110 Dilution E

My son Garrett made this when he was 4 or 5. It’s a pencil cup made out of a tin can with a piece of thick paper glued around it. He wrote his name on it and painted it. I love the way he shaped the g to start his name: a circle and a J-like curve, not connected. You can’t tell because this is a black-and-white photo, but he painted it in watercolors, peach and pink and green.

Garrett also made the fake flower, in the third grade. It’s a pen, actually; his class made them by the score and sold them to raise funds for something I can’t remember anymore.

I used to have a drawer full of keepsakes my kids made. I let a lot of them go a few years ago when I moved out of my last house. It was a little painful to see them go. It was very nice to get that drawer space back.

I will keep a few things, like this. They will stand in for everything else.

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Photography

single frame: Pencil cup

A pencil cup my son made for me when he was small.

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Film Photography

Another go with LegacyPro L110 developer

I’m not loving Arista EDU 200 in LegacyPro L110 developer, a Kodak HC-110 clone. This time, my fixer was starting to exhaust. It affected the whole roll to varying extents. But a handful of photos turned out all right enough, and I’m willing to make my claim based on them. Next time I use L110, I’m choosing a different film.

Tree by the pond

At least I had a good time with my Pentax ME and its 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens. Shooting the ME always brings me a little joy. Before the pandemic and the stay-at-home order, I’d been shooting my 35mm f/2.8 lens most of the time. I work in Downtown Indianapolis and that wider lens lets me get more in the frame without having to step into the busy street. But here in the vinyl village there’s plenty of room to roam. 50mm is perfect.

In the vinyl village

These are the best of the images from several lunchtime walks around my neighborhood. I just shot whatever. The shooting itself was therapeutic. I still have my vinyl-village project in mind, so whatever I shot I tried to grab lots of surrounding context.

What road?

Arista EDU 200 develops mighty fast in L110. Using Dilution B, 1:31, it develops in 3:30. My meager experience tells me that development times of under 5 minutes are not a great idea — there’s so little margin for timing error. Last time I worked around this by using Dilution E, 1:47. I didn’t love the results. This time I used Dilution H, 1:63. To get enough developer into the tank that it wouldn’t exhaust before developing finished, I had to use my 500ml tank rather than my 290ml tank.

Fence

The photo forums say that HC-110 (and I presume its clones) work well with Tri-X, HP5+, FP4+ — films with a traditional grain structure. Too bad I don’t have any of those films on hand. Arista EDU 200, which is Fomapan 200 in disguise, has more of a tabular grain structure I gather.

In the vinyl village

I’m realizing I’m still on my film-developing learning curve. I had only just started to get repeatable, decent results from Rodinal when I decided to plunge into L110. I’m so impulsive. I should have stuck with Rodinal until I mastered it.

In the vinyl village

My goal was to be able to develop a roll of Adox HR-50 I’m shooting. Rodinal is not recommended for that film; the Massive Dev Chart doesn’t even list this combo. After our discussion in the comments on my last L110 post, I ordered the Adox HR-DEV developer that is meant for HR-50 film. That ought to lead to the best possible results.

Pipeline

If you’re thinking, “What’s he bellyaching about? These are fine” — well, I don’t disagree with you. I’m not showing you the ones that didn’t work out at all, however.

2" or More

I need to shoot up some film that’s expired but, since the garage fridge died, I can’t store cold anymore. I have a roll of original-emulsion Agfa APX100 left, and from what I hear that film was made for Rodinal. A reader sent me a roll of Arista Premium 100, which is said to be repackaged Kodak Plus-X. I’ve seen some samples of Plus-X in Rodinal in the forums and I love the look. I also have one last roll of Ferrania P30 Alpha to shoot. I tried that film in Rodinal before but the Rodinal was, surprisingly, exhausted. I’d like to give that film another go in fresh Rodinal.

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Film Photography

Experimenting with LegacyPro L110 developer

I thought I’d use Rodinal for some time before trying other developers, but I’ve just tried an HC-110 clone, LegacyPro L110. It didn’t go as well as I hoped, but all was not lost.

Hosed

I was looking for a developer to use with a roll of Adox HR-50 that the kind folks at Analogue Wonderland sent me to try. It’s a specialty film modified for use in regular photography. The roll is in my Olympus OM-1 now.

The Massive Dev Chart has timings for HR-50 with only a few developers, and my go-to, Rodinal, isn’t one of them. Adox mades a developer especially for this film, HR-DEV, and it’s allegedly great for all black-and-white films. I probably should have just bought it. I might yet.

But my first thought was to use HC-110. The Massive Dev Chart has timings for HR-50 in Ilfotec HC, which is said to be an HC-110 clone. HC-110 is less expensive than Ilfotec HC. But L110 is less expensive still than HC-110, and I could get it in a smaller quantity than HC-110. So that’s what I bought.

I put a roll of Arista EDU 200 into my Pentax ME with the 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens attached. I shot the roll over a couple days around the house and neighborhood and then developed it in L110 Dilution E, which is 1:47.

The popular dilutions appear to be B at 1:31 and H at 1:63. But Dilution B gives a development time of just 3:30 at 20° C, which gives no margin for timing error. Dilution H gives some margin at 7 minutes of development time at 20°. But you need at least 6 ml of L110 or the developer will exhaust before the film is developed. At Dilution H, that would mean a far greater volume of diluted developer than would fit into my 290 ml tank. I didn’t want to use my 500 ml tank, so I compromised on Dilution E. I always round up to 300 ml in my 290 ml tank, which led to 6.2 ml L110 and 293.8 ml water. HC-110/L110 development times scale linearly with dilution, so I calculated 5:15 at 20°. The diluted developer was 21.2° thanks to room temperature, which would have reduced development time to less than 5 minutes. So I chilled it in tap water until it reached 20° and plunged in.

I gave all that detail to show how careful I was. Yet I got thinnish, slightly underdeveloped negatives. When I scanned them on my CanoScan 9000F Mark II using the bundled ScanGear software, only a few images looked truly good. Most needed heavy rescuing in Photoshop and even then many of those turned out marginal. A few images could not be salvaged.

I’ve had growing thoughts for a while now that ScanGear isn’t giving me the best from my negatives. So I bought VueScan (thanks to your Buy Me a Coffee donations!) and rescanned the whole roll. VueScan gave me far better scans from these negatives, though it did take far longer to scan the roll than with ScanGear. Quality takes time. Still, VueScan couldn’t overcome all of the underdevelopment. Shadows are blocked up in several shots.

Planked
Callery pear

I think next time I’ll just use Dilution H and my larger tank, to give myself more development time and therefore more margin for error.

I shot a series of things on my coffee table with the camera on a tripod, and many of those turned out well.

Rosenthal china
Crocked
Belleek

Most of my outdoors photos turned out well.

Shed window
Villager at Lowe's
Stop

These two photos led me to try VueScan. Using ScanGear, the first was muddy and dark beyond saving, and the second had blocked-up shadows everywhere. VueScan let me make them usable.

El Rodeo
Chrysler snout

One last photo from the roll. I shot this one at noon, sunlight streaming in through a nearby window. It looks like I shot it at night.

Potted

I’ve popped another roll of Arista EDU 200 into the Pentax ME. I love using that camera anyway, and I want to have another go with L110. This time I’ll just use Dilution H in my larger tank.

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