This is the cutest house in my old neighborhood. It’s so cute compared to the other basic brick and frame ranch houses on every street that you wonder how it got built there.
Yet for as long as I lived there, it received care that was indifferent at best. At present it appears to be abandoned, with gutters full of crud, that decorative front-door shutter hanging loose, and a lawn that has turned to weeds and hasn’t been cut in weeks.
As you may infer from the tenses I’m using in this post, I’ve completed my move and now live in Zionsville. I’m happy the move is complete, and I’m thrilled to get to see my wife every single day.
Is that a zoom lens in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s just that the Olympus μ[mju:] Zoom 140 packs an awful lot of zoom into such a tiny camera.
The Zoom 140 isn’t as svelte as other cameras in the μ line (known as the Stylus line in North America). I suppose they couldn’t cram a 140mm zoom lens into a skinnier body. By the way, this camera came to me in a camera swap with Peggy Anne, who writes the terrific Camera Go Camera blog. I sent her my Olympus 35RC in exchange.
The Zoom 140 is as fully featured as you’d expect from any Stylus or µ camera. It begins with a 38-140mm f/4-11 lens, of 10 elements in 8 groups. It reads the DX code on the film canister to set ISO from 50 to 3200. The Zoom 140 automatically focuses using an phase-detection system, advanced for its time and a first among µ/Stylus cameras.
It also automatically sets exposure, as you’d expect; you can choose between a three-zone pattern or spot metering. The built-in flash is on by default, although it fires only when the camera needs more light. You can turn it off or set it to any of five other modes, including red eye and fill. The Zoom 140 includes a self-timer and — very nice for my aging eyes — a viewfinder dioptric correction dial. It really brought subjects into crisp view. The camera is also weather resistant; a little light rain won’t harm it. A CR123A battery powers everything.
By the way, if you like compact 35mm cameras, also check out my reviews of other little Olympuses, such as the Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), the XA (here) and XA2 (here), as well as of the μ[mju:] Zoom 140 (here). You could go up a little in size and experience the legendary Trip 35 (here). Or just check out my master list of camera reviews, here.
These little Olympuses love black-and-white film, so I loaded some Fomapan 200.
Film loading is automatic: stretch the film across to the takeup spool and close the door. The camera takes it from there, winding to the first frame, advancing the film when you press the shutter button, and rewinding the film at the end.
Little point-and-shoot cameras are great for walking-around photography, especially when they pack a lens as sharp and contrasty as this one.
The Zoom 140 was good at recognizing what I meant the subject to be. That’s not a given with every autofocus compact! For distant subjects it brought everything into focus; for close subjects, it tried its best to create a blurred background.
Typical of always-on flashes, the Zoom 140’s flash sometimes fired when I preferred it didn’t. And typical of zoom point-and-shoots, the lens goes soft at maximum zoom, as the photo below shows.
Back it a hair off maximum and the lens just keeps delivering. This is a camera worth getting to know much better.
I took the Zoom 140 with me on my bike ride up the Michigan Road. This is where I found the camera’s slight chunkiness to be a problem: it simply would not fit into the back pocket of my jeans. So I switched to cargo shorts and slipped it into a side pocket.
Zoom lenses are wonderful on road trips. It’s not always practical to cross a busy road to get near a subject. The zoom lens does the walking.
The versatile Zoom 140 knows how to play any game I have in mind. Documentary photography from a distance? Absolutely. Something more creative? Well, sure! If I didn’t know better, from the test roll’s results I’d say the camera was reading my mind on each shot.
Would you guess this scene is in the city of Indianapolis? I photographed this just a short distance off Michigan Road in Augusta, a former town.
Finally, one Saturday morning I awoke to interesting light outside my bedroom window. I grabbed the Zoom 140 and stepped into the yard to try to capture it.
The Olympus μ[mju:] Zoom 140 is a winner. Olympus made a bunch of models in its μ/Stylus series. After shooting several of them, I feel sure all of them must boast very nice lenses. If you’re looking for a capable point-and-shoot 35mm camera, try a μ/Stylus — any μ/Stylus.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
The Nikon faithful looked sidelong at the 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.
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.
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.
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 either setting to the closest one at which accurate exposure is possible.
Also, if you don’t want to use matrix metering, you can switch to center-weighted. Press and hold the 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.
By the way, if you like Nikon SLRs also check out my reviews of the F2 (here), F3 (here), N2000 (here), N90s (here), and N60 (here). Or just have a look at all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
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. I was right.
I bought this little clock at Target for my office at work several 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wrapped up the roll in my garden after a rain.
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.
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! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
Salvation Army donation Nikon FA, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E Foma Fomapan 200 2017
As I prepare to leave my home of ten years, I asked my sons to go through their things and pile in the living room whatever they no longer wished to keep. A decade of childhood memories soon filled my living room. My younger son was his usual pragmatic self: don’t need this, don’t need that, okay, I’m good. My older son wanted to make sure I was okay if he gave away his twelfth birthday present, a skateboard and all the associated regalia. It’s so like him to want to care for the emotional lives of others. I admire both my younger son’s pragmatism and my older son’s deep heart.
And oh, hey, there’s the TV my friend Steve gave me when I moved into the one-room apartment after my first wife and I separated. I watched dozens of movies on it, all borrowed from the nearby library, as a way of distracting myself from my troubles. My younger son used it most recently to play games on the vintage Super Nintendo system I bought him for Christmas some years ago. He does love his retro gaming.
My first wife made brilliant portraits. Through wit and charm, and sometimes even a little flirting, she was very good at drawing spark and life out of her subjects as she worked the shutter. She made many portraits of our young sons with her Pentax K1000, several of which were framed around our home. Two black-and-white portraits of Garrett, aged about five, somehow found their way into my hands and are framed in my living room. His eyes are full of light and joy.
I shied away from photographing people for a long time. I didn’t think I could ever be as good as my ex, so I wouldn’t even try. What a logical fallacy. But I let it be for years.
I wanted annual portraits of the boys, so we’d go to the Target portrait studio. They did reasonable work for the money. But after several years the photographer moved on, and the new one wasn’t very good. I figured I could do at least that well. So I started trying.
I bested the new Target photographer right out of the gate.
I don’t own any lighting gear, so I photographed my sons outside. Broad daylight turns out to be challenging for good skin tones. I relied on my cameras’ meters; I see I should have underexposed by at least a half stop.
I used slower films for the finer grain, but found the in-focus patch could be mighty narrow even in blazing sunlight. I got lots of soft-focus photos, and even some that were clearly out of focus. I shoot handheld; perhaps portraiture calls for a tripod. Or faster film.
I even started dabbling with 135mm lenses, because portraits are supposed to be taken with long lenses, right?
I could really fill the frame without having to put my lens right in my son’s face, which they liked. But I think a 100mm, or maybe even an 85mm, lens would be more useful.
And soon I busted out some medium-format equipment, and even started experimenting with poses, trying to do something artistic.
I still haven’t mastered the art of posed portraits. I just don’t have that ability to be engaging and charming with my subject as my ex did. She had a gift. I’m too buttoned down, too unsure of myself yet. My sons frequently look like they’re trying too hard to smile. Damion usually doesn’t bother.
But now and then I do nail it, usually at a more candid moment. Garrett was just watching YouTube videos in my easy chair when I asked him to look up. He was relaxed and content, and it shows in his eyes.
Now that the boys are moving on into their own lives, they’ll be around less for portraits. Maybe now I need to put Margaret in my lens more!