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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Photography, Travel

The giants at Bernheim Forest

Our last stop on our Kentucky weekend was to Bernheim Forest. We wouldn’t have known about it had several locals not told us about it. One of them all but implored us to go, just to see the giants.

The giants at Bernheim Forest

Danish artist Thomas Dambo likes to make big things out of wood. His signature work has become giants like these, which he’s built in forests around the world.

This is Little Nis, who is considering his reflection.

The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest

Danmbo built three giants at Bernheim, but spread them out in the forest so you’d have to hike a while to see them. This is Little Nis’s mother Mama Loumari, who’s expecting another baby giant.

The giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest

Deep in the forest you finally find Little Elina, who’s playing marbles with boulders she found lying around. Dambo builds his giants out of local wood. Unsurprisingly, given that this is bourbon country, the Bernheim giants are made in part from barrel staves.

The giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The giants at Bernheim Forest

I photographed these giants with both my Canon PowerShot S80 and my Nikon FA and 35-70mm Zoom Nikkor on Agfa Vista 200. I found the giants challenging to photograph. I couldn’t find good compositions that fully communicated their size and charm, and the reflecting sun played havoc with even exposures. If I spent more time with the giants, however, I’m sure I’d start to feel at one with them and better photographic compositions would follow.

Bernheim Forest is a gem, and it’s a little south of Louisville just off I-65. We went straight home to Zionsville from here, and the trip took us just 2½ hours. You can visit for free on weekdays, and there’s an affordable charge to visit on the weekends.

Us at Bernheim Forest

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Film Photography

Scanning black-and-white 35mm negatives with the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mk II and ScanGear

I scanned some black-and-white negatives recently with my CanoScan 9000F Mark II and the ScanGear software that came with it, and I want to share the results.

I took much of the advice some of you gave me in my last CanoScan post. Namely, I scanned at 4800 dpi and turned off all of the image enhancements, including unsharp masking and dust/scratch reduction, that ScanGear offers.

My scans were still mighty soft, but what I learned from you is that this is to be expected, and it’s what unsharp masking is for. So I looked up some online information about how to use Photoshop’s unsharp mask tool and fiddled with the settings until I liked the results.

This is the scan I made that I like the most.

Here’s the scan Fulltone Photo made, after I Photoshopped it to my liking. Both scans have their positive qualities. I like the great detail the Fulltone scan shows in the brick foundation of the log cabin. My scan looks good to me and I would happily use it for any of my usual purposes.

My Old Kentucky Home

Let’s pixel peep for a minute. At 4800 dpi, my scans turned out to be about 6800 pixels on the long edge. There’s minor variability among them in length and width because ScanGear determines each image’s edges individually. The Fulltone Photo scans are all 6774 pixels long. So these are comparable scans. Here’s a detail from my scan of the above image at 100%.

Here’s about the same square from the Fulltone scan at 100%. I’m straining at the seams of my experience here, but at 100% the Fulltone scan looks more usable to me despite its enhanced grain.

But at blog sizes, my CanoScan/ScanGear scans are great.

The Fulltone Photo scan is below. Both scans look wonderful to me.

My Old Kentucky Home

I made 1200-pixel-long copies to upload here. 1200 pixels is big enough for every blog purpose I have.

Again, my CanoScan and ScanGear scans are, at blog size, in the same league as the Fulltone scans.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

One more scan fro the CanoScan and ScanGear.

In this case, I prefer the Fulltone scan. As you can see, my scanner got some ghosting from the sprocket holes. Also, in my scan the barn is softer; its roof slats aren’t as defined as in the Fulltone scan.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

I made these photos on Arista EDU 200 with my Nikon FA and 35-70mm Zoom Nikkor, by the way.

I am getting somewhere with the CanoScan and ScanGear. Thank you for your kind and excellent suggestions.

In this same scanning session I scanned more 35mm color negative scans, also at 4800 dpi with all image enhancement turned off. I’ll share results in an upcoming post, but I got mixed results.

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Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

Low stone wall
Nikon FA, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor
Arista EDU 200
2019

My decision to part with my Nikon FA hasn’t sat well with me since I wrote Verdict: Goodbye on its Operation Thin the Herd post. Logically, I own too many Nikon bodies and that this one’s winding lever keeps poking me in the forehead means I will shy away from using it. The whole point of Operation Thin the Herd is to shrink the collection to a set of cameras I’ll use regularly and enjoy.

There is, however, no denying the FA’s brilliant metering system. Just look at how much shadow detail it captured here. A camera as capable as this one probably deserves another chance.

I shot this at the Maker’s Mark Distillery. Margaret and I were struck by how much the Kentucky countryside reminded us of Ireland, except the farms were not divided in Kentucky by low stone walls as they were in Ireland. Then we came upon this most Irish of low stone walls.

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Film Photography

single frame: Low stone wall

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My Old Kentucky Home

My old Kentucky home
Nikon FA, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor
Arista EDU 200
2019

At first, I thought this little cabin was the original My Old Kentucky Home and the big house up the hill came later to replace it. But it turns out that the cabin is only a spring house, built to keep the water supply clean.

It also turns out that the song My Old Kentucky Home isn’t actually about this place, even though that’s what this place is called. The song is about a failing farm and a slave who knows he’s going to be sold to help cover expenses. The song shines a light on the slave’s plight.

This home belonged to Stephen Foster, who co-wrote the song. It and its expansive grounds are now My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown.

I continue to be deeply impressed with this film, Arista EDU 200, which is the same emulsion as Fomapan 200.

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Film Photography, History, Travel

single frame: My old Kentucky home

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Collecting Cameras

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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