When I first shot Kodak T-Max P3200, I was blown away by the great results. I shot the film in my Nikon F3 with my 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens attached. I don’t remember for sure who I had develop and scan the film, but it was probably Old School Photo Lab.
Unfortunately, I’ve had mixed results using other labs, and developing and scanning this film myself. I shot these two images with my Nikon FA, the first with my 50mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor and my second with my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor. I developed them in HC-110, Dilution B, and scanned them with my Plustek OpticFilm 8200i. I find the grain to be obtrusive and not pleasing on these.
On my recent trip to Chicago I shot a roll of this film in a Minolta Maxxum 5 with a 35-70mm f/4 Maxxum AF Zoom lens. I had Dwayne’s Photo develop and scan the roll. If this had been my first experience with this film, I would never have bought it again.
I believe my cameras all to be in good working condition with accurate meters. Perhaps this film requires great care in developing and scanning. If that’s true, I clearly haven’t found the touch yet. Perhaps this film looks better in developers other than HC-110. I suppose I could always send this film to Old School Photo Lab, as I get the best results from this film when I use them for processing. But I want films that I can develop and scan at home and get consistently good results. With my home development, I’ve had great luck pushing HP5 Plus to 1600. I think the next time I’m up for some night photography, that’s what I’ll try.
I’ve been experimenting with Kodak’s ultra-fast T-Max P3200 black-and-white film. I know it’s great for handheld night shots (here are some), and I’ve had some luck using it for candid family photos indoors. But does it work as a general-purpose film? I mounted my 50mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor macro lens to my Nikon FA, screwed it onto a tripod, and photographed some household objects on a table. I developed these in HC-110, Dilution B.
The P3200’s heavy grain creates a certain creaminess to these images, and it’s an interesting look. I’m glad I tried it. But I think I prefer a smoother look. Because I had the Nikon FA on a tripod, I could have used a much slower film and accepted the slower shutter speeds I would have gotten.
After Rana died, my company gave me some time off to grieve. Believe it or not, I wavered on whether I’d take it. I worked straight through after my dad died and it was a wonderful distraction. But Dad’s death was expected, and I was as ready as anyone could be. Rana’s death was a deep shock, and it knocked the stuffing out of me. I wasn’t able to focus on anything. So I took the time off. (I go back to work Tuesday, after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.)
My old friend Michael reached out just so I could talk. Michael and I go way back, to 1985, and he and I attended the church where I met my first wife and Rana. He knows the whole story of my first marriage, including how both of us contributed to its destruction. He mentioned he was off work the next day, and I asked if I could drive out to see him. Both the drive and the company would do me good. We had lunch at a favorite place near his home, and lingered.
I had a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 in my Nikon FA, which I’d brought along. I’d always used this film for night photography and inside available-light work. But there I was on a cold, sunny day shooting this fast film at tiny apertures.
I stopped by Headstone Friends first, and was sad to find them closed on a long New Year’s break. Headstone’s is a music shop, a throwback to a long-ago era. I was shocked to see the condition of their sign and mural. It’s long overdue for a repaint. Check out this post to see what it looked like in 2017 and 2008.
I’m sure I’ve seen Headstone’s door closed before, but I can’t remember the last time. They’re open Monday through Saturday noon to 8. Those have been their hours since before my first visit there in 1985! Headstone’s was founded in 1970 — it’s still 1970 when you step inside.
Headstone’s has always tacked notices of new releases to this bulletin board. I was surprised to find that Neil Young, Santana, and the Doobie Brothers all have recent releases! Visiting Headstone’s really is like stepping into a time machine!
Since Rana’s death, I’ve slept a lot. I’m not normally a great sleeper, but I’ve easily slept nine or ten hours a night since she died, and sometimes have needed a nap in the afternoon. I felt a little sleepy after Headstone’s, so I went downtown looking for a coffee shop. I found one right at the Crossroads of America, 7th Street (former US 41) and Wabash Avenue (former US 40 and the National Road).
I was a little sad to see Federal here, as it displaced the Crossroads Cafe, a favorite spot of mine from long ago. Sadly, the Crossroads Cafe didn’t survive the pandemic. The good black coffee and gluten-free blueberry muffin went a long way to soothe my disappointment, however.
Across the street from Federal is this historic marker. Old timers in Terre Haute can tell you: this intersection used to be constantly choked with traffic. US 40 connected the west and east coasts, and US 41 connected the top of Michigan with the southern tip of Florida. Before the Interstates opened, these highways were critical.
I had just a few more frames left on the roll, so I walked a little to shoot familiar scenes. I’ve always liked the entrance to the old Terre Haute First National Bank building.
The old Indiana Theater is a block south on 7th Street. When I lived in Terre Haute it showed second-run movies for a dollar. I saw a whole bunch of movies in here!
Now that I’ve shot T-Max P3200 on a sunny day, I never need to again. As you can see, it works; I got usable images. But as I suspected, the grain is obtrusive. It’s obtrusive for the night and indoor photography I normally use it for, too, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff for the ability to get those shots at all. I developed this film in HC-110, Dilution B — I’ve seen other developers, namely T-Max and Xtol, get far less grain from this film. But I don’t use those developers and don’t intend to start. There’s no reason to accept this kind of grain when smooth T-Max 100 would have worked just fine on this full-sun day. I have 10 rolls of that stuff in the freezer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 forehead.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I also shot some Agfa Vista 200 on that trip. That versatile 35-70mm lens can shoot macro.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just because, here’s Christ Church Cathedral.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.