Cameras, Photography

Nikon FA

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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 who 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.

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 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.

IMG_4407 rawproc.jpg

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 that aperture/shutter speed to the closest one at which accurate exposure is possible.

IMG_4408 rawproc.jpg

Also, if you don’t want to use matrix metering, you can switch to center-weighted by pressing and holding a 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.

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, and I was right.

I like this little clock. I got it at Target for my office at work four 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.

Clock on the bookshelf

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.

Vertical blinds

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.

Shutter

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.

P30 Alpha

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.

Folding camera in the shadows

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.

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.

Fishers Station

I wrapped up the roll in my garden after a rain.

Wet hosta leaf

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.

Hosta

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. And my quick eBay research reveals that working bodies 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?

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Photography

Great 50mm lenses I have known

I’d wager most of us 35mm SLR shooters have shot 50mm lenses most often. After all, when you buy an old SLR that comes with a lens, most often it’s a 50. (Or a 55, which is within spitting distance of 50.)

Blogger Dan James recently considered the great 50s he’s shot, and it’s inspired me to do the same. Some of my favorites might surprise you! They surprised me. Because they’re not the 50mm lenses I shoot most often! Why am I not shooting these lenses more?

50mm f/1.7 Konica Hexanon AR

Konica Autoreflex T3

I have got to dust off my Autoreflex T3 just to shoot this lens again. Look at the color, sharpness, and bokeh it delivers! All of these photos are on Fujicolor 200. I like the first photo so much I framed it and it hangs in my home.

Ford F-500 fire truck

Spent tulip

Black Dog Books

50mm f/1.8 Auto Miranda

Miranda Sensorex II

I had no idea what to expect when I got this body and lens; I’d never shot Miranda before. But I was deeply satisfied with the look this lens returned. And I just love how the evening sun played off my vintage bicycle in this first shot. I shot all of these on Ektar.

1973 Schwinn Collegiate

Peonies on the coffee table

Pass and Stow

50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF

Minolta SR-T-101

I love the character of this lens, and its color rendition. I also own a much later MD 50mm f/1.7, and while it’s technically very good, it doesn’t deliver this MC lens’s delicious look. I wonder how the two lenses are different. These photos are all on Fujicolor 200.

Linback Garage

Flowers

The barn on Sycamore Hill

55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax/SMC Takumar/Super-Takumar

Pentax ES II

All Pentax 55mm f/1.8 lenses have the same optics. But the Super-Takumar lacks the Super Multi Coating of the other two lenses, and the SMC Pentax is K mount while the other two are M42 screw mount. All of them deliver smashing sharpness and color, however, and are capable of delightful bokeh. The first two shots below are on Ektar, the next one is on Fujicolor 200, and the last two are on T-Max 400.

Tulpen

Old Point Tavern

Tulip

Selfie

Broken window

50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C./Canon FL

Canon TLb

Canon cranked out manual-focus 50mm f/1.8 lenses by the bajillions in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. They made many minor tweaks to them along the way: different coatings, different numbers of aperture blades, different focus grips, different mounts. The look I get across all my Canon 50/1.8s is so similar that I’ll bet they all share their optical design. The first two shots below are on Kodak Gold 200 from my FD S. C. and the second two are on Fujicolor 200 from my FL.

Allied Van Lines

Flower

At the Indianapolis Museum of Art

60 mph

50mm f/2 Nikkor-H•C

Nikon Nikomat FTn

I imagine that one F-mount 50mm f/2 Nikkor lens has much the same design as any other, at least from the manual-focus years. But I find that this Nikkor-H•C lens has character that my more modern 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lacks. These shots are on lost, lamented Arista Premium 400 film.

Allied Appliances

Fencepost *EXPLORED*

Moo *EXPLORED*

50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E

Nikon N2000

Finally, consider this underrated Nikon lens. It is sharp, and it yields color on workaday Fujicolor 200 that is so bold that I have to double check that I hadn’t shot Ektar by mistake. This lens is also light and thin. It lacks the heft and precision under use of the other lenses in this list but these results overcome it. I shot these on Fujicolor 200.

Every step of the way *EXPLORED*

Haunted Conservatory

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Photography

Nikon Nikkormat EL

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Why didn’t Nikon just call its non-pro line of cameras Nikons from the start? As they eventually learned, everyday people would pay for the cachet of the Nikon name. Yet Nikon insisted on calling its lesser SLRs Nikkormats (or Nikomats in Japan) in the 1960s and much of the 1970s.

Those Nikkormats became more and more sophisticated over time. By 1972 Nikon had developed its first camera with an electronic shutter and automatic exposure, and gave it a Nikkormat name. Here it is, the Nikkormat EL.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

Large and heavy, the Nikkormat EL offered a reasonable complement of features. Its shutter operates from 4 to 1/1000 sec. It offers depth-of-field preview, mirror lockup, and a self timer. A stubby 6-volt 4LR44 (aka 476A, A544, and PX28A) battery powers it all. It goes in a slot behind the lens mount, under the mirror. Use the mirror lockup lever (left of the lens mount) to move the mirror up. Then lift the battery cover and insert the battery. I thought I’d have trouble seating the battery in that tight space but I snapped it right in with my index finger.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

The Nikkormat EL’s viewfinder is fairly big and bright and features an easy-to-read match-needle system for the aperture-priority autoexposure. There’s no on-off switch; to activate the meter, pull the winding lever back. The EL’s focusing screen offers a central split-image rangefinder ringed with a microprism. It works beautifully. The white button left of the viewfinder checks the battery. Press it in with your thumbnail. If the battery is good, the amber light glows.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

With this Nikkormat Nikon moved closer to the classic 1970s SLR idiom by moving the shutter speed selector to a dial atop the camera, next to the wind lever. (Early Nikkormats placed the shutter speed selector on a ring around the lens mount.) And as you can see, the EL takes films from 25 to 1600 ISO.

Nikon finally got the clue when it updated this camera for 1977: it became the Nikon EL, the first Nikon SLR without removable prisms and focus screens. The Nikkormat line was allowed to die quietly.

This EL was placed on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras by John Smith, who generally buys his gear in top shape. The EL is said to be prone to electronic gremlins, but this one works fine.

I dropped some Fujicolor 200 in, mounted my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, and got to shooting. I love to do close-up work and the Micro-Nikkor enables it so well. Yet it’s a fine lens for shooting things at greater distance. These are the reading glasses I keep on my desk at work.

Cheaters

And here’s a gripping photo for the annals of all-time greats: the cruise-control switch on my Toyota. I love it that the Micro-Nikkor lens lets me contemplate details like this.

Cruise Control

These batteries came out of a flash unit for my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. They have to be 50 years old, and true to their marketing, they hadn’t leaked. However, in especially dim indoor light, either the meter didn’t read accurately or the long shutter speed was off, because the exposure was terrible. Photoshop helped make something usable out of the frame.

Marathon Batteries

I shot most of this roll around the house. Last year I moved my irises to a sunnier spot, and this year they rewarded me by blooming in the spring and in the autumn. It was refreshing to see a splash of purple and white among the fall colors! Unfortunately, first frost came before the plant finished blooming, which did the remaining flowers in.

Autumn Irises

We had some striking light one evening, so I went out to photograph it.

Strange Evening Light

This light lasted just a few minutes, before the setting sun and the clouds rolling in obscured it. How often do we get light like this but forget it because it is so fleeting?

Strange Evening Light

Finally, showing that I had nothing but fine art on my mind while testing this camera, here’s my Toyota with a load of sod in the back. Some of the grass I planted in the front yard after the sewer connection project had died, and I had lots of bare spots out back after having all those dead trees removed. My Toyota has become an old beater, so it’s just right for dirty hauling jobs. Its plastic floor is easy to clean.

Wagon Full of Sod

For more photos, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

Metal, mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs are my favorite kind of camera, and aperture priority is my favorite way to autoexpose, so of course I enjoyed shooting with the Nikkormat EL. I didn’t enjoy shooting it any more than any of the other mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs I own, though. I suppose it says a lot about the general goodness of SLRs from the 1970s that a camera as capable and well made as this one doesn’t rise above the rest.

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Cameras, Photography

How to get into film photography on the cheap

People who see me out shooting with my film cameras sometimes tell me they’re curious about trying film, too, but they don’t know where to begin.

I’ll tell you what I tell them: buy any used Canon EOS-series or Nikon N-series 35mm SLR from the 1990s or early 2000s. They are plentiful and can be had for dirt cheap. They are light and easy to use: load battery and film, turn the mode dial to P, point, and shoot.

Canon EOS Rebel

The Canon EOS Rebel: a perfectly serviceable autofocus, autoexposure SLR

You don’t have to know a thing about focusing or exposure to use these cameras. Yet should you become curious about them, they offer full control over both.

I’d buy mine on eBay, which offers the best bargains. If you’re patient and persistent, you can score a body and lens for as low as $20 plus shipping. But buying on eBay comes with some risk. Sellers don’t always know or care when what they’re selling is broken. If you’re not experienced buying on eBay, buy only from sellers with ratings of 99.8% or above and a feedback score in at least the hundreds. Always read the auction details looking for caution flags. My favorite: the seller admits s/he doesn’t know anything about cameras, or says the camera came from an estate and is untested. Ken Rockwell wrote the ultimate guide to buying camera gear on eBay. Read it here.

To further reduce your risk, you can pay a little more and buy from an online used-gear dealer such as Used Photo Pro or KEH. Both give you a 90-day warranty, so if anything’s wrong you can send it back for a refund. Bodies go for as little as $15. These sites sell the lenses separately; just get a 28-80mm or 35-80mm zoom lens that matches your camera brand: Canon EF or Nikon AF (or AF-D, or AF-G). These versatile lenses offer passable quality. I’ve seen them sell for as little as $30.

My quick advice makes a lot of hidden assumptions and compromises. But these cameras strike a good balance among entry cost, ease of use, and image quality. Just by shooting a roll or two, you’ll learn a lot about whether film photography interests you. If you have any success and pleasure at all, you can explore other kinds of film cameras from there.

If you have enough photography experience to know what an f stop and a shutter speed are and how to use them, my advice changes. Get a manual-focus 1970s Minolta SR-T-series or Pentax K- or M-series body and lens instead.

Minolta SR-T-101

The Minolta SR-T 101: a wonderful manual-focus 35mm SLR

I love Nikons of this type, but they go for premium prices. Canons of this type are good too, and aren’t as expensive as the Nikons. But the Pentaxes and Minoltas are the real bargains of this bunch. It will take some patience, but you can find bodies such as the Minolta SR-T 101 (review here) or the Pentax KM (review here) for as little as $25 plus shipping on eBay.

The Pentax K1000 (review here) is also a fine choice, but it might take a little longer to find a bargain on one. It has almost a cult following, and as such can command non-bargain prices.

For a first lens, get the 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor for your Minolta, or the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M for your Pentax. They are both sublime and can be had for as little as $25 plus shipping on eBay.

The same advice goes for these cameras: you’ll take less risk, but pay more, if you buy from KEH or Used Photo Pro.

After you have a body and a lens, get some film and shoot. I give some advice about where to buy film here. And of course you’ll need it processed and printed and/or scanned. I give advice about where to get that done here. Have fun!

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Cameras, Photography

Sears KS-2

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I had so much fun shooting my Sears KS Super II earlier this year that when I came upon its more fully featured brandmate, the KS-2, for a good price, I scooped it up.

Sears KS-2

In 1982, when this camera was made, Sears was selling Ricoh SLRs as its own. This camera is the same as the Ricoh XR-7, which was then Ricoh’s top-of-the-line SLR. Where the KS Super II was limited to point, focus, and shoot, the KS-2 offers full manual control plus aperture priority autoexposure. Its shutter operates from 16 to 1/1000 second. It takes films from ISO 12 to 3200. It offers a self timer, a hot shoe, multiple exposure capability, and depth-of-field preview. And as best as I can tell, the KS-2 came in a kit with a fast 50mm f/1.4 lens. For whatever reason, my KS-2 came with the pictured 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens. Like all Ricoh/Sears SLRs, this camera uses Pentax’s K lens mount.

Sears KS-2

The KS-2 runs on two button batteries, either two silver-oxide SR-44s or two alkaline LR-44s. Without batteries, the KS-2 is inert.

Sears KS-2

I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and shot about three photos when the mirror stuck up and the camera wouldn’t wind. Fortunately, the Internet knew an easy workaround: Remove the bottom plate (five screws hold it on). Inside, look for the pin I’ve circled in red. Press it in to release the winder. Keep winding until you hear the mirror return. Ta-da!

IMG_1686 rawproc circled

Problem solved, I set about shooting. And truth be told, I wasn’t feeling very inspired. It happens. But here’s some of what I shot. At church, our parking lot is behind the building. For whatever reason, we don’t allow the alley to connect to our parking lot, so these concrete barriers block the way.

Jesus rocks

Around front, here’s our sign. Washington Street, formerly US 40, formerly the National Road, is within sight of our sign. But since we’re on a residential side street, you pretty much have to live in the neighborhood to know about us.

West Park

We just had all of our doors replaced. The cross-shaped windows came from our previous doors — we had them fitted into the new doors. We’re in the process of becoming an independent Christian Church, meaning the Disciples of Christ chalice symbol will eventually have to come off our building.

Church entrance

I carried the KS-2 around with me for a couple weeks. One day, my son and I went to Crown Hill Cemetery for a walk and some photographs.

Pensive

This summer, I worked part time as a consultant for a startup software company in Fishers. They’re in a new building in what’s known as the Nickel Plate District. Fishers is a very large suburb of Indianapolis today. But originally it was just a stop on the New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad, which was nicknamed the Nickel Plate Road. The tracks through Fishers are mostly idle today, except during the Indiana State Fair each August when a shuttle train carries fairgoers to and from, and when the Indiana Transportation Museum runs one of its periodic rail tours. My sons and I took one of the tours probably a decade ago now; it was fun.

Nickel Plate District

Closer to home, I shot this sprinkler on the path to my front door. The subject isn’t very exciting, but the photo shows the clarity and detail this lens can capture.

Sprinkler

And I shot my daisies, because daisies are so darned cheerful.

Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do

My KS-2 also came with a 135mm f/2.8 Auto-Sears MC lens. I clipped it on to shoot my neighbor’s ’67 Chrysler from my driveway. The spot is spoiled by a little camera shake.

Neighbor's old Chrysler

To see more photos from my test roll, check out my Sears KS-2 gallery.

The KS-2 has but one quirk: the meter shuts off after a bit, and to turn it back on you have to press that tall button on the camera’s face. My finger always struggled to find that button when the camera was at my eye. But when the meter is active, an LED display in the viewfinder shows what shutter speed the camera selected in aperture-priority mode, or in manual mode shows up and down arrows that let you triangulate on an accurate exposure.

This is a competent camera with a capable lens. A fellow could shoot it for the rest of his life and make wonderful images. That fellow won’t be me, however; I have plenty of other great gear with which I’m very comfortable. But if you want a solid SLR with good features and a good lens, the Sears KS-2 is a great choice.


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Cameras, Photography

Another Konica Autoreflex T3

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Some old film cameras are so inexpensive that when one breaks, you don’t fix it — you buy another one.

My Konica Autoreflex T3’s light meter was dead on arrival. I shot it anyway, using a handheld meter — and then the photos I got back blew me away. See some of them here. The 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR lens that came with my T3 was outstanding. I knew I’d want to shoot that lens again. I also knew I would prefer a working meter, so I bought a second Autoreflex T3 body, fully working this time, for just $23 shipped.

Konica Autoreflex T3

The T3 is typical of early-1970s SLRs in that it is sturdy and heavy. But its shutter-priority autoexposure made it distinctly atypical. Other manufacturers were starting to build that feature into their SLRs at that time, but it was far from common. Yet Konica had offered it in its Autoreflex line since 1966.

Konica Autoreflex T3

The T3 is mechanical except for the light meter. The camera takes two PX675 mercury batteries, which have long been banned. I substituted two SR44 silver-oxide batteries, which are the same size. The SR44s have slightly higher voltage, which theoretically could lead to misexposures. But I got great exposures. Perhaps it’s because I shot Fujicolor 200, which has wide exposure latitude.

This. Oh my, this. This is why I wanted a fully working T3. That 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR is just sublime. Just look at the color and detail. The bokeh is like an impressionist painting.

Spent tulip

I shot most of the roll around the yard as spring flowers bloomed. Here are my Lily of the Valley. A fellow from Germany who follows me on Flickr commented that in German, these are called Maiglöckchen — little May bells. Perfect!

Lily of the Valley

This lens and film love, love, love red. These are peonies working on opening. The buds are always covered with tiny ants.

Potential peonies

I was less impressed with how purple was rendered. My grape hyacinths are more vivid than this.

Grape hyacinths

So are the petunias I keep in a planter on the corner of my front stoop. In real life, these are dark purple, almost black. At least this dusky purple is interesting.

Purple petunias

But the warm colors I got when shooting this doomed ash tree in my back yard pretty much make up for the inaccurate purples.

Doomed ash

I shot most of the roll at close range. There was just so much early-spring detail to focus on! Just to show that this lens does all right at a distance, here’s some construction equipment.

Rented cat

And here’s the front of my house, from about the same time I learned that all of my ash trees were dying. I’ve since had all 21 of those trees removed.

My humble home

To see more photographs, check out my Konica Autoreflex T3 gallery.

I’m putting the Autoreflex T3 into rotation — I will use it again. Its 50mm f/1.7 lens begs to be brought up close to a subject, set nearly wide open for shallow depth of field. I’ll bet it would go to town with some Ektar or some Velvia 50.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

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