A New Love : the Nikon FA

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Sep 20, 2021.

  1. Having had a love affair for the last decade or so with the Nikon FE, my curiosity was stimulated by reading an account of another photographer's experiences with the Nikon FA. I'd occasionally seen mentions of this camera but never really came across anything of substance, and I'd become a little bored with the F-100's and F-4's and wondered if there was a Nikon manual focus camera that might bridge the gap between the FE and the early AF models such as the F-601. I looked at the rest of the F series and felt they didn't offer quite what I was looking for, even the illustrious F-3 falling a little short. What I was really looking for was a Nikon equivalent of the Canon T90, probably the manual focus 35mm film camera I use most, but I couldn't find a comparable Nikon.

    Eventually I found some more serious articles featuring the FA, a camera that really doesn't seem to have received much attention from collectors or contemporary users. However, to cut a long story short, I became curious to the point where I spotted a very tidy example on Ebay at a reasonable price from a Japanese seller I've dealt with before, and a week ago it arrived courtesy of DHL, who shipped it from Japan in five days, in itself something of a record. Here's a pic of the cameras as it arrived.

    Nikon FA copy.jpg

    For those members not familiar with the camera, it was unveiled in 1983 as an upgrade to the Nikon FE2, and was the most sophisticated and fully-featured of the of the "F" line. Here are some specifications.

    Lens Mount: Nikon F Bayonet
    Focus: Manual
    Viewfinder: Fixed SLR Pentaprism with full information LCD display
    Shutter: Focal Plane Vertically Traveling Titanium Blade
    Speeds: B, 1 – 1/4000 seconds
    Exposure Meter: CPU Controlled Automatic Multi-Pattern TTL Metering
    Battery: 2 x S76 Silver-Oxide or Alkaline Battery
    Flash Mount: Flash TTL Hot Shoe with 1/250 second flash sync and PC sync port
    Weight: 625 grams (body only)

    The FA was Nikon's first SLR to offer shutter priority auto-exposure and also the first to include the now familiar four "Exposure Modes", manual, program, shutter and aperture, along with a "Normal or High-speed Mode" that automatically, in Program mode, shifted toward faster shutter speeds when a lens of 135 mm or longer focal length was mounted. This feature can be disabled if the operator desires. The cameras have "plastic" top plates, a first for the F series, using Polycarbonate for the black version and ABS for the chrome and black. This series of "firsts" kindled my interest in the FA, especially the appearance of what came to be known as "Matrix Metering", that quickly became a standard for the industry. Nikon referred to this as AMP (Automatic Multi-Pattern Metering) and it marked a big leap forward in exposure control. An alternative centre-weighted metering is selectable in some modes. I was a little concerned about the lack of spot metering, especially the additive spot metering and exposure lock I enjoy using on the Canon T90, but my experience with the FA so far has reassured me. The three films I have run using the AMP have revealed a startling ability to correctly assess exposure in almost any situation. Nikon dubbed the FA the "Technocamera" in light of these new attributes.

    The camera has a very tidy control layout, making it a pleasure to handle.

    Top.jpg

    The FA utilises the rather beautiful high-speed Titanium-bladed shutter with the honeycomb pattern.

    Shutter.jpg

    Nikon eventually stopped supplying this fine shutter, possibly because of reliability issues but more probably because of manufacturing costs. For the FA there was the usual range of accessories available, including the MD-15 motor drive, which is rather large, rare and expensive. This winder supplied power to the camera, unlike the more common MD-12 which was the alternative. Personally, I prefer the appearance of the camera with the smaller MD-12.

    With Drive copy.jpg


    Overall, I'm impressed by this small camera, finding it a delight to use with it's very bright viewfinder and good handling. I'd like to draw some opinions from other members who are familiar with the FA, to see if my favourable opinions are justified, or otherwise! Below are a few frames from the first couple of outings with the camera, and I suspect I'll be supplying more to the forum from the FA. Incidentally, a good source of information and a very readable review of the camera is viewable on Luis Triguez's website:

    Nikon FA

    The sample images have been selected from one roll of Ilford Delta 400 and hopefully show a few of the challenging lighting situations that the camera handled with aplomb. The film was developed in PMK Pyro and scanned on an Epson Perfection V800 using Silverfast SE software.

    Ascent #3

    Ascent #3 copy.jpg

    Holmes

    Holmes.jpg

    Shades of Sydney

    Shades of Sydney copy.jpg

    Spring

    Spring.jpg

    Salt

    Salt copy.jpg

    Before Breakfast

    Before Breakfast.jpg










     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2021
    barryreid, gary green, kklow and 6 others like this.
  2. Good grief! You found one that actually works!? :eek:

    Mine only fires if I hold it upside down, or if I hit it in just the right place with just the right force before tripping the shutter.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2021
    andycollins4716 likes this.
  3. Unlike "rodeo_joe | 1", mine has worked flawlessly. I opted to get the MD-15 drive, since my preference is for a bit more "heft". I've read the various posts damning it's failures, but I've been fortunate.

    Good luck. And those are great images. Tough to beat the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.
     
  4. Interesting post thanks. Two Nikons I've always avoided are the F3 and the FA - not for any logical reason, I've just never had the urge to own them. The nearest I got to having an FA was at a local auction when the bidding went too high for me. Perhaps I was put off by its poor reputation for reliability, but it's clear that many examples are absolutely fine.
     
  5. Reminds me a lot of an auto exposure version of my 3 FM2n camera bodies.
     
  6. Although not build to quite the same standard as the T90, the F-601M would probably be a closer match. If you didn't know any better and you had a sample that worked, then the FA was a very nice camera - but given the issues most users would experience if they held on to it, the FA turned out to be more an embarrassment than a technical tour-de-force.
     
  7. I really like posts on cameras like this one. Thanks.
     
  8. That's a beautiful example of the FA, Rick! I sold mine about 10 or 12 years ago because for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, I just didn't care for it much. I didn't have mine long enough to experience the reliability issue that the camera is known for, but I and the camera just never got on. I have much more fondness for the FE2, F3HP, and the F100, but I do appreciate the innovations that the FA brought to the world of Nikon photography. Maybe I didn't have mine long enough to cast fair judgment and maybe I should find another to see if I can be a bit more objective. As for you and your FA, you've obviously put yours to good use and have some very nice photos to show for it! Great post, Rick--thanks!

    Andy
     
  9. I was really tempted by the FA after it was first out. Then all the reports of shutter failure started to hit the photographic press. Nikon responded with a re-designed plain aluminium bladed shutter, rather than the titanium honycomb-patterned version that they'd heralded as a breakthrough design.... and still the failure reports continued to roll in.

    I must admit that I bought my used - but looking like new - sample years later, knowing it had an 'intermittent' fault. But having checked that it had the later shutter. The intermittent fault quickly became permanent. So, nothing to lose I decided to open the darned thing up. GULP!
    There are small flexible circuit boards everywhere under the top-plate, connected by a printed wiring harness that completely covers any mechanical bits. Access through the bottom-plate is pretty much limited to the wind-on mechanism. With everything else hidden and inaccessible up in the body shell - including the suspect shutter solenoids.

    So, repair without danger of breaking other parts/circuit tracks is nigh on impossible. Just take this as a gentle warning if you're ever tempted by an FA. Unless it comes with a cast-iron guarantee of working.

    Nice pictures indeed, but they could have come from any model of Nikon from an F to an F6, including Nikkormats, FEs, FMs, Nxxxx, etc.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2021
  10. Thanks for the responses! Obviously, there is a diversity of opinion regarding the FA. Having spent several hours checking out the internet reviews before I decided to buy one, I'd have to say there are far more favourable comments than criticisms. I suspect that, in some measure, it's the old negative memes at work, with whole phrases C&P'd from one review to another... Anyway, I hope my copy keeps on keeping on, as the camera continues to impress me with it's handling and excellent metering. And I don't intend to take it apart any time soon!

    Here are three further samples taken using the good 'ol Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5, from a film that had consistently excellent exposures despite some quite challenging situations. And yes, I suppose I could have taken them with a F1, or a Canon T90, or a Minolta XD7, but I didn't. I used a Nikon FA...

    Symmetry

    Symmetry copy 2.jpg

    8 AM

    8.jpg

    Vespas

    Vespas copy.jpg




     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2021
    barryreid, gary green, kklow and 7 others like this.

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