Nikon FA troubleshooting

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by john_k.|2, Aug 26, 2012.

  1. I just bought my first 35mm SLR, a Nikon FA, and am having some trouble.
    Even after replacing the dead batteries, the shutter release button occasionally won't trip the shutter unless the camera is in Manual mode. Experimenting with the camera unloaded, I can't figure out whether something is causing this to happen or if it's just random. Furthermore, it seems like it's only shooting in Automatic mode, regardless of which mode is selected.
    I subsequently bought an 50mm AI-S Series E, figuring that the program mode problem was due to the 35-135mm zoom included with the camera not being an AI-S lens, but while dry firing the camera before loading a roll of film it seemed to ignore my shutter speed setting in all modes but manual, just like the zoom.
    (I expect the roll of film to come out fiddly, as the shutter error occurred after loading and I had to resort to compose-meter-recompose until finding something at a shutter speed of 250 and then change to M250 to take the shot.)
    Is there something I'm unaware of that might disable the shutter release button on a Nikon FA in the way I describe? It feels like the button is depressing all the way, past where the shutter actually trips, but nothing happens unless I set it to one of the manual modes.
    Going by a major repair shop's prices, at $55 + shipping for a minimum repair I might eke by, but with an overhaul estimated at $190 I'd end up paying more than the cost of an 'excellent condition' body on the used market.
    I'm still excited about the resolution and dynamic range of film, and the camera is so compact and feels so good on a strap and in hand compared to the 50D I've been lugging around for a year that I want to make it my normal daylight camera, so I can leave the DSLR in the car unless I'm shooting at 800+ ISO. I'm just hoping I didn't blow a hundred bucks on a Catch-22.
  2. First things first ...
    1. Do you have a user manual?
    2. Do you understand Nikon's PSAM?
    ... merely as a starting point for discussion.
  3. It's not a lens problem, as any lens that will safely mount on an FA (Ai or AiS) will work in program mode (and S,A,M). AiS lenses are not a necessity for this exposure mode on the FA. As long as you set the aperture ring to minimum aperture (f/16, f/22 or f/32) it should function properly in P (or S) mode. In fact, unlike modern AF bodies it will even work in P mode without the aperture ring at minimum aperture as long as it is set to f/11 or higher.
    If you don't have a user manual for your FA, you can download one here: (link)
    About the only thing I can think of that will disable the shutter button on the FA is weak or dead batteries. In that case, the shutter can only be tripped when the dial is set to 'M250' or 'B'. But if your body is metering properly and the LCD in the viewfinder works, that's probably not the problem. But it never hurts to try new, fresh batteries to eliminate that as a possible problem (EDIT: which apparently you have done).
    Your FA might have electronic issues. The FA is sort of known for that. I have one here that is a "shelf queen". Looks like brand new, not a mark on it anywhere. It meters properly, but fires the shutter at 1/250 no matter where you set the exposure mode switch or shutter speed dial.
  4. Replace the batteries.
  5. Just a couple of points. The camera will not "dry" fire with full control of the shutter because it's designed that way. It has an interlock that fixes the shutter speed to 1/250th until the frame counter gets to frame 1. In other words, before the film is advanced to frame 1, or while the back is open the shutter speed is fixed.
    I believe that Program mode is only available with an Ai-S lens attached. This camera was the first (maybe only?) Nikon body to make full use of all the notches, bumps and levers on Ai-S lenses, and although Ai and pre-Ai lenses can be mounted, they don't give the camera automatic control over the aperture. Therefore P and S mode can only be achieved with an Ai-S or AF lens attached. Ai lenses do not have a linearised aperture control lever, so even if they did work in S or P mode the exposure would be erratic.
  6. "I believe that Program mode is only available with an Ai-S lens attached."
    No, that is a persistent but unfounded myth. Why it continues to persist to this day is beyond me, given that the manual for the FA clearly states that Ai lenses (and Ai converted lenses) can be used in P mode. The FA uses a closed loop exposure system in P mode, and takes a nearly instantaneous second meter reading after the lens stops down to adjust the shutter speed and compensate for the non-linear aperture actuation of Ai lenses.
    The only caveats are that with Ai lenses the actual shutter speed used may vary from that displayed in the viewfinder by up to 2 stops, and the "high speed" program mode algorithm is not available for lenses 135mm and longer.
  7. AI lenses works fine with the FA. I had one for a while. I sold it because it had a problem. The shutter speed at times would go to 1/4000 in any mode and without the LCD telling you so. I had to find this out when I saw underexposed frame here and there. After carefully rig it up on my shutter tester and fired a few hundred shots did I find out this fact
  8. Thanks for the manual, it's a big help. I bought Duracell 1.5V batteries from Walmart that had LR44 listed as "replacement for" on the back, using the MIR website as reference on my phone. This morning I ordered a 3V lithium 1/3N battery as a last hope that it's just a battery issue.
    When I was able to test the Series E I'd had it set to the maximum aperture (1.8), so I figure that's what the priority mode issue was.
    If the new battery doesn't work then it's almost definitely going to be a cost prohibitive overhaul, in which case I'll have to decide whether to order another FA or sacrifice the matrix metering and go with an FE2. The way I shoot (landscapes, cityscapes and sort of documentary street photography) I don't think I've ever used anything but matrix digitally; this is what led me to the FA when researching a manual 35mm SLR.
  9. Thanks for clearing up the Ai/Ai-S "myth" Michael. I didn't realise the camera did a quick metering squint before the mirror went up - no wonder the mechanism's a bit prone to malfunction! I have an FA, but like yours the shutter speeds don't work properly. Mine will (sometimes) work OK if I give it a gentle tap after winding on; otherwise the shutter sticks at the manual speed. I haven't investigated the fault too deeply, but on reflection it may have something to do with the pre-frame 1 interlock I mentioned before.
    The early honeycomb pattern shutters fitted were reputed to be temperamental anyway, and that's what's fitted in my example. I'd assumed it was a shutter problem and put the camera aside. I might have another look at it though now.

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