What's an FA?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Henricvs, Aug 3, 2019.

  1. While searching for a Nikon FM2 to add to my collection, I found the FA. What's an FA and why are they so cheap? After a quick google search I found that these are descent cameras. They were marketed for the pro market when introduced, but now the used market doesn't put much value on them. I still want to add an FM2 to my collection, but the FA is on my mind now. I just wonder why they are so inexpensive?
  2. The FA was actually an expensive camera. Its price was very close to that of the F3/F3HP which was Nikon top of the line model at the time. I never liked the FA then because it was way too expensive for what it was. I get the F3 instead. I bought a used FA back in 2010 for 2 weeks because I hated it when I got it.
    I was never intended as a pro camera (if there is such thing) .
    Henricvs likes this.
  3. The FA was sort of Nikon's competition to the Canon A-1. It was NIkon's first multi-mode camera(with both shutter priority and aperture) and also one-upped the A-1 with an advanced meter. It's also better built than the A-1-the A-1 is a thoroughly consumer class camera, while the FA is built on the same basic body as the FM2/FE2.

    It's probably best known as the camera that introduced the 5-segment "AMP" meter, which is now known as the matrix meter. In fact, it's the only way to get both shutter priority/full program AND matrix metering with manual focus non-CPU lenses(other the FG, FG-20, and N2000 all give you shutter priority and/or program with non CPU lenses, and the F4 and F6 will give you matrix metering but only in aperture priority or manual).

    Unfortunately, the FA has something of a less than stellar reputation for reliability. On the first roll of film through mine, I had random blank frames. Fortunately, it seems to have fixed itself, as my more recent roll didn't have that issue. Still, though, I don't exactly trust the camera and I don't know whether or not I'd use it for anything important.

    The FA has the same basic viewfinder as the FM or FE. The meter read-out is more or less the same squinty, hard to read LCD of the F3, but it doesn't have the illuminator for low light like the F3(not that the one on the F3 is that useful).

    Overall, my FA sits on the shelf most of the time, and my FM2ns(I like them enough to have 3 of them) actually get used.
    Henricvs likes this.
  4. It was another, as I recall, of those "if only they would build ..." cameras. The redoubtable Ken Rockwell (aka "Hypnoken" here on P.net) has discussion
    Nikon FA

    Wikipedia says
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  5. IIRC, KR used the FA as his main 35mm camera from ~1990 to ~1999. I seem to recall him saying that he used it in place of his F2AS and then replaced it with an F100.
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  6. I had mine used for 2 weeks. Shots several rolls thru it and and found it too got blank frames but.. after careful testing I found those are not blank but exposed at 1/4000. I found that Nikon electronic controlled shutter of the period (the F3 too) doesn't control the highest speed and the highest speed is really purely mechanical. So some how the magnet that is supposed to hold the second curtain back for the exposure time failed to do so. Wasn't too bad for me as I bought it from craigslist locally for $30 and sold it also on Craigslist for $65.
    Henricvs likes this.
  7. 1/4000 would make sense in my case. I was using Provia 100F shot in the evening outside, and was at around f/8. The correct exposure was coming in at around 1/125-1/250, so a 1/4000 frame would be underexposed enough that it would appear blank on slide film. In my case, they would randomly appear in a sequence of similar photos.
  8. Absolute "yes" on the FM2 or FE2: save your pennies for that, and don't get sidetracked wasting money on an FA. They are less expensive for a reason: as ben_hutcherson and others mentioned, they aren't exemplars of Nikon reliability/usability.

    The FA was Nikon's Edsel: a pricey bauble that in a way, nobody was really begging for at the time. It was a case of Nikon reacting to overall market forces vs paying attention to their actual customer base (most of whom had long since learned to live with aperture-priority-AE-only as the price of participating in the huge Nikon universe). Minolta, Canon, Pentax had made a lot of noise and garnered a lot of press with their "multi-mode" bodies, while Nikon lagged behind (having never considered or provided any legacy mechanism for shutter priority AE). This rush to provide a "program" mode to check off a shopping list box also resulted in the AI vs AIS lens trainwreck, which even today confuses and annoys people.

    The resulting FA ended up being perceived as a very overpriced amateur camera. All that "based on the FM/FE" PR evaporated when potential buyers noticed the plasticky top plate and ghastly cluttered half-1970/half-1980 cosmetic design. Lots of clever features, and the first iteration of multi pattern metering: the FA certainly has a fan club, and is a good design on paper. But in the real world 2019 used camera market its A) ugly as sin compared to FM/FE/F3 and B) notorious for developing functional issues / defects that seldom (if ever) afflict the rock-solid FM/FE/F3.

    The cheaper smaller FG20 is a nicer simplified re-think of the FA, unless you have huge hands or require a more rugged motor drive (in which case I'd just jump straight to a used F5). The shutter-priority and program exposure modes never quite gelled in a classic-build "lovable" manual-wind manual-focus Nikon body: if you must have these exposure modes, look at other brands. If you can live with manual or aperture-priority-AE-only, Nikon has a great selection of bodies that are still relevant/compatible with their premium DSLRs. Or, roll the dice and try your luck with an FA. But don't overpay, and don't be surprised if it starts going wonky.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
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  9. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    Intrigued by these comments, I had a quick look on Ebay. Prices ranged from £150 to £250 - not what I'd describe as cheap. I'll stick to my £7.50 Nikkormat for the present, I think.
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  10. It's worth recalling how much programme mode was hyped and promoted back in the 1980's, with magazine reviews full of those funny looking graphs purporting to show how the programme worked. I've been doing all kinds of photography with all kinds of equipment for a lot of years now, but I can't recall ever having used programme mode even once.
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  11. If you can get a Nikkormat in good condition for 7.50 that's a good deal. I think the Nikkormat goes for more than that.
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  12. The FA would have been one of Nikon's finest cameras, if only they could have fixed the awful shutter reliability issue.

    Even a change of shutter design about 18 months into production didn't make it any more reliable.

    They're cheap because most of them either don't work at all, or randomly give the wrong shutter speed.

    My sample will only fire correctly (mostly) if held upside down!
    Henricvs likes this.
  13. This is good to know. I've read of this problem quite a bunch. Thanks!
  14. Well in the states, the FM2's are sought after while the FA's not so much. I can get a KEH bgn FA for $126, while the KEH plain ole FM2 bgn is $257. The FM2N's are about $100 more! The FM2 has been around and is still sought after, while the FA is no more.
  15. In the US, I figure my current cost of 35mm slide film at between 65¢ and 70¢ per frame including processing. With an FA, I want a minimum of two frames for every photo I care about since the shutter errors seem random and unpredictable in my experience, and I'd rather not lose a shot due to one. That turns into $10-15 worth of "wasted" film whether in blank frames or duplicates that wouldn't necessarily be needed in a camera I could trust.

    It doesn't take that long to add up to the cost difference you've mentioned.

    Aside from that, I'll mention that I've bought FM2ns from the classifieds here in what I'd consider better than KEH BGN for around $200 each.

    There are a number of small touches about the FM2/FM2n that I appreciate, but realistically the FM is 95% of the camera(1/125 vs. 1/200 or 1/250 flash sync, 1/1000 max vs. 1/4000, will run down the batteries if you leave the lever "clicked out" for a couple of days) and can be had for around $100.
    Henricvs likes this.
  16. Purchased two FA bodies around 2001 or 2002 - both needed to have their seals replaced and the gooey mess removed from their mirrors. Never encountered any other issues with either one of them but probably haven't used them all that much; sold them eventually in 2007.
    Nikon FM was my first camera (1979), I later added two FM2 bodies - they were my main shooters for many many years. No issues with either one of them - all sold some 18 years ago.
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  17. I would like to quote B&H prices of Nikon bodies in April 1985 issue of Popular Photography. You can see for yourself why you wouldn't want to buy an FA back then.
    F3HP $429.90
    F3 $399.00
    FA $334.90
    FE2 $209.90
    FM2 $194.90
    FG $159.90
    FG20 $104.90
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  18. It is fascinating that the less expensive cameras have shown to be more popular than the FA.
  19. It seems odd, but more so if you're unfamiliar with Nikon's history or overall trends in the used camera market over the past 30 years.

    Over its long history, Nikon produced several benchmark modern film cameras that pretty much never lost their appeal. They survived the digital transition, and even increased their popularity/resale value year after year. The FM2, FE2 and F3HP were/are the most beloved classic Nikon "user" cameras of the past four decades, a self-perpetuating legend. When younger people today (who have no clue whatsoever about the film era) run a Google search, inevitably one of these three cameras will pop up in hundreds of glowing blog or forum reviews. Some of this is due to them being well-designed and very reliable, some is due to a decades-long accumulation of biases that anoint some types/models as highly desirable classics and others as non-entities or dogs. There is a large price disparity between the two groups.

    FM2n was the final, most feature-laden iteration of the FM, itself wildly popular due to its shrinking the most important features of the legendary F2AS pro camera into a smaller, less expensive form factor. It is a very rugged, durable camera with fully mechanical shutter that is fully functional even if the battery dies. The battery only powers the meter, which is derived from the excellent F2AS three-LED display fed by silicon blue cells. You can change the focus screen, the shutter runs to 1/4000 to stop action or use large apertures in bright light with fast film, 1/250th sync speed for fill flash versatility, and accepts a very popular motor drive.

    The FE2 is the same camera, but with an aperture-priority AE meter system and electronic shutter. You trade added capability for battery dependence, but the FE2 is one of the most reliable electronic bodies available. It has all the features of FM2, plus TTL flash metering and intuitive manual/auto exposure meter options. The AE system and display derives from the once-very-popular Nikkormat EL, which begat the FE and then FE2. Many users find the FE meter system and display far easier to operate and view than the F3.

    The F3 is of course the most popular, longest-lived Nikon professional body of all time. Not my personal favorite, but a great, proven camera that LOTS of photographers still want. It is functionally similar to the FE2 but with interchangeable viewfinders, 100% accurate viewfinder framing, LCD meter display, less shutter and flash versatility, and professional-grade ruggedness to withstand a 6 FPS motor (extremely fast in the film era). The previous iconic mechanical-shutter F and F2 were/are preferred by a great many photographers, but today have shifted into more of a curio/collectible status (it can be hard to find the best versions at a good price).

    Electronic film cameras on the whole were/are viewed with some suspicion or distaste by a significant percentage of photographers, both in the past and today. This has a strong effect on the current used market: the last mechanical-shutter bodies with silicon blue metering systems like FM2n are the most desirable, for emotional if not practical reasons, so carry higher resale value. Known-reliable electronic bodies like FE2 and F3HP are close behind. Other nice electronic Nikon bodies like EM, FG, EL have no "legend" status to inflate their price, making them great user values. Some, like the FA, were hot stuff briefly (when new) but quickly earned a rep for being problem cameras: this tanks desirability and resale value, despite more advanced features than FE/FM/F3.

    Probably the best values in "user" film Nikons are AF bodies like N90S or N8008S. They get no respect because they look and handle too much like the DSLR clones they later birthed: great tools back in the film-only era, but they have no "charm" or hipster cred in todays more skewed, selective film camera marketplace. Either would be a better, much cheaper alternative to the FA if you want multi-mode matrix metering (and don't care about retro looks).
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  20. To tag on to this a bit-if you want matrix metering with non-CPU lenses in a film body, your choices are the FA, F4, and F6. Of course, of the three the only one which gives you multi-mode capabilities is the FA, which gets us right back to where we started.

    If you want to avoid the FA, want shutter priority and program with non-CPU lenses, and can give up matrix metering, the FG, FG-20, N2000, and N2020 are better choices(the last two actually somewhat modern and have integrated motor drives, while the N2020 even gives you terrible AF).

    The FA IS the only camera to offer its specific feature set-multi-mode without CPU lenses and matrix metering-but as can be seen from this thread it is full of trade-offs.
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