Nikon FA

Nikon D300, Micro Nikkor AF-D 105mm F.2.8

My interest in photography began with my Father.  I can recall back when I was a kid making frequent visits to Ace Camera in Burbank, CA in order to develop film shot by my Dad in his Canon AE-1.  He is still into photography, although he focuses more on collecting cameras than shooting.

His first constructive criticism of this blog went something like “For a blog about classic photography, you sure don’t have many pictures of classic cameras.”  Well, let me try to rectify that with this post!

You can see above that the 1983 Nikon FA has a “modern classic” look.  It isn’t quite as vintage looking as a my chrome FTN, but also is a far cry from the curved lines and textured surfaces of my F100 or current DSLRs.  It was available in either black or chrome finishes; I personally think that the black finish is more suiting for the era as it fits well with the predominantly black 1981 Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 AI-S manual lens I have attached to it.

The FA was the first Nikon body to leverage the new AI-S focal length indicator ridge on the rear of the lens mount.  Previous generation AI lenses gave the camera no indication what their focal length was.  The interesting part is that AI-S Nikkors were first introduced in 1981, two years before the FA was released.  Nikon has a history of sneaking in new features in their lenses even before there are cameras on the market that can use them.

The FA is smaller and lighter than both the earlier FTN and the later F100.  It feels positively petite in my hands, although the detachable hand-grip bar is very welcome.  I have no fear of dropping it when held with just my right hand with the bar, although it isn’t quite as rock solid a feel as my F100.
FA-BThe right-side shutter speed dial shows its steps from 1-second to 1/4000 of a second. Bulb and a fully-manual 1/250 of a second options are also available.  The M250 setting is the only one that will operate without any batteries in the camera, so if desperate you can use that in M mode along with setting the aperture manually as well.  Feel free to use the Sunny Sixteen exposure rule if warranted!

You can also see the one of the other firsts delivered in the FA here: A full set of Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Program-automatic exposure modes.  They are all available with virtually any Nikkor lens, from an AI-converted F-era lense through modern AF lenses.  You can even use AF-G lenses (which have no aperture ring) in S and P modes.
FA-CThe left-side film-speed ring has a number of functions hidden in it.  You can see the supported speeds from ISO 12 to 4000 in 1/3-stop increments, and you set it simply by lifting the outer edge of the ring to unlock it.  There is also a 2-stop exposure compensation control also in 1/3-stop increments which is unlocked by the lower-right chrome button.  Clearly they both rotate the same ring achieving the same effect as far as the meter is concerned, but setting them independently allows you to compensate without confusing yourself about what speed film is loaded.

Pushing the black lever on the inside of the ring allows you to lift the film crank and thereby releases the back of the camera to load or unload film.
FA-DThe back of the camera shows a couple of my favorite features.  They aren’t critical, but are very nice touches.

The first is the eyepiece shutter.  When shooting photos on tripod or otherwise holding the camera away from your eye, light from behind the camera can enter into the eypiece and affect the metering or even exposure.  I would often shade my F100’s eyepiece when exposing on tripod as I didn’t bother with its slip-on cover.  But the FA has a lever-activated shutter built right into the eyepiece, which is colored red so you can’t mistake when it is in place.

And the “note holder” is a classic touch that lets others know you are shooting film, here with my current preferred B&W film box-end firmly in place.
FA-EFinally, we get to the CF-31 case made specifically for the FA.  This was designed to hold an FA along with the common accompaniment of the time, the Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-S zoom lens.  While I love the FA, I fear that the cases Nikon made during this time are not my favorites.  Earlier hard leather cases are classy, durable, and form-fitting.  This “semi-soft” case feels way too soft to me, uses thin, wrap-around arms to hang off the strap, and looks like a humpback whale to boot.  Later cases for N80, F100, and current cameras seem at least to have sturdier construction and some kind of screw-in attachment to the baseplate.  Oh well, I have seen some vintage aftermarket cases for this era of Nikons, perhaps I can find one for my FA some day…

All-in-all I really like the look, feel, and so far function of the FA.  I need to put some more film through it before I give a functional report, but I am very glad that it is now part of my collection!


Give Dad A Nikon!



Nikon D300, Micro Nikkor AF-D 105mm F.2.8

I’m not sure how many of you received an e-mail with the above title about ten days ago, but I sure did.  Clearly Nikon USA’s marketing folks were targeting those undecided with respect to what gift to give to the Fathers in their life for Father’s Day.

Maybe my wife is also on their mailing list, she is quite the Nikon fan herself.  But somehow she got the idea that I might not mind a new Nikon body.  She didn’t buy me a Coolpix L120 like their ad suggested, but rather a Nikon FA!

As I hinted at before, the Nikon 1983 FA is in several ways a revolutionary camera, if not an odd bird.  It is:

  • The last big developmental step in Nikon’s manual focus bodies (other bodies released since were low-end like the FM10/EM10 or arguably a refinment of classic designs such as the FM3A)
  • The first matrix meter from any camera maker, initially called Automatic Multi-Pattern (AMP) using 5 segments
  • The first Nikon to offer all four main exposure modes (MASP), and the only one to do so with manual lenses (the F4, F100, F6 and other later bodes don’t offer S or P with manual lenses)

I managed to shoot a quick roll of some ancient Sensia 200 film through it just before our trip this past weekend and it seems to be working just fine.  Exposures appear spot on, even when shooting in Program mode on my AI’ed Nikkor 35mm f/2 O.C.  I have barely had time to play with it though, and will recount some experiences and lessons learned later.