It’s funny how people respond when they find out you shoot film. My longtime neighbour Bob (real name) wandered over one day and I happened to be holding my F3 in my hand. He mentioned he had a couple film SLRs he’d like to show me sometime. That sometime came last Sunday. I dropped over to repair his computer for him. Some malware had taken control of his browser.
While sitting there waiting for a virus scan to complete, I took a look through his big old grey camera bag. It’s those classic old oversized bags with the film holder loops on the inside lid and several external zipped pockets. Crammed into this single bag were two cameras – two distinctly different but similar cameras. The first is this one, a Nikon FA 35mm film single lens reflex camera. Bob thought he bought this in 1983. This is likely, as it was first released in 1983 and remained in production until 1987. I knew little about this camera, really, other than it was the first of its kind to have a “P” program mode.
Another first for Nikon on the FA was its matrix metering. A more complex metering than the top range Nikon F3, which was introduced three years earlier.
Bob’s Nikon FA is in incredible condition for its age. He figures he’s only put a 100 or so rolls through it. It sat with batteries removed in his bag since 1994, or thereabouts.
I’ve installed two LR44 batteries and loaded some colour film into the camera for some test shots. The MD-15 power winder takes 8 AA batteries.
Compared to my F3, this is slightly more complicated and perhaps slightly clumsy to operate. Like the F3, it has a prism to optically reveal the aperture setting on the lens when viewing through the viewfinder. And like the F3, it uses a small LCD display in the viewfinder to show the shutter speed and metering over/under using “+” and “-“, with “+-” being correctly metered.
In shutter priority, a rarity on a Nikon, an analog shutter speed number appears in the viewfinder and the LCD screen displays the aperture that the camera will set the lens to. I don’t think it matters what aperture you’ve mechanically set it to, but I open the lens right up when in shutter priority.
Unlike the F3, it has four modes: Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual. It has a 1/4000s fast shutter speed and a higher flash sync setting of 1/250s compared to 1/60s for the F3.
A really nice feature of the MD-15 power winder is the built-in storage for the cover you need to remove from the camera body when installing the motor winder.
A few quirks about the FA at first view:
- To install the MD-15 power winder, you must remove the grip from the body. This isn’t too difficult, and was designed to be unscrewed with a coin and fingers. However, it would have been slick if the MD-15 had a storage bay to place this part into it as it can easily go MIA, if not put away somewhere you’ll remember where.
- The matrix metering mode can be turned off with a rather awkward lever near the base below the self-timer. I guess Nikon was thinking about a backup plan if the matrix metering turns out to be less than popular.
- The depth of field preview is a lever rather than a button as is on the F3. Not a big deal, but it seems a bit fragile, and I could see it getting damaged or hooked on a strap in your bag.
- The program mode can be confusing. The “FEE” error code comes up for various reasons, and a cheat sheet is often needed to diagnose. This could be more due to my unfamiliarity with this camera, but it’s unlike the program mode on my D600.
- The prism body cover is plastic, and can be scratched easily.
Overall, this is a really nice film camera, and would be an excellent choice for anyone wanting to shoot film with a classic, especially if you like shutter priority mode, or program mode, or need that fast 1/4000s shutter speed.
Bob will likely be selling this camera after I have it thoroughly tested for him, a job I’ll leave to the pros. Meantime, I’ll shoot a roll on it and see how it goes. For more details on this camera, I recommend Wikipedia. I’m tempted to buy it from him. The 28mm f2.8 lens would be a nice addition to my manual AI-S lenses.